On Tuesday, the 30th March 2010.
"Mr. President, Members of the Executive, honoured guests, colleagues, ladies and gentlemen.
I want to start by thanking the Association for the invitation to address you here today. As I have said many times before I regard you as an important group within An Garda Síochána representing as you do a vital link in the chain of command – that of frontline supervisors and middle management.
I am conscious that I am addressing this conference at a challenging time – probably one of the most difficult times since AGSI was formed 32 years ago. The problems in the country’s economy have given rise to both personal pressures for individuals and operational challenges for us professionally as we all try to do more with less.
The vast majority of our members in An Garda Síochána work on a daily basis under your supervision and leadership. That carries great responsibility for each of you as individuals and is critical to our success collectively as a police force serving the community.
I am acutely aware of the changing composition of the workforce and the consequent demands this places on front-line managers. The recent accelerated recruitment programme means that the demography of the Force has changed substantially over the last number of years giving us a significant proportion of young members. This presents both a challenge and an opportunity and I am conscious of the significant job you are doing to mentor these young men and women. It is with your guidance that they learn and develop in the early stages of their police careers.
This annual gathering provides us with an opportunity to take stock, review achievements and successes in the last 12 months and plan for the challenges that may lie ahead. I note from your Clár that you will be discussing a range of worthwhile motions during the course of your conference, many of which I support and I look forward to working together with you over the next 12 months to achieve results on many of the matters raised.
I want to thank you, your members and their families for the support and commitment they consistently give An Garda Síochána and to me as Commissioner. I never fail to be impressed by the dedication and professionalism of people in this organisation.
ACHIEVEMENTS SINCE LAST YEAR’S CONFERENCE -
In looking at our achievements over the last year, I want to acknowledge the great work done by your members and those you supervise on a daily basis throughout the country. Much of this work doesn’t make the front page of our newspapers or the hourly news bulletins but it matters hugely to the lives of the people we serve and the safety of our communities.
Significant work is being done both nationally and locally to combat serious and organised crime and to disrupt the drug trade and drug dealing on our streets.
The Garda National Drugs Unit is engaged in strategic partnerships with local Garda drug units as well as the Organised Crime Unit and other agencies including the Revenue Commissioners (Customs Service) and the Naval Service. They are engaged at a national and local level in the fight against large scale importation of controlled drugs into Ireland as well as drug dealing and drug related crime in our communities.
Our members in the Special Detective Unit and in the Northern Region are working closely in cooperation with the Police Service of Northern Ireland to counter the real, live threat that currently emanates from dissident republicans. We have had successes in both detecting and disrupting their activity but we are ever vigilant and alert to their intentions, particularly the callous targeting of our police colleagues in Northern Ireland. We stand together with the PSNI in defence and defiance of that threat.
I share your concern about the head shops phenomenon. They are gradually filling a space where consumers have been denied access to illegal drugs by strong Garda action against the drug trade as well as economic considerations. I also support the commitment on the part of Government to legislate in this area and I can assure them that the same determination and commitment that has been demonstrated against drug trafficking and drug dealing will be applied to enforcement in this area also.
To date this year we have seen significant progress in investigations into so-called “gangland” crimes and murders with people charged before the courts in a number of cases. We have been compiling files on organised crime groups under the new Criminal Justice legislation and a number of substantial investigation files on key gangs are currently with the Director of Public Prosecutions awaiting directions. More investigation files are at an advanced stage of preparation. We await his advices and directions.
Your members are leading out on targeted and intelligence-led operations directed at crimes such as theft of ATMs (Operation Slope) and burglary (Operation Creeper). These are also yielding results with 48 arrests to date in the investigation of ATM thefts. These operations and investigations are being progressed by members of An Garda Síochána, under your guidance and supervision.
Our traffic corps personnel have put considerable effort into reducing deaths on our roads and the work of An Garda Síochána contributed to 2009 being the safest year on Irish roads since records began with the lowest number of road deaths recorded (239). It is important to also acknowledge the work being done by Divisional Traffic Corps personnel in denying criminals the use of the roads networks where activity has ranged from substantial drug seizures to the detection and arrests of armed robbers.
The people in this room don’t need me to tell them about the impact of the current economic environment. I don’t underestimate the personal impact it has on you and also the challenges you face as frontline supervisors where you are managing people who are facing extra financial pressures. As Commissioner I am acutely conscious of those heightened pressures and fully appreciate the position in which a lot of members find themselves, particularly those with mortgages and young families.
It was partly in response to the pressures being experienced by members that last year I announced the establishment of a working group to look at our employee assistance service with a view to ensuring it meets the needs of our workforce. That group includes a representative of this Association together with representatives of the other staff Associations, Civil Service Unions, as well as both Public Sector and external professionals. I am advised that their work has progressed significantly and I look forward to receiving the report in the near future and using its findings to ensure we have a comprehensive, appropriately staffed and integrated welfare system.
The existing Garda Employee Assistance Service has served us well in providing advice and support to assist members and former members in resolving personal and work related issues and thereby maintain their health and wellbeing. The requirement now is to build on that excellent work.
I would like to acknowledge the valuable contribution made by our Employee Assistance Officers and by Peer Supporters who provide crucial support to members and their families in times of need. Much training has taken place in recent times to up skill key personnel in those issues which affect the welfare of our members, including Stress Management, Critical Incident Stress Management, Peer Support, and Applied Suicide Intervention Skills Training.
Peer Supporters play a crucial role in assisting members in the aftermath of a traumatic incident. The number of members trained in this area has increased and now stands at 564. Further training for additional Peer Supporters will continue to ensure that adequate support is available to members, if required.
I stated previously how much I appreciate the fact that in spite of these difficulties and challenges members of An Garda Síochána still come to work each day to perform a demanding and exacting job which makes a real difference to the community and continue to demonstrate a high level of commitment and professionalism.
The overall economic environment has also impacted on the resources available to us as an organisation and the moratorium on recruitment and promotion in the public sector created particular difficulties for me and my management team as well as putting pressure on frontline supervisors. Since the introduction of the moratorium, I have been in constant contact with the Minister for Justice to ensure as far as possible that we are in a position to provide the most complete policing service to the community. It was therefore welcome that we secured promotions to a number of ranks resulting in the promotion of 12 members of Inspector rank to Superintendent, 28 members of Sergeant rank to Inspector and 154 members of Garda rank to Sergeant. I particularly welcome the fact that I now again have the authority to fill vacancies as they arise at the rank of sergeant and inspector.
It is important to me as Commissioner to ensure that resources are maintained at the frontline and that members have the equipment and technology to assist them in their duties. For that reason I am glad that we have maintained the same level of funding for Operation Anvil and that we are in a position to complete the rollout of the Regional Support Units to the Northern and South Eastern Regions having already established them in the South, the West and the East. The national digital radio project is on schedule to be fully operational by 2011 and significant investment is also being made to extend the PULSE network and email facilities.
I understand that your Executive was recently briefed by the CAO on a range of accommodation improvements which we are endeavouring to achieve and I look forward to progressing that area significantly in the months ahead.
All of these initiatives enhance frontline policing and benefit your members in their daily work. As Commissioner, I will continue to work to secure every possible support for members and ensure that you have the necessary equipment and resources to do your job effectively and safely.
INVESTIGATION OF CHILD ABUSE CASES -
As you are aware, recent reports published by the Ryan Commission to inquire into Child Abuse and the Murphy Commission of Investigation into the Catholic Archdiocese of Dublin, have highlighted a shameful history of child sexual abuse in this State. We now see the community looking for answers as to how such abuse occurred and An Garda Síochána has had to ask its own searching questions following critical findings and comment about the manner in which some complaints were investigated.
An Garda Síochána’s role within the criminal justice system was also considered in a report on the experience of victims of rape and sexual assault recently commissioned by the Rape Crisis Network. While all these reports recognised the excellent work of many gardai, they also raised issues for the manner in which some investigations are undertaken.
It is the duty of the Gardaí to investigate fully all incidents of sexual crime and child abuse reported to them. These cases require special care and attention because of the often vulnerable circumstances in which victims find themselves.
The positive and compassionate attitude of members of the Garda Síochána towards victims of such crimes is vital to ensuring that any investigation is brought to a successful conclusion for the complainant. We must show sensitivity in our dealings with complainants. This is particularly important when a victim displays behaviour that seems strange or uncharacteristic, which can be so common following incidents of sexual crime. We must show our understanding of the physical and emotional pain often suffered by victims, whether of recent or historical abuse.
We have taken various steps in recent years to support those directly involved in these difficult investigations. The expertise built up by the Domestic Violence and Sexual Assault Investigation Unit continues to be available where required. Initiatives such as the establishment of a Crime Training Faculty to train senior investigating officers, the training and appointment of specialist child interviewers and the establishment of dedicated child interview suites are designed to ensure An Garda Síochána’s investigative capability is in line with best international practice.
Following the publication of the Murphy and Ryan Reports I asked the Deputy Commissioner in charge of Operations to again review our work practices and methodologies for investigation of sexual abuse cases. This work is now complete and in the coming days we will circulate on the portal and in hard copy to stations a comprehensive policy on the investigation of sexual crime, on crimes against children and on child welfare. In addition to consolidating and updating all existing guidance and directives on the area I am establishing a Sexual Crime Management Unit within the Domestic Violence and Sexual Assault Investigation Unit. Each year this Unit will evaluate a number of investigations of child sexual abuse, child neglect and other sexual offences to ensure they are receiving appropriate attention and being brought to a prompt conclusion. The Unit will also be focused on assisting and advising members in the investigation of such crimes and in promoting best investigative practice in line with international standards. The unit will also maintain a record of all complaints of clerical sexual abuse and will interact as appropriate with contact points in these agencies who are in a position and have a responsibility to report complaints of sexual abuse to An Garda Síochána.
I rely on you, our AGSI members, as frontline managers and supervisors, to instil in Garda members the need for sensitivity, compassion and professionalism in all of their dealings with the public, but particularly when interacting with victims of sexual crime.
We all have a responsibility to address these problems effectively when they arise, commence investigations and travel the road that those investigations take us regardless of where it leads.
Our core activity is the prevention and detection of crime. We have a significant reservoir of experience and new talent with which to go about this task. Targeted investigations, intelligence led operations and strong partnerships with the community continue to result in arrests and prosecutions across a range of criminal activity.
Our success cannot be measured by crime figures and statistics alone, we must also strive to maintain high levels of confidence in the community and ensure that people feel safe on the streets and in their homes.
As I said before, I want people out there using our full legal powers and acting within the law to make arrests, bring offenders to court and work effectively to reduce crime and make communities safer.
I want to again acknowledge your commitment and dedication to An Garda Síochána and our daily work and to express my appreciation for your professionalism and the results you are achieving and the difference you continue to make by providing a professional policing service to the community.
We can never underestimate the importance of partnership in achieving results both within and outside the organisation. Our own partnership with the community and other agencies assists us in our work to build and maintain a safe environment for everyone. Both I and my senior management team value the key internal partnership between ourselves and the associations and I want to emphasise my commitment to the partnership process.
Finally, I wish to express my sincere thanks to you President and your Executive for the invitation to address you today. I wish you well in your discussions for the remainder of the conference and look forward to the future, confident that An Garda Síochána can meet the challenges that lie ahead."