Recent years have seen unprecedented resources being devoted to the criminal justice system. A major programme of criminal law reform has been undertaken and is continuing. This has been accompanied by a comprehensive programme of organisational modernisation and reform.
The men and women of An Garda Síochána deserve our gratitude for the many successes which they have had. Operation Anvil, for example, has to date led to over 6,500 arrests and hundreds of seizures of guns and drugs.
The events of recent days - particularly the deaths of wholly innocent members of the public caught up in internecine gangland conflict - have made it tragically clear that what has been achieved already must be built on so that we can protect our society from the dangers in our midst. A Government can have no greater priority than the safety of its people and it is against that background that we have taken a series of decisions today which involve a comprehensive programme of measures to ensure that the full resources of the State are brought to bear as never before against the activities of those who have showed a callous disregard for the rule of law.
The unprecedented package of measures sanctioned today includes:
- A further increase of 1,000 in the strength of An Garda Síochána to bring the total to 15,000 over the next three years;
- Sanction for 300 additional civilian administrative support posts for An Garda Síochána;
- The recruitment of the 7 senior civilian posts recommended in the recent reports from Kathleen O'Toole and Maurice Hayes;
- An increase in the retirement age for Sergeants and Inspectors from 57 to 60;
- A proportionate increase in the targeted strength of the Garda Reserve from 900 to 1500;
- Increased staffing for the Forensic Science Laboratory, the office of the Director of Public Prosecutions and the Courts Service;
- No limit on funds available for the Witness Protection Programme.
Increase of further 1,000 in the strength of An Garda Síochána
The Government has approved the continuation of the existing Garda recruitment programme to achieve a total Garda strength of 15,000. While additional resources brought about by the Government's decision to increase the strength of the Force to 14,000 are coming on stream all the time with 275 Gardaí due to graduate from Templemore every 90 days and immediate extra deployment of Garda resources is being achieved by enormous investment in overtime, the Government is satisfied that a further additional 1,000 Gardaí is necessary to ensure that the Force is properly resourced to deal with the challenges it faces and that measures which are being taken in the short term to deal with the problem of gun crime can be sustained in the future.
Significant Increase in Civilian Posts
The Government has agreed to take a number of immediate measures that will increase significantly the number of Gardaí available for operational duty in the short term.
The Garda Commissioner has identified the scope to release 300 members of An Garda Síochána for frontline operational duty if that number of clerical officers can be provided to him. The Government has approved my proposal for the creation of these additional 300 support posts and the immediate recruitment of the staff by the Commissioner.
The Government has also approved the creation of 7 new senior civilian posts, including a new Deputy Commissioner equivalent, in the senior management structure of An Garda Síochána as recommended by the Hayes Group and the Garda Inspectorate.
Approval has already been given for 29 Crime and Policing Analysts and advertisements will appear on Thursday next 21 December for the Head Analyst and Senior Analysts. These posts will help to provide critical intelligence insights to operational Gardaí and thereby underpin a successful war against all kinds of crime. Advertisements will also appear on Thursday for 31 Telecommunications Technicians to support An Garda Síochána. Over the next few months, An Garda Síochána will have available to it - at HQ level and across the country - a greater level of targeted information on criminal activity, as well as access to demographic, economic and social data such as to inform operational decisions being taken to help defeat the criminals by disrupting criminal operations and assisting in bringing the perpetrators of serious crime to justice.
Such intelligence-led police and crime analysts units have been very successfully deployed in other jurisdictions and have proven their worth in the battle against the criminal, not least in Northern Ireland, major US cities, and in the United Kingdom.
A Civilianisation Verification Board, with representatives of the Commissioner, the Garda Inspectorate and the Department of Justice, Equality and Law Reform, is being established to ensure that the creation of all these civilian specialist posts mean that Gardaí can concentrate their efforts on visible and effective policing rather than backroom functions.
Increase in retirement age
In order to maximise Garda strength and ensure continuity of key skills, the Government has decided to increase the retirement age for Garda, Sergeant and Inspector ranks from 57 to 60. My Department is preparing regulations to give effect to this and will arrange for the matter to be discussed formally with the Garda Associations under the Garda Síochána Conciliation and Arbitration Scheme.
Increase in Strength of the Garda Reserve
The Government has approved a proportionate increase in the targeted strength of the Garda Reserve from 900 to 1500 to form 10% of the increased full time professional force. While it will take time to put these in place the Garda Reserve will over time free up members of An Garda Síochána from work which does not require their expertise and training. It is clear that many patriotic members of the public wish to show their practical support for members of An Garda Síochána and that has been demonstrated by the fact that there have to date been over 7,000 applicants for the Reserve.
Operation of the Bail laws
The Government has considered in detail the operation of our bail laws. It is satisfied that our existing laws are basically robust, reflecting, as they do, the clearly expressed wish of the people in the 1996 Referendum that bail may be refused where it is reasonably considered necessary to prevent the commission of serious offences. The Government also recognises that decisions in individual cases are a matter for the judiciary and that it is important that a case against bail should be fully made by the State. Equally the measures being taken through the provision of extra resources to secure earlier trials should be of assistance. I have no doubt that the judiciary would be as concerned as anyone with difficulties arising from the operation of the bail laws and since the foundation of the State the courts have always, in the light of emerging realities, taken whatever steps, consistent with our laws, are necessary to deal with such issues.
Use of the Special Criminal Court
The Government noted that the Special Criminal Court can be - and, indeed, has been - used in relation to gangland criminals where the Director of Public Prosecutions is satisfied that the ordinary courts could not secure the effective administration of justice.
New Garda Digital Radio System
Yesterday the High Level Project Group for the new digital radio system which will be used by the Garda and other emergency services signed off on the procurement process which now goes to financial due diligence and will be approved by the Minister for Finance in the coming days.
Balance in the Criminal Law Group
I understand that the Balance in the Criminal Law Group has been examining intensively a wide range of complex and fundamental issues in the criminal law including the Right to Silence. I have asked that this examination include the issue of admissibility of video evidence in circumstances where the accused person remains silent. I expect their Report in March and there will be no delay in bringing forward proposals in the light of that Report.
Exercise of Visible Leadership by the Garda Síochána at Community Level
Archbishop Diarmuid Martin - and I really want to welcome his input into the debate - recently pointed out that the problems of organised crime and the illegal drugs menace is an issue for the whole of society to tackle and I quote "not just for the police and politicians". I want to emphasise that there is no shirking by the Government of its responsibility in the area of tackling crime and protecting our communities. But there is an important need for us to enlist the whole-hearted support of every member of civil society as well in tackling this menace.
Many decent people will have been shocked by recent events. The establishment of Joint Policing committees is an important earnest of our desire to inform local communities and to involve them in confronting crime locally. The fundamental rationale of the committees is that the policing of our society, and the communities which make it up, cannot take place in a vacuum where the Garda Síochána itself decides how policing is to be carried out, without any input from society and the communities in which the police operate. Through involvement in their local committees, elected local representatives are empowered to bring forward effective strategies for relevant policing responses.
Senator Maurice Hayes, who is now Chairperson of the Advisory Group on Garda Management and Leadership, referred in his Report on the implementation of the Garda Síochána Act 2005 to the "clamant public demand for the visible presence of uniformed Gardaí on the streets". That demand extends also to visibility by the Garda leadership on the ground, at all levels in our communities.
I have asked the Commissioner to ensure that senior officers in the Garda Síochána, down to Inspector level, take a strong, personal, active and visible role within the Joint Policing Committees and in the wider communities they serve. Garda officers will be encouraged to have active liaison with local neighbourhood organisations, community groups, as well as residents' and tenants' associations. This will be a cornerstone of our enhanced approach to policing in the community, for the community.
I want to assure our communities, as well as rank and file Gardaí, that there will be a redoubled effort over the coming months, and with the assistance of the additional measures now being taken, to a total commitment to achieving the highest attainable levels of public safety possible, through excellent policing, grounded in best practice, and supported in full by the resources of the State.
The Government is satisfied that all those working in the criminal justice system are determined to deal fully with the menace posed by those involved in drug and gun crime and that they have the full support of the Irish people in their efforts. With the measures the Government has taken today we can ensure that the challenge posed by these gangs is met head on and that the rule of law can prevail.
19 December 2006.
Notes for Editors
In addition to the measures agreed today, the following resources have been provided in support of An Garda Síochána:
- The strength of An Garda Síochána reached 13,000 fully trained Gardaí in November. Including the recruits in training the strength is just over 14,000 at present.
- 112 million Euro will be spent by OPW on the Garda Building Programme between 2005 and 2007
- 1,200 vehicles (cars, motorbikes and vans) are on order for the Garda fleet - this is just over half the entire fleet
- 1,500 ballistic vests ordered - 800 already delivered, balance in January
- Anti-stab ballistic vests - 11,000 ordered - delivery starts with 1,000 in each of Jan and Feb '07 and
2,500 per month thereafter until order complete.
- Retractable batons - 10,000 in stock for issue aligned with training schedule
- Virtual Firearm Trainers - 3 electronic firearms training simulators for delivery and installation 20 December 2006
- Rigid Inflatable Boats - 3 new boats were purchased for the Garda Water Unit to replace existing craft in use since mid-'90s
- Contract for national Digital Radio Service for Garda Síochána and all blue-light emergency services about to be awarded - work on implementation to begin early in the New Year.
- Additional 111 stations have been connected to PULSE during the past 12 months, bringing the total of Garda stations with access to PULSE to over 290.
- The Garda Information Services Centre in Castlebar fully operational nationwide - staff of 160 civilians - inputs data on the PULSE system - has freed up significant amounts of Garda time for continued operational duty
- Contract was signed for new Automated Fingerprint Identification System in November - rollout has already begun including purchase of hardware and software licences.