327. Deputy Michael Healy-Rae asked the Minister for Justice and Equality his views on the distribution of Garda Síochána recruits (details supplied); and if she will make a statement on the matter. [6859/16]
Minister for Justice and Equality (Deputy Frances Fitzgerald): I am very much aware of the impact of crime on rural communities. The Deputy will appreciate that the allocation of Garda personnel to particular areas is a matter for the Garda Commissioner and as Minister, I have no direct role in the matter. I am assured that Garda management keeps this distribution of resources under continual review in the context of crime trends and policing priorities to ensure the optimum use is made of these resources.
A carefully considered strategy has been developed to tackle crime, both rural and urban, which has strengthened the law and provided very significant investments to augment the capacity of An Garda Síochána to enforce the law effectively.
The Deputy will appreciate that it is vital that An Garda Síochána is renewed to ensure it has the capacity to provide effective and visible policing throughout the country. With this objective in mind, there have been seven intakes of Garda Trainees to the Garda College since it was reopened in September 2014 giving a total intake of 700 to date. A further 450 will be taken in during the remainder of this year, bringing to 1,150 the number of new gardaí who will have been recruited since the reopening of the Garda College in Templemore in September 2014. So far, 395 of the new Garda Trainees have attested as members of An Garda Síochána and have been assigned to mainstream uniform duties in communities nationwide. I have been informed that of these, 70 have been assigned to Garda Divisions in Munster and 15 to Connacht. It is expected that a further 300 trainee Gardaí will attest this year and it will be a matter for the Garda Commissioner to assign them as she considers appropriate.
I have made it a particular priority to strengthen our legislative provisions through the enactment of the Criminal Justice (Burglary of Dwellings) Act 2015 which is targeted at repeat burglars who have previous convictions and who are charged with multiple offences of residential burglary. I am very pleased that this new legislation is now available to support the concerted drive against crime which is being carried out by An Garda Síochána under Operation Thor.
The Garda authorities have reported very positive operational feedback since the launch of Operation Thor on 2 November 2015 and this has been underscored by the most recent quarterly CSO Recorded Crime Statistics. While these show an overall reduction in burglary of 5% for the 12-month period ending on 31 December 2015, there was a very significant reduction during the last quarter of the year with a recorded decrease of 26.2% compared to the same period in 2014. The concentrated Garda activity under Operation Thor has resulted in more than 16,000 anti-crime patrols and in the order of 20,000 targeted checkpoints nationwide. This has led to more than 1,000 burglary-related arrests, including the arrest of particular target suspects, and charges have been brought against numerous individuals. In addition to burglary, arrests have also been made for handling stolen property, possession of firearms and drugs offences, including arrests connected to crimes committed by mobile criminal groups.
Operation Thor delivers on increased investment in policing by this Government and marks a significant step-up in the Garda response to burglaries and related crime. In excess of €5 million is being specifically committed to support Operation Thor and includes funding for Garda overtime which will support a combination of additional patrols, checkpoints, rapid armed response and public awareness measures. Furthermore, since 2012, an overall amount of €34 million has been invested in the Garda fleet, with over 640 new vehicles coming on stream in 2015. This significant investment provides the Gardaí with additional high-powered vehicles, marked and unmarked patrol cars, and motorcycles for high-visibility road policing which will support important anti-crime strategies such as Operation Thor. Investment in a modern, effective and fit-for-purpose Garda fleet will continue under the Government’s Capital Plan 2016-2021 which provides €46 million for new Garda vehicles, ensuring gardaí can be mobile, visible and responsive on the roads and in the community. The Government is also investing in Garda airborne surveillance and enhanced technology and ICT systems. In fact, the Capital Plan 2016-2021 provides an additional €205 million for Garda ICT over the lifetime of the Plan.
In conclusion, I assure the Deputy that I remain in close contact with the Garda Commissioner with a view to ensuring that we continue to build on the early successes of Operation Thor and that communities in rural and all other areas of the country benefit from the improved legislation and increased investments in policing which have been put in place.