26. Deputy Jim O'Callaghan asked the Minister for Justice and Equality the measures being put in place to tackle rural crime, especially against farmers. [33149/17]


Deputy Charles Flanagan: I 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 that target rural areas to engage in burglary and other property crime to which he referred.
As the Deputy will be aware, Operation Thor entails a broad range of activities to tackle organised crime gangs and other prolific offenders as well as working with communities to prevent crime in the first instance. This comprehensive operation is supported by the enhanced Government investment in Garda resources, including an additional allocation of €88.5 million for overtime in 2017. We have also invested heavily in the Garda fleet, with more than 720 new vehicles coming on stream since the start of 2015, and a provision of €46 million has been made for new Garda vehicles under the capital plan 2016-2021.
The additional investments in policing make it possible to maintain and extend a range of intensive policing operations, including the continued targeting burglaries and related crime via Operation Thor. Under Operation Thor, there have been more than 74,000 targeted checkpoints and 52,400 crime prevention patrols across the State. This concentrated policing activity has produced in the region of 4,400 arrests and 4,900 charges covering a range of offences which, in addition to burglary, have included handling stolen property, possession of firearms and drugs offences.
It is encouraging to note that since the launch of the operation, the Central Statistics Office burglary figures have shown a significant downward trend. The 30% decrease in burglary for the 12 months of 2016 when compared with 2015 parallels the implementation of Operation Thor.
The Government has also made it a particular priority to strengthen our legislative provisions through the recent enactment of the Criminal Justice (Burglary of Dwellings) Act 2015 which is targeted at repeat burglars with previous convictions who are charged with multiple offences of residential burglary. This new legislation is now available to support the work being carried out by An Garda Síochána under Operation Thor.
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. A range of partnership initiatives have been established between An Garda Síochána and important rural-based organisations such as the Irish Farmers Association, Muintir na Tíre and other rural community groups. These include the well-established community alert programme, the work of the metal theft forum, the Crimestoppers campaign highlighting the theft of livestock, the Theftstop initiative relating to farm equipment and the highly successful Garda text alert scheme.
Underpinning all of these measures is the Government's commitment to ensuring a strong and visible police presence throughout the country to maintain and strengthen community engagement, provide reassurance to citizens and deter crime. The Government is pursuing its plan to achieve an overall Garda workforce of 21,000 personnel by 2021, comprising 15,000 Garda members, 2,000 Garda Reserve members and 4,000 civilians. In 2017, funding has been provided for the recruitment of 800 Garda recruits, up to 500 civilians and approximately 300 members of the Garda Reserve. These appointments will support the wide-ranging reform plan is in train in An Garda Síochána and benefit policing services for all communities, whether in rural or urban areas.