Address by the Minister for Justice, Equality and Law Reform at the Garda Graduation Ceremony, Garda College, Templemore, Novembver 2007


Commissioner, Distinguished Guests, Ladies and Gentlemen

I am delighted to be here today to mark the graduation of 281 members of An Garda Síochána here in the Garda College.  It is undoubtedly a great achievement to have covered such a testing course and it is wonderful to be able to mark its completion with whoever may be able to be with you here today, be that your parents, guardians, family and friends.

There are numerous careers to choose from in the modern world and yet the general public in Ireland, quite rightly, remain of the strong view that becoming a member of the Force is a very honourable career choice and is one of the best ways in which a person can make a valuable contribution to public life in Ireland.

As I said before, seeing so many men and women proudly wearing the blue uniform, having graduated from one of the best police training colleges in any jurisdiction is always impressive and hugely encouraging.

As a society, we live in challenging times with a growing population, changing demographics and new commuter belts. As you start off today as new members of the Force, you would be quite justified in feeling a high degree of anticipation and possibly even a small bit of apprehension because An Garda Síochána plays such a central role in policing this new Ireland and dealing with all these challenges. 

Of course today is a day for you all to fully enjoy, celebrating your graduation together with those with whom you have trained hard.

And while it is without question not a day for long and formal speeches, I would like to mark the occasion by saying a few words to give you all a good sense of what the Government is identifying as priority issues for An Garda Síochána over the coming year.

As you may be aware, under the Garda Síochána Act 2005 I have a responsibility to set policing priorities for An Garda Síochána.  Having consulted my colleagues in Government, I am today in a position to announce what those priorities are for next year and I would like to mention a few of them to you today.

My intention for 2008 is to particularly prioritise areas such as gun crime, organised crime and drugs.   Without doubt these remain as the top policing priorities for the Government and for society. 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.

In saying this let us not forget the unrelenting efforts and significant level of successes already being made by An Garda Síochána in this fight against those involved in such crimes and I commend the ongoing efforts of all involved in this vital work.  We must and will continue to vigorously sustain these efforts and pursue those elements in society who continue to engage in such serious criminal activity. We will continue to clearly and trenchantly demonstrate to one and all that such activity will never be tolerated.

Of course, An Garda Síochána will continue to be at the forefront of and lead the State’s response in tackling the activities of these gangs through:
Ø the continued use of specialist units and targeted operations such as Operation Anvil.
Ø profiling, intelligence gathering and threat assessments in relation to individuals and groups involved in these categories of crime
Ø the continued delivery of Garda actions set out in the National Drugs Strategy
Ø enhanced activities by the Garda drug units and indeed by the entire Garda organisation focusing in particular on places throughout the country where the presence of drug dealing and the use of illegal drugs is suspected.
Ø the pursuit by the Criminal Assets Bureau of the proceeds of crime

Indeed I have included in the policing priorities 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.

As it is, profilers trained by CAB are now present in every Garda Division.  The message should be clear: drug dealing by anybody on whatever scale is unacceptable and will be pursued. 

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 be very serious gangland activities or more low level but hugely disruptive anti-social activities in our town centres and housing estates. 

The two Criminal Justice Acts in 2006 and 2007 have allowed us to address many issues.  Detention periods have been extended, search warrant powers are expanded, new offences in relation to organised crime are on the statute books and a new sentencing regime is in place for firearms offences. 

Procedures have been revised and I mention in this regard the provisions in relation to situations where witnesses withdraw or fail to stand over their statements, as well as the revised provisions on the inferences that can be drawn from a suspect’s silence while being questioned.  We have also introduced new requirements that will assist the Gardaí in opposing bail applications where there are serious charges.  The full effect of changes in the criminal law inevitably take time to be fully effective and we need to give these measures time to work.

This extensive package of legislative measures will be complemented by the forthcoming legislation on the establishment of a DNA database which I intend to publish in the coming months. This database will greatly enhance the intelligence capacity of An Garda Síochána and should make a very significant contribution in the fight against all types of crime.

It is absolutely 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.

Other important Government policing priorities for 2008 include continuing to combat potential terrorist activities and specifically tackling the threat posed by dissident paramilitary groups and those who would use Ireland as a base for international terrorism.

And public order issues remain understandably high on the general publics’ list of concerns with regard to policing matters. Because of this An Garda Síochána will be asked to co-operate with other agencies and the community generally in initiatives to combat the problems of public disorder.   In this context, one of the priorities which we are establishing is for the Gardaí to participate fully in the roll out of Joint Policing Committees in all local authority areas.  This will allow the Force to be more responsive to local policing needs, while at the same time forging local partnerships in addressing issues.

A particular concern for both myself and the Government is the increasing trend in violent knife attacks.  The legislative provisions in this area are comprehensive and provide very substantial penalties for those engaging in these activities.  I welcome the fact that An Garda Síochána in their Policing Plan for 2008 will commit themselves to a publicity campaign directed against the carrying of knives. 

Gardaí who put their lives on the line need protection, and the Commissioner and I are both determined they will have it. Anti-stab and ballistic vests have been distributed to every operational member of the Force and An Garda Síochána  are currently training all operational personnel in the proper and safe use of the new retractable baton which will be issued to members following the successful completion of training.

The Government is also asking the Gardaí to pay particular attention to alcohol related misdemeanours, including underage drinking.

The priorities set by the Government seek to increase significantly the proportion of Gardaí on operational duty and this will be facilitated by increased civilian support. The priorities provide that increased Garda deployment should have particular regard to the policing needs of RAPID areas.

Under the Programme for Government the strength of An Garda Síochána will rise to 15,000 Gardaí in 2010 and 16,000 in 2012.

In relation to the increasing resources being made available to An Garda Síochána I am pleased to note that the Government’s commitment to ensuring that the future intake of recruits to the organisation reflects the changing character of Irish society is taking shape.

Ethnic communities have been proactively targeted in recent recruitment campaigns and equally so in the latest recruitment campaign which began last month. In this regard it is pleasing to note that in the August 2007 intake, recruits included a number of Chinese, Romanian and Dutch trainees.  I understand that further applications from foreign nationals are being processed at the moment and it is very much expected that further numbers of ethnic minority Garda and Garda Reserve trainees will shortly be on board.

Furthermore, I welcome the fact that the Garda organisation is continuing to work to drive the civilianisation programme forward and the substantial increase in civilian support staff for the Force reiterates the Government’s commitment to allowing you to use your skills and training in policing, not administration.

Finally as you embark on your new careers in An Garda Síochána perhaps you need a little time before you think about ascending through the ranks but it does give me an opportunity to mention our present Garda Commissioner Noel Conroy who started out in the same way as you are today back in 1963. 

Commissioner Conroy, as you all know, is due to retire on 20 November and so this will be his last time to attend a Garda Graduation ceremony in his official capacity as your Commissioner. 

The Commissioner has served with An Garda Síochána for forty four years and it has indeed been a very distinguished career in which he has shown great skill, dedication, courage and commitment.  As well as being awarded a Scott silver medal in 1981, he has achieved many international academic qualifications in the field of policing and has brought an enormous wealth of experience and knowledge to the job. 

He has also, in the light of the Garda Síochána Act 2005, steered the force through a period of great change which will ensure that Ireland has a first-class police force capable of rising to the challenges of the twenty-first century.   I know he will be an inspiration to you all here today and I would like to take this opportunity to thank him for his magnificent contribution to An Garda Síochána and to wish him every success in the future. 

You are graduating from this College today at an exciting time for policing in Ireland.  Whatever challenges lie ahead, I can assure you that you have the full support of the Government, Commissioner Conroy and his successor Commissioner Fachtna Murphy. 

One thing I would urge you to do in this respect is to celebrate successes, be they big or small.  Take pride from your achievements and from the knowledge that your ongoing efforts to disrupt criminal activities are having a positive effect and are welcomed, not only by elected political representatives, but by every decent law abiding citizen regardless of their geographical location. I congratulate you all once again on this your graduation day, a day on which you can feel justifiably proud of yourself, and wish each and every one of you all the very best in your future careers with An Garda Síochána.

Thank you.

1 November 2007