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Speech By Minister For Justice And Equality, Mr Charles Flanagan, T.D.

Check Against Delivery

Chair, distinguished delegates and guests... thank you for the invitation to join you at your annual conference. 

I am glad to be here, to get the opportunity to speak directly to you, listen to you, hear your concerns, and of course to acknowledge the work you do for all the people of Ireland.

This is a challenging, but also an exciting time to be a member of An Garda Síochána, an organization approaching its centenary.

Because as we prepare to head into your and indeed our nation’s second century, we are all too aware that our society, our culture and the global, political and technical landscape are changing ... both rapidly and vastly.  The landscape which faces An Garda Síochána is light-years from that which your forebears faced. So we must prepare our service to cope with a very different landscape. 

This is why CHANGE and REFORM have been the watchwords of recent years. The Modernisation and Renewal Programme and now the Commission on the Future of Policing in Ireland are central and to borrow a phrase from your General Secretary  – “the GRA is preparing for the biggest change in the history of Irish Policing”

Indeed it’s good to see that your conference has as its theme “Preparing for Change”. I welcome what Pat Ennis has had to say about the major change that is underway in An Garda Síochána and am heartened by the fact that the GRA and the Government are aligned with regard to the plan “A Policing Service for the Future”.

I welcome that, as frontline members, dealing day in, day out, with policing challenges, you appreciate the urgent need for change. 

I welcome that the GRA is fully up for the challenge and I am confident that all the partners involved will engage constructively and in a spirit of positivity.

The Government is investing in this change.  Since the reopening of the Garda College in September 2014, almost 2,400 Garda recruits have been assigned to mainstream duties nationwide, including 800 new trainees last year. 

For the record, the budget for An Garda Síochána has been increased to a record level of €1.76 billion this year.  The Commissioner plans to recruit a total of 600 trainee Gardaí AND 600 Garda Civilian Staff which will facilitate the redeployment a further 500 fully trained Gardaí from administrative duties to front-line policing in 2019. 

I believe that the injection of this large number of experienced officers to frontline duties, along with the new recruits, will be really beneficial in terms of protecting communities. Together with the on-going recruitment, this will provide the Commissioner with the capacity needed to deploy increasing numbers of Gardaí to deliver the vital, visible, effective and responsive policing service to communities across all Garda Divisions.  

Record resources are also being provided over multiple years for the purchase of necessary vehicles and ICT investment.  Over €300 million is being invested in essential ICT and a record budget for the vehicles which are so necessary for your work.  By any standards there is a strong budget to support reform and to ensure that the organisation is well resourced to combat the challenges of modern crime.  

I want you to carry away an important message from today it is this: 

You are providing a vital public service, 

The Government supports you

You are at the front line serving your communities and 

You are central to An Garda Síochána reaching a stronger future.

I trust you to deliver that future, while maintaining your high professional, honourable and ethical standards which we have come to recognise and associate with An Garda Síochána.

I believe that ethical behaviour is ingrained in your DNA. But I also believe that when we stand for something it can be helpful to focus on it, to state unequivocally that we do so. That is why, in my view the Garda Code of Ethics is a positive development. It restates traditional values, underpins them and raises consciousness of them. 

So I would like to see everyone adopting the Code.  I believe it would simply mean, that as you go about your daily policing duties, protecting the vulnerable and implementing the laws of the land, you would be openly assuring the Irish people that you do so ethically. So I  hope that you, as individual Garda members, and the GRA as an Association, will address any issues that you may have that have been causing a delay to the signing of the Code of Ethics.

As you all know, in December, the Government endorsed the report of the Commission on the Future of Policing in Ireland. This report provides the Road Map for An Garda Síochána’s journey to become a world class police service, ready to face the challenges of 21st Century Ireland.

I would encourage all of you to read the Commission’s Report if you have not had an opportunity and not just because is very clear that the Commission was greatly impressed with the dedication and commitment of Garda members.  

As you know, The Commission undertook a comprehensive review of An Garda Síochána. It consulted widely, including with the GRA, and also visited in the region of 20  Garda stations. 

Its report sets out a vision based around ten key principles, but today I want to touch briefly, on just two. 

▪ the first is that Human Rights are the foundation and purpose of policing; and 

▪ the second is that Policing is not the responsibility of the police alone.

Calling out that human rights are the foundation of policing seems to be stating the obvious. But that doesn’t mean it is easy. It requires that the rights of individuals - victims and perpetrators from all communities and in every part of the country  - are put at the centre of policing activity and it also requires that those individuals in turn CAN trust that that is the case. You can’t police without trust, and the fact is, that only a policing service whose primary objective is to uphold human rights will maintain the trust of the community it serves.  

One of the key strengths of An Garda Síochána has always been that it is part of the fabric of our society and has the trust of the public. 

Maintaining that trust is vital, but not necessarily easy, or to be taken for granted.  

For one thing, Ireland is no longer the homogenous society that I grew up in.  It is now modern, diverse and multi-cultural. Only yesterday I attended three citizenship ceremonies here in Killarney where I welcomed almost 2,500 new citizens to the Irish family. Since the introduction of Citizenship ceremonies 8 years ago, almost 120,000 persons from every continent, every region and more than 180 countries have become new citizens of Ireland.  It is imperative that all these diverse communities can relate to the nation’s police service, trust it and see themselves represented in it.  

For this reason, I warmly welcome the Commissioner’s recent decision to allow the wearing of the hijab and the turban.  It has sent a very positive signal to our new communities while also highlighting the great opportunities for them that a career as a Garda presents.  

Speaking of headgear, can I just refer very briefly to brings me to the subject of the uniform.  I know it is important to you.   I am aware that a more informal style of uniform was piloted last year.  I understand that the feedback received has been taken on board and incorporated into a new design.  I’m glad to hear that work on a large scale tender is being progressed and I just want to say I am confident that the ongoing process will deliver a good result for everyone, and that a new operational uniform will be in place for the centenary of An Garda Síochána, in 2022.

To return to the second of the 10 principles I wanted to mention though... that is the one which states that policing and public safety is not the sole responsibility of An Garda Síochána. 

I know you will agree with that. You will always of course be at the center of crime prevention, detection and rehabilitation but you cannot do it alone.

At the moment however, you carry a significant share. You are only too aware of the proportion of your time which is spent on non-crime related situations, often helping the more vulnerable in our society, in difficult circumstances, perhaps due to issues with mental health or domestic abuse. You are only too aware also, that these situations require multiagency co-operation.

We must deliver that cooperation. It has to be the goal. 

I do not underestimate the difficulties associated with it.  But this government and all Government departments have committed to it and I would just ask you all to cooperate as much as possible as we all come together to solve the issues and deliver a service which will work better for the communities you serve.  

I mentioned recruitment briefly at the beginning. I want to speak about it again now.

I know the Commissioner places a high priority on ongoing training for members and this must be prioritised, especially on new initiatives and complex legislation.  The Commission on the Future of Policing also made a number of key recommendations in relation to training.  

There are various approaches depending on the issues involved and obviously better technology can assist in rolling this out to large numbers of people.  But, in certain circumstances, detailed training is needed and the recent approach in relation to the new Domestic Abuse provisions is a good example of this.  I understand that training was delivered by an international expert to members of the Divisional Protective Services Units and supervisors with the Domestic Abuse portfolio and I very much welcome this.  

As serving police officers you are all only too well aware how visible front line policing ensures the communities you serve feel safe. This is why the Government has been unrelenting in supplying the necessary funding to ensure a sufficient pipeline of new recruits to replenish the numbers lost during the years of our economic crisis and the recruitment moratorium. I am pleased to note that, at the end of last year, Garda strength had reached just over 14,000 for the first time since 2011.

A new recruitment campaign was advertised some weeks ago. I understand the closing date was last week.  The intention is to recruit some 600 new trainees this year and I expect that total Garda numbers will reach 15,000 by 2021.  

However, it is important to say at this juncture that the number of sworn Gardaí is not, nor should not be, the full picture. What is paramount is that Garda personnel, whether Garda staff or sworn members are deployed to ensure maximum benefit.

The appointment of Garda staff to certain non-policing roles in An Garda Síochána has been a key policy for several decades.  Real and substantive progress is now being achieved at last and I welcome the Commissioner’s commitment to redeploy 500 sworn members to front line duties in 2019.    Just to be clear ... the purpose of this is that Gardai who are already highly trained are deployed quickly to the frontline, where their valuable skills and experience can be used to better purpose.

The appointment of Garda staff colleagues is not something any serving Garda member needs to fear. First and foremost you are police officers. You chose to be police officers and that choice,combined with your training, means that you are most effective when you are working as police officers.

I would really like to see the pace of civilianisation accelerate see you reach the Commissioner’s target of 500 redeployments this year. I know your Association is engaging with management on this and I encourage you to embrace it positively.  

I am sure you will agree that there can only be advantages in having non-sworn personnel working at all levels of the organisation, bringing with them different skills and perspectives and also relieving you from carrying out duties you didn’t sign up for.  

The duties you did sign up for however can be dangerous. We all recognize this. And of course I cannot speak to you here today without referring to the situation in Drogheda... 5 petrol bombs over the weekend, an attempted murder last week.  Of course the people of Drogheda are concerned. But I want to say to them and to you... This level of lawlessness will not be tolerated anywhere... not in Drogheda, not in Dingle, down the road for where we are now, and not in Dublin. It will not be tolerated and it will be dealt with. 

Part of the response to such outrages does lie of course in armed response units and over the last couple of days there has been much conversation in the media about the need for more of them. 

To that conversation I would say two things...

Firstly that the deployment of, and the number of, such units is a matter for  the commissioner and his team. I will support him in his assessment but I will not make that assessment for him;

And secondly, with regard to the Units and the call for them to be in every Division, we would do well to remind ourselves, that An Garda Síochána is a largely unarmed police service. It polices our people by consent. It has a proud tradition of being a community police service which fosters close links with the communities it serves. That said there will be occasions when an armed response is required. There is no question of that and Garda management have been addressing this need over the past few years. But I am sure you will agree with me that the real strength in An Garda Síochána lies in it being largely unarmed and therefore close to the people it serves.

And as YOU approach Your first centenary it is a good opportunity to recall the words of the first Commissioner Michael Staines who stated ‘The Garda Síochána will succeed not by force of arms or numbers, but on their moral authority as servants of the people’. 

Indeed, the positive impact that you as Garda members have on your local communities should not be underestimated.  It is due to the visibility, the engagement and the action taken by you that the latest Garda Public Attitudes Survey in 2018 shows that the public recognises the role of Gardaí in keeping their communities safe.  84% of people, in that survey, in large part because of your work,  considered local crime not to be a serious problem.

Before I finish, I would like to mention industrial relations.  The Government has been progressing your access to the WRC and I am very pleased to confirm that the legislation to provide for this has recently passed the important Committee Stage in the Oireachtas. A final piece to this jigsaw will be the new internal IR structures which the GRA has been working on with the WRC.  I understand it will be introduced later this year - a development which I welcome. 

And so to conclude… since I spoke to you last year you have a new Commissioner. Commissioner Harris is now leading An Garda Síochána into a future that presents both challenge and enormous opportunities. He has my whole hearted support in this vital work and he will need all of you to help to bring that about.   

I want you to know that this Government is committed to providing the resources needed to deliver that future of a strong and visible police presence with strengthened community engagement and reassurance to citizens.  

So can I finish by once again thanking you for the invitation to address you today … and more importantly, by reiterating my appreciation for the work that you do so bravely and unstintingly. You provide a vital public service for which the government and the public are very grateful.  I wish you all the very best for the remainder of your conference and I look forward to working with all of you over the coming year.

Thank you.