Figures released to Fianna Fáil reveal a dramatic cut in the number of gardaí working to prevent and investigate drug crime.
The figures were released by the Minister for Justice Frances Fitzgerald in response to a Parliamentary Question from Fianna Fáil. They show that the number of gardaí assigned to dedicated divisional garda drugs units have been slashed from 361 officers in 2011 to 253 in 2014.
Local Fianna Fail Councillor Aengus O’Rourke has described the figures as an “appalling reflection of the Government’s stance on drug crime”.
“This Government has turned a blind eye to the ever increasing prevalence of drugs and drug related crime in every single community across this country,” said Cllr O’Rourke.
“I have raised the issue of reduced numbers in An Garda Siochana in terms of Community Policing and Drug Units on numerous occasions to howls of denial by Government representatives. However, my views were confirmed with the release of these frightening figures.
Cllr O’Rourke continued, “We are all aware that in Athlone and the Midlands region we have seen drug abuse cases on the rise. The drugs racket is bigger and more profitable than ever with more people dabbling, dealing and using. But instead of addressing this, the Government is actually pulling resources away from tackling the problem at a dramatic rate. It’s nothing short of a disgrace.
“These figures show that the Gardaí are being severely hampered in preventing and investigating drug related crime. It has been my belief now for some time that in Athlone we no longer have a Drug’s Unit because the budget is not there to carry out targeted operations – these figures now confirm that. It is shocking that a region like this would be without a properly resourced and dedicated Garda Drugs Unit.
Concluding, Cllr O’Rourke said “The policy of ignoring Ireland’s drugs crisis has put communities and vulnerable individuals at serious risk. We cannot accept this any longer. We need a strong programme of measures to tackle drug crime and to help the ever increasing number of victims of drugs. The first step must be the reinstatement of fully resourced dedicated drugs units in all Garda divisions and the reinstatement of a Minister for Drugs that will oversee a crack-down on drug crime in this country.”
Athlone to Mullingar a communications black spot
Fianna Fáil Councillor Aengus O’Rourke has called on the government to conduct an independent nationwide audit of mobile phone coverage in the country and grade what standard of coverage is in place in all regions.
Cllr. O’Rourke made the comments amid increasing concern about black spots in coverage around the country.
Cllr O’Rourke commented: “The lack of mobile phone coverage in many areas of the country is becoming a real problem. There is growing anecdotal evidence of major black spots throughout the country. One of these black spots is the vast geographical area that lies between Athlone and Mullingar. Whether you travel through Ballymore or along the motorway between these two main commercial centers you will struggle to find a reliable signal. People experiencing dropped calls and patchy phone coverage is a constant source of frustration and is bad for business.
“The mobile phone companies are running slick advertising campaigns telling us about the joy of 4G, while at the same time far too many people struggle to maintain even a decent 3G signal.
“In order to best understand the extent of the problem I am calling on the government to commission an independent audit of phone coverage in the country. A nationwide study should also grade what type of coverage we have in different regions. I believe the problem of bad phone coverage is quite widespread. There seems to be no plan to deal with this long standing and frustrating issue, either by the service providers or the Government.
“It is essential Ireland has a top class mobile phone network. This will support increased inward investment and job creation. But equally if our mobile phone coverage continues to lag behind it will impact on businesses and potentially damage our competitiveness. Broadband provision and mobile phone coverage are two issues that need to be seriously addressed. It’s not good enough in 2015 for large parts of the country to still be without basic communication and the government needs to invest and work with private service providers to deliver a much better service.”
Summer holidays, longer evenings and the odd good day sees people turning up at our favourite lakeside locations.
Portlick is one of those locations, it’s long forest walks and lake side position makes it a very popular family venue this time of year.
However, Cllr Aengus O’Rourke is concerned that Portlick may loose its family friendly appeal unless the Council tackles the issue of illegal dumping, camping and fire lighting at this picturesque location.
“Not for the first time I am shocked and disappointed to see people engage in all night parties at Portlick Forest and leave behind them an absolute mess. Concerned residents and the operators of Portlick scout campsite have great concerns for the future of Portlick as a family friendly attraction if this kind of behaviour is allowed to continue.
“Following an all night party in the forest recently, fires were lit, trees were damaged and rubbish was left behind. I was asked to go and see the condition of the forest for myself. I was shocked and very disappointed to see the lack of respect these revelers had for this public amenity. A no camping sign had been pulled out of the ground by a car using a rope. Large bags of rubbish and loose litter was strewn across a wide area of the forest. Other disgusting and extremely distasteful reminders of this all night party were also left on the forest floor for others to clean up.
“There really is only one thing now that the council can do and that is to secure the access to the forest after dark. I will be calling on the council at our September meeting to
install a gate that would be locked every night from dusk till dawn. No body should want or need access to the forest at night time, so the best option is to lock it up.
“Portlick is a natural, popular, public amenity; I think this move is necessary in order to maintain it to a clean and safe standard for everybody.
83% fall in funding over last 4 years
Fianna Fáil County Councillor Aengus O’Rourke has described as entirely short sighted and counterproductive the government’s approach to encouraging people to improve the energy efficiency of their homes.
New figures supplied to Fianna Fáil indicate that less than €10m in grants were provided under the Better Homes Scheme administered by the Sustainable Energy Authority of Ireland in 2014. This is a sharp reduction from 2011 when €57.6m was made available.
110,000 people had taken part in the first 3 years the scheme was in operation was available. However there has been a collapse in the number of households benefiting from the grant scheme after two separate rounds of cuts to the grants paid for activities such as wall insulation and upgrade of boilers.
Cllr. O’Rourke commented: “Encouraging home insulation is effective as a means of reducing energy bills and Ireland’s dependence on imported fossil fuels but also as a means of supporting employment. In fact Ireland was developing a strong domestic industry with export potential when the government effectively pulled the rug from under the sector by slashing the available grants.
“Given the collapse in people availing of the grants, I have no doubt there has been a loss of jobs within the sector. It will also make it more difficult for Ireland to meet our retrofit and energy reduction target.
“This has been a badly thought out measure. It is very much in the interests of the state to encourage as wide a take up of insulation as possible. The recent review of the scheme is an admission that the cuts made to grants were very short sighted. The Minister needs to actively market the scheme again and ensure that adequate funding is in place to maximise its potential,” concluded Cllr. O’Rourke.
Fianna Fáil Councillor Aengus O’Rourke has strongly criticised Minister Alan Kelly for failing to take on board independent advice when allocating funding from the Active Travel Town Scheme.
Cllr.O’Rourke made the comments after it emerged Minister Kelly diverted a large chunk of funding available under the €6.5m grant scheme to local projects in his own constituency of Tipperary.
“The revelation that Minister Alan Kelly ignored expert independent advice when awarding grant scheme funding is extremely worrying. Minister Kelly is meant to take on board the wider national interest when serving in cabinet, however it is apparent that he is willing to ignore expert advice to ensure the money flows into his own constituency ahead of the next election.” said Cllr. O’Rourke.
“This scheme was established to encourage people to consider walking or cycling to work instead of driving. An independent assessment was carried out to identify towns most in need of funding across the entire country. It has now emerged that Minister Kelly ignored this independent assessment so that he could divert €1.5m of the funding available to less urgent projects in Tipperary.
“Minister Kelly is clearly showing preferential treatment towards his own constituency to the detriment of the rest of the country. Towns such as Athlone, Drogheda, Killarney and Castleblayney were identified as having a much greater need of funding over the projects that Minister Kelly chose to fund in his own County of Tipperary.
“The independent advice highlighted that one of the projects Minister Kelly awarded funding to is unlikely to lead to more people walking and cycling instead of driving cars. It is difficult for the Minister to justify this allocation when you consider the other projects that missed out on funding, and which would have had a greater return on the investment provided. This is a case of Minister Kelly providing money to his own constituency in a desperate effort to save his seat at the next election.
Cllr O’Rourke concluded “I am calling on Minister Kelly to set out why exactly he decided to award a large chunk of the funding available under the scheme to projects in Tipperary, contrary to what was advised by the expert independent assessors. The Taoiseach also needs to clarify if he thinks it is acceptable for his Ministers’ to ignore independent advice in order to divert funding to constituency projects while the rest of the country loses out.”
Following last weeks reported disturbances in Ashdale, there have been more reported incidents that have lead to an appeal by Councillor Aengus O’Rourke to the local community to resist any temptation that residents may feel to take the law into their own hands.
Cllr. O’Rourke said “In recent weeks we have seen an escalation in anti-social behaviour and criminal behaviour almost exclusively from one family in a council housing estate in Athlone. Over this weekend again innocent people have been intimidated, attacked and property damaged in what is turning out to be an almost daily act of defiance by this family against the residents in Ashdale, the Gardai and the Local Authorities.
“It transpires that delivery men were attacked as they went about their business in the Ashdale estate this weekend. They were abused, attacked and their vehicle damaged. This yet again is outrageous behaviour and a continuation of what has gone before over a number years, but in a more vicious way in recent weeks.
“I was in Ashdale with the residents again this weekend and for the first time I got a sense that people were on the verge of lashing out.
“While I fully and totally understand the frustration and the fear that people are living in, I would urge people not to engage in any form of retaliation, as this would only serve to give advantage to this family who are looking at serious charges in the courts in the coming months. We do not want to do anything that might jeopardise the cases that are soon to come before the courts.
Cllr O’Rourke continued, “Senior Council officials are doing all they can within the laws available to deal with this situation. I am in touch with the Gardai on a daily basis and I know they are supporting the residents in a very positive, supportive and committed way. There may not be a solution today or tomorrow but we must put our faith in the judicial system and allow justice to take its course which I believe it will.
“It is important that we stick together as a community and offer support to one another. It is at times like this that communities rely on good, decent neighbours to comfort and support those most affected by such events. Ashdale is full of great people who just want a quiet normal life. Great credit is due to the residents of Ashdale and Woodlands Grove for coming together in recent weeks in the manner that they have, and for putting a supportive arm around those who feel threatened and vulnerable.
Cllr O’Rourke concluded,“I will continue to work closely, and keep in touch on a daily basis with all those who have been targeted, who feel helpless and vulnerable to these bullies at this time. In the meantime I would urge people to resist the temptation to take the law into their own hands as this will only worsen the situation and hamper the authorities efforts.
Cllr. Aengus O’Rourke, a member of Fianna Fail’s strategic committee on Defense, has this week announced that Fianna Fail have renewed their commitment to reinstate the 4th Western Brigade at Custume Barracks Athlone if they are returned to power after the next election. Fianna Fail launched its defense policies this week, one of which is a commitment to restore the 4th Western Brigade.
“I am once again delighted to have influenced Fianna Fail policy in relation to Custume Barracks, this time ahead of the next General Election. Following a review of all options, Fianna Fail are committed to restoring our Defense Forces to a three brigade structure by reinstating the 4th Western Brigade here in Athlone.
“Since this Government abolished the 4th Western Brigade in 2012 I have consistently made a strong case to the Fianna Fail party for the reinstatement of our lost Brigade. The party again considered and reviewed the matter in full over the course of recent months. Following the review we are happy to give an undertaking that when we are returned to power we will reverse the senseless decision taken by former Minister, Alan Shatter to disband the Brigade.
“Former Minister Shatter today stands discredited following a number of bad judgment calls during his time as Minister for Justice and Defense. The decision to downgrade Custume Barracks in my view was another one of those poor decisions. It was a decision taken without proper consultation, taken without any consideration for the consequences and absolutely no rationale was given for the decision at the time.
“As the only political party committing to restore the brigade to Custume Barracks, the choice for the voters is clear. Fianna Fail will protect our barracks from any further downgrading, we will invest rather than concede status and we will once again offer certainty and opportunity to the men and women of the PDF.
“We are also keeping a very close eye on Custume Barracks as rumors once again emerge about another possible downgrading and redeployment of soldiers. There are strong rumors that the Garda Training Unit in Templemore is relocating to Custume Barracks and that this could see the relocation of up to 400 soldiers to Galway and elsewhere.
“More than any other party, Fianna Fail has always stood firm with our Defense Forces. In or out of Government, we have always respected and supported the men and women of the PDF. I am pleased now to demonstrate yet again the continuation of that strong track record by committing to the reinstatement of the 4th Western Brigade.
O'Rourke Calls For Swift Appointment of New Minister for Defence
Cllr. Aengus O’Rourke, Fianna Fail candidate in the Longford Westmeath by-election has called on the Taoiseach to move quickly to appoint a new Minister for Defence.
Responsibility for the Defence portfolio currently lies with the Taoiseach’s department on a temporary basis, following the resignation of Alan Shatter last week.
O’Rourke commented, “I am concerned about how long this ‘interim’ arrangement may last. We cannot allow a situation where no Cabinet Minister is appointed to the role before the summer recess.”
“There’s a possibility of further Ministerial changes after the local and European elections, but we don’t know if this will be before or after the summer recess. I sincerely hope that the Taoiseach does not intend to delegate the Department of Defence to a Minister of State either in the medium or longer term.”
“The next Dáil questions to the Minister for Defence are scheduled for late June. At the very least, the next Minister for Defence should be settled in the role some weeks before then. Anything less would indicate a fundamental lack of respect for the position of Defence Minister and for the Defence Forces as a whole.”
Unfair Cuts to Single Farm Payments Causing Hopelessness– Aengus O’Rourke
“Changes to the single farm payment system which include severe cuts to low income farmers have to be reversed,” said Aengus O’Rourke, Fianna Fail candidate in the Longford Westmeath by-election.
“Farmers receiving between €5,100 and €10,000 will see their payments cut by up to ten percent under new changes to the single farm payment,” said O’Rourke. “Up until and including 2013, the first €5,000 of the single farm payment was exempt from any deductions. However, in future, any farmer receiving a payment of more than €5,000 will have a 10.49 percent deduction imposed on the full amount of their funding. This equates to a cut of €452 for a farmer in receipt of a payment of €5,001. However, unbelievably, as the payments increase, the deductions actually reduce resulting in increased payments for farmers receiving €50,000 or more.”
“This is another blow for low income farmers and is creating a feeling of hopelessness amongst the farming community where it seems all the focus is on those with large farms on very good land,” he continued. “Everything is focussed on the top 15 percent and there seems to be a conscious effort to try to drive many of the smaller farmers, or farmers on marginal land, out of business by wholesale cuts to payments and multiple schemes with ever more bureaucracy and red tape.”
“If elected, I will use my position to serve the needs of the farmers in Longford and Westmeath. This government has the biggest majority in the history of the State. It does not need another silent back bencher. Do farmers want a strong, capable representative to voice their concerns to the Government, or just more of the same? That is the decision people have to make before 23rd May,” concluded O’Rourke.
Local Property Tax Must Be Spent Locally – Aengus O’Rourke
Cllr. Aengus O’Rourke, Fianna Fail candidate in the Longford Westmeath by-election, believes that the local property tax must be invested locally to support effective and efficient services for the local area.
According to O’Rourke, “Fine Gael justified the local property tax (LPT) by saying that 80 percent of it would be re-invested directly back into local communities. However, this promise has been broken. Fianna Fáil is committed to investing 80 percent of the revenue raised through the LPT directly back into the local area from which it came. I firmly believe that the local community should benefit from local charges and that taxes should guarantee good, efficient services for that area. There is so much that we could do with these funds in the Longford Westmeath area.”
“I am firmly against the doubling of the property tax and I will vote against any increase based on any new house valuations. I believe all local councils should vote for it to be reduced by 15 percent when this power is available to them in September 2014. I will bring this and other concerns to the Government’s attention if I am elected and will act as a strong voice for the people of Longford Westmeath. Do people want a capable, strong representative standing up for the people of Longford Westmeath, or more of the same? That is what voters need to decide before 23rd May,” concluded O’Rourke.