44. Deputy Shane Cassells asked the Minister for Justice and Equality the number of gardaí in each Garda station in County Meath as of 1 November 2017; the number of community gardaí in the division; and the number of Garda Reserve members and new recruits assigned to the division since recruitment resumed in 2014. (Question 51660/17 asked on 05 Dec 2017)

Deputy Shane Cassells: My question is in the same vein as that of Deputy Eugene Murphy, except that I am seeking data in regard to County Meath. I make no apologies for pressing the case for my county, because I see the pressure the division is under. This year, for example, the chief superintendent has had to pull the traffic corps from the north of the county and apply it in places like Ashbourne because of the increasing threat from gangland crime and the activities of persons operating in the drugs trade. I look forward to the Minister’s reply.

(Deputy Charles Flanagan): As at 31 October 2017, the total number of gardaí stationed in County Meath was 304, of whom seven are community gardaí. There are also 16 members of the Garda Reserve operating in the county, as well as 30 Garda civilian staff attached to the division. Where appropriate, the work of local gardaí is supported by a number of Garda national units such as the National Bureau of Criminal Investigation, the armed support units, the Garda National Economic Crime Bureau and the Garda National Drugs and Organised Crime Bureau.

The Government stands committed to ensuring a strong and visible police presence throughout the country, including in County Meath, in order to maintain and strengthen community engagement, provide reassurance to citizens and deter crime.  I am aware that the Deputy engages with the joint policing committee in Meath. It is the reports of these committees that inform the Garda Commissioner and his or her team as to the appropriate level of recruits for distribution in each division. Since the reopening of the Garda College in September 2014, close to 1,400 recruits have attested as members, 46 of whom were assigned to the Meath division.  I look forward to attending the graduation of almost 200 newly attested, fully trained, energetic and ambitious new gardaí, all of whom will be assigned to stations across the country between now and the end of the year. Taking into account annual retirements of fewer than 300 to date in 2017, I expect the garda complement to be 13,500 at year end.

Deputy Shane Cassells: I thank the Minister for his response. This is the third occasion in the past month on which I have raised directly with him the issue of garda numbers and crime-related matters in County Meath. I fully appreciate that in our earlier exchanges, the Minister dealt with the macro issue of Garda resources on a national level. I will continue, however, to press the case for Meath for the simple reason that it has been left behind when it comes to the core principle of the deployment of resources. The figures for the county clearly show that. I stated in my earlier conversations with the Minister that I am not here to try to score political points but to articulate the real concerns of the chief superintendent, Mr. Fergus Healy, who is crying out for the allocation of additional resources.

I have brought to the attention of two different Garda Commissioners at two separate meetings of the Committee of Public Accounts this year the shocking incidence of gangland crime in the county, conscious that it is the Commissioner who has legitimate power when it comes to the deployment of resources. I am asking the Minister to engage with me in a new way on this matter and to look at it with fresh eyes. The traditional way of allocating resources, by way of the Commissioner, does not reflect the changes in settlement patterns in this country. As a result, places like Navan, Trim, Oldcastle and Athboy have been left under-resourced. Given the settlement patterns along the eastern coast, we must acknowledge the pressures under which gardaí in those areas are operating and that the traditional methods of resourcing are not doing the job.

Deputy Charles Flanagan: As the Deputy said, we have discussed this issue on several occasions and I am aware of his concern regarding the manner in which decisions are made as to the distribution of Garda personnel around County Meath. There are currently 304 members of An Garda Síochána in the county, following on from an increase in the complement each year since 2014. In fact, the number is the highest it has been since 2010, the year in which the Garda College was closed. The distribution model that is used takes into account a number of factors, including population, crime trends and the policing needs of each division. It is the responsibility of the divisional officer to allocate personnel within his or her district as appropriate.

Deputy Shane Cassells: I am a politician, not a garda, but I hear what the chief superintendent in Meath is saying clearly on behalf of our county. I do not dispute the progress we have made. I attended the launch of the consultation paper on the processes associated with future policing in the State, which was attended by the Minister and Ms Kathleen O’Toole, head of the Commission on the Future of Policing in Ireland. I listened carefully to what the Minister had to say on that occasion. If his words are to count for something, we must find a better way of utilising the gardaí coming out of Templemore. We have seen how the deployment of additional gardaí brings significant benefits to communities.

The threats posed by gangs and their wanton disregard for life is a very real issue in my county. Last Saturday, a young man in his 20s was found dead in Dunboyne, having been shot through the head. I noticed the former Taoiseach, Mr. John Bruton, in the Gallery earlier. He lives in that village and knows the threat that exists there. My colleague, Councillor Damien O’Reilly, articulated very well the fears of local people, which have been heightened by the discovery of that young man’s body last Saturday morning. We are dealing with the type of high-level crime more usually associated with cities and we must have the resources to combat it.

Deputy Charles Flanagan: I acknowledge the strong and positive commitment of An Garda Síochána to combatting crime, with particular reference to the type of gangland crime mentioned by Deputy Cassells. There have been significant arrests and successes in recent times, which show that our appreciation of the dedicated work of the force is well warranted. Using ratios such as the number of gardaí per head of population is not always an appropriate tool when considering the allocation of Garda resources because it fails to take into account that crime levels may vary significantly between communities.

I assure the Deputy of our commitment in this area, in line with the programme for Government. The Garda Inspectorate, at the request of the Policing Authority, is carrying out a review of the dispersal and usage of resources available to An Garda Síochána in delivering a policing service to local communities. The authority has informed the inspectorate that the review should take account of a range of issues, many of them adverted to by the Deputy today. It will be a comprehensive exercise, incorporating a consultative process with local communities. I invite the Deputy to make a submission to the Commission on the Future of Policing in Ireland. I want to see the review completed in the first half of 2018 and am happy to engage further with the Deputy in this regard.