Statement by Minister of State James Browne, T.D.
Dáil Statements on Community Safety and Preventing Crime
18 November 2020
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I would like to echo my colleague, Minister McEntee, in thanking the House for the opportunity to discuss this important topic today.
Minister McEntee has already spoken of our understanding of the full meaning of community safety. While we can all agree that crime prevention measures are critical in improving the quality of life for all in our local communities, crime prevention is just one facet of community safety. Community safety in the most complete sense requires the proactive and ongoing input of a range of public and community services and cannot be met by any single state agency or voluntary organisation alone.
When we think about successful communities - and by that I mean communities where people are content, supported and provided with opportunities to thrive - these communities have at their heart a committed team of community organisations, residents, and the support of An Garda Síochána and other state bodies. In other words, a collaborative approach is the key to creating a community that people enjoy living in.
That is why the Government is seeking to foster a multi-agency, cross-collaborative approach. By harnessing those community and state services that focus on mental health issues, educational work, drug prevention, and other key issues to work together, we can make meaningful contributions to local communities across the country.
Of course responses need to be community-specific and this is why public engagement is also an integral part of making our communities safer and more resilient.
Deputies may be aware that a public consultation was launched by my Department earlier this year on the development of a new Youth Justice Strategy. We intend to bring the final Strategy, taking account of the input which we received as part of this consultation process, to Government before the end of the year.
Issues such as the need for early intervention and family support, coupled with collaborative working by agencies and community partners, are central to the approach contained in the Youth Justice Strategy. The importance of the strategy is endorsed by and prioritised in the Programme for Government.
A key priority for this new Strategy will be to strengthen and expand the role of the Garda Youth Diversion Projects (GYDPs) and other community-based initiatives, including those working with the Probation Service. Bringing the full range of relevant interventions together in a coherent and holistic response to youth crime will support the objective of diverting young people from crime and anti-social behaviour.
The Strategy has been developed in light of the experience of State agencies and community partners who work with the comparatively small number of children and young people who come in contact with the criminal justice system. This work has built on the 2008 Youth Justice Strategy and the subsequent Youth Justice Action Plan 2014-2018, and it tries to deal with many of the gaps that remain as well as new challenges which have emerged.
The Strategy will align with our new community safety policy as well as with successor frameworks to the current National Policy Framework for Children and Young Adults 2014-2020, which is overseen by the Department of Children, Equality, Disability, Integration and Youth.
In terms of supports and programmes currently available, there are some 105 Garda Youth Diversion Projects across the State. The intention is to further develop this service so that it is available to every child in the State who could benefit from it through an ongoing expansion of existing services and, where necessary, the foundation of new projects. Further, the projects are being developed to provide family support to the parents of young people participating in the projects and are undertaking early intervention and preventative work. The role of the projects in relation to harder-to-engage young people is being enhanced and extended as part of the evolving Youth Justice system.
My Department is supporting ongoing development of practice in GYDPs through the Action Research Project led by the University of Limerick. The Action Research Project works directly with front-line Youth Justice Workers from local projects to develop interventions and best practice. Based on initial outcomes from the Action Research Project, and evaluations of a number of pilot projects, it is intended to develop proposals to expand the existing services, to ensure national coverage and a stronger focus on difficult issues such as the hard-to-reach cohort.
The Programme for Government also contains a commitment to convene an expert forum on anti-social behaviour to consider the effectiveness of existing legislation and propose new ways forward, including new powers for An Garda Síochána and additional interventions to support parenting of offenders. As Minister of State, I convened an initial meeting of the new Forum on Anti-Social Behaviour on October 27th.
Turning to the critical role of An Garda Síochána in making our communities safer, the Government is prioritising the implementation of the recommendations of the Commission on the Future of Policing in Ireland through the four-year implementation plan, ‘A Policing Service for our Future’. As Minister McEntee has already noted, the Policing and Community Safety Bill being drafted to give legislative effect to the recommendations of the Commission’s report is a key element of this implementation plan, redefining, as it will, policing to include prevention of harm to those who are vulnerable and placing a statutory obligation on relevant state agencies to cooperate with An Garda Síochána in relation to the broader issue of community safety.
The provision of record resources to An Garda Síochána in Budget 2021 will further support An Garda Síochána in carrying out its vital crime prevention role in our local communities.
We all acknowledge the extraordinary policing challenges presented by the onset of the COVID-19 pandemic. I want to pay tribute to Gardaí around the country for the exceptional contribution they have made to making our communities safer. I want to mention in particular the critical importance of Operation Faoiseamh, which continues to provide support and outreach to victims of domestic abuse, as well as the crucially important work of all Gardaí under Operation Fanacht and Operation Navigation to ensure public compliance with the public health guidelines through the ‘4 Es’ approach of engaging, educating, encouraging and, only as a last resort, enforcing. The positive community centred tone of this approach, in line with our tradition of policing by consent, has been recognised by the Policing Authority.
I would also like to thank the public at large for their individual and collective efforts in combatting this virus. I recognise the hardship this has brought on many people and businesses around the country, especially in the service and retail sectors. At a time of great stress and worry, without the buy-in from the public in general, our communities would be less safe today and into the future without our own and our neighbours' determination to protect each other.
In tandem with the suite of COVID-19 Garda operations and other policing initiatives, An Garda Síochána is continuing to prioritise its annual crime prevention operations. Operation Thor continues to focus on the anticipated increase in the number of burglaries and associated criminal activity that usually occur in winter months by undertaking targeted enforcement and preventative activity.
The uninterrupted policing of organised crime during the policing of the pandemic has undoubtedly contributed to recent successes in seizing controlled drugs and in the apprehension of those involved in the sale and supply of the substances involved. In the first six months of 2020, Garda operations to counter organised crime resulted in the seizure of €13.6m in illicit drugs, as well as 13 firearms and 2,000 rounds of ammunition.
An Garda Síochána has also continued to raise public awareness of online fraud in recognition of the fact that this category of crime has, to an extent, benefitted from COVID-19 public health restrictions by targeting vulnerable members of our communities. In a bid to tackle the constantly evolving avenues for cybercrime, €1.8m has been allocated in Budget 2021 for the expansion of the Garda National Cybercrime Bureau in 2021.
My Department also continues to provide a number of financial supports to local communities to support community safety. Supports include administering a grant aid scheme supporting community groups wishing to establish a community-based CCTV system in their area. To date, 29 applications have been approved under the scheme, involving approved grants awarded totalling more than €752,000. Eligible groups, including community groups and local authorities nationwide, can apply for grant aid of up to 60% of the total capital cost of a proposed CCTV system, up to a maximum total of €40,000.
Last year the grant aid scheme was extended beyond new CCTV systems, to allow funding applications for extension or upgrade of existing Community CCTV systems which are incomplete or obsolete. Applicants can now also seek a once-off grant of up to €5,000 for minor maintenance costs. The significance of these schemes in helping to detect crime in local communities is well recognised and €1m in funding has been provided for the continuation of this scheme in Budget 2021.
Deputies may also be aware that the Programme for Government includes a commitment to continue to support and prioritise community crime prevention, including the Garda Text Alert scheme.
In conclusion, I would thank you again for this opportunity to outline the measures being taken to improve community safety and prevent crime nationwide and I can assure you that this Government will continue to actively support collaborative progress towards achieving a safer society for all.