Check against Delivery
Most especially our new members of An Garda Síochána and your very proud parents and loved ones.
Ladies and gentlemen
First of all, I want to take this opportunity to publicly thank Josephine Feehily as she comes to the end of her term as Chair of the Policing Authority. Josephine has done fantastic work establishing the Authority and developing its role as a credible independent voice overseeing the work of An Garda Síochána. While the structures of our oversight bodies are going to be evolving as part of the implementation of A Policing Service for the Future, the principles which she has enshrined in her time as Chair will remain and that is a testament to her work. I wish her the very best for the future
Attending a Passing Out Parade in the Garda College is one of the highlights of my life as Minister for Justice and Equality. It is a pleasure and indeed an honour to be here with you new members today, as you and your families and friends celebrate a pivotal moment in your lives and careers.
I want to congratulate you on your achievement of successfully completing your training and attesting this morning. And, as Minister, I also want to offer you my thanks for your decision to commit yourselves to public service as Gardaí.
You have joined an organisation with a long and proud history. For almost 100 years An Garda Síochána has served our communities with distinction.
The most recent Public Attitudes Survey released in October found that 89% of people in Ireland trust An Garda Síochána – and 96% of respondents feel Gardaí will treat them with respect if they have contact with them for any reason. This is really important – you police on the basis of public trust. And it’s vital that this is upheld and strengthened in all your dealings with the public you serve.
As you put on the uniform and take up duty across Ireland, you are upholding and reinforcing this tradition. And in all your daily interactions with members of the public, suspects as well as victims, you will shape the public view of An Garda Síochána into the future. You have been trained to the highest standards in human rights and policing and we are putting our trust and our expectations in you.
The society you serve would, in some respects, be unrecognisable to those who went before you. But some points remain constant – like your predecessors, you are committing yourself to work with all communities to protect and to serve.
I commend the efforts by An Garda Síochána to respond to the changing nature of Irish society through a range of practical steps. This year alone, these steps include:
- Allowing alterations to the Garda uniform for religious and ethnic reasons
- Multi-lingual recruitment campaigns
- And the recent launch by the Commissioner of the Garda Diversity and Integration Strategy.
I warmly welcome the leadership shown by Commissioner Harris and his management team in these and other steps taken, to ensure that An Garda Síochána reflects and represents our society.
And I can see that these steps are bringing positive results. I am pleased to see that 34% of today’s group are women. This is a sea-change from the 3% which women represented in the graduating class of 60 years ago in 1959. I am confident that your numbers will continue to grow and An Garda Síochána and the country will be the better for it.
I am pleased too to see that 14 of this graduating class originates from outside the jurisdiction – we have graduates not just from across these islands, from Northern Ireland, England and Scotland, but also from other countries, including Ukraine, the United Arab Emirates, Poland, Slovenia, and the United States of America. You are welcome and important additions to the Garda family.
So diverse nationalities in An Garda Síochánaas Ireland itself becomes ever more diverse… that is very welcome. Because as we become more multicultural, it is crucial that organisations in leadership roles, such as yours, and indeed the Government, play their part in encouraging tolerance and inclusivity.
Our goal must be to achieve a hate-free Ireland. And this demands action at all levels.
Our Migrant Integration Strategy 2017-2020 as well as other relevant strategies including the National Traveller and Roma Inclusion Strategy are advancing a series of measures to promote equality throughout Irish life.
And a new Anti-Racism Committee is being established, chaired by my colleague Minister of State David Stanton.
But these steps alone are not enough – we also have to address those instances where hate escalates to the level of criminal activity.
I welcome the recent launch by An Garda Síochána of its Diversity and Integration Strategy, which will see enhanced reporting, recording, investigating and prosecuting mechanisms put in place for dealing with hate crimes.
As I am sure you know, there is existing law in Ireland which criminalises incitement to hatred. And although we do not have a standalone or specific offence of hate crime, it is already the case that where a perpetrator has been found guilty of a crime, such as for example assault or criminal damage, a sentencing judge may consider a hate motive to be an aggravating factor that would increase the sentence.
But the provision for hate as an aggravating factor in sentencing is not broadly understood in the public.
So the time is right to review the laws in place and reassess what is necessary and effective to stamp out hate speech and hate crime in Ireland. And my Department is working as a priority to develop and improve our legislation on both hate speech and hate crime.
We want to understand people’s experience and ensure that the new laws we will introduce in this field are robust, clearly understood and effective. And so:
- a public consultation on incitement to hatred is currently being carried out by my Department and will remain open until 13 December. This is with a view to legislating in a more effective way to deal with criminal hate speech.
- we are also close to finalising research on the effectiveness of the different legislative approaches to tackling hate crime in other countries—to learn from best practice.
- building on this research, we plan to bring forward proposals for new hate crime legislation in the new year. These proposals will be published for discussion and an opportunity will be given to all stakeholders to share their views.
My Department is taking this work forward as quickly as possible – and I count on you, the newest members of An Garda Síochána, to play your part in tackling crime motivated by prejudice and hate and helping make Ireland safe and secure for all.
Before concluding, I want to mark a particular milestone which was met this year with launch of the new Operating Model for An Garda Síochána.
I have welcomed this development which will benefit us all – Gardaí will gain through the reduction of bureaucracy and through the devolution of more decision making powers to the local level. And communities will gain, through having more frontline Gardaí and a more localised policing service with greater expertise in each Division.
This will allow more localised, tailored services – I was pleased to see, for example, launch of a pilot technology initiative in CabraGarda station, close to the Deaf Village Ireland, to support members of the deaf community to access an Irish Sign Language Interpreter via video-link.
This is one small example from a growing range of innovations in the organisation. And so these are exciting times for An Garda Síochána. Each and every one of you passing out today have the opportunity to make a real and positive contribution to the organisation and to the communities you will serve.
Today marks the beginning of what I hope will be long and successful careers. Thank you, once again, for making the decision to “work with communities to protect and to serve”.
Comhghairdeas and bain taithneamh as an lá.