Home > Dail Eireann debate. Topical issue debate. Anti-social behaviour

[Oireachtas] Dail Eireann debate. Topical issue debate. Anti-social behaviour. (28 Jun 2017)

External website: https://www.oireachtas.ie/en/debates/debate/dail/2...

Deputy Peadar Tóibín: There is a serious problem developing in towns around the country. Significant areas within out towns are being ceded to thugs, to crime and to drug dealers. Certain public parks and playgrounds in towns such as Navan are taken over on sunny days by adults drinking cans and spirits. Drugs are openly sold and consumed in broad daylight in town squares in towns in Meath. Many families are being tormented by anti-social behaviour by neighbours.


I know of one young mother in Trim with a newborn baby. She is living next door to a family that has allowed rubbish to pile up so much that the place is full of rats and some of the adults in that family have started urinating on the door of the young mother's house. They stare in the window looking at her and the kids kick footballs up against her windows. Music is played loudly into the night. The landlord of the perpetrators cannot get them out currently and is considering paying them €5,000 to leave. Not being able to sleep and not feeling safe in one's own house is, I believe, a threat to the physical and mental health of a person.


Last week in my home town of Navan, a shopkeeper, Ciaran Reilly, was severely beaten by thugs while defending his shop. He was left with severe bruising and swelling to his head and needed serious medical attention. Recently, another teenager in the county was rushed to hospital having been found with stab wounds. A farming contractor has had €12,000 worth of tractor parts stolen from his yard in the past year. He came across the thieves and they came at him with a wheel brace. There are well over 400 assaults happening in County Meath every year. The homicide figures for the county, which include manslaughter and murder, have increased and sexual offences have trended upwards over the last 12 years.


At the same time, between 2011 and 2012, there has been a significant fall in the number of gardaí in the county. Trim, Summerhill, Longwood, Kilmessan, Enfield, Ballivor, Kells, Crossakiel, Laytown, Dunshaughlin and Ashbourne have all lost gardaí under the Minister of State's Government. We have lost 25 gardaí in total in County Meath, with Garda stations being closed in places such as Kilmessan and Crossakiel. At the time, my colleague, Senator Pádraig Mac Lochlainn, tabled a parliamentary question to find out how much the Government was saving by closing these Garda stations. He found out that it was the princely sum of €4,000 a year per Garda station to have them closed.


We know that gardaí are fiercely frustrated about their working environment. Morale is at an all-time low due to the scandals with regard to the Garda management failings and the abdication of responsibility and oversight by the Government. The Association of Garda Sergeants and Inspectors has said that we are now witnessing the human impact of seven years of austerity. The Garda Inspectorate report uncovered serious, systemic weaknesses in An Garda Síochána. I have come to the view that at this stage there is nearly a tolerable level of crime, thuggery, drug dealing and alcohol abuse in our public spaces. There is a danger that if I raise these issues I will be blamed by some people for blackening my own county. If I do not raise the issues, however, we know they will never get fixed. I must give credit to the group of people in Roscrea who are taking this issue by the scruff of the neck and who are doing great work in that regard.


The situation needs to be fixed and it can be fixed. I look to the Minister of State to identify what the Government will do to ensure that towns such as those I have mentioned will be safe places for people.


Deputy David Stanton: I speak on behalf of the Minister for Justice and Equality, Deputy Flanagan, who regrets that he cannot be here. He has other official commitments. The Minister and I are very grateful to the Deputy for raising this matter in the House today. The Deputy should raise matters such as this in the House to highlight them in order that our attention is drawn to them and action can be taken. The Minister is very much aware of the impact of street crime and anti-social behaviour on local communities and the general social environment in towns around the country. There are well recognised effects in terms of the fear of crime and overall community morale. We have discussed the fear of crime in the last Topical Issue matter.


I hope the Deputy will appreciate that the policing response to such crimes, including the deployment of Garda resources at local level, is a matter for the Garda authorities in the first instance. The Minister is advised that Garda management carefully monitors the incidence of such crime and that Garda resources are deployed in response to changing crime trends. This may include directing resources at areas designated as hot spots for anti-social behaviour and high-visibility policing in the vicinity of entertainment venues and licensed premises, especially when people are entering and exiting.


In terms of our existing legislative provisions, there is a strong body of legislation contained in the Criminal Justice (Public Order) Acts and the Intoxicating Liquor Acts to address these sorts of street crime offences. These include powers for gardaí to seize alcohol on the street where there is an apprehension of public disorder. It is clear, however, that gardaí face significant challenges in dealing with public disorder and anti-social behaviour that is fuelled by the misuse of alcohol. Clearly, these matters cannot be addressed by policing measures alone. The underlying issues about the misuse of alcohol and taking responsibility for personal behaviour are part of a much wider debate for our society.


The Garda also conducts intelligence-led operations to target particular suspects or criminal activities, such as drug-dealing. Deputies will also be aware that the Garda has had a number of significant successes in recent months in targeting drugs crime with seizures of large amounts of drugs. These seizures are the result of painstaking and professional police work that is aimed at dismantling the criminal networks behind the visible manifestations of drugs misuse that are evident on our streets.


At the heart of the concerns expressed by the Deputy is the relationship between communities and their local gardaí. It is worth recalling that the programme for a partnership Government underlines the importance of community policing in responding to the concerns and expectation of both urban and rural communities.


The Minister is advised that it remains a key priority for An Garda Síochána to tackle public disorder and anti-social behaviour by working with communities to reduce this type of behaviour and to enhance community safety. This approach includes a strong focus on quality of life issues and collaboration with local authorities to help address the causes of anti-social behaviour. The Garda engages in a range of partnership approaches with communities to address local concerns, as well as participating in more formal structures such as joint policing committees which have an important role in developing strategies to tackle issues of local concern.


The Minister, Deputy Flanagan, has asked me to emphasise that joint policing committees have a very important role in facilitating consultation, co-operation and synergy on policing and crime issues between An Garda Síochána, local authorities and elected local representatives. The active and constructive engagement by elected representatives is very important on the joint policing committees.


In conclusion, the Minister would like to reaffirm that the Government remains committed to supporting the Garda to make communities safer. The Government has devoted significant resources to policing in recent years and this will continue, in particular through the accelerated programme of Garda recruitment. This undoubtedly will enhance policing services for all communities across the country.


Deputy Peadar Tóibín: Meath is probably no different to many other counties and when we look at these issues, we sometimes try to benchmark them against the figures the Garda gives. People do not know what to believe with respect to figures they get from the Garda at present. The figures on breath tests were hocus pocus and now we see that the Central Statistics Office will no longer publish the homicide figures in the State due to concerns of accuracy. This is a shocking indictment of the Garda system.


Existing laws are not being implemented. Navan is hammered with derelict sites. There is a Derelict Sites Act and I ask the Minister of State to consider how the Act could be made easier to use. Local authorities are not using it due to the difficulties. There is also the Residential Tenancies Act and I ask how that can be made easier to use and enforce in order that people do not have to live beside residents who make their lives hell. Councils also should be empowered to develop more by-laws that are not flouted but are implemented.


Quality of life issues are very important. It does not have to be this way. We could make a change by improving the quality of life of people by getting them to take back their public spaces. This, however, needs better planning. We may be at the precipice of a whole new building space. I ask the Government to ensure planning is put in place to make spaces safe for people in the future. We need to keep an eye on our children. There is no doubt about that. We need to teach them values. We must teach them what is right and wrong. We also need to ensure they have services and facilities. I will give an example. The OPW has owned a building in Enfield for the last five years. It pays for its upkeep and its security. The building has been closed each day for the last five years. We have asked over and again for the OPW to make this building accessible to the local community so that a youth club can be provided and other community groups in Enfield can provide local services. The OPW has said for five years that it will not open this building. It remains closed. I guarantee the Minister of State that State or Government buildings in each of the towns and villages about which we are concerned are not being used. They are closed to their communities or at least are not being fully utilised. I ask the Minister of State to take the cost-free step of making an audit of existing structures in order that we can bring safety back to our streets.


Deputy David Stanton: On behalf of the Minister, I thank the Deputy again for giving the House an opportunity to debate this matter. It is right that we should highlight and discuss issues of importance for County Meath and the country as a whole. I will be happy to pass the Deputy's views on these matters on to the Minister. I have dealt in general terms with the response to crime and anti-social behaviour. I hope this has been of some help to the Deputy. I emphasise the importance of the joint policing committees, which pull together representatives of local authorities and communities. When I served on a joint policing committee for a number of years, I found it an extremely useful way to raise issues. The Minister has asked me to say that if the Deputy has concerns about any particular towns or localities, he will bring those concerns to the attention of the Garda authorities. If the Deputy wants to write to the Minister on these specific issues, he would welcome that as well. I have already outlined the immediate response to street crime and anti-social behaviour. It is clearly a matter for local Garda management to make decisions on how to handle and deploy their resources. Having said that, the Government is determined that every appropriate support will be provided to assist local gardaí in confronting crime and protecting communities. There will be another passing-out parade next week. This means that further gardaí will be going on the streets. We are continuing to recruit trainees to increase Garda numbers as fast as we can. We are providing other facilities, supports and services as well. The Deputy is correct when he says that the State owns various facilities around the country where services can be provided. I have personal experience of being involved in such a project in my local area. A building was made available to the local community when it came together to take on a project and provide important services like those he has mentioned. I will relay his remarks to the Minister.

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