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9 August 2007 Edition

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Sinn Féin to use Policing Committees to fight drug crime and anti-social behaviour

Sinn Féin Councillors Críona Ní Dhálaigh and Larry O’Toole talking to the media after the meeting

Sinn Féin Councillors Críona Ní Dhálaigh and Larry O’Toole talking to the media after the meeting

BY MIRIAM MURPHY

Sinn Féin Dublin City Councillor and Vice-Chairperson of the Dublin Joint Policing Committee Larry O’Toole has said that Sinn Féin will use such Committees as a tool in the fight against drugs, drug related crime and anti-social behaviour. O’Toole was Speaking on Friday, 3 August as Sinn Féin members of Joint Policing Committees (JPCs) throughout the 26 Counties met in Dublin.
“We view the Joint Policing Committees as key avenues for engagement with communities who must be at the core of the fight against criminality.  We will be ensuring that the committees reach out to the communities most affected by drugs and crime and we will be encouraging members of those communities to engage as fully as possible with them.
“It is essential that the communities give their account of the problems in their areas and offer their views of the best way to address those problems. It is even more essential that the committees listen to what they are being told and take it on board when developing plans to tackle these problems.
“As part of this approach Sinn Féin will be calling on all Joint Policing Committees throughout the state to hold a series of public meetings in their respective communities and we will be calling for the establishment of further JPCs in all local authority areas”, O’Toole said.
The Garda Síochána Act 2005 provided for the establishment of Joint Policing Committees (JPCs) in all 114 local authority areas of the 26 Counties.  On foot of that Act 22 JPCs were established last year (with an additional five in Dublin City corresponding to the local authority operational areas) and a further seven were established in May this year in pilot local authority areas. The function of the JPCs is to serve as a forum for consultations, discussions and recommendations on matters affecting the policing of the local authority’s administrative area.  Membership is made up of TDs, Councillors, community/voluntary representatives, Council Staff and Gardaí.
Sinn Féin currently has 25 members including Councillors and TDs.  
Last week’s meeting, convened by Sinn Féin Director of Justice and Policing Bronwyn McGahon was the first special meeting of the party’s Joint Policing Committee members.
The purpose of the meeting was to explore the potential of the JPCs to deliver for communities through an examination of Sinn Féin JPC members’ experiences thus far.
Sinn Féin representatives from Dublin, Sligo, Cork, Waterford and Wexford participated and offered valuable insight that will inform the party’s national strategy for engagement with JPCs and with Garda-related structures more broadly.

Limitations
All participants at the meeting fully recognised the limitations of the JPCs. The JPCs, and indeed the bulk of the Garda Síochána Act 2005, fall far short of equivalence with either the policing model currently in existence in the Six Counties or with the ideal model of accountable civic policing advocated by Sinn Féin.  That said it was also recognised that the JPCs are one avenue through which Sinn Féin can pursue better policing and delivery for the communities it serves.
It was also felt that the party’s approach to engagement with JPCs must be conscious of the legislative limitations involved and avoid providing a veneer for what remains unaccountable policing.
Participants offered examples of shameful practices by the establishment parties and others in the context of JPCs already such as efforts to exclude Sinn Féin and to minimise the potential of the JPCs to result in real change.  Calls by Sinn Féin members for public meetings, which the JPCs are legally obliged to hold, have been met with near uniform reluctance.  The party’s members will continue to push for public meetings but it is evident in the absence of those meetings that Sinn Féin representatives will be the primary conduit for community input into the JPCs.
It was felt that a strategy should be developed that ties-in Sinn Féin TDs, Councillors, representatives on the District Policing Partnerships in the 6 counties and the membership involving joint actions and initiatives with the focus on community engagement.  And the party’s JPC members should be supported to share their experiences, knowledge and innovative ideas in order to maximise the potential of the JPCs.
Work to bring about acceptable and effective policing is ongoing and up-hill but the conclusion to be drawn from last Friday’s meeting is that Sinn Féin representatives are more than up to it.
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