CHECK AGAINST DELIVERY
Address by the Minister for Justice and Equality, Charles Flanagan TD at the Garda Passing Out Parade Garda College, Templemore
Friday 8 December 2017
Commissioner, distinguished guests, and, of course, new members of An Garda Síochána,
I am delighted to be here in Templemore for this special occasion. Today is a proud day for you and an important day for the State as we welcome 211 new members to An Garda Síochána. It is heartening to see 211 talented people with such a breadth of life experience and achievement 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.
It is also a proud day for your family and friends who have supported you on your journey and who have joined you here today to witness your success and to celebrate your achievement in successfully completing 32 weeks of challenging and rigorous training during which you have accomplished the many skills required to deliver a 21st century policing service to the people of Ireland.
You are joining An Garda Síochána at what is a challenging time but also a time of great opportunity. An Garda Síochána has embarked on a major programme of change to adapt to the many complex challenges presented by modern policing and to address the serious controversies that have arisen in relation to its administration in recent times. In the circumstances, I can understand you may be experiencing mixed emotions today – a sense of excitement at the prospect of putting your training into practice in communities around the country but also a sense of trepidation as to what the change that is underway will mean for you. What I want to assure you of today is of my support and that of the Government.
I have every confidence that An Garda Síochána will come through this period of change a stronger organisation with a workforce – whether sworn officers or civilian staff – capable of providing the type of policing service that the people of Ireland deserve - a police service that is rooted in community, trusted and respected by those it serves, and fully equipped to carry out its mandate.
As an elected politician for many years, I know that every community in Ireland is deeply attached to its local Gardaí – from the most rural parts of this island to the most urban. It is important to me, as Minister for Justice and Equality, but also simply as a citizen, that An Garda Síochána continues to be held in the highest regard by the public. I welcome the outcome of the recent Public Attitudes Survey which recorded 88% trust in An Garda Síochána. This is a credit to the individual Garda members around the country and the work that they do day in and day out.
While there is so much focus on the challenges facing An Garda Síochána it is vitally important that we remember the valuable work done by members whether it is in community policing, youth diversion, maintaining public order, tackling serious and organised crime, and so on. There are uncountable successes in many areas every day that go unnoticed. You will learn about them from your new colleagues and, I hope, be inspired by them.
As I have said before I admire the work of An Garda Síochána. I have witnessed the work of Garda members 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 injury of his four colleagues in a terrorist incident which included a threat against my father’s life. It will be a great privilege for me to attend the ceremony later today to honour the bravery of Garda Michael Clerkin and his colleagues with the award of the Scott Medal. Many others, including the late Garda Tony Golden, are also to be honoured today.
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, and indeed, courage 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.
I have said that that you can be assured of mine, and the Government’s support. You, as new recruits, are visible proof of the Government’s commitment to a well-resourced An Garda Síochána. You are the fifth class of Garda trainees to attest this year. Just under 900 trainees will have become members of An Garda Síochána this year bringing the number of Gardaí to around the 13,500 mark by year-end, an increase of 500 net from the end of last year. This is real progress on the road to 15,000 members and represents the first significant annual increase in Garda numbers since number started falling in 2009.
During the bleak years of the economic downward recruitment to An Garda Síochána was suspended. As soon as the Government had steered the economy back to recovery mode, it put in place a plan to achieve an overall Garda workforce of 21,000 by 2021, comprising 15,000 Garda members, 2,000 Reserve members and 4,000 civilians.
This recruitment will continue apace in 2018 with a further intake of 800 trainees. By the end of 2018, total Garda numbers will be in the region 14,000.
You will of course be well aware of the recruitment underway for Garda Reserve and the programme of civilianisation. I urge you to positively embrace both of these initiatives and, when you are assigned to stations all around the country, to work constructively with reservists and civilian staff who are there to support you as you go about essential frontline policing duties.
The first class of new Reserve recruits will enter the College early next year and there is an ongoing process of civilian recruitment to fill technical and administrative roles and provide additional expertise in the organisation. The best modern police service 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 our State and the safety of our citizen. This is the Government’s vision for An Garda Síochána and I know it is shared by Commissioner Ó Cualáin. I expect to see a much greater pace of civilian recruitment which will facilitate Garda redeployment in 2018. The Government has allocated very significant resources in the order of €1.65 Billion to An Garda Síochána for 2018 and it is essential that those resources are deployed effectively.
The Government is not only committed to investment in people it is also committed to 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. It must go hand in hand with reform.
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 and is being continued under Commissioner Ó Cualáin. The implementation of 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 of reform can present challenges to all of us – that’s human nature. But as Minister, I want to urge you to embrace the reform programme. As a Government we have taken steps to ensure that the reform agenda is well informed and worthwhile. We want An Garda Síochána to be the best modern police service it can be. We have the talent in the ranks and we are recruiting the very best - that is clear. What we need to ensure is that the practices, procedures and structures are also the very best. The Garda Inspectorate and the Policing Authority are undertaking very important work in this regard and these organisations are dedicated to ensuring excellence in policing, providing guidance, support and oversight to An Garda Síochána.
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.. The Commission is comprised on national and international experts and I sincerely believe that the work its members are undertaking is a really exciting and promising endeavour. The Commission is chaired by Kathleen O’Toole, a highly respected police officer herself who understands the challenges facing police at the frontline after a distinguished career in Boston’s police department and a more recent stint in Seattle.
We can all look forward with optimism to the Commission’s Report next September.
I want to return to the solemn declaration that you made this morning. It is I believe worth reciting the declaration in full: “I 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.
As members of An Garda Síochána you have extraordinary powers. No matter the circumstance, you will be expected to perform your duties to the highest standards of conduct. The Code of Ethics which the Policing Authority published earlier this year is a hugely important document in supporting good practice by every member of An Garda Síochána of every rank and of your civilian colleagues. Today, you signed a form acknowledging that you have read and understood the Code and declared your commitment to keep to the standards of the Code. I ask that you keep this commitment to the forefront of your mind as you go out to serve the community.
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. I urge you to absorb it and live by it. I know that the Commissioner is fully committed to ensuring 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.
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 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.