I move the following amendment to the motion:-
To delete all words after "Dáil Éireann" and substitute the following:-
Acknowledges the vital role of An Garda Síochána in providing security to the State and protection to the public;
Acknowledges the investment of €4m in the Garda fleet in 2012 which provided for the purchase of a total of 213 vehicles and the additional allocation of a dedicated €5m for the purchase of new Garda vehicles in 2013;
Recognises the importance of ensuring the continued capacity of An Garda Síochána to combat crime effectively and welcomes the Government’s commitment to maintain resources at the highest possible level;
Recognises in particular the value of the recent significant reforms in An Garda Síochána in making more efficient use of resources and delivering a more effective policing service;
Recognises the continued success of An Garda Síochána in tackling crime, reflected in the downward trend in most categories of crime;
Supports in particular the measures being taken by An Garda Síochána to tackle organised and gangland crime, including extensive drug seizures and associated arrests, as well as ongoing operations to disrupt and prosecute criminal terrorists;
Welcomes the continued impact Operation Fiacla is having in tackling burglary around the country, with the arrest of 3,538 persons and 1,924 persons charged between April and December 2012
Resolves to continue to support An Garda Síochána in the prevention and detection of crime and the bringing of criminals to justice."
Check against delivery
Earlier there were many tributes paid in this House to Detective Garda Adrian Donohoe following his dreadful murder last Friday night. It was a repulsive and cowardly act which was rightly condemned throughout the country.
As the House will be aware, Adrian’s funeral is taking place tomorrow. This is a time of national mourning at the loss of a fine member of An Garda Síochána.
Bearing this in mind, we had suggested to Fianna Fáil that this debate should, as a mark of respect, be postponed until after the funeral had taken place.
We wanted to avoid a situation where, by engaging in political controversy at this difficult time, this House might be seen as insensitive to the great grief people are suffering. We wanted nothing to happen here which would detract from a united message being sent from this House: a message of condemnation of those brutal killers who were solely responsible for Detective Garda Donohoe's death and of our complete support for the efforts of An Garda Síochána.
Following approaches to Fianna Fáil last Sunday, we learned yesterday morning that Deputy Micheál Martin was unwilling to postpone this debate even for the few days that would have been involved.
I think that there will be general disappointment that Deputy Martin has allowed a situation develop where, when leadership was required, all that was forthcoming was what many will see as ill-timed opportunism and politics as usual.
Of course, I accept that nothing in the Fianna Fáil motion - dealing as it does with the adequacy of resources - has anything to do with the dreadful events of last Friday night. But, for my part, I think it is regrettable that agreement could not be reached on something that simply required some insight and involved basic decency and common humanity.
Obviously, as this debate is, unfortunately, taking place tonight, I am bound to deal as fully as I can with the terms of the motion before the House. However, let there be no doubt but that Fianna Fail’s motion before the House tonight is, in the circumstances, inappropriate, deeply cynical and totally dishonest.
This motion is based on an assumption that the general public suffer from amnesia and that Fianna Fail led Governments were not in office for a continuous period of 14 years up to and including 8th March 2011. Any attempt by Fianna Fáil to criticise me as Minister for Justice or this current Government, in terms of resources allocated to An Garda Síochána shows a level of breathtaking hypocrisy that would be hard to beat and conveniently airbrushes from public debate the Fianna Fail led government’s "National Recovery Plan 2011-2014" published on 24th November 2010 on the eve of that Government’s agreement with the Troika of the 3rd December 2010.
One of the many headaches I inherited when I was appointed as Minister for Justice, in March 2011, was attempting to unravel the expenditure ceilings, contained in the Fianna Fail led Government’s National Recovery Plan which had been agreed for the Justice Sector and which, if applied, would have resulted in devastating cuts in Garda services which I, as Minister for Justice, would not and could not stand over.
I will give you these proposed figures in a moment but the budgetary resources proposed in the Fianna Fáil National Recovery Plan were unacceptable to me as Minister for Justice and Equality and would certainly have put the Garda Commissioner in an impossible position. Fortunately, I was able to secure additional funding, over what was agreed in the Fianna Fáil National Recovery Plan, over the three year period, 2012-2014, to ensure that sufficient funding was available to the Garda Commissioner to enable An Garda Síochána to continue to deliver an effective policing service.
In summary, for the Justice Sector in 2012, I secured €2.243 billion which was an additional €118 million over and above the Fianna Fáil allocation of €2.125 billion. For 2013 I secured funding of €2.2 billion which was €191 million over and above the Fianna Fáil allocation of €2.009 billion, and for 2014, I secured funding of €2.065 billion which was €105 million over and above the original Fianna Fáil allocation of €1.96 billion. Yet they have the brass neck to stand there and tell me that I am not giving the Garda Commissioner sufficient resources to enable An Garda Síochána to police and engage with local communities, to counter criminal terrorism, to fight organised criminal gangs who are intent on terrorising communities across the State and to provide for a sufficient Garda fleet.
I would ask the proposers of today’s Private Members motion to consider their own National Recovery Plan and to reflect on where the Garda Commissioner and An Garda Síochána would have stood with an average of €90 million less each year for 2012, 2013, and 2014 if I had not secured this additional funding.
Members of the House, this was the legacy that Fianna Fáil were happy to bequeath to me as Minister for Justice. So everyone will understand why it is so difficult to listen to the hypocritical guff spouted by Fianna Fáil. It’s a bit like having someone trash your house and then criticise you as you struggle to clear up the mess.
The Fianna Fail motion tonight is critical of the reduction in Garda numbers. Once again Fianna Fail seems to have forgotten that their National Recovery Plan covered in detail the reductions in public service numbers to be effected in the period 2010-2014. It is this document which details a reduction in Garda numbers from 14,500 (31st December 2010) to 13,500 (at 31st December 2011) with a further reduction to 13,350 to be effected by 31st December 2012. It further required reductions by 31st December 2013 to 13,150 and by 31st December 2014 to 13,000. In fact, the number of members of the Garda Force today exceeds the reduced number Fianna Fail intended to bring about by the end of last year.
By implementing crucial reforms such as the new Garda rostering system to which I will make further reference later, and by effecting efficiencies within my Department with the assistance of the Garda Commissioner, we have succeeded in maintaining essential frontline policing services and purchasing additional vehicles for the Garda fleet for which no provision of any nature was made in the 2010 arrangements. In that context, talk of the degradation of the Garda fleet is an absolute nonsense. With regard to Garda numbers, instead of the reduction at the end of 2012 resulting in there being 13,350 members of the Force we were, while staying within budget , able to maintain 13,430 members in the Force, some 80 members more than Fianna Fail envisaged. Moreover, by freeing members of the Force from unnecessary desk jobs by the closure of Garda stations which the Garda Commissioner advised had no operational significance, an additional approximately 160 Gardai were freed up for frontline services.
Even more astonishing is the reference made in Fianna Fail’s motion to the reopening of Templemore college to Garda recruitment "to ensure the Force does not fall to" what Fianna Fail describes as "negligent strength" What Deputy Collins and his Fianna Fail colleagues fail to reference is the fact that recruitment to An Garda Siochana was ended by my predecessor Dermot Ahern and the last recruits entered Templemore in 2009 and the last substantial number of recruits graduated in June 2011. In Fianna Fail’s "National Recovery Plan" published in November 2010, no reference is made to the recommencement of Garda recruitment. It might be of interest to the Members to know that, with a view to maintaining the Garda Force at an appropriate strength, the question of new recruitment is under active consideration and that is an issue that will be addressed by me with my Cabinet colleagues during the course of this year.
In short, people should treat with absolute scepticism and disbelief the criticisms contained in the Fianna Fail motion and the shopping list prescribed by it.
It is clear from the motion that its proposers fail to recognise the reforms implemented which are improving the effectiveness of An Garda Siochana. Their reaction is to oppose everything and their objective is to reform nothing. Whilst predicting dire consequences resulting from beneficial change. Fianna Fail’s objective is to generate substantial unnecessary public alarm and concern for self serving perceived political gain.
Finance and Resources
It goes without saying that no Minister would choose to have to operate in this appalling financial position. Notwithstanding this, I have done everything possible to maintain the resources available to An Garda Síochána at the highest possible level. There is a budget of over €1.4 billion available for the force in 2013 and, by any standards, this is a substantial amount. It is also worth noting that, despite the cuts in last year's budget, I managed to make available some €4 million that enabled the purchase of 213 new Garda vehicles in 2012. I have also secured dedicated funding of €5 million for the purchase of a significant number of new vehicles in 2013.
I am also very pleased that the provision of three new Garda Divisional Headquarters for Kevin Street in Dublin, Galway and Wexford was included in the special Government stimulus package announced last July. I believe that the provision of these facilities will significantly enhance Garda capacity to carry out their functions more effectively. The projects are to be delivered by means of a Public Private Partnership and discussions are currently taking place between the relevant agencies in the light of the Government announcement.
Let me address the question of the closure of some Garda stations.
In 2012, 39 Garda Stations were closed. 8 of these had not been opened for a number of years. Their closure was a paper exercise which simply recognised reality, a reality concealed by my immediate predecessors. Many more were only one or two member stations. This year, following a comprehensive assessment by the Garda Commissioner of the Garda Station network, a further 100 are listed for closure in the Commissioner’s Policing Plan for 2013.
Prior to the closures which took place last year, the Garda station network was essentially the same as the Royal Irish Constabulary network in 1922. Such a large-scale static deployment of resources is no longer appropriate in the present day, where the transport and communications infrastructure have been transformed beyond recognition. The Garda Síochána have a class-leading police computer system, a state-of-the-art digital radio system, and a transport fleet which is currently receiving significant investment. The new Garda roster currently being piloted provides a better match between Garda availability and policing demand. All of these developments enable the Garda Síochána to be more mobile and flexible, and to deliver a more effective policing service.
We also need to be honest about the level of policing service that was capable of being provided from the stations that were and are to be closed. Of the 100 stations to be closed in 2013, 98% are open part-time, 94% are open for 3 hours a day or less, 88% are served by 1 Garda and only 5% are served by 3 or more Garda personnel.
Some critics have complained that the station closures will save only small amounts of money and, of course, in doing so they completely miss the point. The objective is to maximise the time that our well-trained and highly skilled Gardai spend on operational duties. This is about smart policing and the most efficient and effective deployment of Garda resources. It is the Garda Commissioners view that a country the size of Ireland, with a population of 4.5 million, does not, in the 21st Century, need 700 Garda stations. It is nothing less than scaremongering to suggest that reducing that network to 564 Garda stations is a cause for fear and anxiety. The Garda Commissioner has concluded that, in his professional opinion, a more effective and efficient policing service can be provided by releasing Gardaí for frontline service in the communities concerned. By way of comparison, there are 83 police stations in Northern Ireland for its population of 1.4 million and 340 stations in Scotland for its population of 5.2 million. In the London Metropolitan area, 66 police stations are due to close, leaving 73 police stations open to the public. Are the naysayers seriously suggesting that, with the advances we have seen in modern policing, transport and technology, we should act as if time had stood still since 1922?
Commissioner Callinan has stated that the revised structures will continue to support the Garda community philosophy through the clustering of services at policing hubs. This centralisation of services will facilitate the introduction of enhanced patrolling arrangements which, in turn, will provide increased Garda visibility as well as maintaining existing Garda links with communities throughout the country. The objective will be to ensure that the best possible policing service will continue to be provided to our communities.
In addition, An Garda Siochana has recently acquired a number of vehicles which are being converted into mobile Garda offices and it is planned that they will be assigned to areas where Garda stations have been closed to ensure that members of the public can continue to conduct their business and interact with members of An Garda Síochána.
I am entirely confident that, following the Garda Station network consolidation process which is taking place, An Garda Síochána will continue to provide a professional, efficient and effective policing service to all communities.
Stations are owned by the Office of Public Works and Minister Brian Hayes has confirmed that, if an appropriate community management structure is put in place, the closed stations can be utilised for local community purposes and this can be of considerable benefit to a variety of local voluntary organisations who currently lack appropriate facilities.
It is important to reiterate that the planned closure of Garda stations will not diminish Community policing which is at the heart of policing in Ireland. This has been consistently emphasised by the Garda Commissioner and his Annual Policing Plan for 2013 highlights the importance of An Garda Síochána working with communities to tackle behaviour that affects the quality of life of people throughout our cities and towns.
In addition to the role that all Gardaí have to play in community policing,
there are more than 1,000 Gardaí dedicated to Community policing countrywide.
Gardaí continue to work closely with all communities to enhance community safety through a wide range of local fora such as Community Alert and Neighbourhood Watch.
My Department, along with the HSE has, for many years, supported the work of the Community Alert programme, which was set up in 1985 by Muintir na Tíre in association with the Garda authorities. This programme has since developed into a national movement comprising over 1,300 local groups which work with the Gardaí to promote crime prevention and improve the security of older and vulnerable persons in the community. .
Delivery of Garda Services
An Garda Síochána has risen to the challenges that it faces in the current economic climate. Change is being delivered in cooperation with the members and staff in the Garda Síochána.
Without doubt, the single biggest transformation project in the Garda Síochána, and arguably in the public service, has been the development and implementation of a new roster system in the Force. Not only does the new roster provide a more effective policing service, it also protects the health and welfare of the members of the Garda Síochána. The new Garda roster system ensures that resources are optimally deployed when and where they are required, to every part of the community, both rural and urban. Evidence of the new roster is immediately apparent on our streets as more Gardaí are on duty at times of peak demand and fewer during quieter periods. This is essentially what this reform is about – doing things differently but doing them more effectively.
There are discussions under way on revisions to the Public Service Agreement. These discussions are focussed on the unpalatable truth that the public service pay bill must be reduced. I do not wish to pre-empt the outcome of the talks by making any further comment at this time other than to confirm that I am firmly committed to ensuring that resources remain at the highest level possible that will enable the Garda Commissioner, his senior management team and all members of An Garda Síochána to continue to deliver an outstanding policing service to the people of Ireland.
In response to allegations about increased crime levels across the country, the crime statistics for the 12 months ending on 30th September 2012, show reductions in 12 of the 14 crime groups. Crimes against the person are down including homicide offences (down 17.9%), sexual offences (down 0.7%) and assault and related offences (down 9.5%). Public order and damage to property offences are also down (by 12% and 9.3% respectively) as are drug offences (down 7.1%) and weapons and explosives offences (down 17.4%). Burglaries, however, increased by 10.3% during the period.
I am acutely aware of the concerns which exist about the incidence of burglaries, and also the corrosive effect which the fear of crime, can have on community morale. In particular, I am concerned about the impact on elderly and more vulnerable people. In response to the increase in the number of burglaries, Operation Fiacla was set up by the Garda Commissioner and is particularly focused on identifying and targeting mobile gangs involved in burglaries around the country. Operation Fiacla has been, and continues to be extremely effective. In the period from April 2012 to the end of December 2012 it resulted in 3,538 persons being arrested and 1,924 persons being charged. In addition, the latest quarterly figures for burglary suggest that Operation Fiacla is having an impact, when compared with the quarterly figures prior to its introduction.
These figures, taken together with the robust response of the Gardaí in tackling gangland crime and the activities of paramilitary organisations, are clear evidence that, while the Gardaí cannot avoid the economic realities, they have been more than able to continue to respond effectively to crime
With regard to aggravated burglaries, I can assure this House that An Garda Síochána is taking all available measures to respond to this type of crime especially to the shocking incidents which we have seen recently. While clearly any statistical improvements are no consolation to those who have endured dreadful experiences at the hands of burglars, it is nonetheless important to mention that the most recent crime figures show that the number of aggravated burglaries is down when compared with the previous 12 months.
I share the widespread outrage at gang related criminal activity and I fully appreciate the concerns of communities on whose streets this violence takes place. The brutal nature of these crimes is a stark reminder to us of the mentality of those involved in organised criminality and the danger which they pose to our society.
I am in ongoing contact with the Garda Commissioner about all aspects of serious crime and the Gardaí will continue to bear down heavily on the activities of those involved in gangland crime. The only effective way to combat organised crime is by disrupting and prosecuting those involved in its operations, and especially the drugs trade which is at the heart of much of its profits.
We shouldn't underestimate the difficulties the Gardaí face in trying to prevent gangland killings and related crimes and in bringing the perpetrators to justice. These crimes are carefully planned and are carried out by people who are very familiar with criminal and forensic investigation techniques. Moreover, despite the clear risk to themselves, members of gangs will not generally cooperate with Garda investigations. Despite these difficulties the Gardaí have been able to bring people before the courts, particularly in relation to a number of high profile killings in the past couple of years, although it will be some time before those cases are disposed of
This is not a budgetary matter. In this context, the Commissioner has made it clear that where resources are needed to combat serious and organised crime, those resources will be made available. The number of gangland murders was, in fact, higher when Garda numbers were higher than they are now. It is also unrealistic to expect that the Commissioner would devote his entire resources to individually protecting people who are routinely trying to avoid the Gardaí so that they can continue to engage in criminal activity. Such an approach could only come at the expense of ordinary Garda activity to protect the community generally.
There is already very strong anti-gangland legislation in place. I have made it clear to the Garda Commissioner that, if he feels there are other measures which might be taken in this area, I will look at that very positively. But it is misleading to suggest that there is some simple legislative solution which will prevent dangerous criminals from trying to kill each other. If that were the case it would have been enacted years ago.
Countering the threat from criminal terrorism on this island has always been a top priority for the Garda Síochána and nothing has changed in that regard.
Despite the many positive developments there have been over recent years in Northern Ireland, the Gardaí have never let up in their efforts to counteract those groups whose only objective is to drag our island back to a dark past. The Force has a proud record in this respect standing in defence of the State.
The Gardaí will continue to be fully supported in their efforts to counter the activities of these subversive criminals. As I said, the fight against terrorism has been and remains an absolute priority for the Garda authorities. That will not change.
I can assure the House that the Gardaí continue to co-operate seamlessly with their police and security counterparts in Northern Ireland in bearing down on these groups to stop their activities.
The shared objective of the Government and the authorities in Northern Ireland is to enhance community safety on the whole of this island. We will continue, in co-operation with the authorities in Northern Ireland, to spare no effort to ensure that those criminal terrorists who seek to subvert the democratic will of the people will face the full rigours of the law.
Members of the Garda Síochána are more than members of a police service. They are called into an enormous variety of situations on a daily basis. These calls bring with them attendant risks which they must assess and deal with regularly. We must fully appreciate the work they are doing on our behalf for they are, in the words of Robert Peel, members of the public who are paid to give full-time attention to duties which are incumbent upon every citizen in the interests of community welfare and existence. In this respect, a safe society is the responsibility of every member of that society and not just the Gardaí. The interconnection between Gardaí and community is a vital one in the successful delivery of a policing service in Ireland.
Neither I as Minister nor this Government will shirk in our responsibility to do everything we can to ensure that that connection is not broken and that the best possible resources are made available to An Garda Síochána. It is regrettable that, on a day when we should all stand united in our support for An Garda Siochana, that Fianna Fail insisted in debating this disingenuous and dishonest motion.