CHECK AGAINST DELIVERY

SPEECH BY MINISTER FOR JUSTICE AND EQUALITY,

MR CHARLES FLANAGAN, T.D.,

AT ANNUAL DELEGATE CONFERENCE OF ASSOCIATION OF GARDA SUPERINTENDENTS

Kilashee House Hotel, Naas, Co Kildare

Wednesday 11 April 2018

 

Introduction

Chair, distinguished delegates and guests. I am delighted to be invited here – for this important annual function of your association.  It is my first opportunity as Minister to address your conference and it is an honour for me to do so.

 

Thank you for your words Superintendent Cunningham.  I want to assure you that I, my officials and the Irish public do indeed see you, overwhelmingly, as professional officers who consistently and continuously rise to the challenge. I hugely value the professionalism and dedication that you, as Garda Superintendents, bring to your work on a daily basis

 

It is good to hear you welcome so much of what is underway, including the Commission on the Future of Policing and the significant Garda recruitment drive – and I hope that in my words now,  will both reassure you further on those counts and indeed address some of your other concerns as well.

 

Delegates, as Minister I am acutely aware that this is not an easy time for An Garda Síochána. In recent times, a number of very serious issues have arisen – issues which, if not properly addressed will have a completely corrosive impact. So they must be tackled.  Tackling them will involve change  - and you know, as I do, that the major programme of change which is underway, is essential in order for An Garda Síochána  to adapt both to what has happened and to the demands of modern policing. 

 

Major change is not easy –it is human nature to be wary of it.  But I believe that the reform programme is grounded in a clear rationale and that its implementation is not just in the best interests of the public but also in the best interests of the service as a whole and of each individual who serves in it.

 

Of course it’s you individuals here, and the colleagues you represent, we are depending on to deliver, in large part, that change.  As the senior leaders in the Garda Síochána, you are the ones who are in a position to, and who have the ability to, drive the reform that will give us the police service that the people of Ireland deserve – one which is trusted and respected and rooted in the community which it serves.  We are depending on you, and you are assured of my support and that of the government as you strive, as I know you will, to achieve that goal.

 

Reform Programme

As to the specifics of the Reform programme well, I welcome the phased introduction of the Divisional Policing model and the Divisional Protected Services Bureaus as I believe they will support the effective, efficient and flexible deployment of Garda resources. 

 

You Superintendents will of course be central to its roll out and your professional experience and knowledge are essential to its development. And I believe it will prove very satisfying for you all, individually and professionally, as it allows you to focus on core policing activities with support functions such as HR, finance and so on, being managed by suitably qualified civilians.

 

And suitably qualified civilians are going to play a much bigger part in An Garda Síochána.  The increasing integration of them is gaining pace.  By 2021, 2,000 new civilian members, with 500 of them due to be recruited this year alone, will bring the percentage of such members up to 20% of the force. Those figures will not only align us more closely with international norms, but they will, far more importantly, release sworn members from non-core areas such as HR, IT, Finance and the Technical Bureau.  We have to do this.  We have to ensure that  Gardaí are engaged in the policing work they are trained for, and not the technical and back office roles that can be carried out by civilian professionals.  I feel very strongly that the civilianisation programme has significant potential to support you in the vital work that you do and I am urging you to embrace it and recognise its clear merits.

 

I want to also make a point about effective oversight. Policing, in all democratic countries, needs appropriate oversight.  Here, the Government established the Policing Authority which has been working hard and effectively to provide that crucial oversight in an independent manner.  It is clear to me that its establishment constitutes a very significant development, indeed, one of the most significant developments in policing since the foundation of the State.  I greatly welcome its establishment of policing priorities and a Policing Plan for 2018, and also of course, its central work on the development of the Code of Ethics.  That Code of Ethics must become deeply embedded within An Garda Síochána, and you, as Superintendents, have an essential role to play in leading your colleagues and our many new recruits to live up to it at all times. I hope you see, like I do, the importance of the Code and also the core role the Authority is playing, in supporting you, and in ensuring in society generally, a continued confidence in your work.  

 

Commission on Future of Policing

Hand-in-hand with the ongoing reforms, there is of course the more fundamental review of  policing in Ireland – the Commission on the Future of Policing in Ireland, chaired by Kathleen O’Toole.  Given the fact that we are approaching the centenary of the establishment of An Garda Síochána, I believe the examination the Commission is carrying out is timely,  it’s also  forensic and I want to say that your co-operation with is invaluable.  I know you aren’t the only people spoken to – far from it - the Commission has engaged with a wide range of stakeholders, so its report, due in September will reflect all view, and it will also, I am sure, map out an ambitious future for An Garda Síochána.

 

Industrial Relations

It’s probably not possible to have a big organisation that doesn’t have some Industrial Relations issues – but I want to say that I very much welcome the fact that the Association of Superintendents has signed up to the Public Service Pay Agreement.  I know there were some issues, I regret that you felt it necessary to take particular actions, but I welcome your engagement with binding arbitration and I am pleased to hear that the process is nearly complete.  I commend your General Secretary Denis Ferry and President Noel Cunningham for the significant efforts they have put in to trying to move to a resolution.

 

Speaking more generally though, there is no doubt that events of recent years have highlighted the need to take a fresh look at how IR matters are dealt with in An Garda Síochána.  That is why I greatly welcome your reengagement with the Working Group which is examining, with the WRC, the internal industrial relations’ structures in An Garda Síochána.  Superintendents are uniquely placed to understand what needs to be put in place to address legitimate grievances fairly as and when they arise; and the other complex and technical task  which is being undertaken, bringing forward  the introduction of enabling legislation to allow access to the WRC and Labour Court, will also certainly benefit from your expertise and experience.

 

Resources - people

We all want a strong and visible police presence - to strengthen community engagement, provide reassurance to citizens and to deter crime.  But of course it’s not possible to provide this presence without sufficient people, equipped with the right tools.

 

Yes, recruitment was suspended during the bleak years of the downturn, but as soon as the Government, with the support and sacrifice of the people, had put the economy on the road to recovery, we put in place a plan to achieve an overall Garda workforce of 21,000,  by 2021.  The plan is that it will be made up of 15,000 members, 2,000 reserves and 4,000 civilians.

 

The 1,800 Gardaí who have passed out from the Garda College since it reopened in September 2014 are visible proof of the progress that has been made in achieving this goal.  Last month 206 officers, the first of the 2018 groups, passed out. By the end of the year they will have been joined by three others, which will bring the total of new members to 800. In all, by the end of 2018, Garda numbers will be at over 14,000 – a net increase of 500 on top of last year’s increase of 600.

 

I’m sure you all know that the increase last year represented the first significant rise in Garda numbers since they started falling in 2009, and it’s something we have all wanted to see. It’s good that we have been able to drive that level of recruitment, but of course we can’t ignore the fact that as the number of new Gardaí increases, so does the requirement for adequate management, supervision and support for them. It is crucial that new members are guided as they develop into committed members who carry out their duties in a manner that does honour to themselves and their organisation and reflects the Code of Ethics – and I know we can depend on your members to play a crucial part in designing systems which ensure that management, supervision and support is what it needs to be.

 

Systems will be needed too of course to integrate, as effectively as possible, new Garda Reserves.  As you know, we undertook a recruitment campaign for Reserves last March and it’s expected that the first class from this campaign will start their training in the Garda College in the coming months.  As is the case with civilian members, I know Reserve members have the potential to add hugely to the overall effectiveness of the service.  Again, I know their integration will mean change, and change can mean challenge, but I am confident that you, as leaders, will be at the forefront of meeting the challenge and the designing the change so that we end up with the best possible modern police service, one with an integrated workforce where police professionals and civilians work together and where their respective skills and expertise are fully recognised. 

 

I know that your Association is engaged in discussions on the roll-out of the reassignment programme. I urge you to embrace it positively and to engage with it constructively. The Commissioner is committed to reassignment being done in a fair way, he is taking account of the length of time and the reason a member may have been away from the front line and he is ensuring that members who are reassigned have the support they need to contribute to operational policing.

 

We are committing the funding to ensure this can all happen… the government has allocated in the order of €1.65 billion, to An Garda Síochána.  A huge overtime allocation of almost €100 million was announced in Budget 2018, to provide large-scale operations.  Together, let’s make sure it is deployed effectively and that we get results. 

 

Resources – Fleet, ICT etc

 

We know of course that results and good policing requires more resources than people ones, and we are doing all we can to make sure the  men and women under your direction have the equipment necessary to carry out their duties too.  This Government has committed to investing substantially in computers, vehicles and accommodation.

 

Between 2013 and 2017,  we spent 44 million euro, as about 2000 new vehicles came on stream in the Garda fleet and between now and 2021, under the Government’s Capital plan, we have earmarked another 30 million, to make sure the fleet remains modern, effective and fit for purpose.

 

There will also be an investment of some €342 million in ICT between 2016 and 2021.  This will fund initiatives under the MRP which will help you to manage the Garda members under your control more efficiently - including computer aided dispatch facilities, and the development of a roster and duty management system.  

 

The proposed investment will also enable all Garda members to deploy the latest cutting-edge technologies which include the recently developed eVetting system, a new Anti-money Laundering application, and the ANPR – automated number plate recognition – system.   Most important is the addition of many new functions to the PULSE system, which itself is supported by a dedicated data entry service in Castlebar. 

 

And we are investing in physical facilities too.  Under the 2016 - 2021 Building and Refurbishment Programme, new Garda stations are being delivered in some key areas, while essential remedial or major refurbishment work is being carried out in others – as we focus on areas including the provision of facilities for meeting victims of crime, and the upgrade of cells and Custody Management Facilities.  And this programme is of course in addition to the investment of some €100 million for the construction of 3 new Divisional Regional headquarters in Dublin (Kevin Street), Wexford and Galway.

 

Crime

Of course, as I have said before, the reason An Garda Síochána needs good industrial relations, good governance, adequate resources and sufficient staffing is because these enable the force to engage in its core function:… fighting crime and protecting the public.

 

You have already expressed your concerns about the potential for increased demands in Border areas because of Brexit.  I understand that concern – and I am aware of the importance of the good relationship you maintain with your fellow officers in the PSNI in Northern Ireland. The joint Cross-Border Policing Strategy is particularly important in terms of improving public safety, disrupting criminal activity and enhancing policing capability for both the Garda Síochána and the PSNI.

 

My Department is deeply involved in the Government’s response to Brexit and is working closely with An Garda Síochána in this regard.  The Garda input into the ongoing discussions between my Department and the UK Home Office in relation to the operation of the Common Travel Area is important.  

 

Brexit continues to present unknowns but I know that you will continue to ensure, as you have done in the past, that Border Areas are policed effectively.

 

Because effective policing is so important in so many areas.  There are so many challenges.

 

Gangland crime continues to be a huge issue.  It has no place in civilised society and I am pleased to report that there has been significant progress in tackling the insidious threat of organised crime, particularly in Dublin’s North Inner City.  I do not underestimate the scale of that challenge and I know that gangland criminals are adept at exploiting technological advances, free movement of people and so forth to advance their agenda.  However, they are being confronted with a more sophisticated, well resourced, and well led Garda force.

 

Operation Hybrid’s co-ordinated response has been robust and effective.  Benefitting from significant support by dedicated and highly trained Armed Support Units, it has delivered, in response to the series of shootings perpetrated by violent criminals in Dublin 

The figures of course are only part of the story and I know that a significant amount of CCTV footage, mobile phone traffic, and forensic evidence has also been examined while investigations of violent incidents, including brutal shootings, are vigorously pursued.

 

And of course it’s not all about Gangland crime.  The Winter Phase of Operation Thor has also yielded impressive results, with operational figures indicating a significant drop in burglary rates for the 2 month period of November / December 2017.   

 

There has been good progress too, with Operation Ketch targeting those possessing and distributing child exploitation material.

  

The recent arrests of 11 persons recently by An Garda Síochána as part of an intelligence-led investigation into alleged sexual exploitation of children shocked the nation. The investigation is ongoing but I must commend the work of An Garda Síochána in making these arrests.   This is incredibly important work, the protection of children, our most vulnerable citizens, is paramount.

 

I am also pleased to note that Divisional Protective Services Units have been established to tackle special crime types, in particular domestic and sexual abuse.  This is such a vital and sensitive area of police work and it is an area I want to see more attention dedicated to - to ensure that we are protecting children as effectively as we can.

 

You will note that when I speak of crime, I speak of figures.  How can one not?  It’s the basic way we assess what is going on, whether or not we are making progress.  We are all aware that it has been some time since official crime statistics were published by the CSO.  I welcome that the process has now begun again, albeit “under reservation”.  I must say it is a concern to me that the issues here are not yet fully resolved and my Department is working to support the resolution of issues.  The most important work, of course, is being undertaken by An Garda Síochána.  It is hugely important for the management of criminal justice policy, and for Garda operations, that we have regular publication of the crime statistics to allow for a targeted response to crime.

 

I also look forward to the outcome of the current review into homicide statistics, which is being carried out in conjunction with the CSO and the Policing Authority.  It aims to ensure that the issues in relation to the crime statistics are resolved as a matter of urgency. 

 

With the publication of the crime statistics I note too, with concern, rises in a number of the crime categories.  This indicates a change in trends which will need to be examined.  I reiterate my commitment, and that of the Government, to providing the resources necessary to tackle all forms of criminality in the State.

 

Appointment of next Commissioner

And finally speaking of commitment, I want to comment on and acknowledge the commitment of Acting Commissioner Donall O’Cualain.  He has met many challenges since taking up the role, and has done and continues to do a fine job.  I would like to take this opportunity to acknowledge that and to thank him for his dedication and service.

 

But as he serves you will be aware that the Public Appointments Service has commenced the process of selecting a new Commissioner with, for the first time, oversight by the Policing Authority.

 

It is essential that the person who ultimately emerges from the selection process has the capacity to lead and develop An Garda Síochána.  It will be an extremely challenging job, especially at a time of such significant growth and reform which is why the government decided that the competition should be an open international one, to ensure that whoever is selected, be they an internal or external candidate, will have been tested against the strongest field possible.

 

I am pleased the process is underway and I want to acknowledge the good work of the Authority and the Public Appointments Service.  The process will take some time, but I expect that the next Commissioner will be in place before the Autumn.

 

So to conclude, can I thank you again for the invitation to address you today and much more importantly, can I reiterate my appreciation for the work that you do.  An Garda Síochána is on the cusp of major changes which will redefine it as an organisation.  How these changes are managed will be of vital importance to the future nature and shape of the police service of this State.  As Superintendents, much of this work will fall to you.

 

I have no doubt that you will rise to meet these challenges.  You provide leadership and essential management in respect of a vital public service for which the government, the public and I as Minister are very grateful.  Thank you for that and thank you for having me.  I look forward to meeting some of you here later and to working with all of you over the coming year.

Thank you.