CHECK AGAINST DELIVERY

 

Address by Minister Charlie Flanagan, T.D., Minister for Justice and Equality at the official opening of the Western Region Garda Headquarters, Galway

Friday 20 July 2018

Commissioner,

Distinguished guests

Serving and retired members of An Garda Síochána

Civil society and community representatives

 

Ladies and Gentlemen

I am delighted to be here with you today on what is a very special occasion for Galway and the surrounding area. 

This is my first time at an official event in Galway as Minister for Justice and Equality.  And it is particularly fitting that the magnificent Western Region Headquarters which I have the honour to open has been completed and handed over to An Garda Síochána while a Galway man, Donall Ó Cualáin, is serving as Garda Commissioner.

I know that this is a project that is close to his heart and that he has been involved with every step of the way, from when it was a germ of an idea to today.

And so I am sure he as delighted as I am, that the hand over is happening while he is still serving with us.  You all know of course that Drew Harris takes up the role of Garda Commissioner in September.  

But while you, Commissioner Ó Cualáin, are still with us, I want today, as I have done on a number of occasions recently, to again acknowledge and publicly thank you, for the many years of dedicated service you have given to the public and the State.  The Government is grateful to you for your steady and effective leadership, for your commitment and integrity. You and your team have led An Garda Síochána to significant successes in targeting and disrupting the abhorrent activities of criminal gangs over the past year.  You have also made progress on the challenging reform agenda. And when the time comes in September to pass on the baton to incoming Commissioner Harris, we will wish you a happy and well-deserved retirement.

Looking ahead though, there is no question but that the incoming Commissioner will take up office at a pivotal time in the history of An Garda Síochána.  This is a time of major reform and investment.  And yes, while reform can be challenging, it also presents opportunities….opportunities to do things differently, to do things better, to reinvigorate an organisation and harness the talents and energy of its people.

I believe the reform programme which is underway will assist in delivering a professional, modern, open policing service. It will redefine our national police service as an organisation. BUT I believe it will do that while retaining its core strengths – its deep roots in community, and the enduring trust and respect from the public and communities it serves. 

Of course a key focus of the reform programme is the modernisation of the way in which policing services are delivered so as to provide a better service to communities. 

Galway is at the forefront of this change – having been selected, along with Mayo, Cork City and Dublin South Central, as one of four divisions, to pilot the new Divisional Policing Model. Lessons learned here will be applied across the country as it is rolled out over the next year or so.

This new model was recommended by the Garda Síochána Inspectorate in its landmark report on Garda Reform in 2015 and was adopted by the then Commissioner and the Government as the best way to deliver effective and efficient policing in our communities. It has many advantages over the current structures, which date back almost one hundred years. Crucially it will bring a more dedicated focus to community policing and the investigation of serious crime across the Division through the assignment of Superintendents, supported by additional Inspectors, to these tasks. 

Under the new model, administrative functions will be carried out by skilled professional civilians.  That will free up sworn members to deploy their training, expertise and experience to what they do best – policing our communities.

I can understand that for some there is a nervousness about the new model of policing but I know that the Commissioner is fully aware of that and that he is working to address it.

Of course, alongside the ongoing reform programme, we also have the Commission on the Future of Policing in Ireland.  It is examining every aspect of policing here in a very fundamental way and I know that as part of its research, it held a public meeting here in Galway earlier in the Spring. I met with the Chairperson of the Commission, Kathleen O’Toole recently and it is clear that a huge amount of work has been undertaken and that the proposals, when they are published in September, will challenge us all to deliver a new vision for policing in Ireland. 

It is the people that make any organisation.  And when I refer to the people in this organisation I am, of course, referring to the full spectrum of the Garda workforce - Gardaí, civilian staff and Reserve members. The best modern police services are those with an integrated workforce, where policing professionals and civilian staff work hand in hand, where their respective skills and expertise are equally recognised and valued, and which harness the energy and enthusiasm of local volunteers.

This is the vision that the Government has for An Garda Síochána, a vision of an overall workforce of 21,000 by 2021 comprised of 15,000 Gardaí, 4,000 civilians and 2,000 Reserves.

In support of this vision almost 2,000 recruits have attested as members of An Garda Síochána and have been assigned to mainstream duties nationwide since the reopening of the Garda College in September 2014. This investment resulted in a net increase of over 600 Gardaí last year. This year a further 800 new Garda recruits will enter the Garda College and the strength of the Service will reach 14,000 by the end of the year.

Over 290 new civilian staff have been sanctioned in the last 18 months. These people will fill critical skills gaps across the organisation and facilitate the continuing redeployment of Gardaí from desk duties to policing duties where their training can be used to best effect. So far over 110 Gardaí have been redeployed to policing. This is a welcome start but there is a lot more work to be done to fully realise our ambitious plans.  I know the Commissioner has a dedicated project team in place to drive the redeployment programme while ensuring that it is done in a manner that is fair to all.  And I very much welcome that.

There are also plans to strengthen the Garda Reserve with new reserves expected to start training this year.

The Reserve has an important role to play in providing a police service to our communities.  Increasingly, it also provides an introduction to policing to those who are considering it as a career.  A reserve of 2,000 committed volunteers, together with the 4,000 civilians planned, will be of huge assistance to An Garda Síochána in delivering a 21st century policing service.  I want to see progress towards those ambitious numbers accelerated over the coming months so that by 2021, we have achieved our targets.

But from people to the tools they need…. As we all know, achieving 21st century policing requires modern technology and facilities.  I and my Department are working very hard to support and achieve this goal, across the board - in terms of the Garda estate, fleet and ICT. 

Unprecedented resources have been made available in recent years to address the real deficiencies in the Garda estate and provide fit-for-purpose facilities for members and the public interacting with them.

It inevitably takes some time to see the results of investment such as this.  It can be hard not to be impatient, but the reality is that design, planning and procurement for large projects do take time, if we are going to ensure fairness and the best possible results at the best possible value.   However we are now seeing the results of recent years of investment coming to fruition. 

In addition to the top-quality regional headquarters we are opening here today in Galway, two other major new Garda HQ developments have been completed recently - at Wexford, completed in September 2017, and Kevin St. in Dublin, completed in April this year.  Each of these 3 HQ facilities should significantly assist An Garda Síochána not only in continuing to provide a professional policing service in their respective regions, but also in the delivery of the Modernisation and Renewal Programme.

The results of the 2016 /2021 Garda Síochána Building and Refurbishment Programme are also beginning to come on stream.  It’s an ambitious 5 year Programme and I’m pleased to see that works on compliance or upgrading have already been completed at 80 Garda stations under the Cell Refurbishment Programme.  In addition, appropriate sites are now in state ownership allowing us to progress projects delivering new stations at Macroom, Sligo and Clonmel.

As far as the Garda fleet is concerned, the 2016 – 2021 Capital Plan provides €46 million, in addition to the investment of almost €30 million in the period 2013 to 2015, to ensure you have a modern, effective and fit-for-purpose fleet. As a result, in the four years from 2013 to 2017, some 2,000 new vehicles came on stream – ensuring that  Gardaí can be mobile, visible and responsive on the roads and in the community to prevent and tackle crime.

As a Government, we also recognise that Gardaí must have the technology necessary to detect and investigate crime.  And so, in support of the MRP, €342 million, including €217 million under the Capital Plan, is being invested in Garda ICT infrastructure between 2016 and 2021. This will enable you to work more effectively and deploy the latest cutting-edge technologies in the fight against crime.

So I hope you can see that my commitment and that of the Government is unwavering when it comes to supporting and adequately resourcing An Garda Síochána.  We understand your requirements, we acknowledge your commitment and we look forward to continuing to engage with you and other colleagues, particularly in the OPW  to continue to deliver on the ambitious reform and investment programmes underway.

To turn back though to the investment we are marking today - I am confident the new Western Region Garda Headquarters will become a vital part of the infrastructure of Galway city and the west of Ireland.  The state-of-the-art building, clad as you can see in limestone and granite, has a contemporary, civic quality which acknowledges its location on a major entry point to Galway city.  

The scheme was designed by the Office of Public Works to meet the operational needs of An Garda Síochána while incorporating sustainable green design principles – I understand it will achieve an A energy rating, has green roofs and solar panels for water heating. 

It’s an impressive project, and it could not have occurred without the input and cooperation of many people and agencies, including:

I thank and commend you all for your dedication and professionalism.

As I see it, every investment in our Garda Síochána is an investment in a community  and as such the opening of a new facility such as this is an event to be celebrated.   The wonderful turn-out for this event today – and the breadth of organisations you represent – is testament to that.

It only remains for me to say that I am honoured to declare Western Region Garda Headquarters officially open.

Gach rath ar an obair agus go raibh maith agaibh go léir.