There are “large gaps” in local state services that are creating a barrier for effective community policing, an Oireachtas committee has said.
In a new report, the Oireachtas justice committee said “one of the most pertinent issues” was the lack of primary health care and other services outside of business hours.
It called for a multi-agency response, involving police and various health professionals, to deal with local crime and mental health issues.
The report, Community Policing and Rural Crime, followed public hearings last October with rural organisations and academics, as well as senior gardaí and members of the PSNI.
Committee chair Caoimhghín Ó Caoláin TD said they were “very impressed” with responses on this area in Northern Ireland, including custody suites (integrating nurse-led healthcare) and multi-agency hubs.
The report said:
“The committee believes that, whilst some collaboration does exist between An Garda Síochána and other organisations to provide community-based services in Ireland, much more needs to be done to implement a properly structured and effective multi-agency model."
It said that in England, Scotland and Wales there was a statutory requirement for agencies to work together in partnership and said “serious consideration” should be given to introducing similar laws here.
The committee said many of the dealings at the frontline involved interventions with people self-harming or harming others because of mental health issues.
“Resources must be made available to ensure that members of An Garda Síochána are adequately trained to deal with these complex situations and that they have 24/7 access to the supports of appropriate specialist services when required," the report said.
The committee backed the district community policing model recommended in the report of the Commission on the Future of Policing.
The report said rural communities “must be compensated” for the social isolation people living in them experience and for the closure of garda stations by having more gardaí on patrol in rural areas.
It said the real extent of rural crime was not accurately known and also suggested that Garda HQ consider the establishment of a rural task force along the lines of some UK police forces.
The report also said that, with Brexit, a “full review” of operational structures along the border should be conducted.
Speaking at the launch, Assistant Commissioner Michael Finn, who has responsibility for implementing the Garda divisional policing model, said that both he and the commissioner would examine the committee's report.
He said many of the recommendations, particularly those relating to community policing, were similar to those in the Policing Commission report and that they were being acted on by the organisation.
The Garda Síochána later issued a statement in which it pointed out that two of the four divisions they were piloting the new policing model covered rural areas – Galway and Mayo.
“This will see in each division a superintendent dedicated to community policing and working under that superintendent will be community policing teams whose role will be to liaise with local communities to identify and address their particular issues."
The statement added: “A notable feature of the Commission’s report was the recognition that An Garda Síochána is not solely responsible for policing issues. As emphasised in the report, there is a requirement for joint agency responses to a range of issues such as recidivism, youth crime and dealing with people with mental health issues.
“In this regard, An Garda Síochána works with other a range of Governmental and non-governmental agencies in the areas of youth crime and youth diversion, and that work will continue to jointly address these issues.”
Rural areas that lost garda stations during the economic crash should get more resources and have vacant positions filled.
It is one of the recommendations in a new report from the Oireachtas Justice Committee on community policing and tackling rural crime.
It says Gardai need more training and support to deal with people suffering from mental health problems.
The report also recommends more patrols in rural areas, increased funding for text alert systems and better use of social media by Gardai to improve engagement with isolated communities.
Last month, Justice Minister Charlie Flanagan ruled out the widespread re-opening of rural garda stations closed as part of cost-cutting and efficiency programmes over the past decade.
"I don't believe that all the garda stations that had been closed over the past number of years will re-open," he said at the time.
"It is important we that we acknowledge and recognise that there is more to gardaí than bricks and mortar."