Check against delivery


Cathaoirleach,

I move the following amendment to the motion:-

To delete all words after "Seanad 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 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 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 the continued success of An Garda Síochána in tackling crime, reflected in the downward trend in most categories of crime;

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;

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

and

Resolves to continue to support An Garda Síochána in the prevention and detection of crime and the bringing of criminals to justice."

 

Cathaoirleach,

Before I commence today, I would like to join with all the Members of this House who have expressed their revulsion and deep sadness at the brutal murder of Detective Garda Adrian Donohoe and to extend again my condolences to his family and to all members of An Garda Síochána.  May he rest in peace.

One of the many headaches I inherited when I was appointed  Minister for Justice, in March 2011, was attempting to unravel the expenditure ceilings for the Justice sector which were contained in the Fianna Fail led Government’s National Recovery Plan. If these ceilings had been applied, they would have resulted in devastating cuts in Garda services which I, as Minister for Justice, would not and could not stand over.

The Fianna Fáil National Recovery Plan was unacceptable and would certainly have put the Garda Commissioner in an impossible position. Fortunately, I was able to secure additional funding over the three year period, 2012-2014, to ensure that the Garda Commissioner and indeed An Garda Síochána could 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.   With the Fianna Fail National Recovery Plan the Garda Commissioner and An Garda Síochána would have stood with an average of €90 million less each year for 2012, 2013, and 2014.

Members of the House, this was the legacy Fianna Fáil were happy to bequeath to me as Minister for Justice.  So you will understand why it is so difficult to listen to the hypocrisy of Fianna Fáil as they attempt to erase their National Recovery Plan from public memory. 

This motion is also critical of the reduction in Garda numbers.  Once again, the proposers seem to have forgotten their own National Recovery Plan. That plan detailed a reduction in Garda numbers from a strength of 14,500 on 31st December 2010 to 13,500 at the end of 2011. It  proposed further reductions to 13,350 by 31st December 2012, 13,150 by 31st December 2013 and to 13,000 by 31st December 2014.    In fact, the number of Gardai in the Force today exceeds, by approximately 80,  the number Fianna Fail intended to bring about by the end of last 2012.

The Garda Commissioner has succeeded in maintaining essential frontline policing services by the implementation of important and necessary reforms including the new Garda Rostering system.  I also made additional funding available last year and in 2013 for the purchase of vehicles for the Garda fleet for which no provision of any nature was made in 2009.  In that context, talk of the degradation of the Garda fleet is an absolute nonsense.

 213 new Garda vehicles were purchased in 2012 and the dedicated funding of €5 million in 2013 will allow for the purchase of a significant number of new vehicles this year.

Fianna Fail’s motion refers to the reopening of  Templemore College to Garda recruitment. Recruitment to An Garda Síochána was ended by my predecessor Dermot Ahern.  The most recent recruits to enter Templemore did so in 2009 and the last substantial number of recruits graduated in June 2011. In Fianna Fail’s "National Recovery Plan" no reference is made to the recommencement of Garda recruitment. The question of new recruitment is under active consideration and it is an issue that I will address with my Cabinet colleagues during the course of this year.
 
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.

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.   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. 

Station Closures

Let me address the question of the closure of some Garda stations.

39 Garda Stations were closed in 2012.  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.  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.   95 of these closed last Thursday 31st January. The remainder will close in the coming months.

The Garda station network was inherited from the Royal Irish Constabulary network in 1922 on the foundation of the State.  Such a large-scale static deployment of resources is no longer appropriate in the present day, where the transport and communications infrastructure has 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 listed for closure in 2013.   Of the 100 stations on the list, 98% opened part-time, 94% opened for 3 hours a day or less, 88% were manned by 1 Garda and only 5% manned by 3 or more Garda personnel. 

Some critics have complained that the station closures will save only small amounts of money but to do so completely misses the point.  The objective is to maximise the time that our well-trained and highly skilled Gardaí 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 a more effective and efficient policing service can be provided by releasing the maximum possible number of Gardaí for frontline service in our communities.  This is his professional opinion and it would be entirely wrong of me, as Minister for Justice, to second guess his expertise in this matter. 

It is unfortunate and regrettable that some public representatives have been fuelling public fear regarding the impact of the closure of Garda stations.  In fact, I am advised by the Garda Commissioner that Garda station closures in 2013 will result in an extra 61,000 Garda patrol hours.

For those who believe the stations provide a deterrent to criminals the sad fact is that this is not true. Clear evidence of this reality was shown by the appalling events of the robbery of Oldcastle Post Office on 31st January following the holding captive of two people at their home.  Oldcastle Post Office is adjacent to the Garda station to which, in turn, four Garda members are assigned.  The station is scheduled to be open for 3 hours a day on weekdays and Sundays and 2 hours on Saturdays  - subject to manpower availability. We must move beyond the simplistic notion that Garda Stations are a deterrent to serious criminals. 

Some have painted the Garda station consolidation process as an attack on rural Ireland.  However, the 2 largest stations listed for closure in 2013 are Stepaside in my own constituency of Dublin South and Kill O’ the Grange in the Tanaiste’s constituency of Dun Laoghaire.   In 2012 the 3 largest Garda Stations to be closed were Harcourt Terrace, Whitehall and Dalkey all of which were also in Dublin.   

Let there be no misconception – the objective of  modernising and re-calibrating  the Garda Station network is  to ensure that Garda resources are used in the best and most efficient way possible, in both rural and urban areas, to the benefit of all law-abiding people who reside in this State. 

In relation to my own constituency of Dublin South, Stepaside Garda Station is situated 3 miles from  Dundrum Garda Station.  It is the opinion of the Garda Commissioner that there is no operational benefit to maintaining these 2 Garda Stations in such close proximity.

As a constituency representative there is no doubt that my life would be more comfortable if Stepaside Garda Station was not on the list for closure - but I accept the professional advice of the Garda Commissioner on foot of the operational assessment conducted throughout the country including in my own constituency. 

In a different era Ministers could be predicted to block any contentious development within their own constituency to protect themselves locally from adverse comment. However, I believe it is important to make the right decision not the politically personally advantageous decision and, for that reason I reiterate, I will not second guess the professional advice of Commissioner Callinan.


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?

Garda Stations come under the control of 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. This can be of considerable benefit to a variety of local voluntary organisations who currently lack appropriate facilities.

Community Policing

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.  
In addition, An Garda Síochána 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.

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.

This revised roster was introduced under the provisions of the Public Service Agreement. Everyone in this House will be aware that discussions are under way on revisions to the Public Service Agreement. I am disappointed to hear that some organisations have chosen to absent themselves from the discussions on any reductions in allowances and I would hope that they will reconsider this decision. The 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.

I encourage all those who are engaged in this process to remain in dialogue to find a solution to the problems that all of us are facing.

Crime

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 7.9% 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 and 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 January 2013 it resulted in 3,903 persons being arrested and 2,142 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. Indeed the most recent crime figures show that the number of aggravated burglaries is down when compared with the previous 12 months.
 
I can assure this House that An Garda Síochána is taking all available measures to respond to this type of crime, especially to what has happened in Oldcastle and the other shocking incidents which we have seen recently. 

Gangland violence


I share the widespread outrage at gang related criminal activity.  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.

Criminal terrorism

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 criminal 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.  The fight against criminal terrorism has been and remains an absolute priority for the Garda authorities.  That will not change.

The shared objective of the Government and the authorities in Northern Ireland is to enhance community safety on the whole of this island. I can assure the House that 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.

Conclusion

Members of the Garda Síochána provide a vital service to the public. 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. And we have had a dreadful reminder of the extent of these risks. We must never forget this nor take them for granted for doing their work on our behalf. 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.

Ends