CHECK AGAINST DELIVERY

 

Minister Charlie Flanagan, T.D., speaking at the official opening of the Wexford Garda Station

 

Commissioner,    Distinguished guests, 

Serving and retired members of An Garda Síochána;  

Civil society and community representatives

Ladies and Gentlemen

 

What a building,  what a headquarters… I am delighted to be here with you for such a special occasion. 

 

This new Garda Headquarters is, I know, transforming the job of policing in Wexford and the surrounding areas.   As is so often the case with new buildings, the official opening comes quite a bit after the actual day to day work has begun, but that can be a good thing. 

 

It can mean that by the time the opening does come around, daily experience has shown either that the plan HAS worked well, or it HASN’T ,,,, I am just delighted to hear that by all accounts the plan for Wexford is working wonderfully.  

You have been operating here I know for almost a year now, and today, as we gather to perform the official opening, I don’t believe there is a single person involved who would consider this new facility anything other than an unqualified success.

 

I opened the Wexford courthouse back in February so this is my second time this year, opening a new building in Wexford.  Incidentally it is also my second opening of a Garda Divisional Headquarters  … just two weeks ago we were cutting the ribbon in Galway.

 

That building, like this one, is transforming the service An Garda Siochana is in a position to offer the public. 

Take for example the way you are now able to handle immigration cases.

 

I don’t suppose many people outside this area would be all that aware of it,  but Wexford is an immigration hub.  With Rosslare Harbour just down the road, you handle huge numbers of applications and cases …. How hard that must have been in the old building, with just one tiny reception area to handle everything and everybody.  How much better now to be able to guide people as they walk in the door, to where they need to go – one way for general Garda services, and the other for immigration ones.

 

Another huge advantage to your new facility must I know be the ability to deal with offenders separately.  There is no question but that it is far from ideal to have suspects, perhaps violent ones, being brought into a station for processing through the very same small reception area where perhaps families with young children are waiting to get passport application forms signed…. Your new separate and secure vehicle access has made that a thing of the past.

 

So there is much about this new facility to be thankful for.  And as we gather today TO celebrate it, I want to say how glad I am that we are doing so, once again, in the company of Commissioner Donall Ó Cualáin.

 

Donall Ó Cualáin has presided over much of the ongoing investment in An Garda Síochána.  He has been a truly dedicated public servant and Commissioner, and Commissioner, while you are still with the Gardai, I want today, as I have done on a number of occasions recently, to acknowledge and publicly thank you, for your many years of service.  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 Drew 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. 

 

As part of this change a new Divisional Policing Model is being piloted in Galway, Mayo, Cork City and Dublin South Central. Lessons learned in this will be applied across the country, including here in Wexford, as it is rolled out over the next year or so.

 

This new model was recommended by the Garda Síochána Inspectorate 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.

 

Of course, alongside the ongoing reform programme, we also have the Commission on the Future of Policing in Ireland which is in the final stages of its work.  It is examining every aspect of policing here in a very fundamental way. 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 chart a new model for policing in the decades ahead and 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 and where the energy and enthusiasm of local volunteers is also harnassed.

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 and have been assigned to mainstream duties nationwide since the reopening of the Garda College in September 2014.

 

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.

 

As we all know, achieving 21st century policing requires modern technology and facilities.  We are working very hard to support and achieve this goal, across the board - in terms of the Garda estate, fleet and ICT. 

 

In addition to the top-quality regional headquarters we are opening here today in Wexford, two other major new developments have been completed recently - at Kevin St. in Dublin, and in Galway. 

 

The results of the 2016 - 2021 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.  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,  to ensure you have a modern, effective and fit-for-purpose fleet. In the four years from 2013 to 2017, some 2,000 new vehicles came on stream – to make sure you are mobile, visible and responsive on the roads and in the community, while you work 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.

 

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 Wexford Garda Station will become a vital part of the infrastructure of Wexford town and the South-east of Ireland.  

It was designed by the Office of Public Works to meet Garda operational needs, while also incorporating sustainable green design principles – I understand it will achieve an A energy rating, has green roofs, solar panels for water heating, and low-power automatic LED lighting throughout.

 

In addition, the public walking route bordering the site along Harris Lane has been upgraded in cooperation with Wexford County Council, making it safer and more accessible to visitors.

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

So thank you to all of those, but finally, I want to say thank you too, to the man who presides over much of what happens down here, Superintendent Jim Doyle.  

 

This, I am very aware, is not just an impressive building, it is a building which  houses an impressive workforce.  Jim leads a team here which is united, which performs very highly, and which, most importantly as we can see from the recent Culture Audit, is happy.  The people here are a beacon of good practice when it comes to policing…. And I have no doubt but that Jim’s determination to put systems and governance in place, to make sure there is constant interaction between his front line people and his management team have contributed hugely to that and will continue to do so.

 

Indeed, while mentioning Jim, I might point out that he and I actually go back quite a way.  It turns out that as a young guard, on his very first posting, on his very first day in court, who should he come up against, as he prosecuted a case in Portlaoise, only a young solicitor, by name of Flanagan.

 

Now, I’m not going to break confidence by telling you which of us came out ahead that day…. Suffice to say that I am absolutely delighted that THIS day, we are very much a team, working together, me as Minister for Justice and Equality, Jim as Superintendent in Wexford, to do the very best we can, for Irish people and communities.

 

So thank you Jim, thank you again Commissioner, AND thank you to everyone else contributing to the team effort here in Wexford.

 

Every investment in our Garda Síochána is an investment in a community.  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.

And so it only remains for me to say that I am honoured to declare Wexford Garda Station officially open.

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

 

ENDS