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2013 Estimates – Justice Vote Group


Select Committee on Justice, Defence and Equality
2013 Estimates – Justice Vote Group
19 June 2013

Opening Remarks by the Minister for Justice, Equality and Defence,
Alan Shatter T.D.

Chairman, I welcome the opportunity to meet with the Committee as it considers the 2013 estimates for my Department’s group of Votes.While I am obviously pleased that, in gross terms, the estimate available for the Justice Vote Group in 2013 is over €2.2 billion, the unavoidable fact is that, as Minister for Justice and Equality, I have €190 million less available to me in current expenditure, in real terms, for 2013, than the corresponding estimate in 2011. The only consolation is that, under plans published by our predecessors in Government and agreed with the Troika in 2010, I would have had considerably less again available to me for the Justice Vote Group, for both 2012 and 2013, but fortunately I succeeded in having some of the proposed reductions restored.

The reality is that we are now working with reduced numbers and budgets at a time when demand for services across the Justice Sector, and other sectors, is actually increasing. Thus, despite reducing our borrowing, we are still dependent on €12 billion of bailout funding this year. It is critical for our future sustainability that we show that we are moving in the right direction, further reducing our borrowing each year. Any other approach would lead to a very difficult situation in relation to borrowing which, in turn, would lead inevitably to a very sharp-shock cut in public spending. This would have severe consequences for the Irish people in general. This means that every area of public expenditure must show savings – and this includes the Justice Sector.

However, it is important that we do not allow ourselves or the public that we serve to be overtaken by doom and gloom. Much has been achieved in the past two years and this will continue under this Government.

By far the largest part of the Justice budget goes to An Garda Síochána, being almost €1.4 billion in gross terms in 2013. The pay and superannuation component amounts to 87% of the total allocation and reflects the central role that staffing resources – over 13,000 full time sworn members, just over 1,000 Garda Reserve members and over 2,000 civilian staff – play in the work of An Garda Síochána. The key outputs in the Garda estimate are based on the four strategic goals in the current Policing Plan of An Garda Síochána – Securing Our Nation, Proactive Policing Operations, Ensuring Safe Communities, and Delivering a Professional Service. At its heart is An Garda Síochána’s primary objective of preventing, detecting and disrupting crime and criminal activity and ensuring that people feel safe in their homes, on our roads and in our community.

The effective work of An Garda Síochána is illustrated by the targeted programmes put in place to respond to particular types of crime. Faced with an increase in burglary towards the end of 2011 and into 2012, the Commissioner put in place Operation Fiacla to confront this problem head-on. Operation Fiacla is intelligence led and relies on detailed analysis, carried out by the Garda Síochána Analysis Service, of crime trends and other relevant data to ensure that the best use is being made of Garda resources.

Specific burglary related initiatives are being implemented in each Garda Region in support of Operation Fiacla. Their success and the success of the overall operation is clear. According to most recent figures, 5,233 persons have been arrested and 2,903 charged as at the end of May.

Furthermore, I have been informed by the Garda Authorities that Operation Acer, which forms part of Operation Fiacla in the Dublin Region, is having a positive impact on burglary rates in the Dublin area, with a reduction of burglaries by more than 10% since the operation’s introduction.

These policing operations illustrate the point that freeing up Gardaí from desk jobs does in fact deliver more effective policing services for the public. What really matters are results, not maintaining the status quo just for the sake of it, and under the Commissioner’s management, those results are being delivered.

There are pressures in the Garda Vote in 2013. It is also clear, given that the bulk of expenditure in the Vote is in the area of payroll and superannuation, that these pressures are mainly centred in those areas. As with every other Vote, the budgetary figures also reflect the financial impact of the proposed measures under the Public Service Stability Agreement 2013 – 2016 (The Haddington Road Agreement). Members will be all too aware that, in order for the Government to meet its targets under the Troika arrangement and regain our economic sovereignty, reductions of €300 million are required in the public sector paybill in 2013. Unfortunately, no area of the public sector can be protected from this requirement.

Clearly, the numbers of serving Garda personnel and civilian staff impact on the payroll bill and any resumption of Garda recruitment would have financial implications that must be managed within the overall resources available to Government. However, I do believe that it is important for an organisation such as the Garda Síochána to have some regular intakes of new recruits, even if on a modest scale.  I am currently engaged in discussion with my colleague, the Minister for Public Expenditure and Reform, to see how this aim can best be progressed.   

I can assure the Committee that, despite the very significant financial constraints that the Government is working under; I will leave no stone unturned to provide the necessary resources for the Commissioner to carry out the work of the Force. In particular, I will continue to ensure that there is additional funding available for the Garda Fleet; €5 million in 2013 on top of €3 million in additional funding in 2012. Yes, we are challenged by the number of Garda vehicles being decommissioned, but Government is well aware of the importance of Gardaí being able to respond effectively to criminal activity.

I will continue to press for additional funding for the fleet but this will be contingent on expenditure in other areas across and outside the Justice Sector between now and the end of the year.

Turning now to prisons, a gross expenditure budget of €328.5 million is being provided for the Prisons Vote in 2013. As can be seen from an examination of the key outputs in 2012, significant progress is being made in achieving the overarching objective of expenditure in the Prisons Vote – to provide safe and secure custody, dignity of care, and rehabilitation to prisoners for safer communities.

Despite less than satisfactory prison conditions in both Cork and Limerick prisons, it was possible to reduce overcrowding in 2012, with reductions in average daily occupancy rates of 12% and 13% respectively. This is only a temporary measure.  In all a capital budget of €23.1 million has been provided for prisons building projects in 2013.

A major capital project to provide an accommodation block providing 300 prisons spaces at the Midlands Prison was completed and opened in December 2012. Construction of a new Cork Prison, which will house 275 prisoners, is due to commence in October this year. The construction of a new wing at Limerick Prison, to replace the outdated A and B Wings, also forms part of the Prisons Service 40-month capital plan and the tender process for this project is expected to commence shortly.

In addition, the refurbishment project, including the installation of in-cell sanitation, in Mountjoy Prison is continuing. The C and B wings were completed in 2012 and work on the A wing is due for completion in September. I am pleased to say that slopping out will end in Mountjoy Prison later this year, when work on the final wing, the D wing, takes place.

A number of initiatives have been introduced by the Prisons Service to ensure better outcomes for offenders.

These measures include increased participation in structured activities, and the integrated sentence management system which involves some 1,100 prisoners. A further effective development has been the introduction of an incentivised regimes policy in all prisons. This policy provides for a differentiation of privileges between prisoners according to their level of engagement with services and quality of behaviour. The objective is to provide tangible incentives to prisoners to participate in structured activities and to reinforce incentives for good behaviour, leading to a safer and more secure environment for both prisoners and staff.

A further measure, the Community Return Project, operated in conjunction with the Probation Service, provides for earned and structured temporary release to be offered to offenders who pose no threat to society, in return for supervised community service. During 2012, 299 prisoners participated in the Community Return Scheme.

It is clear that the reform agenda is being well progressed in the Prisons Service. Joint Task Reviews are underway or already complete in a number of prisons and the Prison Service College and the implementation of the recommendations in these Reports has begun.

In addition, recruitment of Prison Administrative Support Officers is continuing. These officers, who are being redeployed from elsewhere in the Civil Service, will carry out administrative tasks previously undertaken by Prison Officers. This will allow us to release these fully trained prison Clerks from administration tasks to essential front line duties. The introduction of this new grade will ultimately deliver €3.5 million per annum in payroll savings.

The gross budget allocated to the Courts Vote in 2013 is €104.959 million.  There is also an appropriations-in-aid allocation of €46.635 million, of which €42.493 million relates to fees for various categories of courts transactions.

All expenditure in the Courts Vote is directed towards one key programme- Managing the Courts and Supporting the Judiciary.

Like other votes in the Justice Sector, the Courts Service is not immune from budgetary reductions. Also in common with other areas in the sector, the Courts Service has embarked on a significant transformation programme in recent years. While little used and in some cases inadequate Court venues are being closed, I am pleased that 7 Court Building projects are being progressed under the Government Infrastructure Stimulus Package. These building projects will be progressed as Public Private Partnerships (PPP’s) and I would remind Members that, in this context, the Courts Service led the way in an earlier round of the PPP’s, with the Criminal Courts of Justice building put in place under this arrangement.

Infrastructural projects of this nature yield benefits and reduce the costs of the administration of justice. Newer buildings can be equipped and fitted out with the latest technology and this enables more court business to be undertaken by video-link with prisons. This reduces costs, not alone for the Courts Service, but also for the Prison Service, with fewer officers away from their places of work accompanying prisoners to court. A number of changes are also underway in the operation of the Criminal Courts of Justice which will result in considerable efficiencies for the Prison Service.

A pilot project has also commenced in relation to the centralisation of custodial cases into one court location in each of four District Court regions and is generating further savings for the Prisons Service. These cross-sectoral initiatives just haven’t occurred by accident and great credit is due to the leadership and initiative shown by the board, management and staff of the Courts Service and other Justice Sector areas involved in these reforms.

It is also appropriate at this point to make reference to the referendum planned for later this year in relation to the establishment of a Court of Appeal. The need for a Court of Appeal arises mainly from the on-going significant backlog of cases before the Supreme Court and the consequent long delays in cases being dealt with by that Court.

The new Court of Appeal will deal with most cases that are currently dealt with by the Supreme Court, thus reducing its workload and allowing it to focus on the development of the law. The Supreme Court in Ireland, unlike in other common law jurisdictions, is the Court of Final Appeal in all cases. This means that, whereas in other countries the Supreme Court mainly deals with cases involving substantial points of law or issues of major public importance, in Ireland the Supreme Court is taken up with issues ranging from routine interlocutory orders to the major constitutional issues and everything in-between.

As I have indicated previously, I intend to publish the proposed constitutional amendments as early as possible in order to give people time to reflect on what is proposed and to allow for a rational and considered debate. As was the case for previous referenda, my Department will make a budget available to the Referendum Commission, for the necessary public information campaign associated with the referendum, and the expenditure will ultimately be reflected in the Justice Vote under the Commissions and Special Inquiries subhead.

The Property Registration Authority (PRA) has a net budgetary provision of €31.232 million in the current year.

The Authority has driven many changes, in recent years, in the services it provides and the way it does its work. For example, the digitisation of all its mapping records, together with other investment in its technology, has led to full roll-out of an on-line access facility to the Land Register for all citizens. In addition the Authority continues to work with other Public Service organisations so that they can also derive full value from the data held within the PRA database. This is a further example of a joined up Public Sector in action – involving, with the PRA, the Local Authorities, OPW, Revenue Commissioners and other State agencies involved in developing Property Interest Registers.

The final Vote in the Justice Group is the Justice and Equality Vote, which contains in the region of sixty subheads broken into six programmes. This Vote in essence sum up the main functions of my Department – Maintain a Secure Ireland, Work for Safe Communities, Facilitate the Provision and Administration of Justice, Promote Equality and Integration, Represent Ireland’s Interests Abroad and Contribute to Economic Recovery.

I don’t intend covering the detail of all the individual programmes in these opening remarks and in the most cases the subheads in each programme are self-explanatory. I would however like to comment briefly on the programme dealing with economic recovery.

There is a budgetary provision of almost €7.4 million, and a sanctioned headcount complement of 91 staff, in the 2013 Estimates for the new Personal Insolvency Service. As Members will be aware, the Personal Insolvency Service is a completely new – and vital – Service.  While it is never easy to get a new organisation off the ground, I can say that, in this case, I am very happy with the progress being made. The Service was officially established on 1 March 2013 but a considerable amount of background work had already been taking place prior to that date. You will be aware that the information campaign is well underway and, in accordance with the Personal Insolvency Act, 2012, the Service has already prepared and issued guidelines as to what constitutes a reasonable standard of living expenses. Further intensive work continues in a number of areas with a view to having a full Service implemented at the earliest possible date.

Members will note that a subhead has been introduced under Programme C in relation to the Magdalen fund. This is to reflect the Government decision that a fund should be established for those women who were in the Magadalen Laundries and for women who were is a similar position in the Stanhope Street Laundry. The financial allocation and a decision on the detailed operation of the fund will be made after careful consideration of the findings in Justice Quirke’s report as to how Government might best provide supports to the women involved. The report will be considered by Government shortly and it is expected that the report itself and the Government’s response to the recommendations will then be published.

There is clearly a very broad spectrum of activity within the Justice Vote area and, despite the many competing priorities, it is very important, in so far as possible, that funding be maintained to front-line services. This is particularly the case in relation to those areas which support An Garda Síochána in the ongoing fight against serious crime. The Criminal Assets Bureau, Forensic Science and State Laboratories will have a combined budget of €19 million in 2013. In addition, I will ensure, through my Department’s legislative programme, that the powers of the Criminal Assets Bureau are further strengthened, where necessary. This is entirely appropriate as the work of the Bureau continues to highlight the effectiveness of a co-ordinated, multi agency approach to targeting the proceeds of criminal conduct.

In conclusion, Chairman, the total estimate for the Justice Sector in 2013 is over €2.2 billion in gross terms and almost €2.0 billion in net terms. As I have set out, it covers five votes and a broad range of areas within the Justice and Equality Sector. The work of the sector is expanding and resources are contracting. This constitutes a very significant challenge across all areas. Hence the crucial importance of the various reform programmes in place. It is simply not an option to continue blindly with old models and ways of doing things. Reform and more efficient ways of delivering services are crucial to the operation of the sector. We will continue to work in this vein and, while respecting the individual vote structure, we will continue to monitor our budgets at Vote Group level to ensure that we get maximum value from the €2 billion available to the sector in 2013.

I am happy to address any questions which Members of the Committee may have in relation to the estimates at this point.

19 June 2013