Minister Fitzgerald: “I reject the criticism of An Garda Síochána” – Speaking at AGSI conference
Address by Ms Frances Fitzgerald TD
Minister for Justice and Equality
2015 Annual Conference
of the Association of Garda Sergeants and Inspectors
Mr President, distinguished guests, delegates, ladies and gentlemen:
Thank you very much for inviting me to speak at your conference and for your kind words of welcome.
This is my first AGSI conference and I am delighted to be here. This conference provides me with an opportunity to express my own and the Government’s thanks to each and every one of you for the work that you do on a daily basis that maintains the safety of our communities and that keeps our country safe.
That work is challenging and demanding. It requires courage and dedication. In some instances, tragically, members have paid the ultimate price for their dedication to duty. We should never forget this.
Recently, I have increasingly encountered something reassuring. I have heard comments by constituents and colleagues and members of the public; and I have seen editorial in newspapers; all commenting on the excellent policing and detective work of An Garda Síochána, both in terms of local cases and specific higher-profile cases.
This is most welcome, particularly, against a background of recent tough times. The service has received a lot of criticism.
Criticism that paints every member of the force as bad is just wrong and must be rejected.
On the other hand we must all have the honesty and self- confidence to face up to valid and constructive criticism. There is no organisation that cannot learn lessons and improve.
My objective is to ensure that the confidence of the public in the Garda Síochána is maintained and to support the necessary changes so that the high quality and respected service that the Garda Síochána provides is enhanced to better meet the realities, requirements and expectations of 21st century policing.
This is why the underlying focus of the reform programme underway is to put in place effective arrangements for the oversight, governance and accountability of the Garda Síochána.
I am clear that the Commissioner is determined to develop An Garda Síochána into a service that measures up to the best police services in the world. We must not fail to put in place good policies to ensure that vulnerabilities in the organisation do not get out of control. You can be sure that this Government is committed to putting in place and where necessary reforming, the organisation, structures, practices and systems to support you to effectively deliver the best possible policing and security services for our communities and our country.
A key element of the Government’s comprehensive programme of justice reform is the independent Policing Authority and I hope to publish the legislation establishing the Authority in the near future. I am aware that AGSI has been a strong supporter of such an authority and I am grateful for your contribution to the consultative process in this regard. I am happy to say that your input is being taken into account in the development of the proposed legislation.
The Protected Disclosures Act 2014 became operational on 15th July 2014. The Act provides a robust statutory framework within which workers, including members of the Garda Síochána, can raise concerns regarding potential wrongdoing that has come to their attention in the workplace in the knowledge that they can avail of significant employment and other protections if they are penalised by their employer or suffer any detriment for doing so.
The commencement of this Act meets the commitment contained in the Programme for Government to introduce whistleblower protection legislation.
Of course in addition to reform there must be investment. Despite the very significant financial constraints which face us, I have been making it a priority to secure funding for the Garda Síochána.
· Since 2012, this Government has invested €27.5 million in new Garda vehicles;
· In Budget 2015 we provided a capital allocation of €42 million for the provision of new Garda Divisional Headquarters; and
· An additional €4 million is being made available in 2015 for ICT projects.
This is just a start. Following the publication of the Garda Inspectorate report on Crime Investigation, I clearly signalled my intention to support the Garda Síochána in their efforts to address IT issues which were identified in the report. I want to see Garda Síochána fully equipped for the digital era.
To this end, I have entered into discussions about this with my colleague the Minister for Public Expenditure and Reform to establish a high-level group to examine and report on the exact needs and scale of investment required. I expect their report shortly.
However, when it comes to the question of resources, first and foremost there must be investment in human resources. It is the men and women of An Garda Síochána who make it what it is. We must never forget that.
Last September this Government oversaw the first recruitment of new Gardaí since 2009. We reopened Garda College for new recruitments; and we have committed to not letting it close again.
To date 300 new recruits have entered Garda College, with the first of these to join the force as sworn members in May. Today I am happy to confirm that I have received sanction from the Minister for Public Expenditure & Reform Brendan for the recruitment of a further 250 new Gardaí over coming months.
I promised seamless ongoing recruitment and I am delivering on this promise.
The additional recruitment will bring to 550 the total number of Gardaí that will have been recruited by this Government between September 2014 and October 2015; and signifies the determination of Government and I to delivering an effective, responsive police service to protect our communities and respond to emerging crime trends.
I would also welcome the recent Government approval for the appointment of seven Superintendents to Chief Superintendent and thirty-eight Inspectors to the rank of Superintendent. Competitions for promotion to the ranks of Inspector and Sergeant will commence as early as possible. Of course the Commissioner has also authorised the appointment of 185 new Sergeants and 43 new Inspectors in the last twelve months. All of this is about investing and promoting the fantastic talent that exists in an Garda Síochána.
The increased investment, across-the-board, in terms of people, vehicles and systems, is vital to supporting and underpinning the new Transformation Programme and Anti-Crime Strategy which are currently being finalised by Garda Commissioner Noirín O’Sullivan.
This investment will ensure a sustainable future for an Garda Síochána and equip it to meet the realities and challenges of 21st century policing and security.
I am committed to supporting all Gardaí already in post. I am committed to listening to what you have to say, on a range of issues. That’s why I’m here today. That’s why I have welcomed the opportunity to meet with your President and his executive colleagues since I took office as Minister.
I can assure you that your views and those of your Association expressed today and at our bilateral meetings are not ignored. I have listened closely to what you have said today and at those meetings in relation to industrial relations. I wish to confirm that I am in ongoing contact with my colleague, the Minister for Jobs Richard Bruton, in relation to access to the Workplace Relations Commission and to identify precisely the steps that need to be taken. I have also been actively examining the issue around access to ICTU and I look forward to the reports under the Haddington Road Agreement. The unique nature and role of the Garda Síochána needs to be taken into account in considering the complex legal and policy issues involved in these matters. The discussions and considerations have not yet been finalised and I will keep your Association updated.
You have also raised with me many concerns regarding policing policy, such as the question of the detention of intoxicated persons and of a right of arrest in domestic violence incidents. You are the front-line practitioners and I greatly appreciate your sharing of your insight and experience. I have asked that the matters your Association have raised be examined as a matter of urgency.
An Garda Síochána runs like a navy cord throughout Irish life for more than ninety years. Its members keep our communities safe and preserve the security of the State.
Those are massive contributions to Irish life, one citizen at a time, one community at a time.
They’re contributions delivered in the face of ever-present threats that sometimes lethally materialise.
We’re grateful, as a nation, and we don’t forget, as a Government.
I want to support the Garda Síochána in continuing and enhancing the work, through reform, legislation and investment. I want to listen to your views and take into account your perspective.
Thank you again Mr. President for your welcome. I wish you every success in your conference and I look forward to meeting you again in the near future to continue our discussions on areas of mutual concern.