Commissioner, distinguished guests, ladies and gentlemen.
It is a great honour for me as Minister for Justice, Equality and Law Reform to attend Garda Graduation Ceremonies and I am delighted to be participating in this ceremony today to mark the graduation of 239 new members of An Garda Síochána. This is a memorable day for all of you, and for your families and friends who are joining you in celebrating your marvellous achievement. I congratulate each of you on successfully completing what I'm sure you found to be a very tough but rewarding course. Your presence here today is also a testament to the success of An Garda Síochána in continuing to fulfil its challenging recruitment and training targets.
This is the first class of full-time members to graduate since Commissioner Murphy became the Garda Commissioner late last year. Commissioner Murphy takes over at a key juncture in Irish policing. It is an era of huge change in Irish society as well as in Irish policing. The changes introduced through the Garda Síochána Act 2005 are improving the effectiveness of An Garda Síochána and allowing it to respond to the many challenges it faces; challenges which are constantly evolving and which continually demand fresh inspiration and innovative solutions.
Under the expert leadership and guidance of Commissioner Murphy, An Garda Síochána is well placed to face the challenges of today and into the future. Commissioner, I can assure you that you have the full support of the people and of the Government in the vital role of policing our country.
I am confident that each of you graduating here today from this fine institution has the capacity and determination to meet the challenges that lie ahead of you. Your profession, and the work you do, is central to the lives of each and every person in this country, and we look to you, the men and women of An Garda Síochána, to maintain law and order in our towns, cities and neighbourhoods. This is an onerous and solemn duty in the service of the Nation and one which can only be truly delivered with the confidence and consent of the people you police. As Gardaí you interact with the public not only as members of An Garda Síochána but also as representatives of the State. And looking across you serried ranks, I am confident that as you take up your positions across the country your sense of duty and commitment will reflect the principles we as a nation wish to uphold. I now want to take this opportunity to let you know what the Government is doing to assist you in your front-line role as guardians of the peace.
Investment in An Garda Síochána
The Government, and I personally as Minister, are determined to ensure that An Garda Síochána is provided with the necessary personnel and equipment to undertake its role effectively and efficiently. We are committed to providing the Force with the financial and other resources it needs. This year the Garda budget stands at over €1.6 billion. This is an unprecedented investment in policing, representing an 11% increase on the Garda budget for 2007.
Increasing Garda Numbers
This level of resources has allowed for a very significant expansion in the Force and this translates directly into more Gardaí visibly on patrol in our communities. Your graduation today is a visible proof of this. The unprecedented increase in the number of Gardaí has supported a sustained and successful focus on policing operations targeting serious crime.
The strength of An Garda Síochána will continue to increase over the coming years and this college will continue to be a hive of activity for the foreseeable future as 1,100 trainees will be taken into the Garda College each year until the Government’s target is met.
In addition to the expansion in the strength of An Garda Síochána we are also recruiting significant numbers of civilians at all levels in the organisation to free up Gardaí for visible frontline duties in the communities they serve and to introduce new skills to assist the Force in its work. At the end of 2007 there were 2,281 civilian staff employed by An Garda Síochána and the recruitment of additional civilians continues at speed.
I welcome the Garda Commissioner’s and the whole organisation’s continuing work to drive the civilianisation programme forward. 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.
More Technology and Equipment
The Government is also committed to ensuring that An Garda Síochána can invest in the technology and equipment it needs in support of policing. The provision of secure, state-of-the-art Digital Radio for Gardaí and other emergency services is a key development which is now well underway. Work is also underway on a number of other major information technology projects, including a new Automated Number Plate Recognition system for road traffic enforcement and a Major Incidents
System to support significant investigations.
There is a major ongoing programme of investment in the Garda fleet aimed at both improving and expanding the fleet of vehicles available to Gardaí and the purchase of a new helicopter for the Garda Air Support Unit represents a significant investment in the air support capability which is an essential aspect of modern policing. I am also strongly committed to supporting the programme of replacing and renewing Garda stations around the country and this will be supported to the tune of €260 million under the National Development Plan in the coming years.
I know that there has been a lot of comment on crime statistics during this week and I want to speak of how crime will be addressed. Earlier this month the Commissioner published the Garda Síochána Policing Plan for 2008, which reflects the Government's priorities in this area. I believe that the actions set out in the Plan, which are underpinned by the highest level of resources ever made available to the Force, will tackle crime effectively. I will continue to liaise with the Commissioner on progress in addressing the policing priorities and meeting the targets of the Policing Plan.
The Government's policing priorities, reflected in the Policing Plan, deal with targeting gun crime, organised crime and drug trafficking. They refer to the use in particular of specialist units and targeted operations such as Operation Anvil. They speak of the use of profiling, intelligence gathering and threat assessments in relation to individuals and groups involved in this type of crime. The Criminal Assets Bureau will pursue the proceeds of crime including through enhanced liaison arrangements between CAB and Garda Divisions. There will also be enhanced activities to counter drugs crime.
As I have emphasised on many occasions, the Government has no greater priority than bringing gangland killings to an end and to bring those involved in gangland activities to justice. Over the last while we have seen a number of successful operations carried out by An Garda Síochána to deal with gangland crime. I want to commend the Gardaí for the fact that murders involving firearms - which are predominantly gangland related - were significantly reduced from 26 in 2006 to 18 in 2007. Likewise, significant reductions were recorded in the number of robberies of financial institutions and cash in
Intense and targeted operations will continue to be unrelentingly undertaken to counteract the activities of criminals engaged in organised crime and gangland activity. To that end I welcome the Commissioner’s intention to establish the Organised Crime Unit on a permanent basis. The unit was initially established at the National Bureau of Crime Investigation in 2005. Its focus is to combat the growth of organised crime, and in particular armed criminal gangs. The Unit was expanded to 70 members in late 2006. Working closely with other specialist units, including the Garda National Drugs Unit, it has successfully targeted those suspected of involvement in organised criminal activity over the past two years.
I believe that, as each of you embarks on an exciting and fulfilling career as a member of An Garda Síochána, you can be confident that you are trained and resourced to meet the challenges of policing the modern Ireland. You are joining a Force with a fine tradition of service.
I would like to once again congratulate all of you who are graduating here today and wish you well in your chosen career. I would like to thank you, on behalf of the Irish people, for the service that you are giving and assure you that you have our full support in tackling the many challenges that lie ahead.
Today is your day. I hope you and your families and friends have a wonderful time celebrating your great achievement in becoming members of An Garda Síochána. I am sure that in the years ahead you will have many opportunities to celebrate other achievements in your career, but I hope you will take with you pleasant memories of your time in Templemore and of your Graduation Day.