Ladies and Gentlemen, it gives me great pleasure to be here today on what is a breakthrough 'red letter' day in the history of An Garda Síochána. I am very pleased to say that today the 14,000th recruit passes through the gates of Templemore. For the first time ever, since its foundation in 1922, over 14,000 men and women will proudly wear the blue uniform of An Garda Síochána. This means that the number of attested Gardaí plus recruits in training now stands at a record high of 14,137 and that the commitment in the Agreed Programme for Government to recruit an additional 2,000 members of An Garda Síochána has been met. The significance of this milestone can be appreciated when one looks at the Force strength of 10,702 in June 1997, and 11,748 when this Government took office in June 2002.
The recruitment of so many members, within such a tight timescale, has been an enormous logistical challenge, and I want to congratulate An Garda Síochána, and all those who have worked with them, on this achievement. Key to this was a huge expansion in the capacity of the Garda College, which involved the building in record time of a magnificent new 20m Euro facility, incorporating a new library, gym and other facilities for students and I'll shortly have the pleasure of officially opening the latest of these facilities. In-service training was also outsourced to a hotel in Nenagh, to free up the Garda College for recruits, and I understand that this is going very well. The provision of these new facilities within the College is tangible recognition by Government that modern police training is a continuous and ongoing process.
That commitment by Government to invest in police training is also evidenced by the recent expenditure of 4.3 million Euro by the OPW, on behalf of Garda, on Dromard House and 250 acres of land, approximately 5 miles from here. This will be used as the new major tactical and practical training centre for the Force. The acquisition of this new facility will enable a broad range of training facilities to be developed for An Garda Síochána including facilities for indoor and outdoor firearms training, and training in such areas as public order, Mountain Bikes, the Equestrian Mounted Unit, the Dog unit, the Water Unit, surveillance and the like. It will also be used for driver training of various vehicle types, including off-road vehicles, and a broad range of other requirements. Together with the College itself, it will provide An Garda Síochána with world-class training facilities.
I would like to acknowledge the contribution of the OPW to achieving today's milestone which could not have been done without their hard work and professionalism. I also wish to pay tribute to the staff of the canteen who have continued to provide their usual excellent service throughout all the building work.
The commitment to investment is also reflected in the An Garda Síochána Budget, which now stands at 1.3 billion Euro, a 13% increase on 2005 and an 85% increase since 1997 in real terms. That is a massive investment in our Police Force and in the creation of a safe and just society.
Apart from this programme of physical investment in An Garda Síochána, there is a significant programme of reform and renewal under way. Underlying this is the Garda Síochána Act 2005, the most significant legislation on the Force since its foundation. The Act establishes the Garda Síochána Ombudsman Commission and the Garda Síochána Inspectorate. It provides for a Professional Standards Unit in An Garda Síochána. It makes the Garda Commissioner the Accounting Officer for the Force and gives him powers of procurement. It transfers to the Garda Commissioner authority in relation to the civilian staff of the Force. It provides for Garda Síochána corporate strategies, annual policing plans and annual reports. It also brings about a significant change in the Garda promotion system. Promotion boards from now on will have civilian majorities, and will operate under new regulations which formalise the requirement for all competitions to be held in a manner which is fair, impartial and objective, in line with best practise, consistent, open, accountable and transparent. The new Promotion Regulations were agreed with all the Garda Representative Associations. Competitions under the new procedures are already underway.
I have also recently established a four person Advisory Group, under the chairmanship of Senator Maurice Hayes, to advise the Garda Commissioner on the issues of management and leadership development in the Force. I have very recently received reports from the Advisory Group and the Garda Inspectorate, which I will publish in the very near future.
The changes under way have already had a direct impact on the intake of Garda recruits and the work in this College. The maximum recruitment age for entry to the Force has been increased from 26 to 35 years, and the mandatory requirement to have a knowledge of the Irish language has been replaced by a requirement for knowledge of two languages, one of which must be Irish or English. Eligibility for membership of the Force has also been extended to nationals of EEA states and to anyone lawfully in the State for 5 years. These measures have widened the pool of persons who may apply for positions in the Garda Síochána, and have opened up membership of An Garda Síochána to our minority and ethnic communities. The changes will enable An Garda Síochána to be a modern and responsive police force which reflects the diversity of Irish society.
There has also been excellent progress made in relation to the establishment of the Garda Reserve. Over 7,000 men and women from every county in Ireland have applied to join the Garda Reserve. Reserve members will provide valuable support for their full-time colleagues and will enhance the capacity of the Garda Síochána to respond to emerging policing challenges and allow for more Gardaí to be visibly deployed on the street. The first group of trainees commenced training here in September 2006. They will be back here in the College next weekend for phase three of their training and are due to graduate in December. Reserve members will work alongside full-time Gardaí, assisting them in those areas of work which the Commissioner has identified as appropriate. The Reserve will free-up members for the challenging tasks for which full-time, professional Gardaí have been trained. Reserve members will not replace full-time Gardaí but they are a significant additional resource. The Government's commitment to resourcing the full-time Force can be in no doubt on this day when the strength exceeds 14,000 for the first time.
Before I finish, I would like to warmly welcome the intake of 280 new recruits to the Garda College here this morning. As you embark on the training programme to become a member of An Garda Síochána today, I want to congratulate you on taking this step to become part of an organisation held in such high esteem both at home and abroad. You have before you a career that will bring you immense fulfilment in serving your local communities, your country and the international community.
It gives me great delight to be here today on this historic day and I look forward to returning for your graduation ceremonies at the end of your studies.
6 November 2006