201. Deputy Éamon Ó Cuív asked the Minister for Justice the number of members in An Garda Síochána at present; if it is planned to increase the strength of the force and provide the funding for same; the number of stations in the country that have less than their allocated number of Garda members attached to them; and if she will make a statement on the matter. [56742/21]


Minister for Justice (Deputy Helen McEntee): As the Deputy will be aware, under the Garda Síochána Act 2005, the Garda Commissioner is responsible for the management and administration of Garda business, including decisions related to the deployment of resources within the organisation. As Minister, I have no role in such matters. However, I am assured that Garda management keeps the distribution of resources under continual review in the context of policing priorities and crime trends, to ensure their optimum use.
I am pleased that Budget 2022 reflects the commitment of the Government to enhancing community safety and that An Garda Síochána has the resources to be an effective and trusted policing service.
The budget provided by Government to the Garda Commissioner continues to increase to unprecedented levels, with an allocation of €1.952 billion for 2021 and over €2 billion in funding in Budget 2022. Indeed since 2016, the budget for An Garda Síochána has increased by some €500m, or approximately 33%. This has enabled 3,340 new Gardaí to be deployed, as well as continued investment in modern equipment. In addition, over 800 Gardaí have been redeployed to front line policing work through the recruitment of Garda staff.
I am delighted that Budget 2022 includes funding for the recruitment of 800 new Garda recruits and 400 Garda staff in 2022 - a further additional 1,200 personnel. This planned increase in the number of Garda members and staff is designed to deliver significant growth in operational policing hours nationwide and improved public safety and services to the public generally.
Redeployment of Gardaí from administrative and support roles will also continue next year, thus allowing highly trained Gardaí to focus on frontline policing duties. The organisation's capacity will be further strengthened by the recruitment of additional Garda staff, including to specialist roles to support the investigation of crime and enhance the management of the organisation.
I am informed by the Garda authorities that there are 14,298 Garda members as at 31 October 2021. I am further informed that to date in 2021, 385 new recruits have entered the Garda College. An Garda Síochána have advised that a recruitment plan for 2022 is currently being developed to manage the recruitment processes for Garda members and Garda staff roles.
Implementation will of course be dependent on public health guidelines but I very much hope it will be possible to maximise the intake to Templemore next year. I understand there are a number of successful candidates still to be called from the last competition but I am delighted to confirm that a new Garda Trainee competition is also being planned for early next year.
I am further advised that when consideration is given by Garda management to the allocation of resources, including newly attested probationer Gardaí, and in facilitating transfers of personnel to or from any division, account is given to commitments and undertakings outlined in the Annual Policing Plan and priorities as determined in delivering ‘A Policing Service for The Future’.
The allocation of Garda resources to any particular station at any given time is a matter for the Garda Commissioner to determine rather than by reference to any set allocation. In determining the allocation of resources local and national crime trends and workloads, policing arrangements and operational strategies, minimum establishment statistics, local population and trends, geographical area and size, and transfer applications, including welfare/personnel issues and concerns, are taken into account in the context of the requirements of all Garda divisions nationwide.
To ensure the continued level of delivery of policing services within Garda divisions, local and senior Garda management are also consulted during the allocation of personnel and are responsible for the specific deployment/assignment of duties being undertaken at divisional level. I understand that the situation remains closely monitored by the Garda Senior Leadership Team, particularly in view of commitments to the continued roll-out of the Operating Model of policing at Divisional level to ensure optimum use of all Garda Resources in providing the best possible Garda service to the community.Some of them are legitimate and some are not and it is always best to be honest with people when expressing one's views on planning applications, whether they are unpopular or not.
The development plan process is a two-year process. I think we could get more out of development plans by applying principles of master planning in certain circumstances such that we do not just have a map coloured yellow or red for residential, mixed use or whatever it might be, an aspiration as to what we should do and zoning objectives, with a developer then coming along and pushing for a little more. That is what developers do. That is their job. Public representatives, especially councillors, are there to defend our development plans. We are going through a process of reviewing the guidelines on development plans. As for future planning, we should consider the introduction of master planning, especially in larger towns, where we are likely to see these large-scale residential developments.
I welcome the expansion in the Bill of mixed-use development, accounting for 30%. It fits really well into the vision we have for ten-minute towns and 15-minute cities, where we will have that mix of retail and employment and other options. That is a positive move in the Bill and I welcome it.
I am concerned about the planning resources at local authority level. I have heard others express that view and it was expressed on Committee Stage by both witnesses and Members. I am talking about introducing master planning at development plan stage. It is a lot of work for our forward planning teams just to go through the normal two-year development plan process without introducing another layer onto it, but I think it would be positive. We have to resource our planning services at that forward planning stage so it is clear in people's minds what they can expect from their communities. When something is built, it is there for two or three generations and can have a real legacy impact on an area and an immediate impact where it drains resources or where there is competition for services because adequate services have not been provided and all we have done is supply the necessary services such as water in, sewage out and roads. We need to add more of those services that make these developments places where people want to live, that is, homes and communities rather than just a number of houses on a map.
As for the planning services, there is considerable pressure on our local authority planners at development management stage and consent stage because planning has become extremely complex and there is also environmental law and planning law. We are now going through a process of reviewing our entire planning code and system, which is absolutely needed. When I look through the planning Acts, there have been so many amendments to them over the years that they are really hard to follow, so that is a really positive move that we hope to address sooner rather than later. Our planners have to assess these large developments and there is complexity to that because flood risk assessments need to be carried out and there are often Natura impact statements or environmental impact assessment statements. Housing needs assessments will be brought into the process now. In my constituency, Wicklow, in Greystones, especially, and Bray, we have seen a lot of these SHDs applied for. I know the resource strains that puts on the local authority and I know the time pressures under which local authorities operate. Under this LRD legislation, when that final meeting is sought, notice has to be given within four weeks and the opinion then has to be issued four weeks after that. I am concerned that that will put further pressure on our planners. The decisions they make have to stand up to scrutiny. We have seen that in judicial reviews. The decisions they make at that point have to stand up to the judicial test if it ends up at that point. I want to see them act in a timely manner but I do not want to see excessive pressure put on them. The case may then end up with An Bord Pleanála, and the decision-making of An Bord Pleanála is another area I would like to look at at some stage because lately we have seen some decisions that I would question. Of course, with every planning decision people will have different views. I have been involved in planning applications in respect of which the decision went the way I thought it should, in which case you are happy with the planning system. It always depends what side of the decision you are on. We need to look at overall decision-making in An Bord Pleanála. Perhaps I will raise that at a later stage.
I think we are all happy. I think we in this House are unanimous to see the end of the strategic housing development process. I thank the Minister for bringing the legislation to the House.