Policy paper on combatting rural crime shows the need for change in West Waterford – McGuinness

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Sinn Féin local election candidate Conor D. McGuinness has launched a policy paper aimed at tackling rural crime in West Waterford. The full paper, which was prepared by Sinn Féin spokesperson on Justice Donnchadh Ó Laoghaire and MEP Liadh Ní Riada, is available below and details the proactive policy measures that can be taken at local and national level to prevent crime, detect and apprehend perpetrators, recover property, and improve public participation and confidence in policing.

McGuinness said:

“Although the Garda IT systems still do not record rural crime statistics, anecdotal evidence and court reports indicate that the incidence of theft, burglary, assault and criminal damage in rural areas continues to rise.

“Many people in rural Ireland report that they no longer feel safe where they live, and this is especially true of older or infirm people, and those living in particularly isolated areas. People that I have spoken to feel concerned, isolated and vulnerable.

Garda Visibility

“One of the key factors in crime prevention and detection is Garda visibility. Ireland has one of the lowest Garda-to-population ratios in Europe, and Garda numbers have been decimated over the last decade by Fianna Fáil, Fine Gael and Labour.

“Two-thirds of Garda Stations remain at or below their staffing levels in 2014, the year in which the Training College in Templemore was re-opened having been closed by Fianna Fáil. Increased specialisation at Divisional level has further reduced the numbers of frontline, locally-based Gardaí. Overtime has become the norm, and despite the fortitude and hard work of members, unacceptable gaps in service and responsiveness remain.

“Sinn Féin has identified 16,000 service Gardaí as the absolute baseline for an effective policing service. There are only 14,160 Gardaí in service currently. Our proposal is for recruitment of 800 Gardaí and 550 civilian staff per annum to increase Garda numbers and ensure that Gardaí are visible on patrol rather than sat at a desk handling paper work.

Public Participation

“The Joint Policing Committee (JPC) and Local Policing Forums (LPFs) have had mixed results in facilitating local participation in policing. There is a case to be made for strengthening the powers of JPCs to put implementation structures and delivery mechanisms in place.  JPCs must be empowered to contribute to strategy and to hold district Garda management to account.

“There is a need for practical measures aimed at increasing public participation in the JPC and LPFs. A programme of outreach should be funded to encourage greater participation, and a programme of rolling quarterly public meetings should take place. Local ‘town hall’ style meetings with District Garda management have proven to be worthwhile in recent months and these should be formalised and rolled out on an ongoing basis.

Community Gardaí and Wardens

“Community Gardaí are invaluable in developing relationships with the local community and are key to promoting crime prevention measures and in liaising with the community to identify and address problems with anti-social behaviour. There has been a 36% decrease in Community Gardaí across the state since 2011. There needs to be an increased emphasis on community policing with adequate resources made available to support members in their work.

“Community Wardens can be employed by local authorities to liaise between residents, community organisations, Gardaí and the local authority. Community Wardens also have monitoring and enforcement roles and are empowered to assist neighbourhood watch and community alert schemes. The policy paper proposes an extension of the community warden programme. Community wardens should be clearly identifiable and adequately resourced to patrol rural areas in Co. Waterford.

Rural Crime Task Force

“Each Garda Division should have a specialised Task Force to combat rural crime, with a complement of detectives, rapid response officers and Community Gardaí. The role of the Task Force would be to collect intelligence and evidence on the criminal gangs that are repeatedly targeting farms, homes and rural businesses. One-off investigations of individual crimes are not yielding results. Given the repeat nature of these crimes and the networks involved, a joined-up approach is needed to bring the criminals to justice and to prevent further robberies.

Summonses, Bail and Sentencing

“Cutbacks to Garda numbers and an ineffective system has meant that many criminal cases are struck out due to botched summonses. Similarly bail conditions are routinely flouted by repeat offenders awaiting trial due to a lack of enforcement of the court ordered conditions. Time and time again we see serious crimes committed by people out on bail. Increased recruitment of Gardaí and civilian staff will go someway to remedying the situation but there is a clear need for an administrative overhaul.

“Weak sentencing adds further injury to victims of crime and creates a culture of impunity for criminals. Sinn Féin has worked to advance legislation on Sentencing Guidelines to ensure sentencing by judges matches the severity of the crime committed, and to bring a level of consistency to the process.

Standing up for Rural Ireland

“As a local election candidate and a rural dweller I am determined to bring a strong, new voice to local politics and to stand up for rural Ireland. I believe that our towns, villages and rural areas should offer the opportunity for sustainable, prosperous and safe communities to thrive. Combatting rural crime and restoring public confidence will go a long way to achieving this objective.”

Tackling Rural Crime policy paper 2019