Distinguished guests, staff of the Probation Service, ladies and gentlemen.
I am delighted to be here today at the invitation of your Director, Michael Donnellan, to perform the official opening of the new office complex here in Haymarket and to launch the Annual Report of the Probation Service for what was an auspicious year in the history of the Service.
The Probation Service
The Probation Service is a key agency of the criminal justice system and I am very pleased to be here amongst the staff and guests today to open this new building in Haymarket. The Service grew from humble beginnings which we are reminded of when we look at the timeline of events set out at the beginning of the Annual Report for 2007. The Probation of Offenders Act was enacted in 1907 and the first probation officer appointed in 1908. That legislation still underpins the work of the Service one hundred years later.
It is true to say that the Probation Service has been on a journey of substantial change and modernisation supported by my Department and the Government since the appointment of your Director and his senior management team in 2005/2006. In association with this restructuring at senior management level there was recognition by the Government that more resources were needed to support and enhance the role of the Service as a key partner in the fight against crime. In all some 71 new posts were sanctioned for the Service in 2007 and this has allowed the Director to prioritise core work areas in a more focussed way. The process of modernisation has been welcomed and supported by the staff of the Service serving in offices across the country. You deliver and strive to make a positive difference – that is your role and you do it very well.
For a moment I want to reflect on a few of the key areas of change which include:
• Refocusing the core work of the Service in a strategic way by making best use of resources numbering over 500 staff. This has been done by realigning responsibilities into new operational regions so that staff across the country can be more responsive to the client group;
• Setting up the Young Persons’ Probation Division to implement the Children Act and to work closely with the Irish Youth Justice Service; and
• Developing an enhanced basis for funding to community based organisations and ensuring that projects are adding value to the core work of the Service.
It is interesting to look back on the history of this area - it has a unique history since it was laid out in the mid 17th century - then known as Oxmantown Green - with the intention of mirroring St. Stephen’s Green very close to my own offices. Unfortunately it didn’t quite live up to its own expectations and ended up as a pig and cattle marketplace. As you will know Smithfield is one of Dublin’s oldest trading and residential areas - the famous Smithfield markets have held a special place in the hearts of Dubliners for generations. Even today the first Sunday in each month is marked by the traditional horse market which takes place here. The old Jameson Distillery and the new Luas Line combine to create a model of modern metropolitan living with services at your doorstep and the city centre a mere walk away.
Looking around us this afternoon I think you will agree that this is a fine example of quality accommodation located at the heart of the ‘legal quarter’ of Dublin, between the Four Courts and the new Criminal Courts Complex being built at Conyngham Road.
It goes without saying that we must continue to ensure that the offices from which staff work and stakeholders visit are to the highest standard. This new building is in keeping with the overall commitment of the Service to continue to change, to transform and to deliver a quality, focussed and efficient service. The layout of the building, as you’ll see when you walk through it, reflects the ethos of the Service – team working and partnership. The Service’s ethos of interdependence and co-operation between internal and external stakeholders is visible in the transparency of the entrance as it blends with the cobble-stoned streetscape.
The bringing to completion of this building is due in large measure to the Office of Public Works - in particular Greg Devlin, Senior Architect; Paul Molloy, Principal Officer; Robert Guihen and Philip Kenny – for their work in designing and fitting out this building to such a high specification. We owe them our thanks for this high level of professionalism.
Annual Report for 2007
I talked a little earlier about the work which this organisation does and the changes that have taken place over more recent years. That work, often done quietly, achieving an outcome that helps an offender or supports a family is a vital element of the criminal justice system. It is true that perhaps, in the past, the work of the Service did not receive the recognition that it should and does deserve. When you look through the 2007 Annual Report of the Probation Service I hope you will get a flavour of the range of work that is expertly done. This Annual Report marks a century of probation service in Ireland. I was particularly taken by the inside front cover of the report, to which I alluded a little earlier, which highlights significant events relating to the Probation Service since 1907. Putting life in Ireland in context in those 100 years the key dates in the history of the development of the Service are juxtaposed with key social, economic and political dates in Ireland during this past century. The Service has gone from strength to strength in an ever changing Ireland, taking on and relishing additional responsibilities arising as they can from legislation and/or the changing face of criminality as we know it today.
This 2007 Report marks also the completion of the work plan of strategic actions outlined in the Service’s Strategy Statement 2006-2007 Supporting and Delivering Change.
I referred a little earlier to some of the developments that have taken place to ensure that today’s Probation Service is well placed to meet the challenges coming its way. As the 2007 report shows with a new management structure in place the Service commissioned an audit of its services to inform its restructuring and redeployment of resources resulting in:
• Service regions being reorganised and teams aligned on a county basis to improve effectiveness, efficiency and increase output and delivery;
• Offender assessment teams were established in key hubs in Dublin, Cork and Limerick;
• Resources were re-allocated on the basis of assessed risk of re-offending and harm of the client groupings; and
• Drug Treatment and Homeless Offender initiatives were strengthened.
The report gives us a good overview of the core work of the Service, namely the assessment and supervision of offenders. The assessments done by probation officers inform decisions on sentencing and risk management – both in the community and in custody. In 2007, close to 9,000 assessment reports were prepared by Service personnel. This is quite a significant figure and highlights, if that is needed, the importance of having such reports available to the courts and other bodies such as the Parole Board and my Department.
A second important strand of the work of Probation Officers is the supervision of offenders in the community either on:
• Community Service;
• Deferment of Penalty; or
• Supervision of ex-prisoners.
In 2007 close to 8,000 cases were referred to the Service for supervision.
As I mentioned earlier a Young Persons Probation (YPP) is established as a specialised division within the Probation Service. Staff in YPP work with young people aged 12-18 who come before the courts and who are in Children Detention Schools. YPP teams undertake family conferencing and implement parenting and other orders under the Children Act 2001. The Probation Service contributes to the National Implementation Group on Children Services Committees overseen by my colleague Mr. Barry Andrews T.D., Minister for Youth and Children.
Intrinsic to the work of the Service is community support. Last year over €21m was provided through my Department to a range of community based projects that support the work of the Service in the management of offenders with the support and active participation of men and women in communities across the country. This funding supports and adds value to the core work of the Service and contributes to the re-integration of offenders back into communities.
I want to congratulate the management and staff of the Probation Service for the way you have wholeheartedly embraced change and adapted to the range of challenges that very definitely were not there when the 1907 Act was framed. I am confident that the Probation Service will continue to grow and develop bringing your rich heritage of commitment, energy and vision to achieving safer communities through respect, accountability, restoration and social inclusion. I wish you well in your work going forward and complement each and every one of you on what has been achieved so far. Your work epitomises what good public service is all about. As Minister I look forward to working closely with you so that the combined efforts of all of the agencies of the criminal justice system can, with the full support of the Government, continue to strive with confidence to meet the challenges of today’s criminality.
Thank you once again for this opportunity to join you this afternoon on this very special occasion.