Seanad Éireann - Volume 182 - 07 December, 2005
Mr. Kitt Mr. Kitt
Mr. Kitt: I thank the Cathaoirleach for selecting this matter on the Adjournment. I welcome the Minister of State to the House. I am glad that I too am dealing with an issue concerning County Galway because he is familiar with the places involved.
I am very concerned by the number of raids and attempted raids on businesses in the north east Galway area over the past two months. In some situations raiders have definitely come from outside the county, attempting in some cases to raid two or three premises in one evening or morning. For example, a few weeks ago some raiders who tried to get into Abbeyknockmoy post office but did not succeed went on to Ballygar where they failed again but did serious damage to the post office. Eventually they carried out a raid in the midlands, in Horseleap. In recent weeks some raiders attempted to break into Williamstown post office and succeeded in taking away some goods. They later went to Ahascragh where they raided a supermarket.
People are concerned that in five of the six places I mention a post office was raided. Some of the post offices were in supermarkets. In each case the raiders had sophisticated equipment. In Ballinamore Bridge they had chains to drag a safe out of a post office. Last Friday there was a raid in Barnaderg, near Tuam, in which a large sum of money was taken from the post office.
I call on the Minister to do several things. First, he could discuss with An Post the use of CCTV which might prevent these raids and, second, in line with the review of rural policing some years ago, small vans or vanettes could be used. These raids have taken place between 3 a.m. and 5 a.m. Many of those who were raided were concerned that the raids occurred in November and early December when they distribute double payments for old age pensioners. The raiders know there is extra money there. Special attention should be paid to post offices in the months leading up to Christmas.
The trauma and invasion of privacy for people who live on, or beside, these premises is serious. People talk about the shock they experienced when they saw people trying to enter their premises, whether a post office or a shop. I hope this will never happen again. If the Minister adopts my suggestions we can make rural Ireland safer.
I am concerned that the Minister for Justice, Equality and Law Reform says the new Garda recruits will be put into the frontline in Dublin. He does not mention policing in rural areas, which is essential, especially in November and December and the days prior to Christmas.
Mr. Fahey Mr. Fahey
Mr. Fahey: I thank the Senator for raising difficulties in the areas of east Galway he has mentioned tonight. Unfortunately, the Minister for Justice, Equality and Law Reform, cannot be here but I share the Senator’s concerns about the recent raids and attempted break-ins in several towns and villages in east Galway in recent months.
Before commenting on the particular issue identified by the Senator it will be helpful to put the issue of crime into perspective. In October the Minister released the provisional third quarterly figures for headline crime for the State. The provisional figures showed a decrease of 0.2% in the number of headline offences in the 12 months ended 30 September 2005 compared with the 12 months ended 30 September 2004. This included significant decreases in some serious crimes, such as rape of a female, down 11%, unlawful carnal knowledge, down 15%, aggravated sexual assault, down 56%, theft from the person, down 19%, and robbery from the person down 26%, although there were also increases in a number of other crimes.
The Minister takes great satisfaction in the Government’s decision of October last year to approve the recruitment of 2,000 additional gardaí to increase the strength of the force to 14,000. As a result there will be a combined organisational strength, of both attested gardaí and recruits in training, of 14,000 in 2006. The additional resources will be targeted at the areas of greatest need, as set out in the programme for Government.
The Minister has already promised that the additional gardaí will not be put on administrative duties but will be put directly into frontline, operational, high-visibility policing. The Minister is also very pleased that the Garda Síochána is now better resourced than at any time in its history. The funding for the Garda which the Minister secured in the Estimates for 2006 is at an historic high of over €1.29 billion, and compares with just €600 million in 1997.
The provision for Garda overtime in 2006 will be €83.5 million, an increase of €23 million on the allocation for 2005. This increase will greatly aid the planned deployment of a visible policing service in a flexible, effective and targeted response to criminal activity and to crime prevention. The €83.5 million in overtime will yield 2,725 million extra hours of policing by uniformed and special units throughout the State. The personnel strength of the Roscommon-east Galway division, as of 21 November 2005 was 248, all ranks, an increase of 7% on the number in December 1997.
The Garda Síochána is not an island of law enforcement. It relies on the ongoing and active support of the public to enable it to be at its most effective in its duties, whether this support is given through the provision of information to gardaí by members of the public, or through more general co-operation by members of the public with the gardaí. Businesses and post offices also have a responsibility to ensure that their premises are secure. As members of society we all have an active part to play in the fight against crime, and a duty to do so. The community alert programme is an outstanding example of how members of the community can do this. This national movement is a community-based crime prevention initiative in rural communities set up by Muintir na Tíre in association with the Garda Síochána in 1985.
The programme’s network of over 1,294 local groups is dedicated to the following: improving the quality of life of people in rural communities by crime prevention; neighbourliness and self-reliance; general community safety and well-being; accident prevention; promotion of personal safety; and having an anti-poverty focus on, and awareness of, social inclusion. Its companion organisation, Neighbourhood Watch, carries out equally valuable work in more urban areas.
The Department of Justice, Equality and Law Reform contributes annually towards the costs of operating the programme. The Department’s funding provides assistance towards the costs of several local development officers who promote the establishment of new groups and increase the level of activity of existing groups. Assistance is also provided by the Health Service Executive. The Garda, both nationally and locally, is in contact with Muintir na Tíre, with a particular emphasis on crime prevention.
The Garda places as much importance on crime prevention as on crime detection. A Garda community relations-crime prevention officer, who provides advice and support on crime prevention issues to the community, is assigned to each Garda division. This Garda officer has the backup of the Garda national crime prevention office. In addition, the Garda has introduced a rural community policing scheme which operates in 14 Garda districts. The aim of the initiative is to provide effective and efficient policing in rural areas.
In the Garda western region, Operation Iarthair, under the direct control and responsibility of the regional Garda assistant commissioner, has been in place for the last four years. It targets the activities of criminals located in and travelling through the region and gathers intelligence on them. The operation consists mainly of scheduled daily roving vehicle checkpoints at night. In addition, a list of vulnerable persons and premises has been prepared in each Garda district, and particular attention is paid to these persons and premises by patrols.
Operation Vehicle Hold-Up is a proactive crime prevention, road traffic enforcement and traffic calming operation, consisting of uniform and armed personnel. It takes place on varying dates and times in every Garda district in the region. All districts in the division are, therefore, regularly patrolled by uniform, traffic and detective branch personnel, particularly during the hours of darkness, when several crime prevention and intelligence gathering operations are in place. A list of vulnerable persons and premises has been prepared in each district and these are patrolled regularly. Elsewhere, vehicle checkpoints are operated and vehicles and persons encountered are checked out.
The Garda authorities have informed the Minister for Justice, Equality and Law Reform that the locations in question are all situated in the Roscommon-Galway east Garda division. In the last three months post offices in Ballygar, Ballinamore Bridge and Barnaderg have been burgled and the safes removed. These crimes are under active investigation, under the control of the regional detective superintendent, and several criminal gangs are being targeted in conjunction with units from the northern Garda region. Following recent burglaries in business premises in Williamstown and Ahascragh, gardaí encountered a suspect vehicle and five persons were subsequently arrested. Stolen property was recovered from the burglary in Williamstown. An investigation file is being prepared for submission to the law officers in respect of these crimes.
The Minister has been informed that local Garda management is satisfied the measures in place are sufficient to address criminal activity in the area. He is aware of the concern which incidents like these cause to the people directly affected and the wider community. He is confident the Garda is devoting the necessary resources to investigating these crimes and working with the assistance of the community to prevent a repeat of such crimes.
I will bring Senator Kitt’s comments to the attention of the Minister and officials in the Department to have them taken directly to the Garda authorities in the Phoenix Park. The information given to the House by Senator Kitt shows sinister activity is taking place among several criminal gangs in rural areas. Everything possible will be done to bring these people to justice.
Seanad Éireann 182 Crime Levels.