Check against delivery 

 

25 April 2017 

 

Mr President, distinguished guests, delegates, ladies and gentlemen: 

Policing is becoming more challenging. As the years and months pass the threats become more grave and the dangers more real. Psychopathic criminals, fuelled by greed and drugs, require greater and more courageous responses from you to protect the communities you serve. Day in day out you meet those challenges.  

You maintain the safety of our communities and keep our country safe.  

Like you have always done.  

It was An Garda Síochána that stood for this State during the campaign of the IRA. It is An Garda Síochána that is today tirelessly fighting the scourge of organised crime. 

That work is valued by the people of this country. 

Delegates, An Garda Síochána is going through a difficult period.  

Serious issues have been revealed that have damaged trust.  

Public respect and support for An Garda Síochána remains, but this cannot ever be taken for granted.  

Public respect is based on public trust.  

And maintaining that trust - increasing that trust, requires profound and lasting change. 

Systems, the ways things have always been done, can ingrain practices that may not be best. It can be difficult to suggest that something that has always been so must be changed. It is not the done thing. It is not the culture.  

This is true of many organisations. 

Ethical behaviour, underpinning culture, comes from the values, beliefs, attitudes and knowledge that guide the judgements of each individual person and the organisation in which they serve.
 

The Code of Ethics published by the Policing Authority this year articulates clearly and practically what that should mean. It is frankly what the public expects.  

Laws, policies and codes of themselves do not change culture. That requires a relentless reinforcement of the values of an organisation.

So it is important that your strengths, your sense of duty to the people you serve, are employed to meet the challenges you now face. 

The entire organisation must be committed to change. That includes management. That includes you. Each and every one of you 

While we are implementing cultural change, there can be no place for a culture of blame in An Garda Síochána. The challenges the organisation faces are too great for that kind of posturing. The recent fixed charge notice and alcohol breath test issues were failures. Failures of the entire organisation. The Force must accept collective responsibility and collectively resolve to ensure something like that never happens again.  

Since my appointment as Minister for Justice and Equality, we have been pursuing an ambitious programme of Garda reform. Crucial to these changes is An Garda Síochána’s Modernisation and Renewal Programme, which reflects the recommendations in the Garda Inspectorate report on 'Changing Policing in Ireland'. 

The Programme highlights key behaviours, norms and attitudes which should be strived towards.  

Openness transparency, empowerment, equality, accountability and trust.  

The Modernisation and Renewal Programme is not a menu. It is a plan for radical reform, approved by Government, and must be implemented fully and transparently. 

You must own this plan; contribute to its implementation and evolution.  

Change must be constant in An Garda Síochána. Once all of the recommendations are implemented over the lifetime of the Modernisation Programme, there will be other things that will need to be done - because reform can never stop. 

Garda oversight has also seen many significant changes, first by the establishment of the Garda Síochána Ombudsman Commission and the Garda Inspectorate under the 2005 Act and more recently by the establishment of the Policing Authority in January 2016.  

We must continue to examine the most effective oversight mechanisms to ensure they are fit for purpose as the challenges of policing evolve.  

Recently in the Dáil, in response to a Fianna Fáil motion, I made the point that political interference in our police force throughout the history of the State has damaged An Garda Síochána. 

So I welcome your renewed call to remove politics from policing. It has been my overriding goal and approach since the day I was appointed and I want others to share that approach. That is why I prioritised the establishment of the independent Policing Authority, led by Josephine Feehily, which is making a very real and profound impact. 

Other parties pay lip service to this. But the reality is that at every opportunity they seek to politicise policing for their own gain. That is corrosive and we must continue to resist it.  

The time is ripe though for a fundamental examination of all aspects of policing and for that reason the Government has approved the establishment of a Commission on the Future of Policing in Ireland.  

This will be a forwarding looking, thorough review of structures, leadership, management; composition, recruitment and training of personnel; the culture and ethos. 

It will also examine all aspects of oversight and accountability and look at the role of existing oversight bodies, including the Department of Justice and Equality and the Government. 

It will provide an opportunity for the country to stand back and have an honest discussion about how we are to be policed as we approach the centenary of the establishment of An Garda Síochána. At the same time the crucial work of day-to-day policing and oversight continues.  

I understand that investment needs to underpin all of this and investment has been my absolute priority.  

The economic collapse this country faced had a severe impact on the Force. Since the economy started to improve I have been determined to increase the resources available to you and we have made substantial investment in key areas including, ICT infrastructure, the garda fleet, and the upgrading of Garda stations. 

In particular, some €205 million in additional funding for Garda ICT and €46 million for new Garda vehicles. 

There is also significant investment underway in relation to a number of EU ICT projects, such as PRUM and Schengen, to improve police co-operation across Europe and ensure we are prepared for any possibility of a terrorist attack.  

The biggest resource which An Garda Síochána has is the men and women within it. That has always been the case.  

We are now rebuilding the organisation. This year, funding has been provided for the recruitment of 800 Garda recruits and up to 500 civilians, as well as 300 Garda Reserves. 

Yesterday, I attended a Passing Out parade at Templemore; the second of five classes of Garda trainees that will attest this year. In all, 2017 will see 900 trainees become members of An Garda Síochána. This will bring Garda numbers, taking account of projected retirements, to around the 13,500 mark by year end. We are making real progress towards the goal of 15,000 members.  

New industrial relations structures for An Garda Síochána are being developed and I know that you are engaging constructively in that process. The Government has committed to giving the Garda Associations access to the Workplace Relations Commission and the Labour Court. We must have improved, modern, industrial relations mechanism so we never again find ourselves in the position we were in last year. Pay talks will commence in the coming months and this will provide an opportunity to examine that issue, while bearing in mind the very real budgetary constraints that remain.  

Returning to the core work of policing, it is important to note the many recent successes in fighting crime. The crime figures published by the CSO confirm these.  

Burglary down 29.8%. 

Robbery down 18.7%. 

Theft down 14.3%. 

The evil scourge of gang related crime is being met head on. Operation Hybrid is coordinating the response to violent crime in Dublin and addressing public concerns about community safety. There have been a large number of arrests and charges have brought in connection with the recent shootings and for related offences. Large numbers of firearms have been seized. Over eleven thousand lines of enquiry conducted. In excess of twenty five thousand high visibility checkpoints have been implemented. Joint operations with other police forces and cooperation with international agencies continues at an unprecedented level – all targeting the activities of organised crime gangs.  

The dedicated Armed Support Unit for the Dublin Metropolitan Region now operates on a 24/7 basis providing appropriate armed support as required. The Unit has been involved in a number of successes and associated with a total of 248 serious incidents in a three-month period.  

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. This multi-agency approach to targeting the proceeds of crime is underpinned by new legislation I enacted last summer.  

All of this has led to a reduction in crime and increased public safety. You have redoubled your efforts in the face of very serious threats. So, as criticism is sometimes warranted, acknowledgement is required too. Constant criticism erodes confidence and energy. I want to say thank you for those efforts. 

 

An Garda Síochána must have the necessary legal powers to carry out your work.  

 

I have made significant progress on one issue that you, rightly, have been very proactive about. New legislation to provide for the detention of intoxicated persons will allow the Gardaí to detain people who are arrested for public order offences – people who would normally be released but who are intoxicated to such an extent that they might be a danger to themselves or others. I am glad to have been able to address this issue which you brought to my attention in a Bill which I hope can be enacted shortly.  

 

Legislation in relation to the suspended sentencing regime has already been enacted and will be commenced shortly. This deals with the imposition of suspended sentences and their revocation in the event of a subsequent offence. And the important Bail Bill is making its way through the Oireachtas.  

 

The Criminal Justice (Offences Relating to Information Systems) Bill, which has recently been passed by the Dáil and is currently before the Seanad, is the first piece of Irish legislation dedicated solely to dealing with cybercrime. 

 

I am determined that we must do everything possible to tackle all forms of crime by making it ever more difficult for those breaking the law to launder money. Money laundering finances terrorism and organised crime. The Government has approved the drafting of new, strengthened legislation to tackle this.  

I will also publish the Criminal Justice (Corruption Offences) Bill in the coming weeks. When enacted, it will clarify and strengthen the law criminalising corruption.  

I will conclude by saying, the people of Ireland are entitled to have a professional and effective police service.  

A service that they can trust and have confidence in.  

A service that is up to meeting the challenges of today and of the future.  

You too are entitled to work in an organisation that meets these expectations. 

You show great courage in undertaking the work of policing. 

You are called upon to run towards the situations that others flee from – often paying a heavy physical and emotional price, as you have raised at this conference. We must always ensure that those who suffer consequences of their courage are supported.  

Always striving to do the right thing, to always act with integrity can also require courage. 

And embracing change and reform also requires courage.  

All three are needed – needed more than ever before.  

As we approach the centenary of An Garda Síochána it is timely to reflect on the past and to consider the present. But our focus must be on delivering a future where the people of Ireland have the police service they are entitled to. 

I wish you every success in your conference. 

Thank you. 

ENDS.