CHECK AGAINST DELIVERY

 

SPEECH BY MINISTER FOR JUSTICE AND EQUALITY,

MR CHARLES FLANAGAN, T.D.,

at

2019 ANNUAL DELEGATE CONFERENCE

of

ASSOCIATION of GARDA SERGEANTS AND INSPECTORS(AGSI)

Slieve Russell Hotel, Ballyconnell, Co. Cavan

Monday 15 April 2019

 

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

I know this conference is a really important event in your calendar.

Well, it’s a really important one in mine too. 

I very much value the opportunity to meet with you, to listen to you, and of course to acknowledge the work you do for all of us, the people of Ireland.

You, delegates, are the front line leaders of the service which guards our communities, which keeps us safe. My place on this day each year, is to be here, with you.

I do of course know that this year, as an association, you are having some difficulties.  I know that some of your senior members have felt unable to attend. I just want to say immediately, to all of you here, and indeed to them, that I am looking forward to seeing everything resolved.  As Garda Sergeants and Inspectors, you need a strong association, in which you can have confidence,   As Minister, I need a strong association which I can trust represents you.  And as a country, we need a Garda leadership which we know adheres to the highest standards. So as I said, I look forward to the resolution of the issues at hand.

I look forward also, to ongoing progression and modernisation of the service.

I know great strides have been made in that direction over the past year, and yet that at the same time, you are still really only at the beginning of a process.   So it’s challenging.  I know that. 

The appointment of your new Commissioner, along with the publication of the Report of the Commission on the Future of Policing in Ireland have been major milestones over that year.  They are milestones though, I think we all agree, on the way to a much stronger future, and I want to acknowledge straight off YOUR role in steering us to that stronger future. 

YOU are the front line leaders. 

YOU are the people who have the capacity to inspire, guide and mentor the members who work to you. 

YOU are the people in whose hands, the future of this great organisation rests.  We are all trusting you to hold that future firmly, and deliver it, honourably and ethically.

And speaking of honour and ethics, qualities which, but the way, I know are ingrained in your DNA, I would like to start today by addressing, straight up, the Garda Code of Ethics.

I support it.  I see it as a simple and straightforward declaration of what is actually the case, of what you are actually doing, so I support the idea that you would all openly adopt it.  I know that every single member of An Garda Siochana wants the Irish people to believe that as they go about their daily work they are working hard, behaving ethically, protecting the vulnerable and implementing the laws of the land without fear or favour.  So along, I believe, with the Irish people, I would really appreciate ALL members taking whatever that final leap of faith THEY need to take, to sign it. 

As you all know, and indeed as I mentioned already, last December, the Government endorsed the report of the Commission on the Future of Policing in Ireland. 

I am delighted that we were in a position to accept all 157 key recommendations, and even more delighted that I was also in a position, at the time we announced our acceptance of those recommendations, to publish the high level implementation plan. 

Plans are only of use if they are implemented of course. 

But I have no doubt this one WILL be implemented, not least because the Implementation Group  includes senior officials from the Department of the Taoiseach and the Department of Public Expenditure and Reform as well as of course from An Garda Síochána and the Department of Justice and Equality.  This level of commitment and support is hugely significant and should, I believe, give you all great comfort as to the seriousness with which this Government approaches Garda reform.  We are with you and we will support you as it moves forward.

This involvement of other Departments is interesting I believe from another point of view too...

One key fact which the Commission called out is that internationally, police spend up to 80% of their time on non-crime related duty.  Of course, as frontline members YOU are well aware of this.  You are the ones who see the people who, perhaps experiencing mental health difficulties, perhaps feeling vulnerable in situations of domestic abuse,  have nowhere to go in the middle of the night but a Garda Station. 

Well, crucially, in publishing the implementation plan, the Government has redefined policing and public safety as the responsibility of many Departments and agencies.  It is no longer to be just the responsibility of my Department and An Garda Síochána.  I think that is significant and welcome… and I believe you will agree with me in that.

I’m not underestimate the difficulties associated with implementing this vision. 

I know it will mean addressing thorny issues such as, for example, information sharing for one. 

But a dedicated Programme Office has been established in the Department of the Taoiseach - this is a strong practical signal of the Government’s commitment to the necessity of a joined-up, whole-of-government, approach.  I would just encourage you all to cooperate and to show continuing leadership and trust as we all come together to solve the issues and deliver a service which will work better for the public you serve and indeed, in time, for you yourselves too. 

One of the key strengths of An Garda Siochana has always been that is has the trust of the public. 

Maintaining that is vital, but not necessarily easy, or to be taken for granted.  After all Ireland is no longer the homogenous society that many of us grew up in.  It is now a modern multi-racial democracy.  So we need to ensure that our new communities can relate to - and see themselves represented in - all their public services. 

For this reason, I warmly welcome the Commissioner’s recent decision to end the ban on religious headgear.  It has sent a very positive signal while also highlighting to our new communities the great opportunities that a career as a Garda presents. 

Speaking of religious headgear, I might also make brief mention of other gear…. 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 from 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 hopefully, a new operational uniform in place for the centenary of An Garda Siochana, in 2022.

Another issue which I know concerns you is that of numbers.  Last year, and indeed in previous years too, you expressed concern about the  proportion of supervisors. 

I am pleased to note that significant progress has been made on this.

Since October 2018 almost 450 Sergeants and Inspectors have been promoted and allocated to frontline policing duties. This includes the increase of 110 Sergeants and 81 Inspectors provided for in Budget 2019.  In addition I understand that preparations are underway for a new Sergeant competition towards the end of this year.

Of course the numbers of new recruits you will be required to manage continue to come on stream too. I am happy to report that at the end of December, Garda strength had reached just over 14,000 for the first time since 2011, and another 206 Garda trainees attested in March.

In addition, the new recruitment campaign was of course advertised two weeks ago, so I expect that total Garda numbers will reach 15,000 by 2021. 

But Garda numbers are not, and should not be, the full picture.  The full picture demands the best possible deployment of the numbers.  And that means we have to make full use of Garda staff, where possible, too.

The Commission on the Future of Policing has reiterated the importance of civilianising functions.  I fully support them in that, and I would really like to see the pace of it accelerate further this year.  I know your Association is engaging with management on the roll out of redeployment.  I thank you for that and I encourage you to embrace it positively. 

After all, more civilianisation will mean more highly trained Gardaí can make the best use of their expensive world quality training.  More will on the front line. More will be available to support, and alleviate the strain, on those already on the front line.  For everybody’s sake, we need more civilianisation.

Before I finish, I would like to mention, briefly, the industrial relations journey you have been on, since 2016.

The Government’s priority is progressing access to the WRC for the Garda Associations, and I am very pleased to confirm that the legislation to provide for this will proceed to Committee Stage in the Oireachtas later this week. 

I am also aware that AGSI continues to work constructively with the WRC to put a shape on new internal structures for dispute resolution, which will be introduced in the near future.

I understand that these recent engagements with the facilitation service of the WRC have been fruitful, and I hope that the move to that forum will provide a strong foundation for future industrial relations in An Garda Síochána.

And so to conclude… last year I spoke about the upcoming competition to select a new Garda Commissioner.  That appointment has been made, and Commissioner Harris is at the helm of An Garda Síochána as it faces into an exciting future…a future which all of you can help to bring about. 

I want you to know that this Government is committed to providing the resources you and he need to deliver that future. A budget of 1.7 billion euro has this year been put at the disposal of the Commissioner.  That’s a lot of money, and it’s there to enable An Garda Siochana provide what we all want … a strong and visible police presence, a strengthening of 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.  You provide a vital public service for which government and public alike 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.

 

ENDS