CHECK AGAINST DELIVERY

 

Speech by the Minister for Justice and Equality

Charlie Flanagan TD

at 2018 Annual Delegate Conference of Garda Representative Association

 

Clayton White’s Hotel, Abbey Street, Wexford

Wednesday 30th May 2018

 

 

 

President, distinguished delegates and guests, I am delighted to be invited to address your annual conference.  It’s my first opportunity to do so as Minister. I hope it won’t be the last – for many reasons – but chiefly because no one can have too many opportunities to acknowledge the work that you do and the role that you fill. Throughout my life in politics, and especially as Minister for Justice and Equality, I have been fully aware of the great challenges that Garda members face every day, and the very real risks that you take on our behalf.

 

As the backbone of An Garda Síochána, you are the ones who are out every day in the community. You are the ones in whom the public have consistently expressed confidence;  you are the ones who are shown respect and trust as you operate in a police service rooted in the communities you serve.

 

But while this is a tremendously privileged and valuable position to be in – it is not one which comes without challenges. 

 

I know that this is not an easy time for An Garda Síochána… the public gaze has been on you, there is significant reform underway, and there are the various issues which you raised at Conference over the last two days.

 

It goes without saying that good policing requires not only the right number of Garda members in operational roles but also the right training and the right equipment. I have heard your concerns in these areas. I know you have spoken about a need for body cameras, tasers, better training and better support. What I can say in response is that, as Minister, my job is not to address these concerns directly or operationally… that is the job of the Commissioner and his team… but rather, to do everything I can to enable the Commissioner and that team to do that job, to be a provider of the resources required, to respond to requests… whether they are for resources, support or policy… and to do that willingly and swiftly… I want you to know that I do, and that I will continue to do so.

 

Another reason of course that this is not an easy time for An Garda Síochána is that there is significant reform underway. Reform can be difficult. But please be assured this reform is grounded in a clear rationale and I firmly believe its implementation is not just in the best interests of the public you serve but also in the best interests of An Garda Síochána itself and of each and every individual who serves in it. Everyone involved, I believe, can come together, to deliver a service which is modern, efficient, effective and fit for purpose.

 

An element already delivered is the Policing Authority. Its establishment is probably one of the most significant Policing reforms delivered since the foundation of the State. As in all democratic countries, it provides independent oversight of policing. And given its mission is to drive excellent policing, I welcome its publication of the Policing Priorities and a Policing Plan for 2018. I also acknowledge its role in the development of the new Code of Ethics which is being embedded within An Garda Síochána and which will ensure society’s continued confidence in your work. 

 

Alongside the ongoing Reform programme, we also of course have the Commission on the Future of Policing conducting a root and branch review of policing in Ireland. I would like to thank you in the GRA for your positive engagement with the Commission during its extensive stakeholder engagement. And I look forward to an ambitious report in September which I expect will map out an ambitious future for An Garda Síochána for the coming decades.

 

I know you have a desire to see that ambitious future. The Garda Cultural Audit, reflecting the views of over 6,500 Garda personnel, demonstrates a significant appetite for real and lasting change. I welcome the positives in the report - in particular your pride in your role in protecting and supporting our communities and the esprit de corps.

 

Of course the Audit also highlights challenges…. in areas such as speaking up; supervision; promotions; leadership and resourcing. But I believe these are being addressed and as they are, I believe it is important for each and every member to grasp the opportunity to help shape lasting cultural reform in An Garda Síochána. I hope you will all get, and take, the opportunity to do that.

 

I also want to acknowledge how change is being embraced within the GRA itself. The strategic and operational review of your internal procedures was a clear indication of the underlying strength and unity of your organisation.

 

Events of recent years have highlighted the need to take a fresh look at how industrial relations are dealt with in An Garda Síochána and I welcome your engagement with the Working Group which is examining the internal industrial relations structures and bringing forward legislation to facilitate access to the WRC and Labour Court.  

 

Each one of you joined An Garda Síochána because you wanted to protect the public and fight crime. Today fighting crime often involves fighting gangs.

 

Gangland crime is a serious issue but significant progress has been made. I do not underestimate the scale of this issue, as gangland criminals are adept at exploiting technology and people, but be reassured that they are being confronted by an ever more sophisticated and well-resourced Garda police service which is supported by dedicated and highly trained Armed Support Units.

 

As you know there have been significant successes in targeting the drugs trade which fuels the activities of organised criminals. I am committed to ensuring that An Garda Síochána has the resources necessary to tackle all forms of criminality including the resourcing of large-scale and targeted policing operations such as Operations Thor and Hybrid amongst others, all of which have yielded impressive results.

 

Your service has delivered impressive results elsewhere too…  examples include the Divisional Protective Services Units which have been established to tackle special crime types such as domestic and sexual abuse and ensuring those possessing and distributing child exploitation material continue to be targeted.

 

These issues are particularly poignant given what has happened in recent days. The brutal murder of a young teenager and the abduction and murder of a young woman who had recently arrived to our shores were horrific. I would like to commend the Gardaí who were involved in both these cases for their dedication and professionalism while also sensitively handling what can only be described as harrowing cases.

 

Of course, whenever we speak of crime, it is important to have accurate data. I can’t stress this enough as accurate crime statistics facilitates the changing and targeting of response necessary for the nature of crimes committed today. My concerns relating to the publication of crime statistics are well known and I therefore welcome the return of official crime statistics by the CSO, albeit “under reservation”.  I look forward to the outcome of the current review into homicide statistics which will ensure that the issues in relation to these statistics are resolved immediately.

 

And I am pleased to note, contrary to recent media reports which were not based on CSO or Garda data, that while in 2017 a slight increase of 3% in burglary offences was recorded it must be balanced by a decrease of 30% in 2016.

 

This Government is committed to ensuring a strong and visible police presence to maintain and strengthen community engagement, provide reassurance to citizens and deter crime. 

 

Since 2014, some 1800 new members have attested and by the end of this year it is expected Garda numbers will have increased to over 14,000 for the first time since 2011.  I recognise of course that as Garda numbers increase there is a requirement for more supervision. New members must receive the support they need. I am therefore engaged with my colleague, the Minister for Public Expenditure and Reform, for an increase in the numbers at supervisory ranks.

 

I recognise too the need for ongoing training and Continuous Professional Development for those already in the ranks and so I am pleased to see in the Modernisation and Renewal Programme that all personnel are kept up-to-date on relevant policies and changes in the law.

 

When I speak of all personnel, I am of course speaking now, of more broad cohorts. And as we move towards a more integrated Garda workforce, I believe the civilianisation programme represents a positive change. The goal is that by 2021 An Garda Síochána will have 4,000 civilians or 20% of total headcount, which aligns with international norms. This will ensure that sworn members of all ranks are reassigned to operational policing. 

 

The best modern police services are those where police professionals and civilians work together and their respective skills and expertise are equally recognised. I hope you will all warmly welcome a service in which civilians provide support in areas such as HR, IT, Finance and the Technical Bureau, and also one in which it is envisaged that there will be 2000 reserves to provide an additional support on the frontline.   

 

Over the course of the 2 days of your conference you have highlighted the need to have the correct equipment, and other resources such as technology, vehicles and accommodation. I would like to take this opportunity to reassure you all that both I and the Government are aware of this and have made available significant funding for An Garda Síochána in recent years.

 

For example between 2016 and 2021, €342 million will have been invested in technology including computer aided dispatch facilities, and the development of a roster and duty management system and the latest cutting-edge technologies for eVetting, anti-money laundering, and automated number plate recognition systems.

 

Between 2013 and 2017 €44 million was invested in the Garda fleet, with 2000 new vehicles coming on stream up to 2021 and a further €30 million to ensure the fleet remains modern, effective and fit for purpose.

 

The Building and Refurbishment Programme is delivering new Garda stations and refurbishment work in others with a focus on facilities for victims of crime, and the upgrade of Custody Management Facilities. In addition, €100 million has been invested in 3 new Divisional Regional headquarters in Kevin St. Dublin, Galway and Wexford and I look forward to formally opening both Wexford and Kevin Street soon.

 

As I stated earlier, the deployment of “Tasers” to all frontline staff is a matter for the Commissioner. In 2007 the Garda Inspectorate supported the Commissioner’s proposal to provide Tasers to the Emergency Response Units and stated that “any extension of deployment of these devices to personnel other than the ERU should be the subject of careful consideration.” Regarding body worn cameras a working group is currently exploring options for their use.

 

So I do believe your concerns are being heard and I do believe real progress is being made.

 

Finally, looking to your leadership, I would like to take this opportunity to acknowledge the commitment, dedication and service of Acting Commissioner Dónall Ó’Cualáin.  The process of selecting a new Commissioner is, as I’m sure you know, well underway and for the first time, it is being overseen by the Policing Authority.

 

At a time of significant growth and reform the role of Commissioner will be extremely challenging, which is why the government decided the competition would be open and international with the successful candidate tested against the strongest field possible.

 

The new Commissioner, who will be in place by autumn, will lead and implement a major strategic reform agenda while simultaneously ensuring the security of the State and the safety of its citizens.

 

Of course the Commissioner will be doing that through all of you, and your efforts, so can I close just by reiterating my appreciation for the work that you do. An Garda Síochána is on the cusp of major change which will redefine it as an organisation.  How you, as members, embrace these changes will in large part dictate the future nature and shape of the police service of this State. I have no doubt that you will rise to meet the challenge. I look forward to meeting some of you here later and to working with all of you over the coming year, and I thank you again sincerely for the invitation to address you today.

 

ENDS