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Friday 22 September 2017
Garda College, Templemore
Commissioner, distinguished guests, and, of course, the real guests of honour: our new members of An Garda Síochána,
This is my first visit to this historic college as Minister for Justice and Equality and I am delighted to be here in Templemore for this special occasion - a milestone in your lives and an important day for the State as we welcome 181 talented new recruits. It is indeed heartening to see 181 people with such a breadth of life experience and achievement who are willing to answer the call to public service to support the mission of An Garda Síochána to protect and serve. My hope for you is that you will have a long and rewarding policing career in An Garda Síochána; that you will remember always that your core role is to serve the community and to do so with dedication and with honour.
Ireland, like so many countries, is going through a period of intense change where the institutions of the State including the Government, Parliament and An Garda Síochána are adapting to new and often challenging circumstances. I can understand that some of you today might feel a little apprehensive about the future as many controversies have arisen in the context of An Garda Síochána in recent times. Alongside those controversies or, perhaps, arising from them, very significant changes have taken place and that change process is continuing. It will take some time before it is complete.
I want to say two things to you in this regard. First, An Garda Síochána will come through this period of controversy as a stronger, more cohesive, police service better equipped organisationally to meet the many complex challenges it faces day in and day out. I recognise that An Garda Síochána has had to adapt rapidly to many of the complex challenges of modern policing – whether that’s White Collar Crime, international terrorism, new technologies or new models of community policing to name but a few. And those changes in recent decades have not been accompanied by a long-term strategic vision from outside the service in regard to the shape and structure of this great organisation almost a century after its foundation. If you look around at other comparable jurisdictions you will see that many police services have undergone significant structural reforms.
That process is now underway here – and I will talk about the Commission on the Future of Policing in Ireland in a moment.
Secondly, I am truly honoured to have been appointed Minister for Justice and Equality. I have witnessed the work of An Garda Síochána up close on many occasions during my life. One of my most searing memories is the murder of Garda Michael Clerkin in 1976 and the injuries that four of his fellow officers received in a terrorist incident which included a threat against my father’s life. He was then Parliamentary Secretary to a Member of Government.
After many years practising as a local solicitor in Portlaoise and representing Laois-Offaly as a TD over the last three decades, I am well aware of the excellent work the Gardaí do in the community.
In short, I admire the work of An Garda Síochána.
It is important to me as Minister for Justice and Equality that An Garda Síochána is held in the highest regard by the public and that there is a very high level of trust and confidence in our policing service.
And I want you to wear your badge with pride.
And to feel pride in serving our community.
I want you to recognise the nobility and value of public service. There is so much cynicism about public service these days and it is up to all of us who serve in that capacity – myself included – to show that such cynicism is misguided. Part of that means an unequivocal recognition that with great responsibility and significant powers must come appropriate oversight.
As Minister for Justice and Equality, I want to urge you to see this period as a time of great opportunity.
In the last few years radical reforms have introduced greater oversight of An Garda Síochána with the establishment of the Policing Authority. An ambitious programme of reform was introduced by the previous Commissioner, Nóirín O’Sullivan – and I would like to take this opportunity to again publicly recognise and commend Nóirín O’Sullivan for her achievements as Commissioner and her sterling record of service at every rank of An Garda Síochána over a 36 year period. The reform programme now being implemented in An Garda Síochána will stand out as part of her legacy. Commissioner Ó Cualáin is ably continuing with this vital work while meeting the day to day policing challenges that face the State. I want to wish Commissioner Ó Cualáin every success in his new role and to assure him of my support and that of the Government.
The implementation the Garda Inspectorate’s report, Changing Policing in Ireland, will enhance the operation of policing in Ireland in ways that will be positive both for members of An Garda Síochána and for the public. The Policing Authority is working with Garda management to give effect to the ambitions of that important report. The implementation programme is not always easy but it is worthwhile and it is necessary. And I want to see those reforms implemented in a meaningful way at a much faster pace.
At the same time, as you know the Commission on the Future of Policing in Ireland, is undertaking a really important project. Indeed, the significance of its work cannot be overstated. In a nutshell it is examining every aspect of policing in Ireland in a very fundamental way. Government is due to receive its major report in September 2018 – although it may issue rolling recommendations as it sees fit.
As An Garda Síochána approaches its 100th anniversary it goes without saying that the communities that it serves are very different from those existing at the foundation of the State. It is right, therefore, that we stand back at this point and consider afresh the shape of policing for future generations.
I sincerely believe that this Commission is a really exciting and promising endeavour. It is chaired by Kathleen O’Toole, a highly respected police officer herself.
She is someone who understands the challenges facing police at the frontline after a distinguished career in Boston’s police department.
She is someone who understands the management challenges of policing as the current Chief of Police of Seattle.
She is someone who has great experience of police reform, through her involvement with the Patten Commission in Northern Ireland.
She is someone who understands many of the challenges facing An Garda Síochána as well as the Service’s many strengths through her role as former Chief Inspector of the Garda Inspectorate. And in this important work, Kathleen O’Toole is joined by a distinguished group of national and international experts. As part of its work the Commission will be engaging with this College.
I urge you to embrace the promise that the Commission holds and to look forward with optimism to a promising future in a world class organisation.
The Government is fully committed to building up the strength of An Garda Síochána – indeed, you as new recruits are visible proof of that commitment. You are the fourth of five classes of Garda trainees that will attest this year. In all this year, we will see 900 trainees become members of An Garda Síochána bringing the number of Gardaí to around the 13,500 mark by year-end, an increase of 500 from the end of last year – this is real progress on the road to 15,000 members.
During the bleak period of when the Irish economy imploded, recruitment into An Garda Síochána stopped. As soon as the Government had steered the economy back into recovery mode, an ambitious plan for An Garda Síochána was unveiled. This plan seeks to achieve an overall Garda workforce of 21,000 by 2021, comprising 15,000 Garda members, 2,000 Reserve members and 4,000 civilians. We are continuing to rebuild the organisation and providing the Commissioner with the resources needed to the best of our ability to support visible policing and the implementation of the reform programme reform.
The recruitment of Reserve members is also underway as is the recruitment of civilians to fill critical skills gaps across the organisation and to facilitate the redeployment of Gardaí from administrative and technical roles to the front-line where their police training can be used for its intended purpose.
The best modern police services are those with an integrated workforce where police professionals and civilians work together and where their respective skills and expertise are equally recognised as making a valuable contribution to the security of the State and the safety of our citizens. While civilians have long carried out administrative functions in our police service the complexity of modern forms of crime including, for example, cybercrime and white-collar crime, require the expertise of suitably qualified civilians alongside those of police professionals. The Government’s target of doubling the number of civilians in An Garda Síochána by 2021 will support An Garda Síochána in ensuring that it has the right skills mix to deliver effective policing for the 21st century.
This investment in people is backed by substantial investment in critical infrastructure and equipment including ICT, and modern buildings suitable not only for those working in An Garda Síochána but also victims, suspects and other members of the public who may have reason to visit a Garda station.
This investment will not be sufficient in itself to address the very serious challenges faced by An Garda Síochána. Sustained determination is required by the senior leadership of An Garda Síochána to fully implement the radical five-year reform programme that it has put in train to modernise our policing service with the aim of providing the people of Ireland with the world-class service that they deserve. The reform programme will affect the way An Garda Síochána goes about its business at a corporate level and on the ground in every community around the country. I am confidence that the Commissioner and his team are committed to this, and as Minister for Justice and Equality, I will continue to press ahead with that necessary reform programme, informed by the work of the Commission on the Future of Policing in Ireland and supported by the Policing Authority and the Garda Inspectorate. I have no doubt that the men and women of An Garda Síochána who serve Ireland in the front line of policing have the appetite to embrace and drive that change.
Today you made a solemn declaration that you “will faithfully discharge the duties of a member of the Garda Síochána with fairness, integrity, regard for human rights, diligence and impartiality, upholding the Constitution and the law and according equal respect to all people”. Never forget those words. Let them guide your every interaction with those whom you serve.
The Code of Ethics, which the Policing Authority published earlier this year, is a hugely important document in supporting good policing and good governance. The Code defines the principles and the standards of behaviour that the public expects of you. It is not a book of absolute rules; rather it is a common-sense document that provides guidance to support you in behaving ethically so that you can build trust with those you serve. It applies to every member of An Garda Síochána of every rank and to your civilian colleagues. I urge you to absorb it and live by it. I know that the Commissioner is committed to developing a programme to ensure that the Code supports the development of a reformed culture in An Garda Síochána that is founded on doing the right thing in the right way.
Being a member of An Garda Síochána requires courage on a daily basis, courage to put yourself in the way of harm to defend another, courage to protect and defend and, indeed, often to comfort people when they are vulnerable or distressed. The humanity and kindness of Gardaí in so many of these difficult situations is well known.
Courage also requires speaking up when you see something that is wrong. That courage is required of you and those at all levels if An Garda Síochána is to be become an international exemplar of excellent policing.
While there is much focus on the challenges facing An Garda Síochána it is important that we remember the immensely valuable work done by members throughout the length and breadth of the country day and night whether in tackling serious and organised crime, community policing, juvenile diversion and so on. There are uncountable successes in so many areas each day. The public often don’t usually hear about the crime prevented or the life saved, but you will know these successes have occurred and I hope this will inspire you in your work.
To conclude, you are conscious no doubt that the road you have chosen is a challenging one but also a rewarding one. You will play a vital role in ensuring the well-being of every citizen and society as a whole. I hope that each of you will 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, the organisation and to the country that you have vowed to serve. There is a great energy here today and I know that each of you individually is going to make a huge contribution to the public good and also by embracing the change agenda in this great organisation.
The Government is committed to creating a “Republic of Opportunity” – each of you has a critical role to play in achieving that vision – in keeping communities safe, and in individually reaching your fullest potential as members of An Garda Síochána.
I wish you the best of luck and wisdom in your career and I hope you have a very enjoyable day celebrating with you family and friends. I look forward to working with you, as Minister, to protect and serve the people of Ireland.
Thank you very much.