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Commissioner, distinguished guests, members of An Garda Síochána, ladies and gentlemen.
Can I start by thanking the Commissioner for his kind invitation to speak to you today as you graduate from the Garda College. This is a very special day for you, the culmination of so much training and hard work. It must also be such a proud day for everyone who is here to support you and share this occasion with you. So I am really delighted to have this chance to say a few words to you.
I am also very pleased to see the recipients of the Scott medals here today. It is absolutely right that these Garda members should have their bravery publicly acknowledged, and their courage and commitment to duty is a wonderful reminder to every member graduating today of the best traditions of the Garda Síochána.
I would also like to add my welcome to the Children from Chernobyl who are visiting the college today. I very much hope that they are enjoying their stay in Ireland, and I think that a huge debt of thanks is owed to the organisations in Ireland who have provided so much support for children from that region over the last 25 years.
Can I also express my appreciation for the staff at this wonderful college, which is truly among the leading police colleges in Europe. They have worked with you so closely on what is a very demanding training course. Their dedication, allied to your commitment and ability, have made this day possible.
Can I also reassure everyone that there is no question, as some have suggested, that this great college is effectively going to close down due to lack of Garda recruitment. In addition to the college’s work in training recruits, a major task of the college is providing a huge variety of training to members of every rank – work that will not only continue, but is more important than ever. So this college will continue its vital work on Garda training, and will continue to be one of the most important institutions in the Force.
But it is important, too, to acknowledge reality. It is true that there is a temporary pause in the recruitment of Garda trainees. And let me be frank – I regret that, and I want to see that pause limited to as short a period as possible. I recognise the value of the energy and vitality brought into the Force by each new intake of recruits. But the financial and economic legacy left to this Government, and left to the country, leave no choice. As part of the agreement entered into by the last Government with the EU and the IMF, sharp reductions must be made in public expenditure and there must be significant reductions in the numbers employed in the public service. I wish this were not so, but we have to face reality. And the reality is that, as part of the commitments they made, the last Government undertook to reduce Garda numbers to 13,500 by the end of this year, and to 13,000 by the end of 2014. A further complication is that the rate of this reduction is almost entirely dependent on the numbers of Garda members voluntarily retiring, and that is another factor that will have to be taken into account.
This Government has its own targets for reductions in public service numbers, but no final decisions have been taken on how these will be apportioned. This will be the subject of serious discussion by the Cabinet, and I will make sure that the needs of the Garda Síochána will be taken into account in a fair and balanced way. I say that not by way of holding out false hope that reductions can be avoided: they cannot. But I do say that this Government will, whether in the Garda Síochána or elsewhere, prioritise frontline operations. That is a pledge in the Programme for Government and I reaffirm it here today.
In line with that Programme, I want to see administrative duties carried out by civilian staff as much as possible, so that highly trained Gardaí like you are freed up to tackle crime. I want to see reform of prosecution and judicial case management systems, so that Gardaí do not waste time waiting in court far longer than is necessary. I know that these problems have been spoken about before, but they must be and will be addressed. The crisis that has been brought about means that necessary reforms cannot be long-fingered any more. There must be change, there must be reform.
And I want to acknowledge that reform is happening under the Croke Park Agreement, reform that is being driven by Garda management with the co-operation of the Garda Associations. For example, new Garda rosters are being developed, so that policing resources can be better matched to policing demands. An efficient system of Garda compensation is being prepared, which will reduce legal costs and provide quicker compensation. These and other changes will make a real improvement, but more will be needed right across the public service to enable us all to maintain and improve public services.
I believe that the Garda Síochána will rise to the task. Time and again the Force has shown the capacity to respond to challenges with strength and flexibility. Just look at how the whole Force responded to the unprecedented back-to-back visits of her Majesty the Queen and President Obama. The policing and security demands of those visits were huge. I was so proud of the sheer professionalism of the response by the Garda Síochána and the Defence Forces, a pride I believe was shared right across the country.
That national pride was occasioned by the flawless execution by the Garda Síochána of those security arrangements. But it has a deeper origin, and that is the connection that the Force has with the Irish people. As members of the Garda Síochána, you very much belong to the community you serve. You enjoy huge levels of public trust, built up by the service and sacrifice of generations of Gardaí. I know that you will honour that tradition of service, and that you will always do your duty to the very best of your ability.
It is a huge responsibility, but I know that you are ready for it. You have already proven your ability during training. You have made a solemn declaration that you will faithfully discharge your duties. I have total confidence in your capacity and your integrity. The public are depending on you, and I know that you will never let them down.
So let me finish by thanking each and every one of you for joining the Garda Síochána and for dedicating yourself to public service. You have my full support as you set out on an exciting career, and you have the full support of the public you will serve. I wish you all a rewarding and fulfilling career in this wonderful organisation.
Go raibh míle maith agaibh go léir.