73. Deputy Niall Collins asked the Minister for Justice and Equality the measures she will take to prevent assaults on vulnerable older persons; and if she will make a statement on the matter. [42398/15]


Minister for Justice and Equality (Deputy Frances Fitzgerald): The general law relating to non-fatal offences, which includes assaults, is contained in the Non-Fatal Offences Against the Person Act 1997. There are a number of different offences related to assault, the more serious of which carry heavy penalties.The legislation provides maximum penalties, and in considering sentencing in a given case a judge may consider any relevant aggravating factors, including the age and vulnerability of the victim, which might warrant the imposition of a relatively higher sentence to a similar case where such factors did not arise. There is also statutory provision to allow the DPP to appeal a sentence on grounds of undue leniency.
While specific crime prevention measures are a matter for the Garda authorities, I am of course concerned that we do all that we can to support and protect elderly and other vulnerable people in our communities.
The Deputy will be aware that the Government is making very significant investments in policing. The resumption of Garda recruitment has provided for the training of 1,150 new Gardai by the end of 2016, increasing the number of Gardaí available for frontline duties. In addition, the expansion and upgrading of the Garda fleet and modernising Garda technology and systems will support more flexible and responsive patrolling, increasing the visible police presence and providing reassurance for our communities, including elderly and more vulnerable persons.
Unfortunately we have seen several incidents where elderly people were assaulted in the course of burglaries and the Deputy will be aware that we now have a strategy in place under Operation Thor to significantly step-up our response to this form of criminality. Operation Thor is a multi-strand national anti-crime and anti-burglary operation which has been in the planning for several months. It was launched both as a follow-on to recent announcements regarding investment in policing and to coincide with the advent of longer winter nights.
The strategy being pursued under Operation Thor will entail a broad range of activities to tackle burglars, including additional high-visibility patrols and increased use of checkpoints to tackle the criminal gangs using the national road network, as well as a high-profile national crime prevention awareness campaign, and targeted crime prevention advice for local communities as well as enhanced supports for victims.
Insofar as the particular needs and concerns of the elderly are concerned, An Garda Síochána’s Older People Strategy promotes actions to support and respond to the needs and expectations of older people on an ongoing basis. This strategy is pursued through various community policing initiatives and crime prevention programmes carried out in partnership with local communities such as Neighbourhood Watch and Community Alert.
The Garda authorities strongly support the ongoing development of these partnership initiatives, and I as Minister greatly value this work. In fact, I have secured a doubling of the funding for these types of initiatives to be funded by my Department in 2016. My Department is currently considering how this funding might be best allocated, in consultation with the Garda authorities.