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Question

77. Deputy Martin Heydon asked the Minister for Justice and Equality the status of the resources provided to winter phase of Operation Thor; the way in which it can help to address rural crime in areas such as County Kildare; and if he will make a statement on the matter. [5675/18]

Answer

Minister for Justice and Equality (Deputy Charles Flanagan): I want to assure the Deputy that I am very much aware of the impact of crime on rural communities, including the serious damage done by organised gangs who target rural areas to engage in burglary and other property-related crime. Such incidents cannot be tolerated in our society and this Government will continue to support An Garda Síochána in tackling the gangs, including mobile criminal gangs, who target rural areas, including Co. Kildare.
The Deputy will appreciate it is the Garda Commissioner who is responsible for the distribution of resources, including personnel, among the various Garda Divisions and Districts and I, as Minister, have no direct role in the matter. I can assure the Deputy that Garda management keeps this distribution of resources under continual review in the context of crime trends and policing priorities so as to ensure that optimum use is made of these resources.
I am informed by the Commissioner that the Garda strength of the Kildare Division on 31 December 2017, the latest date for which figures are currently available, was 360 Gardaí with 20 Garda Reserves and 30 Garda civilian staff attached to the Division. When appropriate, the work of local Gardaí is supported by a number of Garda national units such as the National Bureau of Criminal Investigation, the Armed Support Units, the Garda National Economic Crime Bureau and the Garda National Drugs and Organised Crime Bureau. Since the reopening of the Garda College in September 2014, just under 1,600 recruits have attested as members of An Garda Síochána and have been assigned to mainstream duties nationwide, of whom 80 have been assigned to the Kildare Division.
As the Deputy will be aware, very significant resources have been provided to An Garda Síochána, including an overtime allocation of almost €100 million announced in Budget 2018, to support large-scale policing operations including Operation Thor. It is also worth noting that Operation Thor has now entered its ‘Winter Phase’ which will run from 29 October 2017–1 April 2018. Indeed, provisional operational material, released by the Gardaí last month, indicates a significant drop in burglary rates for the 2 month period of November/December 2017. This success has been attributed to the Winter Phase of Operation Thor. Of course, these figures should be viewed with caution until such time as the publication of the official crime statistics has recommenced.
The scale of Garda activity against burglary and property-related crime under Operation Thor has led to concentrated Garda activity. As of 18 January 2018, 105,790 targeted checkpoints and 99,210 crime prevention patrols have been conducted nationwide. To give you an idea of the impact of the Operation, I can inform you that this concentrated policing activity has produced in the region of 6,600 arrests and 7,420 charges covering a range of offences which, in addition to burglary, include handling stolen property, possession of firearms and drugs offences.
Operation Thor has targeted mobile criminal gangs engaged in burglary and related crimes and it is encouraging to note that since the launch of the operation in November 2015, the burglary figures have shown a significant downward trend. The CSO official recorded crime statistics for 2016 show a decrease in burglary offences of 30% when compared to the previous twelve-month period in 2015. This reflects the success of the concerted Garda drive against crime being implemented under Operation Thor.
The Capital Plan 2016–2021 provides for an investment of €46 million the Garda fleet. This is in addition to the investment of almost €30 million in the period 2013 to 2015. Indeed, in the period 2013 to end of 2017 almost €44 million will have been invested in the fleet with some 2,000 vehicles coming on stream in that period vehicles to ensure that the Gardaí can be mobile, visible and responsive on the roads and in the community to prevent and tackle crime.
These additional investments in policing make it possible to maintain and extend a range of intensive policing operations, including the continued targeting of burglaries and related crime via Operation Thor.
This Government has also 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. This new legislation is now available to support the work which is being carried out by An Garda Síochána under Operation Thor.
The Programme for Government underlines the need for close engagement between An Garda Síochána and local communities. This is an essential feature of the strong community policing ethos which has long been central to policing in this jurisdiction. The Deputy will be aware that, as part of the overall strategy to oppose criminality, the Garda authorities pursue a range of partnerships with community stakeholders, including the farming organisations. These include the well established Community Alert Programme, which receives annual funding from my Department, as well as the work of the Metal Theft Forum, the Crimestoppers campaign highlighting the Theft of Livestock, the Theftstop initiative in relation to farm equipment, and the highly successful Garda Text Alert Scheme.
On 2 January 2018 I was pleased to announce that my Department will be providing an additional €50,000 in financial support to Community Text Alert Groups as a further measure in this Government's support to crime prevention. This is in addition to the €100,000 which I announced at the National Ploughing Championships in September 2017 . The Rebate Scheme, which also ran in 2016, will allow Text Alert Groups registered with An Garda Síochána to apply for funding to contribute towards their yearly running costs. The Text Alert Rebate Scheme will be administered by Muintir na Tíre and I would like to urge groups wishing to participate in the Scheme to contact Muintir na Tíre for more information. The website is www.muintir.ie.
Other policing initiatives include Theft Stop which was launched by the Gardaí and the Irish Farmers Association. Theft Stop is designed to deter criminals from taking and selling farm equipment by ensuring it is clearly marked with a unique ID (such as an EirCode) and then registered on a nationwide database.
The Deputy will be aware that An Garda Síochána's Modernisation and Renewal Programme 2016-2021 places a strong emphasis on developing and supporting the community policing ethos of the organisation and enhancing the current delivery model so that Gardaí spend more time in the community, gaining public confidence and trust and providing a greater sense of security. It will result in the introduction of multi-skilled Community Policing Teams in every District. Community Policing Teams will be made-up of Gardaí from a number of different units who will work with the local community to prevent and detect crime. Undoubtedly, the ongoing recruitment process will support all Garda activities and will enhance the provision of effective Community Policing throughout the country.
The Government is committed to ensuring a strong and visible police presence throughout the country in order to maintain and strengthen community engagement, provide reassurance to citizens and to deter crime. Budget 2018 will support the continuation of this high level of investment in the Garda workforce and ensure that the vision of an overall workforce of 21,000 by 2021 remains on track. A further 800 new Garda Recruits will enter the Garda College, an additional 500 civilians will also be recruited to fill critical skills gaps across the organisation and to facilitate the redeployment of Gardaí from administrative and technical duties to front-line operational duties. There are plans to strengthen the Garda Reserve with new Reserves expected to commence training early in 2018.