Commissioner, distinguished guests, ladies and gentlemen,
Once again, it is a privilege to be here today to witness this ceremony marking the graduation of 261 new members of An Garda Síochána.
It is two years since you first arrived here in the Garda College and during this period, you have undertaken a rigorous and demanding training schedule. I am confident that each of you has the capacity and determination to meet the challenges that lie ahead of you. Your presence here today is testament to your hard work, diligence and determination. I compliment you on it.
You are graduating at a time when society is facing many changes which give rise to policing challenges. It is encouraging to see that despite these challenges, membership of An Garda Síochána remains a popular career option. It is an honourable calling. The work you do in maintaining law and order is fundamental to the State and you should never forget the vital role you play in Irish society.
I do not underestimate the task ahead of you. As police officers you will regularly be faced with difficult and fraught situations. In the preservation of the rule of law you will often be asked to go beyond the call of duty, as it has been asked of your colleagues right from the foundation of the State. Whatever the circumstances you may encounter, and no matter how arduous the challenge, your sworn duty as guardians of the peace is to uphold the law with integrity, fairness, and with respect for the rights of all persons. Today, we place our trust in each one of you to carry out your duties and responsibilities as Gardaí with commitment, with conviction, and to the best of your ability. I assure you, as Minister for Justice, Equality and Law Reform that I and the Government, along with the Garda Commissioner, will provide the necessary resources and support to assist you in carrying out your duties.
One of the commitments under the Programme for Government was to see the strength of An Garda Síochána rise to 15,000 Gardaí in 2010 and 16,000 in 2012. With an annual intake of approximately 1,100 recruits, I am delighted to say that we are well on our way to achieving this. On 31 March 2008, there were 13,900 fully attested members of An Garda Síochána with a further 1,306 recruits in training. The combined strength of the Force including recruits in training is 15,206.
A major pillar of the Government’s approach to the modernisation of the Force has been the provision of civilian support staff to free up Gardaí for the frontline duties for which they were trained, visible in the communities in which they serve.
The recent substantial increase in civilian support staff for the Force reiterates the Government’s commitment to allowing you to use your skills and training in operational policing.
The Garda budget for 2008 stands at €1.6billion – an unprecedented level of investment in policing.
This allocation will aid the planned deployment of a visible policing service in a flexible, effective and targeted way. €107million in the overtime budget will yield almost 3.4 million extra hours of policing by uniformed Gardaí and by special units throughout the State. It will support the continuation of Operation Anvil which has proven essential in the fight against crime. A total of €20 million has been set aside by the Garda Commissioner for Operation Anvil initiatives during the year. This level of resources will enable the Force to implement significant targeted intelligence-driven and high-intensity operations against organised crime, especially drug crime.
In recent years this Government has acted to ensure that An Garda Síochána had all the additional legal powers necessary in the fight against crime, whether it is serious gangland activities or more low level but hugely disruptive anti-social activities in our town centres and housing estates.
It is an absolute imperative that our responses to organised crime are appropriate, measured and up to date in meeting the most pressing issues facing law enforcement agencies and our local communities.
Drug misuse remains one of the most complex social ills faced globally. Drug law enforcement is a key feature of the Government's drug policy framework and our message is clear - drug dealing by anybody on whatever scale is unacceptable and will be pursued.
The policing priorities for 2008 include a specific reference to enhanced liaison arrangements between Garda Divisions and the Criminal Assets Bureau in the pursuit of those engaged in drug dealing at all levels. The Criminal Assets Bureau is being actively utilised to identify and target assets accumulated by criminals, in order to seize such assets and to deprive the criminals of the profits of their criminal activity. Profilers trained by CAB are now active in every Garda Division.
Developments which have taken place in recent times with regard to gun crime are deeply disturbing to all right thinking people in our society and together we must persevere in our efforts to tackle those who are involved in such reprehensible activity.
Witness intimidation and the laundering of money are integral parts of these organised criminal activities and will be targeted as part of the overall strategy against these criminal gangs.
Over the last while we have seen a number of successful operations carried out by the Gardaí to deal with serious crime. This has been achieved through focused intelligence-led operations which have disrupted the activities of many of the organised crime gangs. I want to commend An Garda Síochána for their successes.
We must also deal with the antisocial behaviour, much of it alcohol related, which affects many of our communities. As I announced yesterday, the Intoxicating Liquor/Public Order Bill 2008 contains two important proposals which are designed to assist the Gardaí in addressing public order issues arising from the possession or consumption of alcohol in public areas. These new measures will greatly strengthen the range of powers at your disposal to deal more robustly with public disorder.
In conclusion, there will be many challenges and difficulties facing you in the coming years. Nevertheless, the opportunity lies ahead of you to provide an invaluable service to the State and its people. I would like, once again to offer you my congratulations and wish you all the best in your future careers.
This day is one of celebration, not just for you, but also for your family and friends who have supported you so far, and will continue to do so. Your graduation hopefully marks the first step in a long and fruitful career for you all. I hope your find your career to be both rewarding and fulfilling in the years to come.
24 April 2008