482. Deputy Eamon Scanlon asked the Minister for Justice and Equality the efforts being made to tackle rural crime in the north west; if his attention has been drawn to the fact that the number of burglaries in counties Sligo and Leitrim area is up 30% while nationally the number of burglaries is up 3.6%; and if he will make a statement on the matter. [24661/18]
Minister for Justice and Equality (Deputy Charles Flanagan): I want to assure the Deputy that I am very much aware of the impact of crime on rural communities, including the serious damage done by organised gangs who target rural areas to engage in burglary and other property-related crime. Such incidents cannot be tolerated in our society and this Government will continue to support An Garda Síochána in tackling the gangs, including mobile criminal gangs, who target rural areas, including counties Sligo and Leitrim.
The Deputy will appreciate it is the Garda Commissioner who is responsible for the distribution of resources, including personnel, among the various Garda Divisions and Districts and I, as Minister, have no direct role in the matter. I can assure the Deputy that Garda management keeps this distribution of resources under continual review in the context of crime trends and policing priorities so as to ensure that optimum use is made of these resources.
I am informed by the Commissioner that the strength of the Sligo/Leitrim Division on 30 April 2018, the latest date for which information is readily available was 302. There are also 17 Garda Reserves and 31 Garda civilian staff attached to the Sligo/Leitrim Division. When 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.
As the Deputy will be aware, very significant resources have been provided to An Garda Síochána, including an overtime allocation of almost €100 million announced in Budget 2018, to support large-scale policing operations including Operation Thor.
The scale of Garda activity against burglary and property-related crime under Operation Thor has led to concentrated Garda activity. As of 17 May 2018, 130,702 targeted checkpoints and 151,819 crime prevention patrols have been conducted nationwide. To give you an idea of the impact of the operation, I can inform you that this concentrated policing activity has produced in the region of 7,569 arrests and 8,613 charges covering a range of offences which, in addition to burglary, include handling stolen property, possession of firearms and drugs offences.
For its part, the Government remains totally committed to ensuring An Garda Síochána have all the necessary resources to tackle all forms of criminality in our society, which includes actions taken under Operation Thor. Indeed, some €1.65 billion has been allocated to the Garda Vote for 2018. This is an increase of approximately 2% over the allocation for 2017. €98.5 million has been provided for Garda overtime for 2018 which represents an increase of €10 million over the initial allocation for 2017 (which amounted to €88.5 million). In November 2017, the Minister for Justice and Equality secured a supplementary estimate of some €42 million for Garda overtime, bringing the spend for 2017 to over €130 million. This compares to a spend in previous years of €91 million in 2016, €56 million in 2015 and some €37.7 million in 2014.
The Programme for Government underlines the need for close engagement between An Garda Síochána and local communities. This is an essential feature of the strong community policing ethos which has long been central to policing in this jurisdiction. The Deputy will be aware that, as part of the overall strategy to oppose criminality, the Garda authorities pursue a range of partnerships with community stakeholders, including the farming organisations. These include the well established Community Alert Programme, which receives annual funding from my Department, as well as the work of the Metal Theft Forum, the Crimestoppers campaign highlighting the Theft of Livestock, the Theftstop initiative in relation to farm equipment, and the highly successful Garda Text Alert Scheme.
On 2 January 2018 I was pleased to announce that my Department will be providing an additional €50,000 in financial support to Community Text Alert Groups as a further measure in this Government's support to crime prevention. This is in addition to the €100,000 which I announced at the National Ploughing Championships in September 2017. The Rebate Scheme, which also ran in 2016, will allow Text Alert Groups registered with An Garda Síochána to apply for funding to contribute towards their yearly running costs. The Text Alert Rebate Scheme will be administered by Muintir na Tíre and I would like to urge groups wishing to participate in the Scheme to contact Muintir na Tíre for more information. The website is www.muintir.ie.
Other policing initiatives include Theft Stop which was launched by the Gardaí and the Irish Farmers Association. Theft Stop is designed to deter criminals from taking and selling farm equipment by ensuring it is clearly marked with a unique ID (such as an EirCode) and then registered on a nationwide database.
An Garda Síochána's Modernisation and Renewal Programme 2016-2021 places a strong emphasis on developing and supporting the community policing ethos of the organisation and enhancing the current delivery model so that Gardaí spend more time in the community, gaining public confidence and trust and providing a greater sense of security. It will result in the introduction of multi-skilled Community Policing Teams in every District. Community Policing Teams will be made-up of Gardaí from a number of different units who will work with the local community to prevent and detect crime. Undoubtedly, the ongoing recruitment process will support all Garda activities and will enhance the provision of effective Community Policing throughout the country.
The Government is committed to ensuring a strong and visible police presence throughout the country in order to maintain and strengthen community engagement, provide reassurance to citizens and to deter crime. Budget 2018 will support the continuation of this high level of investment in the Garda workforce and ensure that the vision of an overall workforce of 21,000 by 2021 remains on track.