Wednesday, 20 October 2004
Seanad Eireann Debate
When the current Fianna Fáil-Progressive Democrats Government came into office it agreed that recruitment to the Garda Síochána should increase so that numbers in the force would rise by 2,000 before the next general election in 2007. I am sure the Cathaoirleach shares our confidence that it will be in that year. This increase would raise the strength of the Garda Síochána to 14,000 and would confer significant operational benefits.
It is worth reminding the Opposition of the situation that existed up until 1997 when the current coalition arrangement first came into power. In 1993, Garda numbers were at 10,882, in 1984 they were 10,827, in 1995 they were 10,816 and in 1996 they were 10,804. Therefore, there was a drop in numbers over that period.
On the basis that Deputy Jim O’Keeffe who was Opposition spokesperson for justice in 1979 is now once again the Fine Gael spokesperson, we can imagine that if we were under his tenure we would now be down at a figure of 9,000 instead of advancing in the opposite direction. However, since the coalition came into power, the trend has been reversed and the numbers increased to 11,748 in its first term. Although we have come through difficult economic times as a result of the hiccup with the Celtic tiger and the cap on public service numbers, the Minister must be commended on obtaining approval to increase the numbers to 12,200 by 2004. The current number is 12,117 and when the current group in training comes on stream on 26 November, the target of 12,200, which is a record high, will have been reached. There is progress in the right direction and we have a firm commitment in the programme for Government to even greater progress. For that reason, the Minister is to be commended on his recent announcement.
Mr. Dardis: The Minister is not content to stop at this number. His target is 14,000. That increase is jet propelled in comparison to the Fine Gael snail which was much in evidence before the last election.
Mr. Dardis: We must, at least, give Fine Gael some credit. Its amendment does welcome the Minister’s announcement that recruitment is to increase. That concession is a major step forward for Fine Gael.
One would wonder whether the Opposition wants the numbers to increase. It seems it would be happier moaning that it never happened. We might be like Senator Bannon — the last person leaving Longford should please turn off the lights. As far as I can gather from anything he says, nothing of substance ever happens there and all the shopkeepers, publicans, farmers and probably all the gardaí have left the county. Happily, that is not the case. This is not a stunt. The commitment has been made and will happen. Management measures have been put in place and were outlined by the Minister in his announcement.
Given the returned growth and strength in the economy, I wonder whether there will be difficulties in securing the 14,000 because of the significant opportunities in the wider economy for young people. I hope there are still sufficient young, willing, patriotic people committed to the State who will respond to advertisements to join the Garda. There are logistical difficulties with regard to Templemore and its capacity to absorb the numbers. In-service training and new facilities will be provided there and space could also be found by deploying new recruits in Garda stations for training and by conducting in-service pre-retirement courses elsewhere. This will help and good management and new facilities will solve the problems.
I was encouraged that the Minister of State at the Department of Finance with responsibility for the Office of Public Works, Deputy Parlon, was present for the announcement along with the head of the Civil Service Commission and the Garda Commissioner. A major capital cost is involved but there is unanimity of effort in respect of this matter.
Many important debates have been held in the House over the years about violence, drug and alcohol abuse, road deaths and criminal and subversive activity and Members have been passionate in their denunciation of such anti-social behaviour. All these issues underline the urgent need for extra gardaí. Even the expanding population demands it and, therefore, there is an understandable demand for more gardaí on the beat, a traffic corps and more support for the victims of crime.
However, a number of these demands are contradictory and difficult to reconcile. On the one hand, we want more gardaí on the beat while, on the other, we want them to produce a more significant paper trail. I wonder at times whether PULSE is only a statistical exercise or whether Garda time is tied up unduly logging incidents where there may not been be a need for paperwork because there will never be a prosecution. It is curious that more technology has led to more paperwork even though we all thought it would be the opposite.
One wonders whether some of the activities in which the Garda is engaged are appropriate. Guns are a major issue and they must be controlled but is it correct that a garda should sit in a station issuing gun licences on a full-time basis? As a farmer, I have a shotgun and I renewed my licence last year. I noted when I was doing my accounts recently that it took eight weeks for the cheque to be presented. It was a small cheque but, if all such cheques are presented together, there is a loss to the force. Such administrative issues need to be addressed. One wonders whether a garda should be engaged in such activity.
I refer to the Noxious Weeds Act 1936. It is important that noxious weeds are kept under control in the countryside but should the Garda be enforcing the legislative provisions? Local authorities or another agency should do so. The Garda should not be a tax collector. Members of the force are involved in recording rainfall. They have more important issues to address and duties such as those I have outlined could be outsourced to other State agencies if they could not be undertaken by private companies. More administrative duties could be undertaken by staff other than gardaí themselves, which would release them to undertake other more important tasks.
The use of clampers in Dublin, for good or ill, at least does not tie up Garda manpower in an inappropriate way. I refer to water bailiffs. I have a warrant as a water bailiff on the River Liffey. That is quite right and many other members of my angling club carry a warrant. Why should the Garda be engaged in this activity? Litter wardens are another example of engaging people outside the force.
Technology must be exploited and used to the maximum advantage. However, there is no substitute for experience. The retirement age for gardaí is 57 and it is 60 for superintendents. A significant reservoir of people with knowledge and experience are lost at a point when they are still active. Some members leave the force when they turn 50 and they are entitled to a gratuity of between €60,000 and €80,000. It is unfortunate to lose the skills and expertise built up by these members and there is a general trend towards increasing retirement age limits. Perhaps that issue will be examined. Even if the current limits apply, we must start thinking outside the box. There must be ways of involving retired members of the force in driving cars and looking after public offices.
We had a good Garda juvenile officer in my local town, Newbridge, who was skilled and experienced in the areas of drugs. When he retired, all his experience went with him and he has not been replaced. He is willing and able to continue to tour schools to give advice to and help young people. There must be a role for people like him within the force, as an adjunct to the force or through the local authority.
The Garda Bill is a matter for another day. However, I echo a comment made by a person who proposed a vote of thanks to the Minister at a meeting recently on the disability issue. State agencies have a duty to lead in this regard. That point was made forcefully by this person and he spoke more eloquently about the issue than I could. However, people with disabilities could have a role in this area and this issue needs to be examined.
Opportunities exist for young people in the force and, hopefully, there are enough young people with the commitment to service to their country and with enough patriotism that when the advertisements are placed in the newspapers, they will respond generously and enthusiastically so that the force we need can be built up. They will be able to keep the peace within the State, make us all feel safe and support victims. Many members of the force use their own mobile telephones to keep in contact with victims of crime. Perhaps a small allowance could be provided to them so that they would not have to go into the Garda station to avail of land lines to do this work.
Our gardaí do dangerous and sometimes thankless work but most of them would say it is also deeply fulfilling. We are indebted to them for their service since the foundation of the State. Notwithstanding the few bad apples in the barrel, the majority of them work effectively and well in all our interests. I commend the motion to the House.
Ms K. Walsh: I second the motion. I warmly welcome the Minister for Justice, Equality and Law Reform to the Chamber. He has been severely criticised by Opposition Members on the issue of Garda strength over the past two years. I am, therefore, delighted that I and my colleagues in the Progressive Democrats can use Private Members’ time to commend the Minister and the Government on meeting their key commitment to increase Garda strength to 14,000. When he took office in 2002 the Minister made the overhaul and expansion of the Garda a key priority. He is delivering on both. The recently published Garda Bill, which proposed the first root and branch reform of the force since it was established more than 80 years ago, together with the additional 2,000 gardaí will ensure Ireland has a modern, capable, committed and well resourced police force to meet the needs of its citizens.
The Progressive Democrats’ general election manifesto for 2002 committed the party to increase Garda strength by 2,000 members. That commitment was then incorporated into the agreed programme for Government between Fianna Fáil and the Progressive Democrats to be achieved over the lifetime of the Government and that will happen. Plans were initially put on hold in 2002 due to the cap on public service spending. Economic conditions at the time did not permit the necessary expenditure, which was estimated at €330 million, and the Government took the brave and prudent decision to wait until the upturn in the country’s economic fortunes to advance the plan. That time has arrived and the Government commitment will be met.
Members of other parties have jumped around on occasion over the past two years adopting the mantra of 2,000 extra gardaí like a cheap football chant. The same Opposition politicians, when in power, allowed the strength of the force to progressively reduce from 10,882 in December 1993 to 10,827 in December 1994, 10,816 in December 1995 and 10,804 in December 1996. These are the same politicians who try to make political capital from Garda numbers at every opportunity. At a press conference held by the Minister for Justice, Equality and Law Reform last week in the Phoenix Park, the cant was well and truly silenced when he outlined his ambitious plans to swell Garda ranks by over 1,000 recruits per annum.
The ability of the Garda to operate effectively impacts on every community. As the number of personnel available is key to the operational ability of the Garda, the force must operate at maximum strength. Currently, Garda strength stands at a record high of over 12,117 men and women. At the end of this month, the figure will rise to 12,200. Key to public confidence in the Garda is visibility. A community has greater trust and support in the local force if it sees gardaí on the beat regularly and responding quickly to emergencies. Increased numbers will take some of the enormous pressure off existing members, allow for a greater presence of gardaí on our streets and help to boost public confidence in the ability of the Garda to fight crime at all levels.
The detractors have already begun to knock the Minister’s plans and have stated that his goals are not achievable. As always, the Minister is set to defy his critics and achieve his goals through a set of original, innovative and ambitious proposals. The Minister is overseeing a change in the recruitment and training process which will allow for an additional 2,000 members to be recruited and trained without any diminution of standards. The proposal to move in-service training from the Garda College to allow it to concentrate on the training of new recruits is simple and sensible and represents a more efficient use of State resources. There is no need for current members embarking on in-service training to be at Templemore. They can easily be accommodated at a different location. The Minister is working productively with his party colleague, the Minister of State with responsibility for the Office of Public Works, Deputy Parlon, to source alternative accommodation for in-service training and extend the existing facilities at Templemore.
I welcome the Minister’s intention to remove the Irish language requirement and his commitment to recruit new members from diverse ethnic backgrounds. We live in a pluralist, multi-cultural society which our police force must reflect adequately to have the confidence of all citizens. I welcome the Minister’s commitment to consider the age requirement with a view to raising it. Policing is a difficult task which requires a clear head, composure and the ability to carry out duties effectively. Having been married to a member of the force for more than 30 years, I have some knowledge of how the Garda functions and suggest that more mature candidates may have a great deal to offer.
Increasing the strength of the Garda to 14,000 should not be seen as a quick fix or an easy solution to wiping out crime. It will not matter if we increase numbers to 20,000 or even 40,000 if gardaí do not have the full support of the community. If each citizen fails to play his or her part, we will continue to have crime. Some think there should be a garda in every back yard but that is neither possible nor practical. Such an approach would not be necessary if people played their parts, parents exercised greater control over their children and more people adopted the spirit of the volunteer and gave time to community groups or work with young people. These are issues I have spoken about in this House previously and to which I will continue to return.
I welcome the Minister for Justice, Equality and Law Reform to the House. We are almost half way through the lifetime of the Government and it has suddenly dawned on the Minister that something must be done about his pre-election promise to provide 2,000 extra gardaí before the next general election. The electorate has not forgotten this promise as the Minister well knows from his candidates who sought support during the recent local elections.
This is the third time we have heard the Minister make this particular announcement on Garda numbers. Immediately on coming into office, the Minister backtracked on the promise, since which time he has attempted to resuscitate it in a series of rehashed announcements. The latest outing of the promise took place with great fanfare in the Phoenix Park last week. There were so many bits and pieces to the latest announcement that it seemed to be the product of many hours of creative thinking on the far side of St. Stephen’s Green. It had the look of a proposal which was cobbled together with a bit here and a tweak there. The truth is that when the Minister and his colleagues made the promise in 2002, he knew that to fulfil it within the lifetime of the Government, the facilities at Templemore would have to be expanded. Over two years now have passed and, by the Minister’s own admission, it will be a further year before an attempt is made to expand capacity at the Garda College. It appears the Minister was never serious about delivering on his commitment.
A fair way to review the veracity of someone’s promises is to examine his or her past record to assess what he or she has delivered. Half way through the Government’s term of office, the Minister for Justice, Equality and Law Reform has delivered 243 extra gardaí. Despite the statistics quoted by Senators in support of the Minister, he has a great deal of catching up to do. Figures Fine Gael obtained from the Department of Justice, Equality and Law Reform indicate that from 2002 to the end of this year 1,498 gardaí will have passed out from Templemore. In the same period the force lost 1,255 members due to ill-health, retirement, death or dismissal. Since the Government made its promise, the strength of the force has increased by an average of only 81 gardaí per year. This is a far cry from what was necessary and a statistic which has obviously jolted the Minister into some action at long last.
Crime statistics for the first half of 2004 show that the incidence of rape is 27% higher than in the first half of 2003. There has been a dramatic increase of 175% in the incidence of aggravated sexual assault while gun-related crime has also risen sharply. When Fine Gael left office in 1997, 90,875 indictable offences were recorded representing a 10% decrease on the previous year. In 2002, under this Minister’s watch, 105,840 headline offences were recorded representing a 22% increase on the previous year. There are people in rural Ireland who are terrified in their own houses. Public order offences and alcohol-related violence take place on the streets of our cities and towns on a nightly basis. Finally, the Minister has awoken from his slumber and decided he must do something to deliver on his promise of extra gardaí, which we welcome.
While increasing Garda numbers alone will not solve our crime problem, Garda presence and visibility on the streets of our towns and villages goes a long way in the fight against crime. That is why the Government’s promise to increase Garda strength to 14,000 is so badly needed. I question the will and the practicality of the Minister’s proposed exercise. Why can he not come clean and say that he cannot deliver 2,000 extra gardaí in the lifetime of this Government? Why be so disingenuous as to suggest that 2,000 extra trained gardaí will be on the streets by 2007? Recruits and trainee gardaí cannot be classified as trained to police our streets. They must have the necessary training and experience before being classified as gardaí.
I repeat that the Minister’s announcement last week was disingenuous. By his own admission he recognised the fundamental flaw in his PR stunt when he said: “It will lead to a combined organisational strength of both attested gardaí and recruits in training of 14,000”. This is the actual state of affairs. The Minister agrees his promise cannot be honoured but he does not have the guts to admit it to the electorate.
My party made some constructive suggestions a few weeks ago which we are pleased the Minister has taken on board. Raising the entry age to the Garda Síochána from 26 to 35, or whatever the Commissioner feels appropriate, would increase the pool of potential new recruits. It would also allow into the force those with qualifications and life experiences obtained elsewhere. We also suggested the full implementation of the civilianisation of administrative posts currently being performed by gardaí, a matter alluded to earlier and with which Senator Dardis agreed. We also made reference to retired gardaí, another issue which the Government parties are regurgitating. We like to see our suggestions being taken on board.
Mr. Cummins: The motion before us compliments the Minister on his recent announcement. It would be more appropriate if the Minister were to adopt the Inchydoney principle of a bit more humility and a caring approach. He should tell the people the truth rather than trying to compound his errors and deceive them once more.
Mr. Kett: I welcome the Minister to the House and congratulate him on his restatement of the commitment given in the programme for Government. While he did not have to restate it for those of us on this side of the House, the fact that he has done so will probably change the tune of the Opposition who will have to find something else to crow about. I read nothing which stated the Minister would meet his commitment during the first two or two and a half years of the term of this Government. I did read he would meet his commitment in five years and I believe that will be the case.
Feeling safe in our homes is probably the most important issue to Members on all sides of the House. It is more important to people living alone in isolated areas and to the elderly in particular. Attacks on such people are cowardly and despicable. The Minister’s words in terms of the provision of extra gardaí will be of great comfort to those families charged with responsibility for the elderly and those living in isolated areas. Such people need reassurance and support and they are getting it from the Minister.
Neighbourhood watch and community alert schemes have done a good job. However, the appearance of patrol cars and gardaí on the beat provides a greater degree of contentment. We on this side of the House never doubted that the promises made would be delivered on. It is a statistical fact that crime levels are decreasing and have been doing so since 1997. The most recent crime which comes to mind is that which took place in north County Dublin. It was an unspeakable act and the Garda have our support in their efforts to find the perpetrator or perpetrators as soon as possible.
The budget for the Garda Síochána has increased from €450 million in 1997 to more than €1 billion today. That in itself speaks volumes. Garda strength, as has already been stated, is at an all-time high and will reach 12,200 by the end of this year. It must be noted that the Garda lost in the region of 67 gardaí from the time the previous Government took office in 1993. We on this side of the House do not need to be lectured about what we are doing in terms of Garda numbers.
Prison places have also increased by 1,300 in the past two years with a promise of a further 700 places which I am sure have since been delivered on. A great deal of legislation has passed through this House, much of which deals with the provision of a much safer and better environment for all. We have passed more than 50 Bills since 1997. The prison programme was ceased during the term of office of the previous Government in 1993-97. Not one prison place was created during that time. The response at that time was the introduction of the revolving door. The Minister provided an additional €2 million for overtime in prisons in 2003 thereby providing an additional 55,000 Garda hours targeted at Dublin and Limerick in particular. The emergency response unit which was at the time dealing with gangland crime received the bulk of that money.
The great work done by the Criminal Assets Bureau must also be acknowledged. The fact that a major gangland individual is scratching and scraping in court to try to hold on to his ill-gotten gains illustrates how well the CAB is working. There was a time when the Opposition did not agree with the setting up of the Criminal Assets Bureau. It took the tragic death of Veronica Guerin to bring them round.
Mr. Kett: The problem of street violence involving young people late at night continues to be of great concern to all. It is an issue which needs to be tackled head on. That type of crime threatens the very fabric of society. We can no longer afford to allow teenagers or adults to act like drunken hooligans in our towns, cities and villages. The public order Bill and the Intoxicating Liquor Bill, introduced by this Minister, are two fine Bills which, along with other legislation, will play a major part in improving the situation. However, such legislation must be backed up by the Garda Síochána. We must ensure the Garda devotes the necessary manpower to tackling what might be called “hotspots” in our towns and cities. I believe we can turn the tide. The redeployment of gardaí should be considered. I am sure some gardaí in certain areas of the city may not be doing as much as they might be doing at particular times of the night. They could be redeployed to hotspots within the city.
Most important of all is the decline in the level of crime. Serious assaults have declined by22%, general assaults by 14%, criminal damage has declined by 8%, sexual offences are down by 20% and drugs offences by 9%. This problem cannot be solved solely by additional gardaí. It is a societal problem which must involve parents and the education system.
The design of housing estates needs to be considered in the equation. Parents have the most important role. The probation and welfare service also plays a vital role. At any one time, over 5,000 offenders are under its care in the community. Extra gardaí will be a very welcome addition to the promise and commitment given by the Minister and I thank him.
Mr. Quinn: I welcome the Minister to the House and I welcome his promise of 2,000 extra gardaí. I wish to remind the House of the need for them. When I am in the United States and other parts of the world, I am aware of the high visibility of the police. That visibility is one of the reasons people are law-abiding; they know they are likely to be caught when the police are there. I also recognise that 2,000 extra gardaí will mean, I think, a ratio of 5:1. Due to the long hours worked, including Sunday working, it means no more than 400 extra gardaí on the beat at any given time. It is a reminder that 2,000 extra gardaí may not even be enough. It may be necessary to strengthen the Minister’s hand by giving him the backing to do whatever is necessary to make sure we have a police force that works.
One of the benefits which we have enjoyed in Ireland has been that of a police force which is community based. It has been enhanced in recent years through the use of such schemes as neighbourhood watch and community alert. I was chairman of the Chubb committee that awarded prizes for these schemes over the years. I was amazed at the level of good work done by neighbourhood watch and community alert in backing up the Garda. The community-based gardaí in my area of Howth use bicycles to work very effectively and to be in contact with the citizens. I will take some credit for raising in the House some ten years ago the possibility of having a mounted Garda unit. I was delighted that the Minister responded very swiftly and the mounted Garda unit was established. I think such a unit brings the Garda closer to the citizens. I have used the words “police force” even though it is no longer politically correct to use the word “force”; the correct words seem to be “police service”.
It should be remembered that the Garda has a job of protection and a job which necessitates confrontation. I have had the experience in my life of needing the protection of the Garda. On one occasion, and I will not describe it in detail, somebody threatened to attack me with a butcher’s knife. I was very happy that a garda was present to confront him. I say that as an illustration that this political correctness might be taken a little overboard. I have a fear that many gardaí in recent times have placed a priority on not putting a foot wrong and not attracting any unfavourable attention by behaving in a manner which might be criticised by those who say they are being too tough on someone who is committing a crime. We do not appreciate the need for confrontation. We should not be shy about declaring that there are occasions when confrontation is required. I agree that community-based gardaí with backup from citizens is a good idea but the Garda must be given not just the numbers and the power but also the encouragement to face up to the problems with an attitude of strength that protects society because we all need protection. I am concerned that a garda might be inhibited in his or her attitude because of criticism of his or her actions.
I agree that in the past there was a danger that by being so politically correct, we went out of our way to avoid showing the strength needed against criminals. Those drug barons would not have developed such power ten years ago if this was not the case. It is our responsibility as legislators to ensure that we endow with that strength those who are there to protect society. It was only as a result of the death of Veronica Guerin that we as legislators were willing to do things that we were unwilling to do previously.
I mention that case as an example of so many other cases. Our citizens would prefer to defend a few of what I will call, over-enthusiastic gardaí who stepped over the line rather than having a mollified, emasculated force which was afraid to confront those criminals who do harm to us.
I use the words “emasculate” and “mollified” on that basis. Part of the solution is to ensure that the Garda is given the strength, the courage and the backbone so that it can protect us. That is the reason I was pleased when I visited Templemore two years ago and saw the level of training that is carried on there. It is not solely community-based training, but training to ensure gardaí are able to protect us. I am pleased to hear the Minister plans to do something about Templemore because it is clearly under great strain and it requires investment. I believe such investment will pay for itself. I encourage the Minister to keep going in the direction he is going. If I have any criticism it is that he has not gone far enough. I am saddened to say that because I would like to think this country did not need a police force.
Two years ago I was on a small island in the Caribbean which has only one policeman but it does not have any crime. I do not think the reason is because it only has one policeman; I think it only needs one policeman. It is a chicken and egg situation. We should ensure that if we are to achieve success in this area, it is because we have given strength to the Garda, in the professionalism and training given in Templemore and in the encouragement we as legislators give the force to make sure it faces up to the challenges in order to protect us.
Dr. Mansergh: I welcome the Minister to the House and formally congratulate him on his reappointment which I was very pleased to see. The country needs a strong and effective Minister for Justice, Equality and Law Reform and it has one in Deputy McDowell. He has a lot of work under way and continuity is very important. I am not sure whether it is in order to discuss the Opposition amendment to the motion since it has fallen but if I were drafting amendments——
Dr. Mansergh: We are discussing increasing Garda numbers and perhaps we need to increase numbers on the Opposition side for certain purposes. I once did a calculation that if we were to have the same number of police per capita as in Northern Ireland, we would have a Garda force of approximately 21,000. In 1997, the Garda force was half that number. The history is very clear. One of the key commitments by Fianna Fáil in the 1997 general election was to increase the numbers of gardaí to 12,000. That was almost achieved by June 2002 so it augurs well for fulfilment of the Minister’s plan. This is a commitment of both parties in Government. The 2002 Fianna Fáil manifesto, which followed the commitment to increase the numbers to 12,000 in the 1997 manifesto, stated that, if elected to serve in Government, Fianna Fáil would expand the Garda Síochána by a further 2,000.
The joint programme for Government provides that it will complete the current expansion of the Garda Síochána and increase recruitment so numbers will increase by a further 2,000. In a sense, the baton which was with the former Minister for Justice, Equality and Law Reform, Deputy O’Donoghue, in the last Government has been taken on by the Minister, Deputy McDowell. I know from speaking to him that he is committed to it and, objectively, it is in the interests of the country.
There was a debate in the mid-1990s as to whether the law and order problem was vastly exaggerated. The then Minister for Justice, Equality and Law Reform did not get adequate political support from her colleagues in Government. One of the reasons the Government is in office is that, from the Taoiseach down, the issues of law and order were taken seriously and the feeling was it was not merely enough to deal with the social causes of crime, though those are important. Perhaps I can make one or two specific points about the uses to which the Garda might be put. It is a paradox that it is not by and large those who are reasonably well off in society who suffer most from a lack of law and order, but those in the estates, those towards the bottom of the social scale. It is the case that the Garda, given its current numbers, is sometimes reticent about going in and out of such areas.
A couple of initiatives the Government is taking in the Minister’s Garda Síochána Bill, which is to be welcomed, include a system of liaison between local authorities, communities and the Garda. This already exists with the new police service in Northern Ireland. Such a system would be very valuable in bringing an holistic approach to bear because law and order issues cannot all be dealt with by a method within the jurisdiction of the Minister for Justice, Equality and Law Reform as they also relate to issues such as street lighting, lay out, facilities and so on. The RAPID programme which concerns many deprived areas also focuses on the holistic approach.
The actions of the Garda in Dunsink was raised on the Order of Business this morning. Since then I have read more about it in the newspapers. There is a general principle that all members and sections of the community should be subject to the rule of law and that nobody, by virtue of their particular social status, is exempt. Many communities suffer from the lack of the rule of law and the feeling that many types of people engaging in disorder are virtually untouchable so far as the Garda is concerned. Safety on the streets is important. It is appalling to read of young people being killed on the streets, out of the blue, presumably by other young people who are high on something or other. I agree with the point that a city which is well and properly policed has a significant deterrent effect on attacks.
The Garda College in Templemore is referred to in the amendment which has lapsed. It is a magnificent facility which is admired and respected worldwide. I fully support its further development. It now has a significant international dimension.
Mr. Ryan: Cuirim fáilte roimh an Aire. Is minic a bhíonn sé linn. Tá mé ag éirí— ní déarfainn amhrasach, ach I begin to wonder if we are too soft on him. He appears to enjoy his time here and, perhaps, we are too gentle with him. In fairness, he is a frequent attender and a lively participant to the debates. I will not say it is necessarily a pleasure but it is worthwhile being here if the Minister for Justice, Equality and Law Reform is here.
Mr. Ryan: I do not share and do not like to get involved in too much of the Opposition versus the Government popular hysteria about crime and I have not done so in my political career. It is one of the easy issues about which to generate hysteria. As Senator Mansergh correctly said, very often the people who talk about the hysteria, prominent journalists and politicians, are not at the receiving end but they generate a climate of increased fear in communities where there is already a receiving end. It makes the lot of older people living in poorly-policed and poorly-serviced communities worse off when a perception is put abroad that even to go to the local shop for a bottle of milk at dusk is more than an elderly person will risk. I include myself in what I am about to say. I am sure there are moments when I have broken this rule. We all have an obligation not to create a climate of hysteria in our community about crime and law and order. We all give in to that temptation but we should not do so and neither should spokesmen or representatives of the Garda. We have an obligation to give our citizens a level of security.
In giving people a level of security we have to deal with the reality on the ground. We have to think that in terms of crime, perception is nearly as significant as reality. A number of speakers have said that if one walks around the streets of New York — it is approximately a year since I was there — the perception that there are police everywhere not only feeds a visitor with a sense of security but, quite clearly, feeds back to the citizens of that city who are more visible on the streets at night. If more citizens are prepared to be on the streets because they feel they will be more secure, the consequence of that will inevitably be less crime. There will not be as much crime on crowded lively city streets as in areas where there are only one or two visibly nervous citizens present.
One of the things that most of the reviews of Garda deployment carried out by management consultants have failed to take into account is the reassuring value to people of the visibility of the Garda. I am sure they can produce statistics which show that Garda or police on the beat do not correlate to dramatic reductions in the level of crime because I suspect they do not. However, they correlate to a sense of public reassurance about the way crime is being dealt with. That is more important than the objective figures because it is fear of crime as much as the reality which spoils people’s lives. Fortunately, for much of their lives most people never encounter a serious criminal offence to their person. They may experience petty burglaries or perhaps have a radio stolen from their car. The only time I was assaulted it was my own fault, which I will not go into, although I was not breaking the law. I was working with the Simon Community and was beaten up but I had chosen to be where I was and do not blame anyone else. Beyond that incident, I have been burgled and had my car broken into, which are nuisances only.
A week after I came back from New York, I ended up walking from one end of O’Connell Street to the other at 12 midnight. My 16 year old son was with me and I was genuinely concerned because I saw only one member of the Garda Síochána on the entire length of our main street on a busy Wednesday night. I am not sure whether that is a result of numbers, deployment, organisation or management, but I am more than happy to welcome extra gardaí because their quality has improved beyond recognition.
They seem to be older and better educated, the best evidence of which is the capacity of the Garda college, with its small number of students, to compete in third level sporting competitions. My friends in CIT tell me that they may only have a small number to pick from but their average age is higher than the average age of third level students generally. Moreover, what they lack in numbers, they make up for in physical maturity and I presume they are fit, strong and healthy. Therefore, we are obviously recruiting very good gardaí.
As one who often criticises the Garda, I acknowledge that individual gardaí have traditional qualities for which they often do not get enough praise. During all my time with the Simon Community, the vast majority of gardaí showed a capacity for good humour, flexibility, compassion and patience that a large number of people in the caring professions do not. I saw gardaí duck crutches thrown by a particularly well-known character in Cork who is now dead. They did so with considerable good humour because they knew him, his history and his drink problem and were aware that he was homeless. They brought him home on many nights and carefully took evasive action so they did not get flattened by a crutch on the way home.
We need to retain that spirit of public service and managerialism of itself will not do this. Extra numbers committed to the values of the Garda as a community force is what we need. Extra numbers to turn it into a managerial force, based on modern managerial deployment techniques will not restore the sense of community confidence that the sort of gardaí, with whom we are familiar, should give us in society.
Minister for Justice, Equality and Law Reform (Mr. M. McDowell): I welcome the motion tabled by Senators Dardis, Walsh, Morrissey, Brennan and Minihan to commend the Government and me for our commitment to increasing the strength of the Garda Síochána.
Much has been said and written on this matter. The Opposition has claimed that the Government was not interested in honouring its commitment on the strength of the Garda force. Even when it was announced last week that the Government was embarking on a major recruitment drive to achieve its objective, the Opposition claimed it could not be done. One Opposition spokesperson in the Dáil claimed it would take 25 years to achieve the increases in question. However, it is not only possible but it will be achieved. The Government has approved my proposal to increase the strength of the Garda Síochána to 14,000 members on a phased basis in line with a key commitment in An Agreed Programme for Government and its implementation will significantly strengthen the operational capacity of the force.
On Thursday last, in the company of my Progressive Democrats colleague, the Minister of State at the Department of Finance, Deputy Parlon, the Garda Commissioner, the Commissioners of the Office of Public Works and the chief executive of the Office of the Civil Service and Local Appointments Commissioners, I confirmed at the Phoenix Park conference the Government’s intention to increase the strength of the Garda Síochána to 14,000 and outlined how I am going to do so. Taking into account projected retirements, the plan I announced will lead to a combined organisational strength of both attested gardaí and recruits in training of 14,000 as early as 2006. There will be a full complement of 14,000 fully-attested and qualified gardaí in late 2007 or early 2008.
Before I go into the specific details of this project, it is worthwhile examining the recent history of Garda numbers and comparing the record of this Government and its critics. In 1997, the force strength stood at 10,968 gardaí. Under this Government the strength of the force increased steadily to 11,748 in its first term. That progress has continued since June 2002 and the force is now at more than 12,100, representing an 11% increase since 1997, and will reach 12, 200 by the end of this year — the highest number in the history of the State.
When one contrasts the increase in Garda strength I have just mentioned with the Garda strength figures during the years leading up to 1997 when the Fine Gael and Labour parties were partners in the rainbow coalition, it is little wonder they regard the increase in the force strength of 2,000 gardaí as impossible. The record shows that during the years 1993 to 1996, the strength of the force in December of each year actually declined. The figure was 10,882 on 31 December 1993; 10,827 on 31 December 1994; 10,816 on 31 December 1995; and 10,804 on 31 December 1996. Such is the record of our critics when they held the reigns of power.
The Opposition also claims it had the economy in a magnificent condition and yet it allowed the strength of the Garda Síochána to decline year on year during that period. It could not be claimed that this was a period in which the public had any confidence that crime was being properly addressed. It is not as if we were living in halcyon days in which there was no problem with criminality. Rather, the reverse was the case.
Furthermore, during the last general election campaign, Fine Gael and the Labour Party set out their respective programmes for the Garda Síochána and the criminal justice system, neither of which made any commitment to any increase in the strength of the Garda whatsoever. In fairness, Fine Gael stated that it would establish a special commission to examine the strength of the Garda without any commitment to its outcome. The public and I have listened to enough negativity from that source on this matter and I am now pleased to be in a position to progress this commitment following the Government’s approval of my proposals.
The programme for Government commitment in respect of Garda numbers states: “We will complete the current expansion of the Garda Síochána and increase recruitment so that the numbers will increase by a further 2,000”. It is true that this major increase had to be temporarily put on hold because of the cap on public service numbers due to an international downturn in the economy after 2002. However, the Government through its prudent management of the public finances again has us on a growth path. We came through that downturn the least scathed of all the EU economies thanks to the expert financial genius of Deputy McCreevy——
Mr. M. McDowell: After June 2002, and despite the cap on public service numbers announced in the budget of 2002, I secured Government approval to proceed to increase the strength of the force to 12,200 by the end of 2004, which will be achieved.
The Opposition and some other commentators have stated that it is not remotely possible during the remaining lifetime of this Government to recruit in sufficient numbers to increase the strength of the force to 14,000, which is not the case. The logistics of such a major recruitment and training campaign are formidable but these challenges can and will be overcome. I will explain how it will be done. First, the Garda Commissioner will temporarily move the majority of in-service training programmes out of Templemore Garda College to a new location.
Mr. M. McDowell: This will enable the Garda College to concentrate mainly on training new recruits. The OPW will advertise this week for expressions of interest in the provision of new accommodation for in-service training. This outsourced facility will provide classroom and lecture facilities for up to 100 gardaí. This facility will be used to provide courses for gardaí who are already inducted into the service; they return to the college for refresher and specialisation courses.
Second, the capacity of the Garda College will be significantly expanded next year. A new four storey block will be built, using efficient system-build methods. This will provide for central administration and free up teaching blocks for classroom use. There will also be new library and gym facilities. In addition, the general catering and canteen facilities will be expanded. The plans for this are well advanced by the OPW and were displayed at the press conference in Garda headquarters last Thursday.
Tenders for construction will be invited shortly and construction will be completed by the end of 2005 in time for the peak in-flow of recruits to the college, which will take place in February 2006. The enhanced capacity will also enable the return to the college of in-service training at the end of the concentrated recruitment phase. Parallel with that, work will also be undertaken on relocating the tactical training facility which will be displaced by the new building.
Third, the Garda Commissioner proposes to rebalance phase 3 of Garda training so that of the 16 weeks of this phase — there are five phases in total — all of which are currently spent in the college, the last four weeks will now be spent in Garda stations on practical training. This will further remove pressure on the college’s facilities and also provide trainees with more intensive training experience.
Fourth, the recruitment campaign will start shortly. The commissioner will place advertisements in the national newspapers within the next six weeks inviting applicants to join the force and record numbers of recruits will be taken on. Each quarter, for the next three years, about 274 recruits will be taken into the college amounting to just short of 1,100 recruits each year. Taking into account projected retirements, it will lead to a combined organisational strength, of both attested gardaí and recruits in training, of 14,000 as early as 2006. Mark my words, as early as 2006 there will be in uniform 14,000 members of the Garda Síochána.
Mr. M. McDowell: They will be fully qualified. The Senator seems to ignore the fact that trainee gardaí are on the streets and part of their training involves being on the streets. We have the longest training programme on these islands and in this corner of the world. In the London Metropolitan Police there is a six month training process while in Ireland we have a two year training process. Much of that is spent in practical policing work on the streets, learning professional standards in real life situations.
A recruit garda jumped into the River Liffey recently and saved a man from drowning. I do not think the person who was drowning would agree with the Senator that the action was any less brave or any less effective because there was a little blue band on the recruit garda’s uniform.
Mr. M. McDowell: The necessary resources for the Garda Síochána budget have to be addressed in the normal Estimates process for 2005 and in each succeeding year. I have to battle for the resources in question. The same will apply to the once-off capital costs for the OPW. The increases in the Garda budget will initially be relatively small but they will rise to a significant amount, an annual cost of about €124 million by 2009. That is a significant investment in the strength of the Garda Síochána. The once-off capital costs at the college will be relatively modest, but in view of sensitivities relating to contracts I will not comment on the exact cost of the four storey building. However, I believe we will get good value for money.
As part of the preparation for this recruitment campaign, I have taken the opportunity to ask the Garda Commissioner to review the eligibility criteria for entry into the Garda Síochána. Members of this House will know that at present one must be not more than 25 years of age or if one has qualifying service in the FCA not more than 27 years of age in order to become a member of the Garda Síochána. In this modern age and having regard to the circumstances of modern life, we do not have to recruit career gardaí at the age of 18. Senators who have had the pleasure, as I have had on many occasions, of attending passing out parades in Templemore will see people coming into the Garda Síochána from diverse backgrounds such as banking, teaching, graduate positions and a wide diversity of trades and professions. These are people who decided in their early to mid 20s that they wanted to serve this country as policemen and policewomen. That is a good thing. We should look forward to a time when people in their late 20s and early 30s at least should be in a position to make such a lifetime commitment to the State. It is never too late for people of such an age to decide that they should have the opportunity to serve the country. The existing 25 year age limit is an artificial limitation on the entry of good potential recruits to the force.
It is also necessary that the force reflects the composition of Irish society. We are facing into circumstances which are uncharted territory for this country. We have large immigrant communities who are in their first generation. We must have a police force which reflects the ethnic make-up of our population. At present, it is difficult to recruit directly from among people who step off a boat and ask them to join our police force. There is no reason in principle that there should not be increased ethnic diversity in our recruitment. Certainly, looking forward to the second generation of immigrant communities in Ireland, if we have concentrations of ethnic communities in parts of this country, as was the case in the United Kingdom — I hope that ethnic diversity will be as geographically spread as possible and that we will not have any racial ghettos emerging — we want to avoid the situation that has emerged in many European countries where those communities are policed effectively by white strangers who do not have among their numbers people who come from those communities. I want to avoid the situation which emerged in the United Kingdom of young West Indians feeling that they are wholly alienated from the police force. I want to have a police force where the members are completely reflective of the society they are policing by consent.
For that reason, apart from simply promoting diversity in our recruitment programmes, we also must examine the requirement that to be eligible for recruitment to the force one must have the equivalent of a pass leaving certificate competence in Irish. That is a requirement we could not ask a 25 year old Ghanaian or whoever to meet. It would act as a de facto mechanism if it were left in place. I will speak to the Garda Commissioner so that people who are attracted to the new panel of potential recruits do not feel put off by the age limit or the language requirements.
People may ask what will happen to these new gardaí. I have a pledge to make to this House and I have the word of the commissioner that it will be delivered. They will not be assigned to administrative duties or recruited to sit behind desks. High visibility policing is what is needed for exactly the reasons Senators Ryan and Quinn mentioned earlier. The sense of well-being and the sense of order and security in a society are backed up not simply by the numbers of police who are hidden down lanes like the CRS in France in buses ready to quell something that goes wrong——
High visibility policing is a major factor in terms of people’s sense of well-being. In rural Ireland in particular, if there were not to be the increase in numbers under this programme of recruitment, inevitably any Garda Commissioner under pressure to allocate resources to the points of greatest need must look at the burgeoning suburbs of the greater metropolitan areas around Dublin, which are now spreading out 30 and 40 miles and where villages are being transformed into towns. He would feel under significant pressure to bring gardaí to stations in these locations from sparsely populated rural areas. Therefore, if there is to be a programme of renewal and transformation of the Garda Síochána, it would be a desperate pity if it were dragged down by the view that reform would occur at the expense of rural policing. This is another reason we need additional gardaí.
I agree with Senator Ryan that there is sometimes a tendency to over-emphasise criminality in our society. I hope to publish in the near future the quarterly crime figures which arrived in my Department today. I am pleased to tell the House that, even on the basis of a superficial look at these statistics, the crime trend is down yet again, quarter on quarter, as it has been since we first started publishing quarterly figures at the beginning of 2003. However, there has been a constant increase in the number of certain reported crimes, such as sexual crimes. I do not know whether the highly visible presence of gardaí will ever have a significant effect on sexual assaults, many of which are committed in areas where gardaí would not be present to stop them. Since the introduction of PULSE, which resulted in a very significant increase in the number of recorded crimes, there has been a downward trend, even though the figures are reported quarterly.
It is a myth that crime can be tackled by the Garda alone. The causes of criminality are complex and the exact number of causes is the subject of debate. However, marginalisation, exclusion, deprivation, the mentalities of having nothing to lose and nothing to do, poor parenting skills, abdication of responsibility by parents, both rich and poor, increased access to alcohol in respect of some patterns of crime and increased access to motor vehicles in respect of others all play their part.
However, it is not a middle class or right-wing concern that crime should be addressed by a society. We must remember that it is those who are at the lowest end of the socio-economic ladder who suffer most from crime, as Senator Mansergh stated. I do not just believe this proposition but I know it. Shortly after my marriage I went to live in a place which, to use Sir Humphrey’s great phrase, involved a courageous decision because it was very close to a hotspot of juvenile crime. I saw for myself the serious effect on a settled elderly community of living in an area where criminality was an expected part of life.
Mr. M. McDowell: Women in their sixties and seventies were afraid to go out to buy a bottle of milk after dusk. The middle classes rarely experience this. Furthermore, whereas a middle class family can take in its stride a window broken in a burglary and get on with life, an elderly woman who may not have her house insured must pay a considerable price, not to mention the psychological damage done to her as a result of having her house violated.
Dealing with crime is not just an issue for the haves in society, it is just as much an issue for the have-nots. The Garda does not put itself forward as the sole solution in the fight against crime. Every agency and citizen is part of this process. The decline in volunteering, to which Senator Kate Walsh referred, is also part of the problem. So many people are now opting out of voluntary activity and talking about the State’s duty to provide this, that and the other for their children when in fact voluntarism is one of the sinews of a society that has solidarity. It is one of the factors most effective in changing a society suffering from despair and cynicism to one that functions as a community.
I do not pretend that by increasing the number of gardaí by 2,000 I am waving a magic wand over the crime figures, but I am delivering on a commitment this Government made and from which it never wavered. I am delivering on a commitment that was not simply a vote-getter but a social necessity. I say to my critics, particularly Senator Cummins, that I regret his amendment was not moved because I would have liked to have refuted it at great length. In one sense, it was symbolically correct that it was not seconded, thus proving that there is unanimity in the House that the additional 2,000 gardaí represent a step in the right direction.
Mr. Feighan: As a Senator from the Roscommon-south Leitrim area, I am delighted the Minister and his good wife decided to move into that region. I sincerely hope that whatever difficulties he has encountered will be overcome. The area in question is certainly not a hotspot of crime but an area of tranquillity and relatively low crime. I grew up in Boyle, where at all times there was a civic duty to volunteer.
I once ran a pub and was certainly concerned at some stages about the high visibility of gardaí. They seemed to be able to have resources to clear pubs at night and to be involved in football clubs and teams and in all aspects of the community. During the Troubles most of the gardaí and special branch officers seemed to spend most of their time trailing so-called subversives. Whenever there was a meeting or so-called meeting, five or six detectives were present. Where did we get the resources from in that era? If we were to have serious troubles now, from where would the gardaí come?
One day in the early 1990s I was on my way to Sligo and was delighted to be stopped by gardaí and to see Uzi sub-machine guns. I was happy that our State was secure. I stated on the Order of Business today that I am against a reduction in the 1,600 armed gardaí and do not agree with what is being said about less lethal weapons. They are a sign of strength and anybody who is law-abiding has nothing to fear. I would be very concerned if do-gooders were talking down armed gardaí. The Garda has been a very serious and professional force over the years.
It was not the present Minister who decided to increase the number of gardaí by 2,000 but the former Minister, Deputy O’Donoghue. He certainly said it would be possible. The president of the GRA, Mr. Greg Fogarty, said the Garda College was already running at full capacity. Despite assurances from the then Minister, he said he remained sceptical as to whether the Minister’s plan could be achieved. I have a certain sympathy for the Minister who is trying to deliver on someone else’s rash promise. People voted for Fianna Fáil and the Progressive Democrats in the belief that there would be extra gardaí, safer streets and lower crime levels. These people feel bitterly betrayed. In spite of the Minister’s assurances, which I take at face value, the results of the local and European elections proved that people felt betrayed.
There were promises that extra gardaí would be delivered. The Minister said there was a battle for resources, therefore, there is a bit of a contradiction when he praises the Minister for Finance for tackling the €1.3 billion budget deficit given that he ensured the Minister for Justice, Equality and Law Reform did not get the vital resources to deliver the 2,000 extra gardaí. We have said goodbye to the great Minister for Finance, whom Government Members said did such a good job, but he was the man who prevented the delivery of the 2,000 extra gardaí.
Mr. Feighan: I suspect the Minister may take action against The Sunday Business Post. The Minister said he did not realise earlier in the year that there would be a budget deficit of €1.3 billion. He said he had not broken his promise and it could be worse if he had endangered the public finances. He confirmed in the Dáil that the plan was being dropped.
I accept the Minister is doing his best to ensure the extra gardaí will be delivered. In the meantime, in the area where I grew up and in other towns, villages and cities, the numbers of young people experimenting with drugs is growing at an alarming rate. While I do not believe 2,000 extra gardaí will solve the problem, they will go a long way towards doing so. The national drugs strategy appears to be failing. Drugs task forces will only succeed if they get the proper resources, including gardaí and so on; some areas do not even have such forces. If the gardaí want to carry out a drugs bust in Roscommon, they must request special assistance. There are no dog units and so on, which is like putting up the white flag to professional crime gangs. If we do not get 2,000 extra gardaí soon, we will need 10,000 extra gardaí to cope with the serious problems that will exist. Unfortunately, the Government has not taken precautions to deal with this issue.
Garda recruits and trainee gardaí are not qualified gardaí. I am sceptical that the pre-election promise of an increase in Garda strength from 12,000 to 14,000 can be delivered during the lifetime of the Government. Drugs are taking root in the towns and villages which have not had a drugs problem in the past.
Mr. Morrissey: I welcome the Minister to the House. I suppose there are a few certainties after tonight. The first is that the Mullingar accord did not feature here tonight. The second is that the Minister has been very forthright in his honest assessment and appraisal of Garda numbers over the past nine to ten years, during the lifetime of previous Governments and going forward into the lifetime of the next Government when, I hope, this Government will continue in office.
The Minister set out his stall and will honour the Government’s commitment. If we had the senior Opposition spokesperson on justice in the other House, according to what he said last week, this might take 25 years. The only suggestion I heard him make was to increase the Garda retirement age. The Minister advocates an extension to the Garda recruitment age at the other end of the scale. We should recruit young, vibrant, dynamic and diverse people into the Garda force, which current society needs.
Mr. Morrissey: The Minister has put to bed the lies of the Opposition for the past two years. He set the record straight on the Government programme. I agree with Senator Cummins that the Minister has engaged in some creative thinking. The Opposition spokesperson in the other House did not do so. The Minister’s creative thinking includes changing the location of in-service training, building a new block, doing away with the Irish language requirement and increasing the recruitment age. The Minister has engaged in creative thinking by introducing some reforms. If we listened to the comments of Opposition spokespersons, this could not be done.
I welcome the fact that the Minister sought and received an assurance from the Garda Commissioner that, when qualified, the new entrants will be part of a high visibility presence in the community. They will be diverted into the drugs unit and a road traffic corps. I would also like to see them diverted into growing new communities throughout Dublin and other cities. In my area, Clonee has grown into a huge new town. Times have moved on and perhaps we should examine boundaries for policing purposes so that they can more accurately reflect the way areas have developed from small rural villages into large towns. This might happen in the future.
I would like to put on record my thanks to the gardaí in my constituency who were not afraid to go into Dunsink. It required a large number of gardaí to root out the lawless elements in the area. They did so under the glare of the national media and acquitted themselves very well. I thank them for doing so.
Mr. Brennan: I welcome the Minister to the House. I congratulate the Minister, the Taoiseach and the Government on their commitment to implement the programme for Government in respect of the additional 2,000 gardaí. I pay tribute to the Garda Commissioner, members of the Garda and the Office of Public Works for playing a leading role in implementing the plans. The Government is certainly committed to the justice system and the operation of the Garda force throughout the country. We should all acknowledge the tremendous work and sacrifice of the gardaí throughout the country since the foundation of the State. We have witnessed supreme sacrifices being made. I refer to Detective Garda Jerry McCabe who was shot in my village of Adare. I saw the programme on Detective Garda McCabe last night. There are many newspaper articles about the issue, so it is no harm to reaffirm our commitment to gardaí and their families in respect of commitments made by past Governments and Ministers for Justice, Equality and Law Reform. It is important the Government continues to make the resources of the State available. Members of the Oireachtas, the Garda Síochána and the community at large should work together as a team in the fight against crime. I wish the Garda Commissioner well with the allocation of extra gardaí. It is good to see changes in recruitment and in how the force will be used. I also wish the Minister well.
Mr. McCarthy: I welcome the Minister to the House. I wish to make a few general observations about the Garda Síochána. There is an issue about how the Garda does its work. We have a fine complement of gardaí. They are unarmed, which is a testament to their ability, professionalism and integrity. Over the years they have commanded great amounts of respect and that is a testament to the way in which they were managed and how they policed our communities. Unfortunately, a number of incidents in recent years have characterised what a minority of people do when they drink too much. They act the maggot and their behaviour is completely foolish and irresponsible.
There is an issue with regard to the administration ordinary members of the force must undertake. The Minister recently made comments regarding gardaí stationed outside the homes of Ministers or former Taoisigh. The issue relates to the way in which the resources of the Garda Síochána are applied most effectively. How can it be higher priority for gardaí to stand at the gate of a house, where the occupants might leave twice or three times a day, or write up a summons than to police streets or go into schools and speak to young people about the dangers of alcohol? Looking at a better application of resources will result in a more effective use of the force. It might contribute to reducing crime figures.
I want to be parochial about this issue and I hope my point does not seem contradictory. In January 2004, in a village near Dunmanway in west Cork, two gardaí were set upon by a number of youths. They were beaten up while on duty. This happened in a rural area and those gardaí have not yet returned to work. There is a sergeant and four gardaí in Dunmanway. Currently, the sergeant is out sick as a result of the beating he received in January and three of the gardaí are also out sick.
Two weekends ago, two gardaí operating a checkpoint stopped a young driver on suspicion of drink driving. While they questioned the man and attempted to breathalyse him, his girlfriend passed him a knife and he stabbed one of the gardaí and then made off on foot. This happened in a rural town. Those two gardaí are out sick as a result of being injured on duty. That is a frightening experience for anyone. In the same town, on Friday night of last week, two gardaí intercepted a group of 17 year olds bush drinking in a field. A garda was injured apprehending one of the youths.
An issue arises from this which has a more immediate effect on the community. There is a delay in replacing a long-standing retirement or a recent transfer and also in replacing personnel who have gone out sick in the course of their duty this year. I will probably communicate the matter in greater detail to the Minister’s Department.
We held a meeting in Dunmanway last night on the problem of under-age drinking. This issue is not specific to one town; it ripples through every town and village in the county. A Garda chief superintendent was at the meeting. I made a point about the shortfall in the numbers of gardaí and he replied that he does not have the personnel to replace people who are out sick.
I want to nail a myth in certain circles of the media that try to make an issue of something that does not necessarily exist. Tabloid journalism grossly exaggerates what happens from time to time. The reality needs to be dealt with in terms of proper policing and personnel. This comes back to the commitment of 2,000 extra gardaí. I welcome the announcement, but I want to ask the Minister a number of questions on the matter. I presume the idea was well researched, costed and thought out. Will the Minister confirm that is the case? I also want clarification about the capacity of the training college in Templemore to deal with the 2,000 extra gardaí, however they are phased in. That figure is on top of the normal intake which takes place three or four times per annum. These are extra gardaí. My understanding is the rates of retirement and recruitment were barely breaking even, so we need extra gardaí. I would like to hear the Minister’s view on this point.
In my town, an ordinary dwelling house functions as a temporary Garda station. The situation is wholly unsatisfactory. The upgrade of the existing station was announced a number of times in the past three years, but it has not happened. In this day and age it is unsatisfactory that people must present themselves to a private household without wheelchair access or cells and where the environment is not conducive to a Garda station. It is unacceptable and I expect the matter to be looked at urgently.
Senator Brennan spoke about the unfortunate and sad event in Adare when Detective Garda Jerry McCabe lost his life. Will the Minister reaffirm that the killers will remain in jail and serve the sentences handed down for this despicable act?
Mr. Brady: I welcome the Minister to the House and thank him for being generous with his time. I also warmly welcome the announced increases in Garda numbers. I commend the Minister on achieving the current numbers, which, as he pointed out, were achieved against the odds.
My own experience is of Dublin inner city where there are individual gardaí who are respected and admired by everybody. We tend to only hear the negatives. Thousands of senior citizens will attend Christmas parties run by the Garda. The Minister attended a function in Croke Park with the No Name Club, which is a massive success throughout the country. These are the areas where the Garda excels.
Gardaí make a contribution to community life. One of my colleagues made this point in a rural context, but it happens in an urban context also. The additional numbers being allocated will ensure that gardaí can be left in stations for a substantial period of time. They can build relationships with the local community, its leaders and other agencies working in the area. I have seen the benefits of this first hand.
I commend the Minister and the Department on the roll-out of the community policing forum model, which is up and running in a number of areas around Dublin city. We are looking at co-operation between the gardaí, local community, local authorities and other agencies which operate within and make up a community. This initiative can be spread throughout the country. It is not just relevant to Dublin city.
I welcome the commitment by the Minister to work closely with the Garda Commissioner in targeting new resources specifically at the areas of greatest need. I welcome his commitment to put these gardaí on the street where they will be visible. A number of Senators referred to the fact that visibility is key to making the whole community feel safer. We must work particularly hard in that regard. We have all heard about so-called “no-go areas”. Any garda on the beat will tell one that no area on his or her beat is a no-go area.
I commend the Minister, the Department and the gardaí on their actions at Dunsink over the past couple of days. They acted professionally under severe pressure. They are to be congratulated. We have heard stories about how low Garda morale is. There should be a comprehensive service operating from the time a person is arrested, through the courts process and linking in with the Prison Service and the probation and welfare service. In Northern Ireland, there is a comprehensive co-ordination of all the services which deal with crime. This is an issue we must consider more closely in the Republic.
In terms of tackling the issue of drugs, in which I have a particular interest, gardaí have excelled themselves and are well on their way to meeting their targets under the national drugs strategy. A 25% increase in seizures has been achieved this year and we hear constantly on radio and television of the seizures which are being made. When one considers that in some other countries seizures by police forces account for only one third of the drugs on the streets, the special drugs units are working extremely well. The drugs court is also operating quite well. The operation of these areas will be enhanced by the increase in Garda numbers.
I was bemused to hear Senator Ryan observe that politicians and others should not scaremonger on crime when members of his party indulged in scaremongering during the local elections by telling communities that their local Garda station would be closed when no such action was being considered.
Mr. Finucane: The usual approach is for the Government to criticise the Opposition with regard to Garda numbers for the two years in which it was in office in recent times. It should be noted that during the Celtic tiger years from 1997 to 2002, the Government recruited an average of 150 gardaí per year. The praise lavished on the former Minister for Finance, Deputy McCreevy, was somewhat unrealistic because in order to conform to the new touchy feely ethos of the Administration, many Fianna Fáil backbenchers turned on Deputy McCreevy and he finished up in Brussels. They were grateful to him, however, when he went on a spending bonanza for more than a year before the last general election, spending all around him in order to buy the election for Fianna Fáil. We all know what happened after the election to the promise by the former Minister, Deputy McCreevy, that there would be no cutbacks. It is now stated that since there was prudent economic management in the first two years of the Administration, it is time to dispense the largesse and it is in this context that there is to be an increase in Garda numbers.
The Fianna Fáil manifesto of 1997 pledged to withdraw gardaí from routine civilian work and traffic duties and to give these duties to local authorities. Is this proposal dead or has there been a withdrawal of gardaí from civilian duties? The Minister for Justice, Equality and Law Reform, Deputy McDowell, made a significant point when he stated the new recruits would not be involved in civilian duties. I accept and appreciate this comment.
There are many elements in what the Minister is trying to do, one of which is to recognise the multicultural society which exists. We can promote this multiculturalism and the visibility of ethnic communities by absorbing people from those communities into the Garda.
I also welcome the Minister’s assertion that although the Irish language is important within the Garda, it should not be a barrier to recruitment if a person does not have leaving certificate level Irish. It is grossly unfair that a person could be brilliant at mathematics, for example, but be barred from joining the force because he or she does not speak Irish. The Minister for Community, Rural and Gaeltacht Affairs, Deputy Ó Cuív, and some other Irish language proponents have expressed reservations about such a development. These reservations are unwarranted and there should be no barrier regarding Irish competency if a person possesses adequate skills to join the Garda.
Regarding the numbers and the point made in Fianna Fáil’s 1997 manifesto, there has been little recruitment in the last two years. I accept the Minister is accelerating the programme. He was applauded by his colleague, Senator Morrissey, on his sense of vision and creativity in getting the OPW to expand on developments in Templemore and elsewhere. I am amused by this sycophantic tone because I would expect a person with any degree of imagination and innovation within a Department to come up with such suggestions if he or she wishes to pursue a programme of expansion. We will wait and see regarding the success of the programme and I will not be critical of it because I wish the Minister well.
We all know the expansion of Garda numbers is required and we are aware of the degree of lawlessness which exists within communities. A survey Fine Gael conducted last February in conjunction with a national opinion poll provider indicated that many people in the 18 to 24 year old category do not report crimes such as burglaries to the Garda because they do not have confidence in the system. This confidence must be restored. I come from Limerick, which has had its share of problems in the past, but I must compliment the chief superintendent and the Garda authorities on putting the lid on many of the difficulties experienced in Limerick, such as problems with gangs and associated criminal activities. I appreciate what has been achieved in this regard.
The sad death of Detective Garda Jerry McCabe in Limerick has been referred to in this Chamber. We were all touched by last night’s television programme which portrayed the appeal of his widow, Mrs. McCabe, to this Administration. However, I am fearful that if a deal is done between the DUP and Sinn Féin and the Northern Ireland talks progress, Detective Garda McCabe’s killers will be released shortly afterwards. Reassurance was sought by a colleague in this House from the Minister for Justice, Equality and Law Reform of a previous commitment that this would not happen and such a reassurance was given. I will watch with great interest what happens in this regard.
The 1997 programme for Government pledged that to enable the Garda to concentrate on crime control, a community warden service would be recruited by local authorities to reduce the workload of the Garda. This never happened. Perhaps many objectives are never achieved and are included in the programme for Government because they sound good when a party is producing its manifesto. However, there may be a role for local authorities in this regard, as expressed recently by the Minister for Justice, Equality and Law Reform.
There is great concern about crime in rural communities, as highlighted by the recent sad death of a gentleman in the west. People in rural areas are concerned about Garda activity and visibility. Another recent example involved the owner of a post office in County Limerick who was tied up by burglars and left in that condition for hours. These types of crimes are still happening.
I am never a knocker as I like to be constructive in politics and I hope the increase in the numbers are achieved over the two years. I want to see a more visible Garda presence so that members of rural communities, in particular, can feel safe in their homes. We shall wait in judgment on the success of the Minister for Justice, Equality and Law Reform in getting the financial allocation necessary to achieve these objectives. The Celtic tiger is purring again but not as strongly as it did in the past and the Minister will require a lot of funding to achieve many of the objectives that are being trumpeted from various quarters.
Mr. Dardis: I thank all the Senators who participated in the debate. I welcome the Minister of State at the Department of Finance, Deputy Parlon, who is standing in for the Minister for Justice, Equality and Law Reform. It is appropriate that he is here because he is centrally involved in terms of what is required from an infrastructural point of view to achieve what is proposed.
We all agree the Garda Síochána needs extra numbers. The Minister has agreed with this as an objective for Government, but he has also shown how it can be done. The Cassandras — mentioned by Senator Ryan — in the media and the Opposition keep saying these objectives cannot be achieved, but the Minister has shown how they can be met through the provision of extra facilities, relocation of people, in-service training and pre-retirement courses.
The recurring theme of this debate has been the need for visibility. We need to see gardaí on the street and in the communities. Visibility is a powerful deterrent, although there is argument about to what degree. I and several speakers have visited New York where policemen are visible on the corners of every block, certainly on Fifth Avenue and adjacent streets. The results of this visibility are evident to all. I have seen a similar situation in South Africa, especially with regard to the traffic police. One would be reluctant to break the speed limit there because there are checks everywhere. The squad car is not always there but the policemen sit in the bushes with their “hairdryer” to ensure people keep within the speed limit. Everybody is agreed on the important matter of visibility. Hopefully the increase in Garda numbers will help solve that issue.
The Minister made a point with regard to rural policing. It is important that people who live in isolated areas feel safe because they have been vulnerable to attack, robbery and assault. There is a wider issue in the urban areas. In approximately ten years time, my home area of Newbridge, County Kildare, will, combined with Kilcullen and Naas, have a population equivalent to the current population of Limerick. This increased population will require greater police numbers to service the area. It is imperative that the Department responds to the changing needs of society, whether these relate to increased numbers or the ethnic composition of an area.
I am pleased the Minister has recognised the need for balance in the ethnic make up of the force so that people who settle in our country will be able to identify with the Garda in a way those born here already do. The Minister spoke about second generation people and we must be aware of our prejudices in this regard. The children of a family of Pakistani origin in my area were born in Ireland, are citizens and were educated here. However, they are frequently asked where they are from. They come from Newbridge, but people do not understand that and just because their skin colour is different, it is assumed they are foreigners. We must be ready to consider our attitude.
I thank Senators for their contributions to this constructive debate. I am sure the Minister will take into account the telling points made. Senator Quinn mentioned the frustration experienced by gardaí who must deal with violent and difficult people. He would advocate an aggressive response and I agree, although it should be proportionate. Gardaí who must deal with violent and difficult people often experience frustration when they find themselves in trouble as a result. This is not right. They should not have to face that frustration nor to have to suffer long delays in getting matters to court to deal with troublemakers in society whom they want put away because of their violence or criminal activity.
In my time in this House, I cannot recall an occasion when an amendment was not seconded. The rhetoric of the Opposition is not matched by the action. If people want to speak on a subject and have proposed an amendment, it should be seconded and voted on.
|Brady, Cyprian.||Brennan, Michael.|
|Callanan, Peter.||Cox, Margaret.|
|Daly, Brendan.||Dardis, John.|
|Dooley, Timmy.||Feeney, Geraldine.|
|Fitzgerald, Liam.||Glynn, Camillus.|
|Hanafin, John.||Kenneally, Brendan.|
|Kett, Tony.||Kitt, Michael P.|
|Leyden, Terry.||MacSharry, Marc.|
|Mansergh, Martin.||Morrissey, Tom.|
|Moylan, Pat.||Norris, David.|
|O’Brien, Francis.||Ó Murchú, Labhrás.|
|Ormonde, Ann.||O’Rourke, Mary.|
|Phelan, Kieran.||Ross, Shane.|
|Scanlon, Eamon.||Walsh, Kate.|
|White, Mary M.||Wilson, Diarmuid.|
|Bannon, James.||Bradford, Paul.|
|Browne, Fergal.||Burke, Paddy.|
|Burke, Ulick.||Coghlan, Paul.|
|Coonan, Noel.||Cummins, Maurice.|
|Feighan, Frank.||Finucane, Michael.|
|Hayes, Brian.||McCarthy, Michael.|
|McHugh, Joe.||O’Meara, Kathleen.|
|O’Toole, Joe.||Phelan, John.|
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