Ladies and Gentlemen,
My purpose in being in Tipperary today is three-fold.
I have come to Templemore to launch the new mobile speed detection systems which will greatly enhance the capacity of An Garda Síochána to keep people safe on the roads. Earlier I was with Commissioner Murphy in Thurles to open officially the Garda Fixed Charge Processing Office - which involved moving from Dublin a vital part of the infrastructure underpinning our road safety strategy. And thirdly I am marking the start of the Garda Community Safety week.
In fact, community safety is at the heart of these three initiatives. The Government can have no greater priority than the protection of its citizens from harm.
Much of what we are doing today relates to the enforcement of our road traffic laws. It is important to stress that the primary underlying objective of our road traffic law enforcement is to keep people safe on the roads. It is designed to encourage people to drive safely in a manner which should keep themselves and others out of harm’s way.
We have made significant progress in recent years in improving road safety but, while people may at times be irritated by being subject to road traffic law enforcement themselves, we should never lose sight of the many lives lost and ruined because of what happens on our roads. Indeed, it is often members of An Garda Síochána themselves who have the bleak task of telling families that their loved ones will not be coming home.
Speed Detection Systems
The launch here today of eight new state of the art mobile speed detection systems represents a very substantial upgrading of the resources available to the Gardaí to address the problem of speeding on our roads. These vans will enable the Gardaí to increase speed enforcement on our roads and by so doing achieve a more compliant culture and consequently a reduction in deaths and serious injuries. The new systems will also provide automated integration with the FCPS/PULSE information database.
With these new systems, the Gardaí have equipment in place which is state of the art in its field. It replaces equipment which provided good service, but which has been overtaken by technical developments. The Gardaí now have equipment which will make a significant contribution to increasingly effective enforcement.
It is important to emphasise that Garda enforcement is not in the first instance aimed at catching drivers who are speeding – rather its aim is to increase compliance by drivers so that they cease to speed. In order to achieve this, it is critical that speed enforcement is carried out in areas where there is a history of speed related collisions and speed limits are being exceeded. For this reason An Garda Síochána carries out detailed analysis of collision data so as to identify locations and times where the tendency for speed related collisions is greatest. Speed enforcement will be prioritised on a risk assessment basis on such locations and at such times. Furthermore, the Gardaí publicise these locations, including through the Garda website, so as to make drivers aware that if they speed they run a high risk of being caught.
Fixed Charge Processing Office
It was a privilege for me earlier today to officially open the Garda Fixed Charge Processing Office. I would like to take this opportunity to congratulate all those involved in bringing this project to realisation.
The town of Thurles is home to a number of important parts of the broader justice system. Going back a few years, the Garda Central Vetting Unit moved its operations from Garda Headquarters in Dublin to Thurles in 2005. There are now 66 staff working in the Unit. Along with the 67 staff in the Fixed Charge Processing Office, the total number of Garda civilian employees in Thurles is now over 130. I believe that this is an enormous boost for the town.
Looking more broadly at County Tipperary, the Private Security Authority moved to Tipperary Town in January 2005 and, earlier this year, the Irish Naturalisation and Immigration Service moved its citizenship operation there as well. The Equality Authority has also opened an advance office in Roscrea, and the Office of the Inspector of Prisons will soon open for business in Nenagh. This strengthens our long association with Tipperary, which goes back to 1964 when the Garda Training College was established here in Templemore.
I was very pleased to meet in Thurles the staff who have opted to work there. I know that they are able to enjoy an excellent quality of life by working in such a fine town. I want to take this opportunity to wish them and their families every happiness in Thurles and every success in their future careers within the justice family.
Turning to the important work which the Fixed Charge Processing Office is now carrying out in Thurles, the penalty points and fixed charge notice system introduced by the Oireachtas is being implemented by means of the Garda Fixed Charge Processing System - FCPS. Essentially, the system has automated the end to end processing of fixed charge notices within An Garda Síochána. It also transfers information electronically to the other State agencies involved, in particular the Courts Service and the Department of the Environment, Heritage and Local Government.
The system now covers the 35 road traffic offences identified as having the greatest impact on road safety. In addition, the system is also fully integrated with the PULSE system. It saves significant time and resources for the Gardaí and also for the Courts Service.
In this way, valuable Garda resources are being freed up for operational duties. This is being achieved in a number of ways, one of the most important of which is by ensuring that, after an offence has been committed, the processing is carried out by civilian staff. As well as this, accepting payments of notices has been outsourced to An Post, thereby obviating the need for Gardaí to provide this service and enabling them to focus on their core functions, one of which is preventing and detecting crime. It is very important that fixed charge notices and penalty points are effectively and efficiently processed so that cases are dealt with quickly. I know that this is a high priority for the Commissioner.
FCPS has also significantly enhanced the information available to the Gardaí and consequently their ability to enhance performance by utilising targets to achieve timely and focused enforcement. It is now possible to identify quickly where urgent action is required in order to improve the performance of the system and take that action.
The scale of Garda activity in road traffic law enforcement is clear from the fact that, to date, over one million fixed charge notices have issued since the rollout of the system. I am confident that the vital work of the Processing Office will continue to be carried out efficiently and effectively in Thurles.
I can also tell you of another major new road safety initiative involving the Gardaí which involves the use of Automated Number Plate Recognition (ANPR) technology. This technology will have a range of uses including the detection of untaxed, stolen and suspicious vehicles. It will also have speed detection capabilities which will add significantly to Garda enforcement capacity in this area. Procurement of the system is nearing completion and its installation in a range of vehicles is expected to commence later this year.
Garda Community Safety Week
I am particularly delighted to be here in Templemore this morning as today is the start of Garda Community Safety Week. It is aimed at reminding the public of the importance of being aware of simple, yet effective, community safety and crime prevention messages.
During this week, Gardaí will host a wide range of initiatives both locally and nationally to highlight community safety for people of all ages spanning the entire range from children at primary school to older people. Community policing will be at the core of the activities for the week. Road safety is also at the centre of the week. The public will see a strong Garda presence on our roads, as well as on the beat. The Garda Schools Programme will be particularly active in conveying community road safety information to our school pupils. I welcome particularly the emphasis on making our senior citizens feel safe. These are the people who helped make our country what it is today and who, above all, deserve to be let live out their lives peaceably.
I commend the Commissioner and An Garda Síochána on this initiative, bringing community safety and crime prevention to public attention. It reflects the spirit of partnership between An Garda Síochána and the community it serves. It is on that partnership that I as Minister will continue to build so that, together, we can keep our communities safe.