187. Deputy Denis Naughten asked the Minister for Justice her plans to support policing in rural communities; and if she will make a statement on the matter. [57554/21]
Minister of State at the Department of Justice (Deputy James Browne): As the Deputy is aware, a key pillar of the Programme for Government,
Our Shared Future, is building stronger and safer communities. I can assure the Deputy that my Department is committed to ensuring that there is strong, visible community policing right across Ireland, both rural and urban.
While An Garda Síochána has provided very dedicated service to assisting in the national effort to combat the threat of COVID-19, ordinary policing has of course also continued throughout the period.
This includes the winter phase of Operation Thor, which was launched on 1 October 2021 and will run until 31 March 2022. Operation Thor is designed to tackle the increase in the number of burglaries and associated criminal activity that usually occur in winter months by undertaking targeted enforcement and preventative activity, highlighted through public information campaigns including 'Lock up, Light up' etc. These initiatives have been successful in dramatically reducing the rate of winter burglaries, leading to a significant decline in property-related crime since its introduction in 2015.
In addition, the Garda Community Engagement Bureau promotes 'Supporting Safer Communities’ campaigns each year. The main focus of the crime prevention campaigns is burglary prevention and reduction. The National Crime Prevention Unit at Garda Community Engagement Bureau also supports a nationwide network of Crime Prevention Officers. Each Garda division has an appointed Crime Prevention Officer.
The Deputy may also be aware of the National Rural Safety Forum, which brings together An Garda Síochána, my Department and?the Department of Rural & Community Development, alongside national and local organisations including the Irish Farmers Association, Muintir na Tíre and the GAA. The purpose of the Forum is to develop a nationwide network for the distribution of crime prevention advice, increase engagement within communities, and prevent and reduce opportunities for crime.? My Department's Justice Plan 2021 commits to working with the Forum to develop initiatives to promote community safety and to reduce the opportunity for crime throughout the country.
As the Deputy will be aware, my Department provides funding to Muintir na Tíre to cover costs incurred by communities in administering the Text Alert Scheme. The scheme is administered on a refund basis whereby communities submit their annual costs to Muintir na Tíre and a maximum refund of up to €350 is provided to the community.
For the last two years, my Department has committed to funding of up to €150,000 toward the costs of the scheme and, based on the number of applications received, it has had an average cost of €120,000 per annum.
My officials have been engaging with Muintir na Tíre in relation to continuing this scheme including reviewing whether newer technologies, including apps, would be appropriate for use. In terms of funding for the 2021 Scheme, a final decision has yet to be made but I can assure the Deputy that I am fully committed to continuing to support this scheme.
The Deputy may also be aware that An Garda Síochána commenced an enhanced national anti-drugs strategy, Operation Tara, which has a strong focus on tackling street-level dealing throughout rural and urban Ireland. The focus of Operation Tara is to disrupt, dismantle and prosecute drug trafficking networks, at all levels - international, national and local - involved in the importation, distribution, cultivation, production, local sale and supply of controlled drugs.
As the Deputy will be aware, the Garda Commissioner is also introducing the new Garda Operating Model, which is designed to make each Division the central unit of policing administration, rather than the current smaller District model. This is to provide a more comprehensive and inclusive policing service and will help strengthen the focus on community policing.
In addition, the Policing Security and Community Safety Bill will establish innovative Local Community Safety Partnerships to develop local safety plans, tailored to the priorities and needs identified by communities themselves. The Local Community Safety Partnerships will replace and build upon the existing Joint Policing Committees and will provide a forum for State agencies and local community representatives to work together to act on community concerns.
Each Partnership will devise and oversee a Local Community Safety Plan, which will be informed by the community itself. Membership of the Partnerships will be broader than that of the existing Joint Policing Committees and will include residents, community representatives (including youth, new communities and voluntary sector representation), business and education sector representation, relevant public services including the HSE, Tusla, An Garda Síochána and local authorities as well as local councillors. Pilot Partnerships are currently in place in Longford, Waterford and Dublin's north inner city and will run for two years ahead of a nationwide rollout to all local authority areas.