CHECK AGAINST DELIVERY
12th April, 2017
I welcome the opportunity to present the Revised Estimates for 2017 in respect of the Justice Vote Group to the Committee.
The Justice Vote Group is made up of 8 different votes with a combined gross expenditure allocation of just over €2.572 billion in 2017, an increase of 3.6% on the 2016 allocation of €2.482 billion, which was inclusive of a gross supplementary estimate increase of €24 million.
The gross expenditure estimate for the Garda Siochána Vote (Vote 20) is €1.612 billion which amounts to 64% of the funding for the entire Vote Group. The estimate for 2017 is further increased by an additional amount of €9.344 million carried forward from 2016 under the capital carryover provisions.
The high proportion of resources allocated to the Garda Vote underlines this Government’s commitment to ensuring a strong and visible police presence throughout the country in order to maintain and strengthen community engagement, provide reassurance to citizens and deter crime. Key to achieving this goal is the Government’s decision to achieve an overall Garda workforce of 21,000 personnel by 2021 comprising 15,000 Garda members, 2,000 Reserve members and 4,000 civilians. This of course reflects the commitment in the Programme for Partnership Government. I am pleased that in Estimates 2017, funding has been provided for the recruitment of 800 Garda recruits and up to 500 civilians to support the wide ranging reform plan in An Garda Síochána. Funding has also been provided for the recruitment of 300 Garda Reserves.
Deputies will appreciate that increasing resources, of itself, will not defeat the scourge of gang-related serious crime. Rather, a comprehensive range of measures is being put in place so that a fully coordinated response can be delivered.
In addition to legislative measures targeting repeat burglars, other measures are being introduced to tackle gang-related and associated crime. These include the additional powers provided to the Criminal Assets Bureau in relation to the proceeds of crime. A second Special Criminal Court was established and has been hearing cases since last May.
The establishment of the dedicated Armed Support Unit for the Dublin Metropolitan Region now operates on a 24/7 basis providing appropriate armed support as required. Since its inception the Armed Support Unit have been involved in the following:
- high visibility patrols;
- hostage barricade suicide incidents;
- execution of high risk warrants; and
- high risk escorts.
The Unit has been involved in a number of successes and associated with a total of 248 serious incidents in a three-month period. These incidents include, but are not limited to: aggravated burglary, assault causing harm, possession of or discharging a firearm, false imprisonment, immigration offences, possession of drugs for sale and supply, possession of an offensive weapon, robbery from an establishment or from a person.
In addition, a new Garda Special Crime Task Force in the DMR, under the Drugs and Organised Crime Bureau, has been established to augment the response to organised crime at a local level through concentrated policing, and through a multi-agency approach to targeting the proceeds of crime.
The legislative measures put in place targeting repeat burglars and seizing the proceeds of crime are equally as effective in a rural context.
Rural communities will also benefit from the significant injection of policing resources provided by the Government and the concentrated anti-crime drive coordinated under Operation Thor.
As part of the Garda approach, special targeted patrols are carried out with the assistance of Garda National Support Services against criminals who are committing crime inter regionally, including a focus on the use of motorways by criminal gangs so as to disrupt and arrest those involved.
All of these Garda initiatives operate alongside ongoing community policing measures, including problem solving with local communities and ongoing liaison with households in providing crime prevention advice and assistance to victims of burglary. Gardaí continue to pursue a range of measures to support elderly and more vulnerable people in the community, working closely with Community Alert, Neighbourhood Watch and other community groups.
In total there is a capital allocation of over €98 million available to An Garda Síochána in 2017. This will be spent across a range of areas but mainly in relation to areas underpinning the Modernisation and Renewal Programme. Expenditure on ICT will be in excess of €35 million; expenditure on buildings will be in the region of €60 million. This includes the ongoing development of the divisional headquarters in Kevin Street, Dublin 8, Galway and Wexford. It is expected that all three projects will be substantially completed by the end of this year. Under the Government’s Capital Plan 2016 – 2021, €46 million will be invested in a modern, effective and fit-for-purpose Garda fleet. In the three-year period 2014 to 2016, just under €30 million has been spent on replacement and new vehicles for the Garda Fleet.
Underpinning this investment is the need to ensure that the planned reform actually takes place as quickly as possible. Members will be aware that yesterday I published draft terms of reference for the Commission on the Future of Policing which the Government intends to establish. I will continue to consult on these terms but one aspect that we are all keen to ensure is that the very necessary work of the Commission should not result in slowing the pace of existing reform measures and the work being done by the Policing Authority. The Authority has responsibility for overseeing and monitoring the implementation of the measures and is, in the first instance, focused on identifying initiatives which support effective deployment of Garda resources throughout the country.
Turning to the Vote of the Policing Authority itself, it has a gross estimate of over €2.7 million which provides for the running costs. This will be kept under review as the Authority phases up to its full staffing complement of 35. The Authority may also need external expertise to support some of its oversight activities but I have clearly signalled that if any additional resourcing is required, this will receive speedy consideration.
The Justice and Equality Vote (Vote 24) has a gross estimate provision of just over €444 million broken down into five separate programmes comprising over 60 separate subheads reflecting the Department’s Strategy, as follows:
Programme A – Leadership in, and oversight of, Justice and Equality Policy and Delivery – this includes areas such as the Garda Ombudsman Commission (GSOC), Office of the Data Protection Commissioner and the Charities Regulatory Authority.
As members will be aware, the Office of the Data Protection Commissioner (DPC) is the independent national data protection authority for Ireland and the lead EU regulator of many large multinational internet and social media companies operating in the EU. A new legal framework consisting of a General Data Protection Regulation (the GDPR) will come into place in May 2018 and a new e-Privacy Regulation is also proposed which will form the basis for much greater cooperation between European data protection authorities. The framework will also significantly increase obligations on organisations and provide for additional and stronger rights for individuals in relation to their data.
The new framework package will significantly add to the functions and responsibilities of the Commission. The GDPR will result in the Office becoming the lead supervisory authority for the regulation of many multinational companies which are established in Ireland.
The DPC has received significant additional resourcing in recent years to build the organisation’s capacity in preparation for the commencement of the GDPR. The 2017 budget allocation of €7.52 million (which represents an increase of 59% on the 2016 budget of €4.7million) will allow the DPC continue to build the resources of the organisation and invest in systems and IT resources to prepare for the implementation of the new legal framework next year.
Programme B - A Safe and Secure Ireland includes funding for frontline support offices and agencies such as Forensic Science Ireland, the Probation Service, Services to Victims of Crime, COSC and State Pathology. This programme also includes provision for crime prevention measures to support Community Alert and Crimestoppers.
I am particularly pleased that it has been possible to allocate €6 million in capital funding to accelerate the building of a much needed new Forensic Science Laboratory to be located in Backweston in Co. Kildare. This funding will allow for enabling works to commence on the site in 2017.
The budget for COSC is also provided under this programme and I would like to comment briefly on the media campaign “What would you do?” (if you witness domestic violence) which started late last year. The early indications are that it is provocative and effective in its objective of raising awareness and, while it will be evaluated on an ongoing basis, it is certainly highlighting and bringing into the open this often hidden crime.
Programme C – Access to Justice – this includes provision for the Legal Aid Board, the Magdalen Fund and the costs associated with Commissions and Special Inquires. Increased funding of €4 million (12%) for the Legal Aid Board will improve the provision of legal advice to vulnerable families and includes over €2.4 million for legal advice and representation to people who are insolvent and in mortgage arrears (under the Abhaile scheme).
Programme D – An Equal and Inclusive Society- provides funding for the Office of Migrant Integration in respect of integration measures to support the increased intake of programme refugees which will be stepped up over the course of this year. The programme also includes provision for traveller initiatives, gender equality, disability awareness and social inclusion measures across a wide spectrum of areas.
Programme E – An Efficient Responsive and Fair Immigration, Asylum and Citizenship System mainly includes funding for the Irish Naturalisation and Immigration Service (INIS €64.9 million) and Asylum Seekers Accommodation (€66.6 million).
Turning to the Prisons Vote (Vote 21), the Gross Estimate in 2017 is €327 million plus an additional €2.833 million in unspent capital from 2016.
The Public Appointments Service (PAS) launched a recruitment campaign last year for recruit prison officers, the first such campaign since 2008. It is estimated that 80 new recruit prison officers will commence training this year and this will increase to over 200 in 2018. This recruitment will allow the Prison Service to keep pace with expected retirements.
A significant capital provision of over €25 million will allow enabling works continue in relation to the major redevelopment work planned for Limerick and Portlaoise prisons as well as refurbishment works in Wheatfield, Cloverhill and Castlerea prisons.
A total estimate in gross terms of €140 million is being provided for the Courts Service (Vote 22) in 2017 which is an increase of 24% on the 2016 estimate.
The increase relates mainly to an increased capital provision of over €22 million associated with a Public Private Partnership project which covers seven courthouse venues - completion at all locations is expected by the end of this year. This includes new courthouses being developed in Drogheda, Letterkenny, Limerick and Wexford while substantial refurbishment and extension works to existing historic courthouses are being carried out in Cork, Mullingar and Waterford.
The additional capital provision in 2017 mainly relates to a once-off VAT payment associated with the PPP contract, ICT fit-out costs for the new buildings and the part year payment of the annual charge for the PPP.
Additional payroll funding of €1.0 million will allow for increased staffing across the Courts Service, including in provincial court offices and change management, thus alleviating delays in front-line services and enabling reform.
The Irish Human Rights and Equality Commission (IHREC) (Vote 25) is an independent statutory body established in 2014, following the merger of the Irish Human Rights Commission and the Equality Authority. It has a gross allocation of over €6.6 million, including an increase of €300,000 for additional staffing requirements and this funding will enable the Commission to continue its important work in promoting and protecting human rights and equality.
Finally, the Property Registration Authority (Vote 23) has a gross budgetary allocation of €28 million of which payroll accounts for approximately 84% of expenditure and the Valuation Office (Vote 16) has a gross allocation of €11.3 million. The Valuation Office became part of the Justice Group for the first time in 2016, having transferred from its previous remit under the Department of Public Expenditure and Reform Vote Group. Together with the Ordnance Survey Ireland, it is intended these three existing bodies will merge to form a new single agency when the necessary legislation has been drafted.
My Department recently completed a key building block of this merger with the implementation of a National Mapping Agreement to provide open access for the public service to OSi’s mapping products and services. Multiple lines of funding across Government Departments and Offices have been consolidated into a single line of funding in the Justice and Equality Vote on an exchequer neutral basis. The benefit is that, through the Justice and Equality Vote, this centralised license agreement will make the same level of service available to a much wider public service customer base at no extra cost to the taxpayer. This is another concrete example of joined up Government thinking which will enable all bodies to deliver more efficient and less costly public services by encouraging greater collaboration and data sharing.
In conclusion, Chairman, as the Committee is aware, the Justice and Equality sector is very broad with many dimensions but we were successful in securing significant additional funding in 2017 and I will be happy to take any questions the members may have.