Address by An Tánaiste at the Garda Graduation Ceremony at the Garda College Templemore

Commissioner, distinguished guests, ladies and gentlemen.

I am delighted to be participating in this ceremony today to mark the graduation of 254 new members of An Garda Siochana. This is a memorable day for all of you and for your parents, family and friends who are joining with you in celebrating your achievement. I congratulate each of you on successfully completing what I'm sure you found to be a very testing but fulfilling course.

I have had the honour of being Minister for Justice for almost five years. I can say that I have had no greater privilege or pleasure in that Office than attending graduation ceremonies here in Templemore. They are occasions when I, on behalf of the Government and as a representative of the community at large, have been here to wish new members of An Garda Siochana well. There is no point in pretending that An Garda Siochana has not had to endure some stormy waters in recent years. But the welcome fact remains that membership of the Force is a popular and honourable calling and I am glad to say that I have seen no diminution in the genuine pride which new members of the Force feel - a pride deeply shared by families and friends.

As Justice Minister it has been my job to encourage change in An Garda Siochana where that was needed - and I was ably supported in that quest by your Commissioner - but I was always conscious of the need to do nothing which would alter fundamentally the nature or standing of the Force. An Garda Siochana has had a proud tradition. Not least they have defended our State from those who would seek to subvert it. And while the nature of the challenges which have to be faced may change from time to time, I am confident that tradition will continue to flourish.

The position of a Garda within the community is one which brings with it great responsibilities, along with the potential to have a profoundly positive effect on the lives of people who look to you for advice, assistance and protection in times of need.

The challenges facing An Garda Siochana are increasing all the time. I am committed to ensuring that the Force you have joined is provided with the necessary personnel and equipment, as well as to putting in place strong legislative measures which will enable you to discharge your functions effectively. I am confident that you as new members of An Garda Siochana have the capacity and determination to meet the challenges lie ahead.


Garda Numbers

Last December, as part of a further package of anti-crime measures, the Government approved my proposal that the existing Garda recruitment programme continue until there is a total Garda strength of 15,000. The current accelerated intake of approximately 1,100 new recruits per annum into the Garda College will continue until this target is met.

I have further agreed with the Taoiseach that the target strength will be increased further to 16,000 so that the current high level of recruitment will continue during the lifetime of the next Government. This will allow us, based on current projections, to have one member of the Force to every 300 population. There are currently a record 13,178 fully attested members representing an increase of over 23% in the personnel strength of the Force since 30 June, 1997. The combined strength, of both attested Gardai and recruits in training is now well in excess of 14,000 - at 14,258.

The Government wants to ensure that the future intake of recruits to An Garda Siochana reflect the composition of Irish society today. I believe that representation of all communities, including ethnic minorities, in the membership of An Garda Siochana is an essential factor in achieving excellence in a policing service for Ireland. In 2005, I made changes to the entry rules to An Garda Siochana with the aim of removing barriers to recruitment to the Force and the achievement of the Garda Commissioner's strategic objective of encouraging recruitment from ethnic minorities. These changes illustrate the commitment of the Government and An Garda Siochana to effective policing in a more diverse society, and we are already seeing this reflected in recruitment with 4 recruits currently in training and further applications currently being processed.

 

Regulations on Confidential Reporting of Corruption and Malpractice

An important development took place this week when I brought into effect the Garda Siochana (Confidential Reporting of Corruption and Malpractice) Regulations - often referred to as the whistleblower regulations. I made these following discussions with the Garda representative associations and with their agreement.

The Garda Siochana Act 2005 provided for the making of these Regulations as part of the overall reform of policing accountability. The Regulations also take account of the recommendation of the Morris Tribunal that it should be possible for any serving member of An Garda Siochana to speak in confidence with a designated officer in Garda Headquarters should they have concerns about misconduct. These Regulations go well beyond the Tribunal's recommendation. Civilian employees, as well as sworn members of the Garda Siochana, will be able to make confidential reports to an independent person appointed by the Minister or to internal reporting points within An Garda Siochana. Provision is also made for the Garda Ombudsman Commission to be kept fully informed of all investigations into confidential reports of corruption and malpractice. The Garda Inspectorate will also be informed of reports relevant to its remit.

If the person making a report acts in good faith, and has reasonable grounds for believing that corruption or malpractice is afoot, they will enjoy the protections provided by the regulations. A person who makes a false report will not enjoy those protections, and action will be taken against anyone making a false report.

There are three principal protections for persons who, in good faith, report corruption and malpractice. Firstly, their identity will be protected and will only be revealed in very limited circumstances where necessary for tackling the corruption or malpractice. Secondly, they can not be disciplined for making a confidential report. Thirdly, anyone who seeks to bully or intimidate them for making a report will be amenable to disciplinary action.

I am pleased that agreement has been reached with the associations on a system that will allow honest, upright Gardai to expose wrongdoing without any fear of retribution. I want to thank the associations for their constructive engagement in the discussions on these Regulations and for their commitment to the new confidential reporting system. It is in the interests of their members, of the Garda Siochana as a whole and of the wider community to ensure that corruption and malpractice can not take hold. I look forward to the Charter being completed and seeing the new system in operation in the coming months. This is vital if An Garda Siochana is to operate at maximum effectiveness and continue to enjoy the confidence of the community it serves.


Crime Statistics

Yesterday the Central Statistics Office published the headline crime statistics for the first quarter of 2007. They confirm the positive trend which became evident in the second half of 2006. There was a reduction in headline crime of 5.6% in the first quarter, compared with the same quarter in 2006. This follows reductions of 2.4% and 1.2% in the fourth and third quarters respectively of last year. CSO also reported a decrease of 2.2% in the year-on-year figure at the end of the first quarter. The front line members of the Force -as well as the Commissioner and his senior management team - are to be commended for these results.

The combination of stringent legislation, unprecedented resources for An Garda Siochana and the energetic and focused operations of a fundamentally reformed Garda force are bringing about the positive developments in crime levels which the CSO have documented in this and previous quarters. It is vitally important that we continue to build on the successes which have been achieved. The Criminal Justice Bill, which I hope will complete its progress through the Oireachtas this week, will be central to that strategy.

I am pleased to note that there were reductions in 24 of the 40 crime categories. Particularly worthy of note is the reduction of 28.6% in the number of murders and manslaughters in the quarter, compared with the same quarter last year. While the figures are still too high, the year-on-year figure shows a reduction of 7.5%.

There have also been decreases in the number of robberies of an establishment or institution and of robberies of cash and goods in transit. I believe that the recent intensified co-operation between the Gardai and the banks and security firms has been largely responsible for this positive development and I look forward to a continued high level of co-operation.

I welcome the continued decrease in the high volume crimes of burglary and theft from the person, from MPVs and from shops shown by the figures. &nbs p; I believe that this results in large part from increased attention being paid to security by businesses, motorists and individuals generally.

 

Crime and Victimisation Survey

The CSO also published yesterday the results of a crime and victimisation survey it carried out in the fourth quarter of 2006. This comprehensive and detailed survey, which involved face-to-face interviews in 29,000 households throughout the country, shows reductions in the incidence of theft with and without violence, physical assault, burglary, car, motorcycle and bicycle theft and theft from cars compared with the last survey in 2003.
It's interesting to note that overall people's experience of crime has actually reduced in the past three years to 2006. In my view this reflects the unprecedented increase in Garda numbers and resources introduced by this Government, the increase in the number of prisons places and the banishment of the revolving door syndrome in our criminal justice system.

These survey results confirm the positive trends in crime reported to the Garda Siochana since 2003 and this detailed study adds greatly to our knowledge of people's experience and perception of crime. I note some of the outcomes differ significantly from the recently published EU International Crime Survey which suggested that Ireland's experience of crime was way out of line with other EU member states. While the survey reveals some challenges for An Garda Siochana it is good to see that a majority of Irish people retain their faith in and support for the Force. I have no doubt that faith in the Gardai will be reinforced by the wide range of fundamental reforms that the Government and I have introduced over the past few years.

Crime is, of course, a concern to many people. The reality is that the fight against crime has to be relentless. The fact that all the evidence suggests that crime is on the way down is welcome; but rather than lead to complacency it should teach us that properly resourced, well worked out strategies work and that we must build on those successes. There is no magic formula that can be applied to the problem of crime. What is required is the steady and continuous implementation of a programme to ensure that the Garda Siochana - and other agencies - are properly resourced and effectively organised; and that they have the laws that will allow them to be effective. Crime will not be tackled by sound bites or gimmicks; nor by being neither for nor against measures to deal with it.


 

Criminal Justice Bill 2007

I have referred to the Criminal Justice Bill 2007. This Bill is among the most important pieces of criminal law legislation in recent years. It is aimed at confronting the scourge of gang crime. It will provide the Gardai and prosecution services with a wide array of new powers to help track down and bring gang figures before the courts, and it gives the courts the means to deal effectively with these serious offenders.

The Bill covers the areas of bail, detention, sentencing and post release supervision. It changes the law on the retention of samples, on the taking of statements and on access to tapes of interviews. It clarifies and re-states the law on the right to silence, on the use of mandatory sentences in drugs and firearms cases and it rebalances the odds in bail applications, so that there will, in future, be greater opportunities to oppose bail applications effectively where this is necessary.

This Bill, taken together with the very extensive changes in the Criminal Justice Act 2006, represents a major step forward in the fight against crime. We all know that criminals are constantly searching for new ways and new opportunities. It is essential that the law and the enforcement agencies are given the means to respond to these changing circumstances and new challenges. These two pieces of legislation will go a long way in helping the Gardai and other agencies confront the new and ever-changing criminal threat.

However, lest there be any doubt about the matter, I want to make it clear that while I strongly believe the law must be updated, this Government has, nevertheless, always recognised that law and legislation are but part of the answer. Good dedicated police work is always essential. In turn, good policing requires manpower and resources. This Government has never been found wanting when it comes to providing the Gardai with both additional manpower and resources.

 

Conclusion

I believe that as you commence your career as a member of An Garda Siochana you can be confident that you are resourced and trained to meet the challenges of policing the modern Ireland.

I would like to congratulate all of you who are graduating as Gardai here today and wish you well in your chosen career. I hope each and every one of you will have a proud, professional and greatly rewarding career. I hope you will have good memories of your time in Templemore and your Graduation Day.



26 April 2007