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Question

54. Deputy Jim O'Callaghan asked the Tánaiste and Minister for Justice and Equality her views on a recent report (details supplied) that indicates that two thirds of farming families have been affected by crime relating to their farming enterprise; and if she will make a statement on the matter. [15667/17]

Answer

Tánaiste and Minister for Justice and Equality (Deputy Frances Fitzgerald): I am aware of the recent report commissioned by the Irish Cattle and Sheep Farmers Association (ICSA) and the recent commentary in the media on foot of its publication. I note that the ICSA report is part one in a series of three reports into agricultural crime in Ireland and I look forward to considering the other reports when published.
I also want to assure the Deputy that I am very much aware of the damage done to local communities by organised gangs who target rural areas to engage in burglary and other property crime. The ICSA report covers a period of 24 months, from the start of May 2014 to the end of May 2016 and this includes a period of 17 months before the launch, in November 2015, of the sustained drive against burglary and property crime which An Garda Síochána has pursued under Operation Thor.
As the Deputy is aware, Operation Thor entails a broad range of activities to tackle organised crime gangs and other prolific offenders as well as working with communities to prevent crime. This comprehensive operation is supported by the enhanced Government investment in Garda resources, including the recently announced additional allocation of €88.5 million in 2017. The 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. There has been concentrated policing activity under Operation Thor and this is reflected in the implementation of over 67,000 targeted checkpoints nationwide, with in the region of 4,000 arrests being made.
It is encouraging to note that since the launch of the Operation, the burglary figures in particular have shown a significant downward trend. Indeed, the CSO official recorded crime statistics for Q4 of 2016, which were released this week, show a 30% decrease in burglary for the twelve months of 2016 when compared to the same period in 2015 - which parallels the implementation of Operation Thor.
I have 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. I am very pleased that 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 and 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. There are a range of partnership initiatives which have been established between An Garda Síochána and important rural-based organisations such as the Irish Farmers Association, Muintir na Tire and other rural community organisations, including the well established Community Alert Programme, the ongoing 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.
Underpinning all of these measures is the Government's commitment to ensuring a strong and visible police presence throughout the country in order to maintain and strengthen community engagement, provide reassurance to citizens and deter crime. The Government has in place a plan to achieve an overall Garda workforce of 21,000 personnel by 2021 comprising 15,000 Garda members, 2,000 Reserve members and 4,000 civilians. In 2017, funding has been provided for the recruitment of 800 Garda recruits and up to 500 civilians to support the wide ranging reform plan in train in An Garda Síochána. Appointments will also be made to the Garda Reserve of approximately 300, and in this regard I was pleased to be able to launch a new recruitment campaign for Reserve members of An Garda Síochána last week.