The Garda Commissioner has said gardaí must respond “accordingly” to tackle drug gangs who it is claimed are using children to distribute their product.
Drew Harris was speaking in Limerick before he addressed a Joint Policing Committee on the roll-out of the force’s new policing model.
A report entitled Building Community Resilience, published on Wednesday, found the gangs have significant control in their own neighbourhoods.
This control is maintained through fear, intimidation, as well as anti-social behaviour.
“In respect of drug dealing, in particular street-level dealing, we recognise what a scourge that is on local communities and we are determined to combat that. It’s not just about the big traffickers, the big movers, big gangs. It’s also about the individuals who move drugs at a local level, and that is certainly a focus for An Garda Síochána,” Mr Harris said.
He said he did not believe the gangs' methods of maintaining fear has caused a negative impact on the garda’s relationship with communities, which is a relationship largely built upon the flow of information from sources on the ground “because people can see the work that is being done by An Garda Síochána”.
However, Mr Harris acknowledged this “very strong relationship” was “set against these critical issues” highlighted in the Resilience report.
The Commissioner said gardaí need to recognise that the grooming of children by criminal gangs to “move drugs” was part of their methodology.
“We have to adapt our policing response accordingly. We are not the first jurisdiction to see this and we would have been foolish to think we would be immune from it. We have to adapt our policing response in respect of that.” Gardai are committed to policing these “critical neighbourhoods”.
“They require a strong policing presence in order that people can live without the fear of crime and indeed the fear of these gangsters and their behaviour,” added the Commissioner.
Fine Gael Senator Kieran O’Donnell said up to 16 gardaí are presently on courthouse duties at the city’s criminal courts building and these should be redeployed to frontline duties. Mr Harris said garda management were formulating a plan with the government and the courts service, to eventually remove gardaí from providing security at courthouses nationwide.
He also suggested gardaí be freed up from processing and registering immigration forms, as this is a function that doesn't require full policing powers.
“The court services have to work with us on an alternative means to securing the courts. That will be a project which will evolve over 2020, but there are also other elements of non-core police duties that we also seeking to address, be it presenting in court, be it our duties in respect of immigration,” he said