DÁIL SPEECH ON THE REVISED ESTIMATES FOR JUSTICE AND EQUALITY

Deputy Thomas P. Broughan: I am grateful for the opportunity to contribute briefly on the topic of the Revised Estimates for the Tánaiste’s Department. It has been widely reported that the €55 million, including the additional moneys and the money from savings in the Revised Estimates, is directly in response to the recent spate of horrendous gangland crimes and murders in the city. The Tánaiste promised on 8 June last that she was committed to funding “whatever measures were needed for An Garda Síochána to best tackle the critical and unprecedented challenges they currently face”.

I am a member of the committee making arrangements for the new committee on budgetary scrutiny. I hope that when the budget committee is established, it will, along with the Department of Justice and Equality and the justice committee, have a strong relationship in assessing the Estimates for this Department and getting the best performance outputs.

I welcome the Tánaiste’s commitment to increase the number of gardaí to 15,000. Does she intend to have another recruitment campaign this year? It is quite clear that the numbers in many areas of An Garda Síochána, such as the traffic corps, have been allowed to deteriorate severely, which has had a negative impact over the lifetime of the last Government. This has to be remedied. I welcome the resources that are being put into An Garda Síochána – or are promised to be put in – in central Dublin in the dedicated Garda armed support unit, and the other initiatives she mentioned. As stated by another speaker, I also hope the mini-CABs, which the Taoiseach and the Tánaiste have previously referred to, will be able to utilise the resources seized by the State to provide necessary social infrastructure in areas such as the centre of Dublin and areas of my constituency where there has been gross under-investment in such facilities.

The Tánaiste also stated that the additional funding would be used by An Garda Síochána to continue Operation Thor, which has been quite successful and reports to the Joint Policing Committee. I repeat that I welcome the committed attitude of senior gardaí to our local joint policing committees, in my own case in Dublin city and Fingal. I also welcome the additional resources being provided across programmes A to E. In programme B, there have been reports that there is a shortfall in the number of scientists necessary in the critical forensic investigation agency for it to do its important work. Has the Minister plans to remedy this shortfall? I noted also that under programme A, Leadership in and Oversight of Justice and Equality Policy and Delivery, 2015 and 2016 target outputs include the continued implementation of medium and long-term recommendations of the Garda Inspectorate in relation to the fixed charge processing system. In programme B, A Safe and Secure Ireland, there is reference to the context and impact indicator.

This year, 2016, is currently shaping up to be one of the worst years for road fatalities in a number of years, with 83 lives tragically lost as of Monday, 20 June, this week. The figure has increased by 17 compared to the same time last year. Yet the Revised Estimates and the Tánaiste’s contribution barely mentioned the need to address all the areas of administration in respect of creating a safer road traffic environment. I know there are many competing aspects in trying to keep our citizens safe, and certain areas have to be prioritised. However, when one looks at the resources that have been cut from An Garda Síochána’s traffic corps during the austerity years, there seems to be a clear correlation between those cuts and recent spikes in the number of traffic deaths. The strength of the dedicated traffic corps was 741 in 2015. We do not yet have the figures for 2016. The number of traffic corps personnel in 2014 was 749, in 2013 it was 811 and in 2012 it was 877. There has been a significant cut. The number of vehicles allocated to the traffic corps was also reduced from 295 in 2014 to 258 in 2015. This is clearly an area that the Tánaiste must address as soon as possible.

We also mentioned in a previous debate the unbearable criminality in the centre of our capital and the impact of the closure of stations, including significant stations in Dublin, and the reduction in Garda station strengths. These are important factors in the impact of the cuts on crime prevention. In her replies to me, the Tánaiste often stated that all members of An Garda Síochána take on traffic and road safety duties at times. However, the reverse is also true in that there are instances in which traffic corps personnel are redeployed for significant periods to other duties and cannot fulfil their primary function.

The Tánaiste has reported that €205 million has been made available to An Garda Síochána for much-needed ICT. I noted with interest that in the recent O’Higgins report, issues with the PULSE system were highlighted. Improvements in this area have long been championed by the road safety group PARC, Promoting Awareness, Responsibility & Care on our Roads, and its indefatigable leader Ms Susan Gray. I have tabled many parliamentary questions over the years regarding the failures of the PULSE system and its lack of interoperability with the operating systems of the courts and the RSA and other systems necessary for the safe policing of our roads and communities.

Most recently, I requested further information on the new hand-held devices reportedly being made available to gardaí on the beat. Unfortunately, no information was available from the Tánaiste’s Department, so it remains to be seen whether these devices will also be stand-alone devices or whether the Garda Síochána Modernisation and Renewal Programme 2016-2021, launched by the Commissioner and mentioned by the Policing Authority – I wish An Garda Síochána well with it – will address the serious deficiencies in the Garda ICT system. I remember, as will the Acting Chairman, Deputy Durkan, when we contacted Garda stations and they had no e-mail facilities. That was not a long time ago; it was only three or four, perhaps five, years ago. They were not online.

It was in the media last weekend that the Tánaiste brought a note to Cabinet about section 44 of the Road Traffic Act 2010, providing for the introduction of a third payment option for the payment of fixed charge notices. I hope that is something that will proceed. Will that be dealt with under different legislation or will it be dealt with externally to the road traffic Bill that is to come forward? Given the severity of the number of deaths and casualties on the road, does the Tánaiste intend to progress the road traffic Bill before this House reaches the recess? Those were the reports and, of course, the Tánaiste is working with her ministerial colleagues, Deputies Ross and Donohoe, on the introduction of the third payment option, which I have long been calling for.

I understand one of the main barriers to a quick and seamless introduction of section 44 was and is the IT systems of the stakeholders. When will they be updated?

I heard a Fianna Fáil Deputy speak on vacancies and so on in important courts. However, the experience of the Courts Service in respect of road traffic law has come across as incredibly inefficient.

The Courts Service, especially regarding road traffic law, has come across as being incredibly inefficient and, in some instances, as with the recent disclosure about the NCT and the prosecution of people who had paid their fixed charge notice for not having an NCT certificate, it sometimes seems that the actual problem lies with the Courts Service and not with An Garda Síochána. The media sometimes does not show that clearly enough, and it is something that perhaps the Minister could address. I welcome the additional resources for the Department and for An Garda Síochána, and I hope, particularly in the area of road safety, that those resources will be deployed to very good effect.

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