In July 2021, Minister for Justice Helen McEntee announced a possible new broader approach to community safety.
For two years, the government would pilot three “local community-safety partnerships”, she said. One in Longford, one in Waterford – and one in Dublin’s north inner-city.
Pivotal to these pilots are community-safety plans, drawn up with locals.
But two years on from launch, the north inner-city community-safety partnership has yet to publish its community-safety plan, laying out what changes it will pursue to make those living in the neighbourhood feel safer.
A review of the three pilot projects carried out by staff at the University of Limerick in 2022 said: “It is anticipated that only when the community safety plans are drafted and begin to be implemented will the full extent of partnership-working become apparent.”
Dublin City Council and the Department of Justice didn’t respond in time for publication to queries sent Thursday and Friday as to why the safety plan is not yet in place.
Some councillors for the city centre say staffing changes within the partnership might have led to the delay, while others say a draft plan that had been shared around needed more work.
“The community-safety partnership is a great model,” says Green Party Councillor Janet Horner. “We need to examine non-policing initiatives.”
But she worries that the partnership in Dublin’s north inner-city is not getting the resources it needs to succeed, she says – and that it doesn’t yet have a clear safety plan.
Independent Councillor Cieran Perry says the community safety partnership is doing good things. “It’s good to make the environment better,” he says. “I think it’s a very interesting approach.”
But, he says, those approaches will only work in conjunction with a coherent policing response. “High-visibility policing is what is needed.”
What is a community-safety partnership?
The community-safety partnership covers the north inner-city from Arbour Hill to Dublin Port, including Ballybough, East Wall, Smithfield and the areas in between.
It aims to bring together public representatives with youth workers, social workers, community development workers, residents’ groups, and the Gardaí, to brainstorm ways to make the area safer.
It has been mooted as a model to replace the older Joint Policing Committee (JPC) structure, which brings together local councillors with senior Gardaí. These currently still exist throughout all parts of Dublin other than the north inner-city.
The voluntary chairperson of the north inner-city community safety partnership, Cormac Ó Donnchú, resigned earlier this year.
He was replaced by the governor of Mountjoy prison, Eddie Mullins, who was appointed in May 2023.
What has it achieved?
Horner says the partnership has arranged a number of successful initiatives.
Like appointing community safety wardens to help alleviate issues in Wolfe Tone Square near the Jervis Centre, she says. Now she would like to see more family-friendly events organised there.
Horner would also like to see the partnership ramped up, she says.
At the moment, she is worried that the partnership isn’t sufficiently resourced. “It also needs a really clear safety plan,” says Horner. “Unfortunately that is not in place yet.”
Fine Gael Councillor Ray McAdam says it’s hard to say what the partnership has achieved due to lockdowns and staff changes. “It’s difficult to give a fair assessment. It was set up in the midst of Covid.”
The quality of the safety plan will be assessed when it is finalised, says McAdam. The draft that was circulated lately wasn’t ready. “I think there is a recognition that there needs to be more work done on that,” he says.
He is hopeful for the future of the partnership, he says. “I think if we get the plan right and there is full engagement from all sides then there is no reason why it can’t work.”
Open drug dealing
Perry, the independent councillor, chairs the joint policing committee for the parts of the council’s administrative Central Area that are outside of the north inner-city, including Cabra, Phibsboro and Glasnevin.
But he sometimes attends the community-safety partnership meetings for the north inner-city too, he says.
The north inner-city has a well-reported visible problem with open drug dealing, which has got worse since Covid-19, says Perry. “There is mad open drug dealing.”
He supports what the community-safety partnership is trying to do, he says, but thinks that approach will only work in conjunction with increased Gardaí on the beat.
“Anybody and everybody will tell you they feel safe if there is a high-visibility policing response,” he says.
Drug dealers often get children under the age of 16 to carry the drugs, which makes the situation more difficult to manage for Gardaí, he says.
Apart from the effects of drugs on young people, the drug dealers themselves are often dangerous and will claim to have links to organised crime gangs, says Perry.
As a result, people feel unable to challenge those who are openly dealing drugs in their community, he says. “Anybody at all that stands up to them gets threatened.”
Communities have learned to tolerate a certain amount of drug dealing, says Perry, but the situation is escalating because young people no longer fear the Gardaí.
He points to an incident in Cherry Orchard last year, where three young men appeared to deliberately ram into a Garda car.
“Abusing families just isn’t acceptable,” says Perry. “Taking a step over where you are actually challenging the cops? There has to be a policing response to that. And there isn’t.”
One of the young people involved was referred to a juvenile diversion liaison programme, according to the Irish Times.
Perry says that any rational assessment of both the joint policing committees and the community-safety partnership approach would ascertain that both have failed.
“My judgment of a successful operation is if you don’t see open drug dealing,” he says.
Horner, the Green Party councillor says there is a really important role for the police. “But it will take all the stakeholders around the table in a collaborative effort to tackle this.”