Check against delivery

 

Mr President, Commissioner, Executive members, delegates, distinguished guests, ladies and gentlemen,

Introduction

I was delighted to accept your kind invitation to address your annual conference. It presents me with an opportunity to express my appreciation to each of you for the work that you are doing in the management of policing in this country.

Physical security

Individual members of the Garda Síochána, every day, put their lives on the line for their fellow citizens. The roll of honour of those killed in the line of duty that we have just seen is a testament to the dangers that all Gardaí face and we must never forget that. I feel it is appropriate at this point to remember Detective Garda Adrian Donohoe who was so brutally and callously murdered in January this year. The Force is deeply respected by the people of Ireland, having maintained the integrity of the State since its foundation. In the turmoil that was Europe in the twentieth century, Ireland had a remarkable achievement. This newly independent nation - with its newly formed police force – was stable. We tend now to forget what happened in so much of the rest of Europe; we tend to take our own record of stability and security for granted. Yet, we could not have had this without the assuredness, the professionalism, the determination to put the country first that characterises An Garda Síochána. You have good reason to be proud.

Financial security

Then there is the other sort of security – financial. Almost every family in this State has had to shoulder an economic burden which was not of their making. Grotesquely irresponsible policies of Government expenditure in the period 2002-2010, put Ireland on a vicious circle of spiralling wages and spiralling property prices – all fired up by a euro zone low interest rate regime that was out of sync with Ireland’s needs at the time. Short term political benefit drove the Government of the time to abandon basic economic sanity; meanwhile, short term financial benefit drove those in the managements and board rooms of our banks to throw traditional banking practices and ordinary prudence to the wind. The country’s financial security was attacked from within – blown apart by those who had been trusted to protect it. This was not your fault. It was not my fault. It was not the fault of the vast majority of people of Ireland. Unfair though it is, the burden of now restoring our financial security is a task which falls on you, me and everyone else.

Garda management have the task of managing our physical security. This is a demanding challenge at the best of times. To have to do this while also taking on the burden of helping in the management of our financial security is extraordinarily difficult.

The unavoidable fact is that, as Minister for Justice, in real terms in 2013, I have €162 million less available to me than was available in 2011. By far the largest part of the Justice budget goes to An Garda Síochána, being a sum of €1.4 billion in 2013. Under plans published by our predecessors in Government and agreed with the Troika in 2010, I would have had €90 million less available to me for An Garda Síochána, for each of the years, 2012, 2013 and 2014 but fortunately I succeeded in having the figures recalibrated and these sums restored. My colleagues in Government and I have taken what we believe to be the fair view – that the horrendous burden of reducing public expenditure will be borne by everyone in the public service; no category of personnel is exempt. No one paid out of the public purse can be singled out for preferential treatment.

We have made a good start to the year on many fronts. The economy is growing, we are meeting our EU/IMF targets and we are on track to get back into the markets to allow us to borrow money at competitive rates. The agreement on the Promissory Note was a particularly key moment for our emergence from the crisis and the deal achieved by the Minister for Finance last Friday makes our debt more manageable. The correction of the public finances will also enhance economic growth prospects and thus support the environment for job creation – at a time when we have over 400,000 people who are unemployed we simply must get people back to work as a matter of urgency.

The Government is acutely aware that the fiscal adjustment to date has been extremely difficult for everybody. Even though we are now most of the way through this necessary process the final part of that journey will not be easy. And I acknowledge that it may be difficult for people to see this progress if they are struggling themselves financially.

Although there has been significant progress, we remain over-reliant on borrowing to fund public services and pay people’s wages, pensions and social welfare benefits. Now, more than ever, there is a greater need to deliver public services more effectively and efficiently than heretofore. The reality is that we are now working with reduced numbers and budgets at a time when demand for services in areas such as health, social welfare, education and of course policing are actually increasing. Despite reducing our borrowing, we are still dependent on €12 billion of bailout funding this year. And we are not just borrowing for past expenditure; we are borrowing for today’s expenditure. In order for us to continue to do this, we have to show that we are moving in the right direction, further reducing our borrowing each year. Any other approach would lead to an impossible difficulty in borrowing and then inevitably to a very sharp-shock cut in public spending. This would have severe consequences for every public servant and for the Irish people in general.

In that scenario, in such an economic Armageddon, social disorder would almost inevitably spread and the link between financial instability and social instability would become all too apparent. We can and must avoid such dangerous times. This means that every area of public expenditure must demonstrably show savings – including that area for which you and I share special responsibility… justice.

I want the help of every member of the Garda Síochána to make Ireland a secure, stable place in which we and our families can plan to live. This goes further than the practical improvements to policing and public security. I also want your help in bringing Ireland through this financial crisis and out the far end.

Members of the Garda Síochána at Superintendent rank provide a key service in delivering not just the policing services required by society but also in delivering on the changes in that policing service. You are delivering that change through the new roster system, through the amalgamation of Garda Districts and through the modernisation and consolidation of the Garda station network. These changes are not just for the sake of change itself but with the clear objective of providing a more efficient and effective policing service to the entire community. They will lessen administrative burdens, provide more operational efficiencies and have more Gardaí on duty when they are needed most. I want to commend you for your leadership in bringing these projects to fruition. The task involved in providing leadership and direction in these most difficult times is clearly understood by Government and, on their behalf, I wish to record my thanks for your endeavours.

At a time when everyone rightly expects the public service to perform effectively and efficiently, the Garda Síochána are having significant success in tackling crime. The most recent CSO recorded crime statistics show that crime continues to fall in 11 of the 14 categories for which figures are provided, including homicide, crimes against the person, public order and damage to property. It is important to point out that, in the CSO Statistics, the category of Burglary and Related Offences includes Possession of an Article (with intent to burgle, steal or demand). This is of course, in reality, a crime prevention figure as the individual has been apprehended before they have carried out the crime. The number of such apprehensions has increased by 18.3%. When the CSO figures are further analysed taking this into account, we see that the number of burglary and related offences has, in fact, fallen by .14%

In relation to burglaries, we have seen the impact that Operation Fiacla has had on these most invasive of crimes. The Commissioner set up this operation to target gangs involved in carrying out burglaries around the country. As at the end of March, Operation Fiacla has led to 4,546 persons being arrested and 2,512 persons being charged. The worrying trend in the increase in the rate of burglaries has been reversed and the perpetrators are being brought before the courts.

Despite the difficult economic times, we will continue to invest in An Garda Síochána. We are investing in new fleet vehicles. On the question of Garda strength, my objective is to ensure that numbers will not fall below 13,000. I have said elsewhere that I intended to shortly bring proposals on this to Cabinet. Of course, if new members of the Force are to be recruited I have to ensure the funds exist to pay them. In this context, unfortunately, the situation that I now face is that there is currently no new agreement on public pay issues but there is still a projected €300 million budgetary shortfall in 2013. Accordingly, my bringing such proposal to Cabinet will obviously have to be delayed until such time as Government has had an opportunity to reflect on how we are to progress matters.

Revision of the Croke Park Agreement.

The Government's aim in engaging in the recent Croke Park negotiations was to achieve the necessary €1bn savings in the public sector pay and pensions bill between now and the end of 2015. This has to be achieved by ensuring a fair contribution from all.

Since the financial crisis began, the pay cuts in the public service have been progressive. Public servants on the highest salaries, including members of the Government, have borne the highest reductions in their pay. The recent proposals continued that philosophy.

Mr President, I would like to commend your Association’s participation in the recent talks which were facilitated by the Labour Relations Commission and which resulted in the set of proposals which were subsequently rejected by ballot.

It has, however, been brought to my attention that, following completion of the talks process, there remained two issues of importance to your members that required clarification. I don’t believe that this is appropriate and I am going to raise this matter with my Cabinet colleague, the Minister for Public Expenditure Reform.

I am also sorry that you felt excluded from the process and personally I feel that this should have not have been the case

I know that negotiations substantially focussed on those public servants earning less than €65,000 and that ultimately the proposal that emerged in relation to those earning over €65,000 was a straight percentage reduction in pay and a freeze in increments. I understand that while during this process ,an official in my Department kept in contact so that you were kept informed as to how matters were progressing I am of course conscious. that there was substantially less engagement with bodies representing those in the public service whose gross income exceeds €65,000 including your association.

The Government is now going to reflect on the outcome of the vote and I believe that this reflection should encompass an examination of the process itself so that any flaws or defects are identified and rectified to ensure they are not replicated in any future engagement. Accordingly, I have asked my officials to examine this matter in the overall context of the Justice family which includes An Garda Síochána as it is an issue that I intend to discuss with my Cabinet colleagues.

I believe that the proposals that were recommended by the Labour Relations Commission were a fair and balanced approach to making a contribution to addressing the financial difficulties that we are facing. This has undoubtedly been a difficult process. It is unprecedented to ask public servants to sign up to an agreement that impacts negatively on their pay and conditions. They ask the most of those who are highest paid and protect the core salaries of the 87% of public workers who earn less than €65,000.

It seems clear now in light of the results that have emerged in the last number of days that the Public Services Committee of Congress will not accept the LRC proposals.

Clearly the Government is disappointed at that outcome.

As has been made clear on many occasions by the Government in recent weeks, a rejection of these proposals does not change the fact – that to conform to our budgetary targets and continue on our path to economic recovery we need to make payroll savings of €300m this year and €1bn by 2015.

The Government will reflect on the outcome of the ballot and the manner in which the required savings can be achieved this year.

Promotions

You will all be aware that I recently have received sanction from the Minister for Public Expenditure and Reform for a number of Garda promotions. This includes four promotions from your own ranks to Chief Superintendent, and there will also be 14 promotions from Inspector to Superintendent. I would like to congratulate all those who are on the promotion panels and wish them well in their new positions. When I approached the Minister for Public Expenditure and Reform to explore the possibility of obtaining an exemption from the moratorium on promotions, I was mindful of the need of the Commissioner to carefully assess the capacity available to him at a senior level within An Garda Síochána.

As part of these discussions, a revised Employment Control Framework for senior ranks in An Garda Síochána has now been finalised. The new levels in the Force are set at 45 Chief Superintendents and 166 Superintendents. In practice, this will mean that in future, when vacancies arise, they can be filled straight away from existing panels rather than seeking any further sanction.

Conclusion

Mr President, I totally understand the reaction of your members and other public servants to proposals for a final reduction in the cost of public pay and pensions. But I would ask everyone to reflect on the realities I have outlined. We cannot go on spending more that we take in and we cannot expect others to simply give us funds to indefinitely facilitate our doing so. That is why the Government must adopt a range of measures to restore our economic health. These involve measures to increase Government income as well as measures to reduce Government expenditure. None of these measures are expected to be popular. The size of the public pay and pensions bill is such a large part of expenditure, that it must form part of the solution.

We have now completed a major part of the journey back to regaining our fiscal sovereignty. We are nearly there, and it is so important for the public service and the country that we complete the journey as we began it, in co-operation and agreement.

The Commissioner and his senior management team including yourselves are doing an outstanding job in difficult circumstances. For my part, I will continue to do everything in my power, even in these most difficult times, to ensure that the Garda Síochána have every support possible in terms of finance, personnel and powers of investigation. And I will continue to speak out on behalf of the Force, and to recognise the vital work it does on behalf of the State and its citizens.

Thank you again for inviting me here this evening, and I wish you well with the remainder of your Conference.

 

ENDS