TOPICAL ISSUES DEBATE

ON COMMUNITY CCTV SCHEMES

26/11/2019

Deputy Declan Breathnach: I am grateful for the opportunity to debate the issue of community CCTV schemes.  This was a much heralded and welcomed scheme, which is not functioning properly or effectively and needs addressing and adjusting.  I discussed this matter with the Leas-Ceann Comhairle and he concurred that the scheme is simply not working in Donegal and many other areas.

The community-based CCTV scheme is governed by section 38(3)(c) of the Garda Síochána 2005 and the Garda Síochána (CCTV) Order 2006, SI 289/2006, both of which I have read.  A difficulty with the legislation is that the local authority is specified as the data controller with no other person or body allowed to take this role.  Many local authorities contend it is not their role as local government to monitor or control CCTV, particularly in cases involving criminality.  There is a perception that proposed new schemes encountered data protection difficulties and were unable to proceed.

The Data Protection Commissioner issued clear guidelines which clarify her position with regard to the application of data protection law to community-based CCTV schemes.  That guidance states that data protection legislation does not stand in the way of the roll-out of community-based CCTV schemes authorised by the Garda Commissioner.  As long as the relevant local authority is willing to take on and deliver on its responsibilities as controller of the schemes, there is no legal impediment under data protection legislation to the scheme commencing.  The nub of the problem is that some local authorities are unwilling or unable to take on that onerous role.  I can see the logic in their stance.

Another issue is that CCTV under the sole monitoring responsibility of a local authority will not be monitored live.  Several members of An Garda Síochána told me that the first 48 hours in the investigation of an incident is crucial.  If a young person was abducted from a street in Dundalk and the Garda needed access to crucial CCTV footage, it would have to wait until the local authority opens on Monday morning in order to access it.

Although I do not wish to be parochial or solely focus on my constituency of Louth, all of the issues to which I refer are borne out there.  Several applications are encountering problems, including in Moneymore in Drogheda, Ardee, my native Knockbridge, Dundalk, Blackrock and Monasterboice.  They have all encountered the same basic deficiency and problem in the scheme.  There are logical problems which need to be ironed out.  The local authority has stated it is okay with the scheme but there is much uncertainty regarding the volume of schemes that may come on stream.  How will the local authority record and store the amount of information which would be involved?  Will it have the resources to put into this task?

In addition, every CCTV system must be calibrated.  If a person is attacked outside a nightclub, there must be a maintenance contract with the provider of the CCTV and evidence it is properly calibrated in order for footage of an attack outside a nightclub, for example, to be admissible in court.

Minister for Justice and Equality (Deputy Charles Flanagan): I too wish to acknowledge the importance that many communities attach to CCTV and the sense of security it can bring.  The key point is that these are community CCTV schemes, not Garda CCTV schemes.  An Garda Síochána previously indicated to my Department that it uses CCTV in almost every criminal investigation, during major public events and sporting occasions, in the investigation of road traffic incidents and in many other areas which require it to take action.  It considers that CCTV is particularly effective when the cameras are evident in a way which raises awareness among would-be offenders.  I agree with the Deputy on the importance and value of this issue.

The law in respect of CCTV is longstanding.  As the Deputy pointed out, community CCTV is governed by section 38(3)(c) of the Garda Síochána Act 2005 and the Garda Síochána (CCTV) Order 2006.  This legal framework requires that any proposed community CCTV scheme must be approved by the local joint policing committee; have the prior support of the relevant local authority, which must also act as data controller; and have the authorisation of the Garda Commissioner.  That is the legal basis for all community CCTV schemes regardless of how they are funded.  These key legal requirements, including the legal requirement for local authorities to act as data controller, have not changed since 2006.

I wish to be clear that this longstanding statutory framework does not place an obligation on local authorities to take part in community CCTV.  However, if a local authority decides it is not prepared to act as data controller for community CCTV, this prevents the scheme from operating in its functional area.  In effect, the current legislative structure is an enabling one which empowers local communities and local authorities to establish a community CCTV system to which the Garda has appropriate access, provided they meet the statutory requirements, including that the local authority is prepared to assume responsibility.

It may be of reassurance for the Deputy to know that the Data Protection Commission issued a practice note in November 2018 confirming there is a legal basis for community CCTV and that the general data protection regulation does not introduce new barriers in that regard.  It stated:

Data protection legislation does not stand in the way of the roll-out of Community based CCTV schemes that have been authorised by the Garda Commissioner.  Once the local authority in the administrative area concerned is willing to take on and deliver on its responsibilities as a data controller for the schemes concerned, there is no legal impediment under data protection legislation to the scheme commencing.

According to information provided to me by the Local Government Management Agency and the County Council Management Agency on behalf of local authorities, at least 28 of the 31 local authorities are or have undertaken the role of data controller for specific community CCTV schemes within their areas.

On funding, there is maximum grant aid of €40,000 or up to 60% of the total capital cost.  Earlier this year, I expanded the grant aid scheme to allow funding applications for extension or upgrade of existing community CCTV systems in addition to providing for new systems.  To date, 22 schemes have been approved, amounting to grant aid of slightly more than €560,000.  If the Deputy is aware of further groups in County Louth or elsewhere which wish to avail of the scheme, I ask him to advise them to check the website of my Department for the current regulatory framework.

Deputy Declan Breathnach: I am glad the Minister recognised this is a CCTV scheme for communities and not a scheme for the Garda.  He allocated approximately €4 million to the scheme.  Some 22 applications have been approved for funding totalling €566,000.  The money allocated is not being spent in spite of the demand for schemes.  I am here to support the Minister and the concept of community CCTV.

I suggest a simple change in the legislation governing the scheme so as to provide that a scheme must have the prior support of the relevant local authority and that the data controller may be the local authority or the local Garda Síochána by agreement.  By inserting that into the legislation, the local Garda could, where practicable, act as the data controller of a community CCTV scheme, particularly in situations involving serious criminality such as may be the case in the Border area.  It would end the confusion and allow for more live monitoring by An Garda, a function for which local authorities do not have the resources.

We need to provide the Garda with the necessary technology.  The Minister stated it is not a Garda scheme.  There is no money available for the Garda to put in overt or covert surveillance where it is needed.  If the money allocated to the community CCTV scheme cannot be used – it is clear that it cannot – the Minister should divert some of it to the Garda, particularly in troubled areas.

The current legislation is flawed, resulting in a low uptake of the scheme.  On behalf of the many people in my constituency and beyond, I ask the Minister to give further consideration to this excellent scheme and to take on board my suggestions to allow us to deal with the myriad issues he is well aware of, particularly in my constituency and the Border counties.

Deputy Charles Flanagan: I only disagree with one issue in the Deputy’s submission.  This is not a Garda scheme; this is a community scheme and it is important that it remains such a scheme.  I am happy that the law is clear in this issue and the practice is that the majority of local authorities have also taken on board their role in the scheme.  I want to ensure that all interested groups in both rural and urban areas have the opportunity to take advantage of the grant-aid scheme.  If the Deputy is aware of groups in the Louth area or any other area, I encourage him to inform the groups of the practice guidelines on the website of my Department.

I want to ensure there is an appropriate volume of factually based information on the scheme.  I would be obliged if the Deputy and other Deputies would share the information I have just imparted to all groups in order that we can ensure that people are fully aware of the scheme.  However, it is not a Garda scheme; it is a community-based scheme.  I would be reluctant to place on the Garda Síochána a greater legal or statutory obligation under what is a community-based scheme above and beyond its existing role and function in society.