CHECK AGAINST DELIVERY
6 July 2017
Commissioner, distinguished guests, ladies and gentleman and, of course, our new members of An Garda Síochána.
It is a great privilege for me to be here today to congratulate you on realising your ambition of becoming a proud member of An Garda Síochána.
It is a day to honour your achievement in successfully completing 32 weeks of challenging and rigorous training during which you have acquired and mastered many skills required to deliver a 21st century policing service to the people of Ireland.
It is a proud day for your family and friends who have supported you on your journey and who have joined you here today to witness your success and to celebrate what is a major milestone in what I hope will be a long and rewarding career in An Garda Síochána.
It is equally a proud day for this country to have 198 men and women answering the call to public service to support the mission of An Garda Síochána to protect and serve communities throughout this country.
Our communities are continually evolving and becoming more diverse with members from many different countries and traditions. Regrettably, many come from countries where they have no culture of engagement with the police and, indeed, may regard the police with fear. As Minister of State for Equality, Immigration and Integration, one message I want to convey to you today is the importance of engaging with these communities to win their trust and confidence. In this, you will have the support of the Garda Bureau of Community Diversity and Integration. The Bureau does excellent work at a national and local level through its network of over 260 Ethnic Liaison Officers who are in daily contact with members of our minority communities. I want to pay special tribute to their work in helping our new communities feel safe and respected in Ireland and avoiding the creation of a sense of alienation and rejection from our society and the serious problems that would arise were that to happen.
You are entering An Garda Síochána at a challenging time but also a time of great opportunity.
There is no gainsaying that recent controversies, if not fully addressed, have the potential to undermine the strong bond of trust that An Garda Síochána has enjoyed since the foundation of the State with the people it serves. It has been said many times but it worth repeating - trust in policing is a cornerstone of any democracy and, once broken, it is difficult to mend.
I sense your enthusiasm and energy here today, and I know that you are ambitious for policing in Ireland and that you will wholeheartedly seize the opportunity to play your part in transforming An Garda Síochána into the professional world-class policing service that I am confident, and the Government is confident, it can be.
There is a major reform programme underway based on the recent reports of the Garda Inspectorate. The Commissioner is progressing this through her Modernisation and Renewal Programme 2016-2021 under the oversight of the Policing Authority.
The programme is backed by the Government’s commitment to an overall Garda workforce of 21,000 by 2021 made up of 15,000 Garda members 2,000 Reserve members and 4,000 civilians. Recruitment campaigns for Garda trainees and Reserve members have recently closed and I am pleased to say that they received a strong response.
To return to the theme of diverse communities for a moment, it is critical that our police service reflects the communities it serves. The Garda Reserve, in providing an opportunity for volunteering a local level, has the potential to provide a means for those communities, both old and new, who might not see An Garda Síochána as being a place for them, to get involved and to see it through new eyes. I know that the Commissioner is committed to increasing diversity within the organisation and no doubt the strategic review of the Reserve which has commenced will examine ways in which the potential of the Reverse can be harnessed to maximise its contribution to a more diverse workforce.
The moratorium on recruitment introduced in 2010 resulted in a significant reduction in the strength of An Garda Síochána but the Government is rebuilding and giving the Commissioner the resources she needs to allow her to implement the reform programme and to provide visible, responsive policing throughout the country.
You are the third of five classes of Garda trainees to attest this year. In all this year, 900 trainees will attest as members. This is vital to the renewal of the organisation and will bring Garda numbers to 13,500 by year-end once projected retirements are taken into account - an increase of 500 over last year. This is real, tangible progress on reaching our target of 15,000 members.
This investment in personnel is further backed up by substantial investment in resources across the board for An Garda Síochána to allow you and your colleagues to spend more time engaging with communities. This includes investment in mobile ICT to allow Gardai to access data systems on the move and not be required to return to stations to sit at their desk-tops. It also includes continuous renewal of the fleet.
From today, you are policing professionals and will take up your assignments in communities across the country. Those communities will expect the highest standards of conduct from you. That is as it should be and you must always strive to live up to those expectations. The Garda Code of Ethics, which the Policing Authority published earlier this year, is a statement of those standards of conduct to which everyone working in An Garda Síochána at all levels must adhere. I urge you to use it as your guide to inform your actions and every engagement with a member of the public - whether they be a colleague, victim of crime, a potential suspect, or a convicted person.
As members of An Garda Síochána you will face may challenging situations in your day to day work. In undertaking to protect and serve our communities, you have accepted an enormous responsibility that will require a wide range of attributes and skills including courage to deal with dangerous situations but also empathy and compassion when dealing with victims and their families at time of distress.
Victims must be at the heart of the Garda service. Being a victim of a crime can have a major impact upon a person. It can be a frightening and unsettling experience for many people, particularly if the crime was a crime against the person such as a physical or sexual assault. Victims can feel let down, frustrated, angry and disillusioned with the criminal justice process.
The new Criminal Justice (Victims of Crime) Bill, which aims to transpose the EU Victims Directive is making its way through Dáil Éireann. This landmark Bill will introduce, for the first time, statutory rights for all victims of crime and fulfils a commitment in the Programme for Government.
When enacted, this legislation will give all victims of crime an entitlement to information about the system and the progress of the investigation of their case. The Bill also provides for the requirement of an individual assessment of victims’ needs and introduce special measures to protect victims from further victimisation. In addition, victims of crime will have the right to seek a review of decisions not to prosecute an offence.
In the meantime, the criminal justice agencies have been working hard to provide a service to victims in line with the standard set out in the Victims Directive. An Garda Síochána has trained members of all ranks to implement the new policies and procedures that they have put in place to ensure that victims of crime across all Garda Districts receive a comprehensive and consistent response. I commend the Commissioner for putting in place dedicated Garda Victim Service Offices across all 28 Garda Divisions. These offices provide a central point of contact for victims of crime in each Division and are staffed by specially trained Garda members and civilian personnel.
Being a victim of a serious crime and engaging with the criminal justice system can never be made into a pleasant experience. However, I believe that the measures contained in this important piece of legislation can mitigate the impact on victims of engaging with the criminal justice system and provide a measure of reassurance that they are central to the criminal justice system. I have every confidence that you will play your part in ensuring that this is the case.
In conclusion, the road that you have chosen is a challenging one but a rewarding one. You will play a vital role in ensuring the well-being of every citizen and our society as a whole.
I hope that each and every one of you contribute in your own unique way to helping An Garda Síochána evolve and grow in a way that can bring great pride to you as individuals, to the organisation and to the country that you have vowed to serve.
As I have said, I sense your great enthusiasm and energy here today. I ask that you use this enthusiasm and energy to deliver a policing service of which we can all be proud.
I want to wish you the very best of luck and wisdom in your career and I hope you have a great day with your family and friends.