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 Header Item Written Answers Nos. 26-50
 Header Item Garda Training
 Header Item Commencement of Legislation
 Header Item International Protection
 Header Item Judicial Appointments
 Header Item Courts Service
 Header Item Inquiry into the Death of Mr. Shane O'Farrell
 Header Item Closed-Circuit Television Systems
 Header Item Immigration Data
 Header Item Crime Prevention
 Header Item Departmental Strategies
 Header Item Covid-19 Pandemic
 Header Item Crime Prevention
 Header Item Gambling Sector
 Header Item Anti-Social Behaviour
 Header Item Prison Mental Health Services
 Header Item Legislative Measures
 Header Item Garda Recruitment
 Header Item Victim Support Services
 Header Item Judicial Appointments
 Header Item Crime Data
 Header Item Judicial Appointments
 Header Item Court Accommodation
 Header Item Anti-Social Behaviour
 Header Item Departmental Programmes
 Header Item Crime Prevention

Thursday, 10 December 2020

Dáil Éireann Debate
Vol. 1002 No. 4
Unrevised

First Page Previous Page Page of 81 Next Page Last Page

Written Answers Nos. 26-50

Garda Training

 26. Deputy Jennifer Carroll MacNeill Information on Jennifer Carroll MacNeill Zoom on Jennifer Carroll MacNeill asked the Minister for Justice Information on Helen McEntee Zoom on Helen McEntee the amount invested in leadership and CPD within An Garda Síochána; her plans to invest in leadership and CPD initiatives in the future; the recommendations The Commission on the Future of Policing in Ireland has made in this area; the actions she plans to take to support leadership and CPD; and if she will make a statement on the matter. [41515/20]

Minister for Justice (Deputy Helen McEntee): Information on Helen McEntee Zoom on Helen McEntee The Deputy will be aware that the report of the Commission on the Future of Policing in Ireland, published in September 2018, emphasises the importance of policing being seen as a profession.  A commitment to continuous professional development, competence and a body of knowledge about policing, which is continuously developed and updated, and empowerment of all personnel were identified as some of its key characteristics.

A Policing Service for our Future – the Government’s Plan to implement the Report of the Commission on the Future of Policing in Ireland – is a living document which is reviewed and updated, as required, to maintain ambitious but realistic commitments, timeframes and milestones.

Along with an emphasis on the need for a strong leadership team with critical skills, expertise and diversity, the Commission made a number of specific recommendations in respect of strengthening the focus on professional development across all ranks and grades, including the development of a Continuous Professional Development (CPD) Strategy with professional development plans available to all personnel to meet the challenges of modern policing.

It also recommended that development programmes be put in place to prepare personnel, before promotion, for new management and leadership responsibilities. These specific recommendations will form part of a wider Leadership and Development Strategy, encompassing recruit and in-service training and continuous professional development.  

The Leadership and Management (LMD) section within An Garda Síochána provides development programmes to newly promoted personnel ranging from Sergeant to Chief Superintendent rank and Executive Officer to Principal Officer grade. Each programme takes place over a period of 18 - 24 months and a total of 3,614 members and staff have participated to date.

In addition, several bespoke Leadership Programmes are provided by third level institutions. There have been 763 participants in these programmes over the last 3 years.

I am further informed by the Garda authorities that Continuous Professional Development in An Garda Síochána takes two forms:

1. The Leadership Development as mentioned as above, and

2. Skills type In-Service Training, which is delivered locally through Divisional CPD Units.

For Garda members, In-Service Training includes a core Programme consisting of child exploitation, domestic violence, victims of crime, custody management, Supreme Court judgements affecting present practice and procedures.

For Garda Staff, training includes induction Administration courses and bespoke training to facilitate the integration of Garda Staff to non-front line policing procedures as well as the facilitation of training to enable the change/transformation programme encompassed within the Commission on the Future of Policing Change Framework.

International training is also availed of in a partnership approach with CEPOL, the EU Law Enforcement Training Agency.

In addition to the above, a Senior Leadership Development Programme is currently being designed to be delivered in 2021. This will satisfy a number of recommendations in the Report of the Commission on the Future of Policing in Ireland - Culture 2020, Psychological Safety, Support for and communication with the frontline & Unconscious Bias.

I understand that the budget for learning and development programmes for 2021 is yet to be finalised, but that it is expected to be in line with the approved budget for 2020, which was €2.1m.

Commencement of Legislation

 27. Deputy Richard Boyd Barrett Information on Richard Boyd Barrett Zoom on Richard Boyd Barrett asked the Minister for Justice Information on Helen McEntee Zoom on Helen McEntee if the Gaming and Lotteries (Amendment) Act 2019 has been commenced; if not, when it will be commenced; the plans for enforcement of the provisions contained in the Act; and if she will make a statement on the matter. [42509/20]

Minister of State at the Department of Justice and Equality (Deputy James Browne): Information on James Browne Zoom on James Browne I am pleased to inform the Deputy that the Gaming and Lotteries (Amendment) Act 2019 was commenced on 1 December 2020, with all sections coming into effect.

The necessary arrangements are now in place to support the commencement of the Act including the relevant application forms for gaming permits and lottery permits from An Garda Síochána and revised rules of the District Court for lottery licences.

Permits and licences already issued under the provisions of the 1956 Act will remain in force until their next renewal date. If that date is after 1 December 2020, the new provisions will apply.

The 2019 Act is an interim reform measure pending the comprehensive reform of gambling. It modernises the Gaming and Lotteries Act 1956 and will help the better promotion of local gaming and lottery activity held primarily for charitable and philanthropic purposes, and which are an important source of funding to sporting clubs and community organisations across the country.

Enforcement of the provisions of the Act is a matter for An Garda Síochána and for the Revenue Commissioners. The sanctions for offences have been strengthened to ensure greater compliance by those persons who hold gaming and lottery permits and licences.

International Protection

 28. Deputy Bríd Smith Information on Bríd Smith Zoom on Bríd Smith asked the Minister for Justice Information on Helen McEntee Zoom on Helen McEntee the steps a person should take in appealing to her Department for permission to stay after their application for international protection has failed; and if she will make a statement on the matter. [42529/20]

Minister for Justice (Deputy Helen McEntee): Information on Helen McEntee Zoom on Helen McEntee Since the coming into force of the International Protection Act 2015 on 31 December 2016, permission to remain is considered as part of the single procedure mechanism provided for under that Act. This encompasses the two international protection elements of refugee status and subsidiary protection as well as permission to remain.

All applicants refused international protection have a right to appeal to the International Protection Appeals Tribunal (IPAT) who must consider if the earlier International Protection Office (IPO) determinations on refugee status and subsidiary protection should be affirmed or set aside.

If permission to remain is also refused by the IPO, the applicant can make submissions for consideration as part of a formal permission to remain review. This review is in place to provide for situations where an applicant’s circumstances may have changed in a material way since the initial decision was made to refuse permission to remain.

If the appeal to the IPAT and the review of the permission to remain refusal are unsuccessful, the applicant is given an opportunity to avail of the option of voluntary return. Where this option is not availed of, and the person has no other permission to remain in the State, and no other immigration application pending, subject to a refoulement consideration, a deportation order is made.

If a Deportation Order is made, Section 3 (11) of the Immigration Act 1999 (as amended) allows an Order to be amended or revoked by making a request to me as Minister for Justice.  In making a revocation request a person can raise new or changed circumstances in their case including in relation to their country of origin.  I encourage people to be as detailed as possible in their representations to me and my Department so that fully informed decisions can be made at the appropriate time.

Judicial Appointments

 29. Deputy Catherine Murphy Information on Catherine Murphy Zoom on Catherine Murphy asked the Minister for Justice Information on Helen McEntee Zoom on Helen McEntee the authority that judges apply to in respect of judicial appointments to the highest court; if she will provide a schedule of the persons that are to be informed that a judge has declared an interest and or applied for the appointment; the details of the persons; and the way in which applications are evaluated. [39123/20]

Minister for Justice (Deputy Helen McEntee): Information on Helen McEntee Zoom on Helen McEntee Appointments to the Judiciary are made in accordance with Articles 13.9 and 35.1 of the Constitution, by the President acting on the advice of the Government.  This is a Constitutional function that cannot be transferred or delegated.  The Constitutional prerogative to advise the President on judicial appointments lies with the Government alone.

As with all judicial vacancies, a request is made to the Judicial Appointments Advisory Board (JAAB) for a list of suitable candidates for appointment and the names of all those who applied.  The JAAB recommendations, along with any expressions of interest from serving judges, and all eligible judges for appointment, are considered. The response from the JAAB is considered by Government in the first instance, in line with the Courts and Court Officers Act 1995, as amended.

Eligible serving Judges who wish to express an interest in elevation to positions in the superior courts are not required to apply to Judicial Advisory Appointments Board (JAAB). Instead, there is a process whereby expressions of interest may be submitted to the Minister of the day via the office of the Attorney General.   Such expressions of interest are received on an ongoing basis and retained for any current or future vacancy that might arise.

Whether or not existing judges put forward expressions of interest is a confidential matter for obvious reasons, and it is not the practice to release information that might identify any of those judges.  All such submissions are treated in a highly confidential manner.

Every eligible judge is considered as part of the appointment process. This includes judges who have made an explicit expression of interest as well as all eligible judges who have not made an expression of interest for a particular appointment.

In line with the Cabinet Handbook, in regard to judicial appointments the Minister discusses the matter with the Taoiseach, the Tánaiste, the Attorney General [and any other Party Leaders in a coalition Government] before making a nomination to Government.  

As I outlined to the House on 26 November last, I cannot get into the criteria under which an application from a sitting judge is evaluated. There are still names of serving judges who have applied for judicial vacancies on file in my Department including a vacancy in the Supreme Court.  If that vacancy is to be filled, they will again be looked at.  It is therefore not appropriate for me to comment on applicable criteria.

The Programme for Government contains a commitment to reform the judicial appointments process and I intend to bring forward new legislation to do this very quickly.

Courts Service

 30. Deputy John Brady Information on John Brady Zoom on John Brady asked the Minister for Justice Information on Helen McEntee Zoom on Helen McEntee the plans in place for the old disused Bray Courthouse on the Boghall Road, Bray, County Wicklow; and if she will engage with Wicklow County Council with a view to handing it over for community use. [39662/20]

Minister for Justice (Deputy Helen McEntee): Information on Helen McEntee Zoom on Helen McEntee Under the provisions of the Courts Service Act 1998, management of the courts, including the provision of accommodation for court sittings, is the responsibility of the Courts Service which is independent in its functions. However, in order to be of assistance to the Deputy, I have had enquiries made regarding the former courthouse at Boghall Road, Bray and the Courts Service has provided the following update on this matter.

The former courthouse has been vacant since 2006 when court sittings and services were relocated to alternative accommodation in the town centre. While the National Development Plan provides for the construction of county town type court facilities at various locations including Bray, the Boghall Road site is considered unsuitable in terms of both size and location.

I understand that the Courts Service did examine the possibility of using the building to augment existing court facilities in Bray; however, this was not considered feasible. The Courts Service has no plans for this building at present and it is considered to be surplus to requirements.  In these circumstances, I am informed that the Courts Service, in the first instance, offers the property to the relevant local authority or the OPW for alternative public use.  

I am advised that the Courts Service would be willing to explore transferring ownership of the building to Wicklow County Council so that it can be made available for alternative public/community use.

Inquiry into the Death of Mr. Shane O'Farrell

 31. Deputy Matt Carthy Information on Matt Carthy Zoom on Matt Carthy asked the Minister for Justice Information on Helen McEntee Zoom on Helen McEntee when she will implement the decision of Dáil Eireann of 14 February 2020 to establish a public enquiry into the circumstances of the death of a person (details supplied) and the subsequent actions of State agencies in this regard. [41636/20]

Minister for Justice (Deputy Helen McEntee): Information on Helen McEntee Zoom on Helen McEntee I once again offer my condolences to the family of the late Shane O'Farrell. As I said the last time I spoke on this issue, I understand that he was an exceptional young man and his death was a terrible tragedy.

As the Deputy will be aware, a retired Judge, Gerard Haughton, is currently conducting the scoping exercise into the tragic circumstances surrounding the death of the late Shane O'Farrell. 

Judge Haughton furnished an interim report to my predecessor last November and following consultations between the Judge, Shane's family and the Attorney General, the interim report was published on 17 December 2019.

In his interim report, the Judge stated that he would not restrict or limit Shane's family in their submissions to him or the nature and extent of the documentation they wished to furnish to him in his scoping exercise.

I can confirm that my Department recently received a letter from Judge Haughton updating the Department on his progress. In this correspondence, the Judge requested a further extension of the timeline to 29 January 2021 and set out a clear and detailed rationale for this extension.  I understand the Judge has also provided a copy of this letter to the O'Farrell family and I have written to the family to inform them of the extension.

While I genuinely regret this further delay I am also aware that the Judge is doing all that he can to ensure that the concerns which the family have raised with him during the process are followed through to the greatest extent possible and this requires additional time.

I can assure the Deputy that it is of course open to the Judge to make any recommendation he sees fit in his final report, including the establishment of any form of statutory or non-statutory inquiry. I hope the Deputy will appreciate that it is appropriate to await the recommendation of the final report of this scoping exercise before making any decision in relation to further inquiries into this matter.

I can confirm to the Deputy that it is my intention to publish the outcome of the scoping exercise, subject to the advice of the Attorney General. 

Closed-Circuit Television Systems

 32. Deputy Alan Dillon Information on Alan  Dillon Zoom on Alan  Dillon asked the Minister for Justice Information on Helen McEntee Zoom on Helen McEntee the number of successful applicants under the CCTV community programme in County Mayo; and if she will make a statement on the matter. [41276/20]

Minister for Justice (Deputy Helen McEntee): Information on Helen McEntee Zoom on Helen McEntee As the Deputy will be aware, community-based CCTV is governed by section 38(3)(c) of the Garda Síochána Act 2005 and the Garda Síochána (CCTV) Order 2006. This legal framework requires that any proposed community CCTV scheme must:

  - be approved by the local Joint Policing Committee,

  - have the prior support of the relevant Local Authority, which must also act as data controller, and

  - have the authorisation of the Garda Commissioner.

  This is the legal basis for all community CCTV schemes, regardless of how they are funded.  These key legal requirements have not changed since 2006.  The option to establish a Community CCTV scheme is available to groups that meet these legal requirements, anywhere in the country. 

  Since 2017, my Department has administered a grant aid scheme supporting groups wishing to establish a community-based CCTV system in their area.  To date, 29 applications have been approved under the scheme, involving approved grants awarded totalling more than €752,000.  

  I can inform the Deputy that no applications to date have been received from groups in County Mayo. If the Deputy is aware of groups wishing to avail of the grant aid scheme, further details are available to download from my Department's website - www.justice.ie and support and guidance is available to help interested groups through a dedicated email address: fundsadmin-comm-based-cctv@justice.ie

I can further inform the Deputy that once the new legislation proposed on Digital Recordings has been enacted, a review of the terms and conditions of the scheme will be carried out in the first half of 2021, to bring it into line with this new legislation.   

Immigration Data

 33. Deputy Bernard J. Durkan Information on Bernard J. Durkan Zoom on Bernard J. Durkan asked the Minister for Justice Information on Helen McEntee Zoom on Helen McEntee the extent to which she remains satisfied regarding the turnaround time in respect of applications for asylum, refugee status and citizenship; and if she will make a statement on the matter. [42498/20]

Minister for Justice (Deputy Helen McEntee): Information on Helen McEntee Zoom on Helen McEntee The Immigration Service of my Department has made significant efforts to continue to process applications as quickly as possible in the areas referred to by the Deputy during the pandemic. However, there has unavoidably been some delays.

The Programme for Government commits to processing applications for international protection at first instance with the aim to reduce median processing times to 9 months or below as soon as possible. It also commits to ensuring that additional resources designated for the International Protection Office (IPO) are deployed in the most efficient and effective way possible to increase the output of quality decisions. I was pleased to secure an additional €1.75m in Budget 2021 for the efficient functioning of the international protection system, which will help us to further improve processing times for applications.

The IPO is working hard to try to achieve a target of 9 months in the vast majority of cases.  Efforts to improve processing times have been impacted by the COVID-19 pandemic, which has reduced the output of decisions considerably. At the end of Q3 2020, the median processing time for all cases processed at first instance in that quarter was 18.3 months and 14 months for prioritised cases.  This is compared with the position at the end of Q1 2020 where the median processing times for all cases processed in that quarter was 14.7 months and 9.8 months for prioritised cases.  The number of cases on hand at the IPO is just over 5,000 at present.

For appeals against negative recommendations of the IPO, the International Protection Appeals Tribunal (IPAT) had set as an objective this year that the average processing times, where an oral hearing is required, would be reduced to 90 working days. However, this has understandably been impacted due to the pandemic. All scheduled onsite hearings were postponed from 22 October 2020 due to Level 5 restrictions.  They recommenced again on 1 December 2020, in line with the move to Level 3 restrictions. 

My Department is committed to achieving a reduction in processing times for both first instance decisions and appeals to 6 months each respectively as far as possible in line with the recommendations of the Expert Advisory Group. An end to end process review is currently underway which will help guide on the approach and resource requirements.  I also secured additional funding in Budget 2021 to support our ICT strategy, a significant portion of which will be used for immigration and international protection purposes.  

Regarding citizenship applications, in general, the current target is that it should take around 12 months for a standard application for a certificate of naturalisation to be processed from the date it is received to the date a decision is made. However, for a broad range of reasons, some cases will take longer than others to process.  In some instances, completing the necessary checks, including security checks can take a considerable period of time with the result in some applications taking longer than the average timescale.

At the end of October there were 23,187 applications being processed at various stages within the system, ranging from those just received by the Citizenship Division to those where a decision has been made but it is not possible to issue an invitation to a ceremony.

My Department is working on various solutions to process the existing caseload on hand, including the enhanced website which provides prospective applicants with greater information than before, the roll-out earlier this year of the e-payments facility, along with a range of other ICT solutions which are being progressed. Moving to e-tax clearance and e-Vetting will also support speedier processing going forward.  The situation continues to be monitored in order to improve service to our customers.

I recently announced that citizenship ceremonies will be temporarily replaced,  while COVID-19 restrictions are in place,  with a requirement for citizenship applicants to sign an affidavit declaring loyalty to the State. I expect that the Statutory Instrument to give effect to this change will be in place early in the New Year. It is my intention that in-person citizenship ceremonies will recommence as soon as circumstances allow.

Crime Prevention

 34. Deputy Ruairí Ó Murchú Information on Ruairí Ó Murchú Zoom on Ruairí Ó Murchú asked the Minister for Justice Information on Helen McEntee Zoom on Helen McEntee her plans regarding the grooming of children by criminal gangs; and if she will make a statement on the matter. [41794/20]

Minister for Justice (Deputy Helen McEntee): Information on Helen McEntee Zoom on Helen McEntee Diverting young people away from getting involved in criminal activity is a key priority for the Government and the exploitation of young people and children is a particular concern. 

As the Deputy will be aware, while an adult may be prosecuted for a crime which has been committed by a child who has been incited to do so by the adult, there is currently no mechanism in law for explicitly recognising the damage done to the child.

The Programme for Government commits to developing a law which would take account of this and penalise adults for the exploitation and harm done to the child in such cases. I can inform the Deputy that officials in my Department are already working to develop legislation in this regard and it is intended to bring proposals to Government in the form of a General Scheme in the coming weeks.

It should be noted that this is a complex area as in many cases the adult in question is known to the child and may in some cases even be a family member, causing potential issues with regard to witness testimony.

In addition, the Deputy may be aware of the “Greentown Report”, published in December 2016, which was produced at the School of Law in the University of Limerick and examined the influence of criminal networks on children in Ireland. The Report outlines how the influence of criminal networks increases the level of offending by a small number of children and entraps them in offending situations. As part of the wider 'Greentown' project, targeted interventions are to be piloted to further protect children in Ireland from becoming involved in criminal networks.

With regard to broader issues of youth justice, the Deputy may also wish to note that my Department is currently finalising a new Youth Justice Strategy and it is intended to bring a final Strategy to Government shortly. 

Departmental Strategies

 35. Deputy Jennifer Carroll MacNeill Information on Jennifer Carroll MacNeill Zoom on Jennifer Carroll MacNeill asked the Minister for Justice Information on Helen McEntee Zoom on Helen McEntee the status of the development of her justice plan; the areas she plans to prioritise as part of the plan; and if she will make a statement on the matter. [41516/20]

 67. Deputy Alan Farrell Information on Alan Farrell Zoom on Alan Farrell asked the Minister for Justice Information on Helen McEntee Zoom on Helen McEntee the steps she will take in the upcoming justice plan to modernise the sector; the actions she will take; and if she will make a statement on the matter. [41543/20]

Minister for Justice (Deputy Helen McEntee): Information on Helen McEntee Zoom on Helen McEntee I propose to take Questions Nos. 35 and 67 together.

  A new Strategy Statement to cover the period 2020 to 2023 is being developed by my Department. This new strategy will reflect the relevant Programme for Government commitments and the appropriate reporting mechanisms which will enable my Department to monitor, track and report progress on a regular basis.

  I intend to deliver actions across the following five areas:

  1. Tackle crime, preserve national security and transform policing

  2. Improve access to justice and modernise the courts system

  3. Strengthen community safety, reduce reoffending, support victims and combat domestic, sexual and gender based violence 

  4. Deliver a fair immigration system for a digital age

  5. Accelerate innovation, digital transformation and climate action across the justice sector

  In preparing the final draft and plan, officials have engaged with key stakeholders seeking input on the priorities and associated actions. We have consulted with all of our key agencies and bodies, the Oireachtas Committee on Justice, all other Government departments, along with inviting submissions from members of the public.

  We are currently reviewing and analysing all submissions to further inform the development of our statement of strategy, while also ensuring our work continues to align with a number of the social, economic and environmental dimensions of the Sustainable Development Goals.

  To support the implementation and monitoring of the strategy, I have asked my officials to prepare an action plan setting out the proposed timelines and detailed initiatives that will be undertaken to progress a reformed and modernised agenda across the Justice Sector. The plan will be updated annually, with quarterly reporting of progress, and will act as an important tool in enabling us to track progress in relation to each of the priorities.

  In line with the timeframe set out in the Public Service Management Act 1997, I will receive an initial draft of the strategy and the corresponding action plan before Christmas, while both documents are scheduled for publication early in the New Year.

Covid-19 Pandemic

 36. Deputy Brendan Howlin Information on Brendan Howlin Zoom on Brendan Howlin asked the Minister for Justice Information on Helen McEntee Zoom on Helen McEntee if she will set out the change in policing that has occurred since Ireland moved from level 5 to 3 of the Covid-19 restrictions; and if she will make a statement on the matter. [41284/20]

Minister for Justice (Deputy Helen McEntee): Information on Helen McEntee Zoom on Helen McEntee The Deputy will be aware that the Garda Commissioner is by law responsible for the management of An Garda Síochána, including operational matters and the deployment of resources.  As Minister, I have no role in these matters.  I am assured, however, that Garda management keeps all operational deployments under continual review in the context of policing priorities, to ensure their optimum use.

I am informed by An Garda Síochána that following country’s move to Level 3 from 1st December 2020, An Garda Síochána is adapting its ongoing policing operation in support of the prevailing public health measures.

The focus of Garda operations reflects the guidelines and regulations in place from 1st December 2020 under Level 3 of the Government’s Living with COVID-19 plan.

Under Operation Fanacht, in excess of 100 checkpoints on main routes will be conducted on a daily basis, supported by a schedule of mobile checkpoints with a focus on the guidelines on inter-county travel. Static checkpoints will operate during off-peak hours – 10am to 4pm, and 7pm to 9pm. The fixed checkpoints on motorway/ dual carriageway routes will no longer be in place.

High visibility patrols will take place in key city, urban and retail locations in the run-up to Christmas. There will also be patrols that will focus on the night-time economy. On this, An Garda Síochána will be liaising closely with retail and licensed premises and checks on licensed premises under Operation Navigation will step back up again.

Community engagement activity will continue to focus on the vulnerable and those who feel isolated, particularly during Christmas time. There will also be continued active investigation of domestic abuse, as well as support for victims under Operation Faoiseamh

As has been the case throughout the pandemic, Gardaí will continue to use the 'Four E's' approach in line with their strong tradition of community policing and policing by consent. This sees Garda members Engage with, Encourage and Educate members of the public on public health advice and regulations with Enforcement used only as a last resort.

Both the Policing Authority and the Gardaí provide regular reports and updates of An Garda Síochána's efforts during this difficult time and I am pleased to note that both the Authority and the Commissioner have continued to note high levels of compliance by the public and positive interaction between Gardaí and communities.

As we move from level 5 to a modified level 3, we are all looking forward to having more scope to meet with others, to shop and to travel within the guidelines. But the virus does remain a threat and so we all must continue to play our part by heeding the public health advice. This is the best way of protecting ourselves, our loved ones and our neighbours.

Crime Prevention

 37. Deputy Fergus O'Dowd Information on Fergus O'Dowd Zoom on Fergus O'Dowd asked the Minister for Justice Information on Helen McEntee Zoom on Helen McEntee the status of the scoping report by a person (details supplied) on the criminality in Drogheda, County Louth; if she will act on its recommendations; and if she will make a statement on the matter. [41485/20]

Minister for Justice (Deputy Helen McEntee): Information on Helen McEntee Zoom on Helen McEntee As the Deputy is aware, the community in Drogheda has faced significant challenges in recent times as a result of the actions of organised crime groups, which have severely affected their feelings of safety. I know that An Garda Síochána has been and will continue to be intensively engaged in bringing those responsible to justice.  

The reason that I engaged Vivian Geiran to oversee a scoping exercise in the Drogheda area is that policing and preventing harm is not the responsibility of the Gardaí alone, and involves other agencies of Government and sectors of society. This principle is at the centre of a new policy on community safety which is being developed in my Department.

I asked Mr Geiran to engage with relevant residents, services, organisations, businesses and other stakeholders in the community in order to identify opportunities to connect and support existing services in the area. I would like to commend the excellent cooperation from the community in Drogheda and all the groups that Mr Geiran has sought to engage with, including the elected representatives. I have been very impressed with the services in the community and the way they have made themselves available. People have also proactively approached me offering their time to help with this exercise.

Mr Geiran is in the process of finalising his recommendations in relation to short and long-term responses to the challenges faced by communities in this area. I receive regular updates on how the work of Mr Geiran is progressing and I am aware of the preliminary recommendations and areas of focus that are emerging. Inter-agency cooperation and coordination is going to be central to improving the experience and safety of residents in Drogheda. When it comes to crime prevention, wraparound supports can be effective in breaking the cycle of crime and the impact of that crime on the community. There will also need to be a strong focus on ensuring that activities promoting wellbeing, safety and leadership for children and young people in Drogheda are supported. These are preliminary observations and Mr Geiran’s full report will be completed this month.  

My Department will carefully consider the actions and recommendations in Mr Geiran’s report and engage with relevant services and stakeholders in Drogheda in order to take them forward.

Gambling Sector

 38. Deputy Thomas Gould Information on Thomas Gould Zoom on Thomas Gould asked the Minister for Justice Information on Helen McEntee Zoom on Helen McEntee her plans to take appropriate measures to protect young persons from gambling related risks given figures from the last gambling prevalence survey that over 3,400 15 to 16-year olds were gambling excessively or problematically. [40757/20]

Minister of State at the Department of Justice and Equality (Deputy James Browne): Information on James Browne Zoom on James Browne I very much share the Deputy’s concern that young people must be protected, insofar as possible, from engaging in gambling activities that may lead to problematic behaviour.

In that regard, I am pleased to inform the Deputy that the Gaming and Lotteries (Amendment) Act 2019 was commenced on 1 December. The Act provides for a minimum age for engaging in gaming and lottery activity at 18 years. This applies to small scale gaming activities and sale of tickets for local lotteries. The Act also applies the 18 years of age requirement for betting on the Tote.

The Betting Act 1931 – which is the responsibility of the Minister of Finance already imposed the 18 years of age requirement by licensed bookmakers, either operating land based or online. Likewise, the National Lottery Act 2013 – which is the responsibility of the Minister for Public Expenditure and Reform - imposes an 18 years of age limit for purchase of tickets.

All licensed operators are under a statutory duty to take all necessary steps to ensure that sales of whatever type of gambling product they might offer are not made to persons under the age of 18. There is some responsibility in this regard on parents as well.

The Programme for Government includes a commitment to establish a gambling regulator focused on public safety and wellbeing, covering gambling online and in person, and the powers to regulate advertising, gambling websites and apps.

Legislation is being prepared in my Department to comprehensively reform our approach to gambling. This will include the requirement of the effective “Know your Customer” process. Age verification will be a central part of that approach so as to prevent persons under 18 years of age from engaging in gambling.

Anti-Social Behaviour

 39. Deputy Paul McAuliffe Information on Paul  McAuliffe Zoom on Paul  McAuliffe asked the Minister for Justice Information on Helen McEntee Zoom on Helen McEntee the progress to date in setting up a special expert forum on antisocial behaviour to consider the effectiveness of existing legislation and propose new ways forward including new powers for An Garda Síochána and additional interventions to support parenting of offenders as outlined in the programme for Government. [42329/20]

Minister for Justice (Deputy Helen McEntee): Information on Helen McEntee Zoom on Helen McEntee As the Deputy is aware, the Programme for Government contains a number of commitments to build stronger, safer communities. Within this area a number of actions have been identified and one of those is the establishment of an expert Forum on Anti-Social Behaviour.

The first meeting of the Forum on Anti-Social Behaviour was chaired by the Minister of State with responsibility for Law Reform, James Browne TD, on 27 October. This was an initial meeting and more detailed terms of reference and a programme of work for the forum will be decided shortly.

There are potential areas of overlap with the Youth Justice Strategy, which is at an advanced stage

of preparation, and this will be taken into account in deciding the particular areas of focus for the forum. The Youth Justice Strategy is another action arising from the Programme for Government commitment and I hope to bring the Strategy to Government and publish it shortly.

These actions recognise that policing is not solely the responsibility of the Gardaí and that a holistic approach from the whole of Government, with supportive actions taken by the various agencies and stakeholders in this area, is required to adequately address the concerns of residents in our communities that are adversely affected by anti-social behaviour.

Prison Mental Health Services

 40. Deputy Patrick Costello Information on Patrick Costello Zoom on Patrick Costello asked the Minister for Justice Information on Helen McEntee Zoom on Helen McEntee the way in which she will address the concerns raised by the Council of Europe’s Committee for the Prevention of Torture and Inhuman or Degrading Treatment or Punishment's recent report regarding the treatment of prisoners in terms of mental illness, restrictive regimes and the use of special observation cells. [41669/20]

 73. Deputy Brendan Howlin Information on Brendan Howlin Zoom on Brendan Howlin asked the Minister for Justice Information on Helen McEntee Zoom on Helen McEntee her views on the comments of the Committee for the Prevention of Torture and Inhumane Treatment in regard to the treatment of persons with mental illness in prisons here; the specific plan she has to address the issue of the mental health of prisoners; and if she will make a statement on the matter. [41283/20]

Minister for Justice (Deputy Helen McEntee): Information on Helen McEntee Zoom on Helen McEntee I propose to take Questions Nos. 40 and 73 together.

  Oversight and evaluation are important elements in developing and improving our penal system and I welcome the recent publication of the report from the Council of Europe Committee on the Prevention of Torture (CPT), together with the responses returned by Ireland in respect of the issues raised by the Committee.

  I consider that this CPT report is perhaps the most positive account on Ireland since the process began in 1987 in that it recognises the progress which has been made on long standing issues such as health care and overcrowding in prisons and has favourable commentary on the conditions in healthcare facilities within its remit. While many reforms have been introduced, there are still a number of long standing issues which need more work to be resolved and I understand this is where the focus must be.

  As the Deputy will be aware, one area highlighted by the Committee for immediate attention is how the complex needs of people with mental health difficulties who come into contact with the criminal justice system are provided for. The whole area of how criminal justice and public health, especially mental health, intersect and how to best provide the most appropriate service is a priority for the me as Minister for Justice and for Minister Donnelly.

  It's priority status is acknowledged in the Programme for Government in that it commits to establishing a high-level cross-departmental / cross-agency taskforce to consider the mental health and addiction challenges of those imprisoned, and primary care support on release.

  In order the progress this matter, I met with my colleague the Minister for Health in September to lay the foundations for advancing work on this commitment without delay because I believe that a properly constituted Task Force with the support of both Departments can drive much needed transformation in this area.

  It is widely acknowledged that every person with mental health difficulties coming in contact with the system should have access to comprehensive mental health support, the Deputy may appreciate that delivering on this requires considerable planning for, and implementation of, an appropriate model of care for this vulnerable group.

  This will be a complex body of work with a number of cross-cutting issues that cannot be addressed in isolation.

  I am pleased to say that collaboration with the Department of Health on the development of Terms of Reference and structure for the establishment of the Task Force is now at an advanced stage. The terms of reference have been agreed in principle between the two Departments. Work is now underway to identify a chair and put in place other administrative details.

  As the Deputy is aware, a range of other matters have also been raised by the Committee in the report and I am pleased to say that a significant amount of work is underway to address the concerns raised. A review of the use of Safety Observation Cells, has already commenced as has a review of the relevant Prison Rules taking account of the most recently published Council of Europe - European Prison Rules. I understand that appropriate Standard Operating Procedures and training in relation to the use of both Safety Observation and Close Supervision Cells will also be implemented.

  In terms of the comments by the Committee regarding restricted regimes, I can confirm that the IPS are undertaking a series of measures to address this issue. I understand that the IPS will review the recording process for out of cell time for prisoners on restricted regimes and introduce a standardised recording for all prisoners on restricted regimes

  It is a requirement of the IPS Policy on the Elimination of Solitary Confinement thatGovernors ensure adequate and correct record-keeping. Since the CPT visit, the need for accuraterecording of regime levels has been re-enforced to Governors at both the Solitary Confinement Group (chaired by the DG) and also at the IPS Strategy and Policy Group meeting, which all Governors and Operational Governors attend. Staff have been issued with a reminder of the importance of accurate record keeping. A new standardised reporting book for prisoners on restricted regimes is being introduced to all locations. To enhance the recording of out of cell time, the IPS will review the recording process for out of cell time for prisoners on restricted regimes across the system and introduce a standardised recording of all prisoners on Restricted Regime. Consideration will also be given to incorporating this process into the Prison Information Management System (PIMS).

  I think that it is important to note that the numbers on a restricted regime reflect the challenge faced by the Prison Service to provide safe custody for all those in their care. The DG of the IPS chairs a high-level group to look at measures, which can be introduced to reduce the number of prisoners held on restricted regimes. The objective of this group is to ensure that all prisoners receive a minimum standard out of cell time, to engage in exercise or activity consistent with IPS on the Elimination of Solitary Confinement.

  Finally, I would like to reassure the Deputy that this Government and the IPS are fully committed to implementing the longer-term changes required to make our penal system safe, effective and responsive to the needs of all prisoners, especially vulnerable persons. While there is unlikely to be quick fix solutions to some of the issues highlighted by the CPT, we will continue to work intensively together to ensure all people get the care and support they need from our system.

  Further details on the report can be found on the website of the Committee at https://www.coe.int/en/web/cpt

Legislative Measures

 41. Deputy Jim O'Callaghan Information on Jim O'Callaghan Zoom on Jim O'Callaghan asked the Minister for Justice Information on Helen McEntee Zoom on Helen McEntee her plans to amend section 252 of the Children Act 2001 in view of a recent Court of Appeals judgement. [42425/20]

Minister for Justice (Deputy Helen McEntee): Information on Helen McEntee Zoom on Helen McEntee I would like to thank to Deputy for raising this issue that has arisen following the recent judgment in the case DPP v. E.C. and Media Outlets. 

  Officials in my Department are currently examining options to address the main concerns arising from that judgment.

  I would like to assure the Deputy that I am fully committed to finding the most suitable means to progress any necessary changes to rectify the situation as quickly as possible, irrespective of whether or not there is an appeal.

Any changes proposed to the Children Act will have to be consistent with the key principles of that Act, which is of course safeguarding the best interests of the child.     

Garda Recruitment

 42. Deputy David Stanton Information on David Stanton Zoom on David Stanton asked the Minister for Justice Information on Helen McEntee Zoom on Helen McEntee the proposals being considered to increase diversity within the ranks of An Garda Síochána; and if she will make a statement on the matter. [41571/20]

Minister for Justice (Deputy Helen McEntee): Information on Helen McEntee Zoom on Helen McEntee As the Deputy will be aware, the Programme for Government commits to increasing the diversity within An Garda Síochána, prioritising the identification and removal of barriers to recruiting and retaining people from diverse and minority backgrounds.

  This is in line with the report of the Commission on the Future of Policing in Ireland, which recommended that An Garda Síochána needs to develop its recruitment strategies to reach a more diverse intake of students

  The Commission recommended that An Garda Síochána should reflect the diversity of Irish society, not only in gender and ethnicity, but also in terms of socio-economic, educational and geographical backgrounds and that they would need to develop recruitment strategies which reach a more diverse intake. The report also recommended the reform of the current roster system to support the wellbeing of all Garda Members and introducing greater flexibility in work practices to enhance the attractiveness and job satisfaction of policing as a career.

  In recent years, An Garda Síochána has taken a number of steps to support the implementation of the Public Sector Equality and Human Rights Duty with respect to Garda personnel.  A notable example includes the development of recruitment material in 12 different languages for their most recent Garda trainee recruitment campaign. An Garda Síochána has also made significant strides towards ensuring that the Garda uniform accommodates religious diversity.

  An Garda Síochána’s Equality, Diversity and Inclusion Strategy and Action Plan 2020-2021 aims to encourage a work environment where all employees can thrive.  In particular, there is a focus on improvements to worklife balance, reasonable accommodation for disability and mental health, and the promotion of an intercultural workplace.

  In this regard, the Deputy may be aware that the Garda Commissioner launched An Garda Síochána's Equality, Diversity & Inclusion (EDI) Strategy Statement & Action Plan 2020 – 2021 on 1 December 2020. The EDI Strategy & Action Plan identifies a number of priority actions that align with the external Diversity and Integration Strategy 2019 – 2021 and will lay the foundations to drive the equality, diversity and inclusion agenda forward within An Garda Síochána, and reinforces key ethical behaviours to support the delivery of an effective policing service.

  I am informed that the plan will assist An Garda Síochána in striving to ensure that all members of An Garda Síochána, Garda Reserves and Garda staff are unhindered by workplace discrimination regardless of age, gender, disability, civil status, family status, sexual orientation, race, religious belief, or membership of the Traveller community.

  This includes: 

  - Establishing an EDI Leadership Council and EDI Policy to set out a statement of standards.

  - Providing EDI training to all personnel and introduce employee engagement on EDI matters.

  - Continuing to support work-life balance options, including family-friendly initiatives.

  - An amended Uniform Policy to avoid inadvertent gender discrimination.

  - Developing a Gender Identity Policy.

  - Identifying and resolving key challenges related to the recruitment of individuals from minority background.

  - Developing guidelines on the use of professional and non-discriminatory language in the workplace.

  - Continuing to support reasonable accommodation in regards to disability and mental health.

  - Collecting data on all grounds covered within the equality legislation and within the bounds of data protection.

  Over the next 18 months, the necessary resources, leadership and infrastructure will be put in place to see this Strategy and Action Plan through to its successful completion.

Victim Support Services

 43. Deputy Emer Higgins Information on Emer Higgins Zoom on Emer Higgins asked the Minister for Justice Information on Helen McEntee Zoom on Helen McEntee the progress being made in the implementation of Supporting a Victim's Journey; and if she will make a statement on the matter. [41482/20]

Minister for Justice (Deputy Helen McEntee): Information on Helen McEntee Zoom on Helen McEntee As I’m sure the Deputy is aware, on October 28, I published 'Supporting A Victims Journey' - A plan to help victims and vulnerable witnesses in sexual violence cases'. This is a detailed roadmap for the introduction of the recommendations contained in the O'Malley review which, when implemented, will protect vulnerable witnesses, during the investigation and prosecution of sexual offences.

This morning I chaired the first meeting of an Implementation Oversight Group of all relevant Departments and agencies responsible for driving the implementation of the agreed actions. This will include putting arrangements in place for regular consultations with the NGO sector as part of that process. I received a report at that meeting on how each of the actions are progressing [and I’m pleased to inform the Deputy that the recommendations are being advanced in line with the timeframes envisaged in Supporting A Victims Journey. ]

Progress has already been made on giving effect to a number of important O'Malley recommendations including -

- The completion of the nationwide rollout of the DPSUs, where specially trained members of An Garda Síochána will be available to deal with vulnerable victims.

- The drafting of a General Scheme of a bill to give effect to the recommendations to introduce pre-trial hearings is almost complete and will be published by the end of the year. This recommendation is intended to help address delays in trials and to deal with matters such as defence applications to question a victim about his or her past sexual experience.

- Engagement on development of training programmes for serving Gardaí, the legal professions and members of the judiciary who are participating in sexual offences investigations and trials has started, and I expect this training to be rolled out in 2021.

- Engagement with the legal aid board on how to ensure better provision of legal advice and support to victims of sexual crime has also commenced.

- Work on redesigning the Victims Carter Website to make it more accessible and user friendly, as part of the recommendation to raise the public’s awareness of their legally enforceable rights under the Victims of Crime Act 2017, is also well advanced.

All the recommendations in Supporting A Victims Journey are time bound and while the timeframes envisaged are ambitious, collectively there is a real determination to meet the targets set. [As I said, I was very pleased with update I received from the Implementation Oversight Group when I met with them yesterday.]

Judicial Appointments

 44. Deputy Brendan Howlin Information on Brendan Howlin Zoom on Brendan Howlin asked the Minister for Justice Information on Helen McEntee Zoom on Helen McEntee the number of vacancies that exist at present in each branch of the judiciary; the mechanism she plans to use to fill such vacancy; and if she will make a statement on the matter. [41280/20]

Minister for Justice (Deputy Helen McEntee): Information on Helen McEntee Zoom on Helen McEntee There are three judicial vacancies in our national courts at present: 1 Supreme Court, 1 Circuit Court and 1 District Court.  

As I outlined to the House recently, it has been the practice to maintain a vacancy in the Supreme Court due to the reduction achieved in waiting times in that court in recent years.   However, this arrangement is kept under review, having regard to emerging pressures, planned retirements, etc.   

The vacancies in the Circuit and District Courts will be filled as soon as possible.  The Government is committed to ensuring adequate resources for the Courts to provide access to justice for all citizens and to filling judicial vacancies at the earliest opportunity generally. 

Judicial appointments are made in accordance with Articles 13.9 and 35.1 of the Constitution, by the President acting on the advice of the Government.  As with all judicial vacancies, a request is made to the Judicial Appointments Advisory Board (JAAB) for a list of suitable candidates for appointment and the names of all those who applied. The JAAB recommendations, along with any expressions of interest from serving judges, and all eligible judges for appointment, are considered.  I then, as Minister for Justice, submit a Memorandum for Government to the Cabinet Agenda at which point Cabinet agrees on a nominee for appointment by the President.

The Programme for Government contains a commitment to reform the judicial appointments process and I intend to bring forward new legislation to do this very quickly.  I will shortly seek the approval of the Government for a new General Scheme of a Judicial Appointments Commission Bill 2020 to provide for the establishment of a new Commission to replace the Judicial Appointments Advisory Board. 

The Programme for Government also contains a commitment to establish a working group to consider the numbers and types of judges required to ensure the efficient administration of justice over the next five years.  Preparatory work within my Department is under way and I anticipate that this group will be established soon.

Crime Data

 45. Deputy Brendan Smith Information on Brendan Smith Zoom on Brendan Smith asked the Minister for Justice Information on Helen McEntee Zoom on Helen McEntee if her attention has been drawn to the scale of drug offences committed; and if she will make a statement on the matter. [42508/20]

Minister for Justice (Deputy Helen McEntee): Information on Helen McEntee Zoom on Helen McEntee I am informed by the Garda authorities that crime trends are monitored by the Garda Síochána Analysis Service, who provide data analysis capabilities to the Commissioner. Further, such trends are reported by the Commissioner to the Central Statistics Office on a regular basis. The CSO is responsible for reporting on these trends and this information is published on their website each quarter at the following link:

   https://www.cso.ie/en/statistics/crimeandjustice/recordedcrime-statisticsunderreservation/

  As the Deputy will be aware, the Programme for Government commits to a health-led approach to drugs misuse. Substance abuse and addiction affects people from all walks of life. By treating the use of substances as a public health issue, rather than solely as a criminal issue, we can better help individuals, their families, and the communities in which we all live.

  The National Drugs Strategy, Reducing Harm, Supporting Recovery 2017-2025, provides a roadmap to achieving these aims by promoting a more compassionate approach to people who use drugs, with addiction treated firstly as a health issue. Primary responsibility for this lies with my colleagues the Minister for Health and the Minister of State with responsibility Public Health, Well Being and the National Drugs Strategy, although the Strategy of course includes actions for all stakeholders, including my Department and An Garda Síochána. 

  Ireland's National Drugs Strategy is unique across EU members in that it includes consideration of drug-related intimidation. An Garda Síochána, in partnership with the National Family Support Network (NFSN), has developed ‘The Drug Related Intimidation Reporting Programme’, which is now been implemented on a national level since 2013, to respond to the needs of drug users and family members who may be subject to the threat of drug related intimidation.

  I also intend to shortly bring to Government proposals with regard to criminalising adults who groom children to use in criminality.  

  Hand in hand with this preventative work, and recognising the link between organised crime and illegal drugs, An Garda Síochána continues to relentlessly target all forms of organised crime throughout the pandemic. Sustained action by An Garda Síochána has continued unabated, bringing significant convictions and ongoing seizures of drugs, firearms and ammunition. In the first six months of 2020, Garda operations to counter organised crime resulted in the seizure of €13.6m in illicit drugs, 13 firearms and 2,000 rounds of ammunition.

  This work has continued throughout the autumn and winter months including the seizure of approximately €7 million of cannabis on 23rd October and a seizure of cannabis on 3rd November with an estimated street value of €1 million. 

Judicial Appointments

 46. Deputy Peadar Tóibín Information on Peadar Tóibín Zoom on Peadar Tóibín asked the Minister for Justice Information on Helen McEntee Zoom on Helen McEntee the reason the second vacancy for the Supreme Court has been left unfilled; and her plans to fill this position before the end of her term as Minister. [40269/20]

Minister for Justice (Deputy Helen McEntee): Information on Helen McEntee Zoom on Helen McEntee As I outlined to the House recently, it has been the practice to maintain a vacancy in the Supreme Court due to the reduction achieved in waiting times in that court in recent years.   However, this arrangement is kept under review, having regard to emerging pressures, planned retirements etc. When I met with the Chief Justice last week, he restated to me that there is no urgent need around the filling of this vacancy at the present time.

Should a need to fill this position be identified, it will be made, as all judicial appointments are made, in accordance with Articles 13.9 and 35.1 of the Constitution, by the President acting on the advice of the Government.  As with all judicial vacancies, a request is made to the Judicial Appointments Advisory Board (JAAB) for a list of suitable candidates for appointment and the names of all those who applied. The JAAB recommendations, along with any expressions of interest from serving judges, and all eligible judges for appointment, are considered.  I then, as Minister for Justice, submit a Memorandum for Government to the Cabinet Agenda at which point Cabinet agrees on a nominee for appointment by the President.

The Programme for Government contains a commitment to reform the judicial appointments process and I intend to bring forward new legislation to do this very quickly.   I will shortly seek the approval of the Government for a new General Scheme of a Judicial Appointments Commission Bill 2020 to provide for the establishment of a new Commission to replace the Judicial Appointments Advisory Board. 

The Programme for Government also contains a commitment to establish a working group to consider the numbers and types of judges required to ensure the efficient administration of justice over the next five years.  Preparatory work within my Department is under way and I anticipate that this group will be established soon.

Court Accommodation

 47. Deputy James Lawless Information on James Lawless Zoom on James Lawless asked the Minister for Justice Information on Helen McEntee Zoom on Helen McEntee the position regarding the provision of a new courthouse building for Naas, County Kildare to adequately cope with the growing capacity requirements of the court district; and if she will make a statement on the matter. [42332/20]

Minister for Justice (Deputy Helen McEntee): Information on Helen McEntee Zoom on Helen McEntee Under the provisions of the Courts Service Act 1998, management of the courts, including the provision of accommodation for court sittings, is the responsibility of the Courts Service which is independent in exercising its functions.

The Government has included a large county town standard courthouse in Naas as part of the National Development Plan 2018-2027. The current courthouse site is very constrained, and it will not be possible to provide for future needs within the current building/site boundaries.

In recent months, Kildare County Council contacted the Courts Service and requested that the courthouse be vested in the Courts Service.  The courthouse had been left in local authority ownership thus far while the Courts Service is exploring a number of site options in Naas. The courthouse will be vested if, through the acquisition of an adjacent site, it is possible to extend. Alternatively, if a new courthouse is to be provided at a separate location, the existing courthouse will remain vested in the local authority and can be made available for community use.

Anti-Social Behaviour

 48. Deputy Thomas Gould Information on Thomas Gould Zoom on Thomas Gould asked the Minister for Justice Information on Helen McEntee Zoom on Helen McEntee if consideration will be given to funding the establishment of a pilot antisocial behaviour taskforce in Cork city bringing together relevant stakeholders for example, An Garda Síochána, fire authorities and Tusla weekly to identify antisocial behaviour hotspots and divert persons. [42355/20]

Minister for Justice (Deputy Helen McEntee): Information on Helen McEntee Zoom on Helen McEntee As the Deputy may be aware, my Department is currently developing a Community Safety Policy which takes a new approach to policing, crime prevention and youth engagement.  Central to the new policy is a more collaborative approach to service delivery, as harm prevention issues go beyond policing and should include other service providers such as Tusla and the HSE. Services need to work together to tackle the range of issues that makes a community feel unsafe, which goes beyond the sole remit of An Garda Síochána.

Strong community participation in identifying the needs of a community and developing solutions is also key. This new approach is to be established on a pilot basis ahead of a nationwide rollout as part of 'A Policing Service for our Future', the Government's implementation plan for the recommendations of the Commission on the Future of Policing. I recently announced that these pilots will be located in North Inner City Dublin, Waterford and Longford.

Another Programme for Government commitment is the establishment of an Anti-Social Behaviour Forum. The first meeting of the Forum was chaired by my colleague Minister of State Browne on 27 October.  This was an initial meeting and more detailed terms of reference and a work programme for the forum are being formulated.  There are potential areas of overlap with the Youth Justice Strategy, which is at an advanced stage of preparation, and this will be taken into account in deciding the particular areas of focus for the forum.

With respect to the situation in Cork City, I am informed by the Garda Authorities that the Deputy's suggestion was previously raised at the Cork City JPC with the Chief Superintendent, Cork City Division.  Following consideration of this proposal with Community Policing Sergeants operating in the Division, it was confirmed that open channels of communication already exist between these parties.

For example, I understand that Community Safety Forums, normally held at least three times per year throughout the City, facilitate members of the public in highlighting issues of concern and, in particular, antisocial behaviour patterns.  Any location highlighted as a concern for Anti-Social Behaviour is noted at such meetings and put on a tasking sheet within the relevant functional area for increased patrols to be conducted.

Community Policing Gardaí across the City are in regular contact with Community representatives, Councillors, Resident Associations and members of the public and in general share and gather information around issues of Anti-Social Behaviour.  Community Policing Units target the particular areas in an effort to alleviate the issue and tasking sheets are updated on a weekly basis.

I understand that the Garda Authorities in Cork City are in constant contact with Cork City Partnership, Barnardos , Hollyhill Youth Project , North Link , HSE , Cork City Council , Friendly Call Cork as well as local sporting clubs. Community Policing members also liaise with Muintir Na Tire around safety for the elderly and particularly those living in areas with reported incidence of anti-social behaviour. The JPC also provides a forum where An Garda Síochána links in with external agencies to identify problem areas across the city.

Departmental Programmes

 49. Deputy Alan Farrell Information on Alan Farrell Zoom on Alan Farrell asked the Minister for Justice Information on Helen McEntee Zoom on Helen McEntee if she will provide an update on the implementation of community safety pilots; and if she will make a statement on the matter. [41542/20]

Minister for Justice (Deputy Helen McEntee): Information on Helen McEntee Zoom on Helen McEntee As the Deputy will be aware, on 13 November I announced that my Department will pilot three Local Community Safety Partnerships in Dublin’s North Inner City, in Longford and in Waterford.  Local Community Safety Partnerships are the new structures proposed in my Department’s new Community Safety Policy to take a holistic approach to safety issues in partnership with the community.

They will operate at local authority administrative level and will be made up of local representatives, a range of local services, community representatives and residents.  Local Community Safety Partnerships will take a strategic approach to their work so that issues arising can be dealt with in a coordinated manner, addressed collectively by relevant service providers in partnership with the community.

My Department, working with Dublin City Council, has met with the local elected officials and some of the community representatives in Dublin’s North Inner City about the pilot programme. However, to secure the community engagement that we want for this new partnership, it is crucial that we engage with residents, new communities and minority communities, as well as schools.

Ensuring strong community engagement is at the heart of the community safety approach. For this reason, my Department and Dublin City Council are developing an engagement plan for the community in Dublin’s North Inner City. This will enable us to better understand how to support their participation. Following the community engagement process, the partnership will have its first meeting early in the new year.

Each Local Community Safety Partnership will be actively supported by a dedicated resource within the local authority whose role is to support the Partnership, engage the residents in the community on safety issues and link them in with the work of the Partnership.  Dublin City Council will launch a recruitment process this month for support staff for the Dublin pilot of the Local Community Safety Partnership.

My Department has also engaged with the Chief Executives of Longford County Council and Waterford City and County Council to begin preparations for the Longford and Waterford pilots.  Officials in my Department will meet with local elected representatives of Longford County Council in January to progress the roll-out of the pilot. They will also be further engaging with Waterford County Council in January. Our intention is to have the local community safety partnerships in these areas set up in early 2021. 

The pilot projects have to adapt to new conditions caused by the COVID-19 pandemic, so it is important that we look at new ways of working with the community and service providers, of building relationships and collaborating.

The tender for evaluation for the pilots, which will begin around the same time as the pilot launches, has been published and the deadline for submissions for this is 18 December.

Crime Prevention

 50. Deputy Pádraig O'Sullivan Information on Pádraig O'Sullivan Zoom on Pádraig O'Sullivan asked the Minister for Justice Information on Helen McEntee Zoom on Helen McEntee her plans to introduce new programmes to deter young persons from carrying knives; and if she will make a statement on the matter. [42424/20]

Minister of State at the Department of Justice and Equality (Deputy James Browne): Information on James Browne Zoom on James Browne I share the Deputy's concern on the issue of knife crime and indeed all violent assaults.  We are familiar with the problems in neighbouring jurisdictions in this regard and the Government is determined to ensure that similar problems do not develop here in Ireland as any stabbing incident has the potential to cause irreparable physical harm and/or tragic consequences.

That is why a comprehensive and robust legal framework is in place for offences involving knives, including heavy maximum penalties.  Under the provisions of the Criminal Justice (Miscellaneous Provisions) Act 2009, the maximum penalty for a conviction for possessing a knife in a public place without good reason or lawful authority was increased from one to five years.  An Garda Síochána also has an extended power of search without warrant in relation to knives and offensive weapons.

Proactive policing measures such as person searches have increased by 76% this year, leading to an increase in the number of seizures 

I am advised that the Gardaí have secured a substantial number of convictions in the Courts in recent years for possession of a knife or other weapon.

As one might expect, statistics on seizures of knives by Gardaí in the period from 2005 to 2019 show that 44% of seizures relating to individuals from the ages of 12 to 23 and 65% to individuals under the age of 30. In addition, it would be expected that, as our Garda numbers have been increasing, the enforcement numbers for crimes such as possession of weapons or possession of drugs would also increase.

I am advised that HSE data indicates that those being admitted overnight with knife injuries has dropped. In 2019, there were 178 such incidents, a drop from the average of 236 between 2005 and 2011. So, although An Garda Síochána are seizing more knives, the number of people who are presenting to hospital with the more serious injuries which require an overnight stay is dropping.

An Garda Síochána is currently operating a Reduction Strategy 2019-2021, which is targeted at tackling all types of assaults, including use of knives. This strategy is informed by a pro-arrest, early-investigation and proactive high-visibility approach. It places particular emphasis on prevention, education and awareness. The strategy promotes early prosecution of offenders where feasible and operationally appropriate.

An Garda Síochána also addresses knife crime through education and engagement with community initiatives. 

At an operational level, I am informed that Gardaí pro-actively target public disorder and anti-social behaviour, including knife-related crime, through the strategic deployment of Garda resources, and areas identified as public order hot-spots by local Garda management are the subject of additional foot and mobile patrols. 

The Deputy will also be aware that my Department has published a new draft Youth Justice Strategy.  The draft Strategy is currently being refined with reference to the outcome of the recent public consultation and the views of key stakeholders and I expect to be in a position to present the finalised version to Government in the near future.


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