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Question

141. Deputy Éamon Ó Cuív asked the Minister for Justice if she plans setting out as a policy priority, under section 20 of the Garda Síochána Act 2005, the maintenance of An Garda Síochána as a largely unarmed force, thus strengthening the bond between the people and An Garda Síochána; her views on the increase in recent years of the visibility of armed members of the force; and if she will make a statement on the matter. [53599/21]

Answer

Minister for Justice (Deputy Helen McEntee): As the Deputy will be aware, the Garda Commissioner is responsible under the law for the management and administration of An Garda Síochána, including the distribution of Garda members between the various Garda units. This includes the number of members assigned to armed units. As Minister I have no direct role in these matters.
As the Deputy has pointed out, An Garda Síochána is a largely unarmed police service with a proud tradition of being a community police service by fostering close links with the communities it serves. I know that the Garda Commissioner is fully committed to this principle and echoes the statement of the first Commissioner of An Garda Síochána, Michael Staines, who stated, “The Garda Síochána will succeed not by force of arms or numbers, but on their moral authority as servants of the people.”
I can also assure the Deputy that the Government and I, as Minister, remain fully committed to continuing the role of An Garda Síochána as a community based and largely unarmed police service.
Armed Support Units (ASU) were established on a regional basis in order to provide an armed response capacity and capability to support and supplement, where necessary, front line unarmed uniformed Garda colleagues. Members of the ASU are highly trained and equipped with a variety of non-lethal and lethal weapons and perform high visibility armed checkpoints and patrols in a uniform that deliberately distinguishes them from their unarmed uniformed colleagues.
The Government is committed to delivering on the report of the Commission for the Future of Policing in Ireland (CoFPI), which puts community policing at the heart of An Garda Síochána's work. In this regard, as the Deputy will be aware, earlier this year my Department published the General Scheme of the Policing, Security and Community Safety Bill. This Bill will improve the performance and accountability of our policing and security services, and support the human rights of all people throughout Ireland, including the right to be and feel safe in their communities.
I can inform the Deputy, that section 20 of the Garda Síochána Act 2020, as amended by the Garda Síochána (Policing Authority and Miscellaneous Provisions) Act 2015, provides for the Policing Authority, with the approval of the Minister for Justice, to determine or revise the priorities for An Garda Síochána in performing its functions relating to policing services. The most recent policing priorities for 2021 reflect the work of the Policing Authority as well as the outcomes of the Authority's public consultation and consultation with Joint Policing Committees. The Policing Priorities for 2021 may be viewed on the website of the Policing Authority www.policingauthority.ie.