1. Deputy Niall Collins asked the Minister for Justice and Equality his plans for Garda recruitment in 2013; and if he will make a statement on the matter. [20855/13]
Vol. 801 No. 4
1. Deputy Niall Collins asked the Minister for Justice and Equality his plans for Garda recruitment in 2013; and if he will make a statement on the matter. [20855/13]
3. Deputy Seamus Healy asked the Minister for Justice and Equality when he intends to recommence recruitment to An Garda Siochána; when he intends to re-open the Garda College in Templemore, County Tipperary for Garda training; and if he will make a statement on the matter. [20977/13]
I propose to take Questions Nos. 1 and 3 together.
There are currently just under 13,400 members of the Garda Síochána, along with approximately 2,000 civilian support staff and 1,100 reserve gardaí. While it is difficult to predict with any certainty the number of Garda members who will retire in any year, given that members with 30 years' service may retire on full pension after the age of 50, a retirement rate in line with recent experience could see Garda strength approaching 13,000 by the end of this year. I have said that I would not like to see Garda strength fall below that level and I will bring proposals to Government shortly in respect of maintaining Garda operational strength.
However, it is of course the case that a resumption of Garda recruitment, at a time when both overall headcount and the size of the pay bill in the public service must be reduced, would have financial implications that must be managed within the overall resources available to Government. It is not credible for any Deputy to pay lip-service to the need for budgetary discipline while at the same time implying through questions like these that the cost of significant elements of the public service can be increased without regard for the financial consequences. In that context, it is important that the current impasse in terms of the Labour Relations Commission, LRC, proposals on saving €1 billion from the public service pay bill, including €300 million this year, be first resolved. As Deputies will be aware, the LRC is currently exploring with all of the parties concerned the potential for such a resolution. I hope that there is a positive outcome to that process.
I also remind the House that the expenditure ceilings for the years 2012-14 planned by the last Government would have resulted in an average of €90 million less for the Garda Síochána budget each of the years 2012, 2013 and 2014 than is the case under this Government. Such a scenario would have necessitated a significant further reduction in Garda strength, not an increase, and perhaps Deputies might not lose sight of that when discussing this issue.
Any resumption of Garda recruitment will have implications for the Garda College in Templemore, but I assure the House that the Garda College remains fully open as the main training centre for the Garda Síochána. The chief superintendent in charge of the college and the members of the team there develop, co-ordinate and direct all training interventions up to the most senior ranks. The college provides operationally focused training across a range of areas, including firearms training, driver training, public order training, operational skills programmes, management development programmes and, of course, Garda Reserve training. In 2012, training was provided in the college for over 5,000 members of the Garda Síochána, and I can confirm for the House that the college will continue to provide a centre of excellence for training for members of the Garda force.
The time has come to stop dodging the issue of recommencing Garda recruitment and training. We have discussed it many times in the House. The Minister indicated that recruitment would recommence, but in no way was recruitment predicated on the passing of the Croke Park II ballot by the unions. Croke Park II was a complete shambles and the Government took it for granted that public servants would buy into the proposals. The Government sought to rely on some of the larger trade unions to get its proposals over the line. Listening to a number of Ministers spinning the story that the deal was fair and proportionate even before the details were published, or even before they had read the details agreed at Lansdowne House, was distasteful.
If the numbers of the force drop below 13,000, the new rostering system will not function. The Minister has sought to trumpet that new system as one of the innovations of his smarter policing reforms.
A question please, Deputy.
The Minister has still not defined for the House what smarter policing entails. Recruitment into the Defence Forces is continuing and the Minister has not nailed his colours to the mast as regards his preference for the minimum complement of the force. He has stated he would like to see it remain at 13,000. This is like a wet paper bag, in that one could just tear it apart. What is the Minister's position on the question of the level at which the numbers of the force should be held? Is it his position that recruitment is contingent on some form of agreement of Croke Park II? What is the timeframe? Clearly, the Minister did not have a plan B for the Croke Park II exercise.
Will the Minister provide the House with some degree of clarity? He is constantly dodging and weaving. He is like the proverbial goal posts, in that he moves around the pitch every time someone tries to take a shot and tie him down.
Please, Deputy. I must call the Minister and then Deputy Healy.
The Minister is usually the type of man who digs in. This time, he is the type of man who engages in U-turns.
The Deputy has yet again illustrated that he has a neck as thick as a rhinoceros's behind, talking about dodging and weaving-----
I am sorry, but on a point of order, that is an exceptionally personal insult.
No, we will not-----
I could liken the Minister to a lot of characters.
He should be man enough to enter the Chamber and engage on the issues while refraining from making personal insults. He personally insults everyone. It is why he is off-side with everyone, even the Judiciary, his former colleagues.
Please, the Deputy should resume his seat. The Minister and Deputy Healy are yet to contribute.
The Minister should address the issue, not me.
The Minister has the floor.
I am sorry if I touched a sensitive zone.
No, the Minister did not.
The Deputy accused me of dodging and weaving on issues-----
-----and I am entitled to respond. He is classically dodging, weaving and trying to reinvent history.
No, I am not.
The simple reality is that, under the agreement Fianna Fáil entered into with the troika, there would have been - I emphasise this - €90 million per year less available to An Garda Síochána for 2012-----
No, there would not.
-----2013 and 2014. That is factual.
It is not.
It is a factual matter that the Deputy seeks to avoid dealing with and dodge. Indeed, his leader, Deputy Martin, seeks to do that while pretending a concern for recruitment to An Garda Síochána so as either to con members of the Garda force about the level of Fianna Fáil's commitment or to mislead the general public disingenuously. The reality is, I have said - and I repeat - that I do not want to see the Garda force drop below 13,000, but I cannot have additional members recruited to the Garda force unless I have the funds-----
The Minister does not want or he will not?
-----to pay the salaries that must be paid. I remained quiet while the Deputy was asking his questions of me. He is great at asking questions, but the truth is that he has no answers. He does not like my answers, which is why he feels the need to interrupt. The simple reality is that we have provided the funding to An Garda Síochána to preserve numbers at a higher level than was envisaged by the Deputy's party in government.
His party in government envisaged the numbers being down to 13,000 by the end of 2012. However, his party in government had no financial allocations that would facilitate any recruitment in 2013. We managed to maintain numbers at 13,400 at the commencement of this year and we now have to address the issue, namely, the gap of €300 million that must be addressed in the context of the public sector wage bill. I cannot be blind to that. It is my hope that the further discussions taking place under the aegis of the Labour Relations Commission will prove to be successful or helpful in addressing these matters.
These are issues on which my Cabinet colleagues must reflect, following upon the further discussions that are taking place. I as Minister have to ensure that when we commence a recruitment campaign, which we will do, I have the funding to pay the salaries of those who are recruited to An Garda Síochána. Unlike the Deputy, I cannot magic up funds that do not exist. It was that type of politics that got this State into the mess we have been cleaning up.
The public is entitled to effective policing. Unfortunately, we are fast approaching, if we have not already reached, a situation whereby the effectiveness of policing is being called into question. I refer in particular to the non-replacement of gardaí, the retirement of gardaí and the fact that we have no recruits in the training college in Templemore. There is a concern generally about policing but a particular concern has been expressed to me by gardaí about community policing. That aspect of policing is not anything like as effective as it was in the past.
Could the Deputy frame a question please?
There are either no or very few dedicated community gardaí as they are being called here, there and everywhere to cover other areas. There is an essential need for community gardaí to talk, interact, liaise with and get to know young people in order to get them on board at an early age. The community garda system is in danger of breaking down.
Does the Deputy have a question please?
The Minister said he has a difficulty with money but money is available. The Government has told us that the promissory note deal has saved approximately €1 billion a year, together with the restructuring of loans. Could he immediately recommence Garda recruitment and re-open the college in Templemore for the training of garda recruits as a matter of urgency?
I entirely agree with the Deputy. The public is entitled to effective policing. The public is getting effective policing because if the Deputy examines the Central Statistics Office figures, the most recent figures published show that crime is effectively down in 11 of the 14 crime categories. In the context of burglary, if one compares the last quarter of 2012 with the last quarter of 2011, there was a reduction of 11% in the number of burglaries that took place in the State. In the context of the interventions that have taken place, the targeted operations by An Garda Síochána have been extremely effective in addressing issues of criminality in the State. The Garda Síochána, and in particular the Garda Commissioner and those working with him, have my full support in the important work they are doing.
I wish that we were in a different environment, that we were flaithiúlach with money and that we did not have a fiscal and economic crisis for the Government to address. I also wish that in 2013 I did not have a budget in my Department which has €163 million less available across the entire justice sector when compared with the funding available to me in 2011. Unfortunately, a magic pot of money does not exist. There is an obligation on the State to bring our public expenditure in the context of the public wage bill down and under control. It is in the interests of the entire country that we achieve that outcome so that we resolve our fiscal difficulties and that we can focus entirely on economic growth. That is an issue that is central to the objectives of the Government: to get people back into employment and to reduce public expenditure. I want to get people recruited to the Garda force. I can say that categorically to the Deputy but I cannot do that responsibly until I know for certain that the funding is available to pay the salaries of the new recruits I want to see being trained in Templemore college.
2. Deputy Pádraig Mac Lochlainn asked the Minister for Justice and Equality if he has read the Reform Of Judicial Appointments Procedures Bill 2013; and his views on whether it forms the basis for bringing an end to the ongoing practice of political appointments to the Judiciary. [20924/13]
As I indicated to the Deputy on the previous occasion we discussed the matter, I welcome his contribution to this important issue and will have regard to his Private Members' Bill in the context of my Department's review of the judicial appointments process. I have read his Bill very carefully and I appreciate the contribution he is making to this process. If his party wishes to progress the Bill in its own Members' time, it is entitled to do so and will receive full consideration in the House. I suggest that if he does so it is in the context of our debating the issues transparently. A number of matters arising in the Bill are a cause of difficulty and it might well be that we need more radical reform.
As the Deputy is aware, under the Constitution judges are appointed by the President on the advice of the Government. Since 1995, the Judicial Appointments Advisory Board has submitted to the Minister for Justice and Equality the names of persons recommended for appointment. This system has operated under successive Governments since that time.
With a view to ensuring the most up-to-date practice, particularly by reference to other jurisdictions, I have asked my officials, as I advised the Deputy previously, to conduct an examination of the current procedure. While any proposal to revise the current system of judicial appointments would, of course, be a matter for consideration by Government, I hope that we can achieve a wider consensus on reform.
Our independent Judiciary has served the country extremely well, and it is vital that the public maintains full confidence in that independence at all levels within our court structure. I simply do not accept the implication in the question that no lawyer, be it a solicitor or a barrister, who engages in democratic politics should ever be appointed to the Judiciary, that any such engagement should render an individual ineligible for judicial appointment, and that such engagement in some way contaminates their future capacity to act with judicial independence in cases before the courts. It is clear from the conduct of our Judiciary since the foundation of the State that members of the Judiciary, at all levels within our courts system, have acted with independence and that no party-political bias is manifested in decisions made and judgments delivered.
We have had a discussion about the fact that many people in the legal profession engage in political life, which is to be welcomed. They give advice to political parties and their expertise is sought on many occasions. However, that is not the point I make. That should not rule members of the legal profession out but the difficulty is the current process leaves it open to the accusation that a judge is appointed because of his or her political affiliation. That should not be the case, as it undermines him or her when he or she assumes his or her career in the Judiciary. I agree that we have a history of the Judiciary in this State, independent of the Oireachtas, who have given considerable service and dedication to the State. No one intends to cast aspersions on them. The fact is that the current process has too much political interference and we need much more accountability.
Could the Deputy ask a question please?
My Bill seeks to give more authority to the Judicial Appointments Advisory Board. I appreciate that the Minister gave a commitment in the programme for Government for a judicial council. I welcome his consideration of my Bill and the fact that he believes we need to go further. I urge the Minister to do so as soon as possible.
Certainly, I would suggest that he wants to be the last Minister for Justice and Equality to preside over any question mark relating to the appointment of a judge for political reasons.
Again, it is important that we do not raise questions over the independence of any member of the Judiciary, regardless of which Government has made the appointment. I wish to assure the Deputy, despite what I read in the newspapers, that every judicial appointment made by this Government has been made on merit, and I can say that categorically. There was an interesting survey done by a journalist working for the Independent News & Media group which carried a headline to the effect that one third of judicial appointments over a period of years were of individuals who had some connection with democratic politics. Of course, the headline was not to the effect that two thirds of them had no such connection. Activist lawyers who are interested in social and political issues and in law reform will frequently engage with political parties of different political persuasions so that areas of law badly in need of reform are highlighted and they can contribute to the legislative process. That is and should be welcome.
I have some difficulties with the Bill proposed by the Deputy. It is important that appointments are made in a manner that is independent and the Judicial Appointments Advisory Board, JAAB, criteria are currently specified in statutory provisions. The Deputy's Bill seeks to amend those statutory provisions slightly to provide that additional requirements can be contained in guidelines published by the Minister. If the Minister could direct the JAAB through guidelines, outside of a decision of the Houses of the Oireachtas, as to how it should approach an individual judicial appointment, we would hear howls about an attempt by the Minister to interfere in the independence of the Judiciary. That is an issue of concern.
In the wider public debate, an interesting issue arises in the context of judicial appointments, namely that judicial appointments in this State are confined to practising barristers and solicitors. In other jurisdictions they are not so confined. In the United States of America, for example, some of the leading members of the Supreme Court came from academia. Is that something we should consider? Should we, for example, ask professional bodies such as the Bar Council or the Law Library to provide professional courses for those who would at some future date seek to be appointed to the Judiciary, so that there is some form of training in advance of such appointments? These are issues that should be part of the public debate, although I am conscious that there are differing views on them.
I appreciate the Minister's engagement and while I acknowledge that my Bill is not perfect, it is a good offering.
The Bill refers to the JAAB's drawing up a shortlist of three candidates and publishing the reasons for its selection. The Government would then choose one of the candidates and publish the reasons for its choice. That removes any suggestion of impropriety in the selection process. The Minister has heard suggestions through the years that a man or woman was appointed to the Judiciary only because he or she had previously worked for the Labour Party, Fianna Fáil or the Progressive Democrats. It is deeply unfortunate that somebody who commences an independent judicial career should have a question mark over his or her appointment from the outset. If the selection process is more accountable, we can remove that doubt. That is the problem and that is why we read articles about one third of the Judiciary having political connections. It is deeply unfortunate and it impinges on their independence and their careers. That is all I am asking of the Minister.
I would be in favour of some additional transparency but I have particular concerns with what the Deputy is suggesting in his measure. Let us assume, for example, there is one person to be appointed to the Judiciary and three names are publicly given and background information about the candidates is also publicly given. It would be fine for the person who was appointed but it could be a considerable embarrassment for the two who were not. The two who were not appointed may well be just as eminent and could equally make very good members of the Judiciary. If, six months later, one of those two candidates is appointed, there could be a question about why he or she was not good enough to be appointed previously but is now good enough to be appointed. We must be careful to ensure that whatever system we implement does not damage the reputation of individuals who properly seek to be appointed to the Judiciary and that there is no question of their credibility being in any way damaged prior to such an appointment being made. These are issues that we must tease out and address very carefully, and we must not jump to conclusions.
4. Deputy Niall Collins asked the Minister for Justice and Equality the mechanisms of the new communications between the Judiciary and the Government; and if he will make a statement on the matter. [20856/13]
It is usual for the Minister for Justice and Equality to have regular contact with the Judiciary regarding Courts Service matters. Since my appointment I have met regularly with the Chief Justice in her capacity as chair of the Courts Service Board on a range of issues and, from time to time, with other members of the Judiciary. Prior to the enactment of the Personal Insolvency Act 2012, the Attorney General and I also met with the Chief Justice and the President of the Circuit Court to discuss the role of the new specialist judges of the Circuit Court. Members of the Judiciary meet with members of the Government from time to time in the course of normal business and ongoing links are maintained between the Attorney General and the Chief Justice.
As the Chief Justice recently highlighted, the Government has facilitated a new arrangement in the form of a committee chaired by the Chief Justice and comprising the presidents of the courts and other senior judges. In the past, meetings between the Attorney General and the Chief Justice were on a more ad hoc basis. The Attorney General, who has traditionally acted as the formal link with the Judiciary, also attends the committee, accompanied by the Secretary General to the Government. A meeting of this committee took place during April and a further meeting will be held this month.
I have also met the Chief Justice and other members of the Judiciary on numerous occasions over the past two years at seminars, launches and other functions. In addition, there are several working groups on matters of mutual interest under the aegis of my Department to which judges have been nominated by the Chief Justice to participate, where appropriate, together with officials of my Department and the relevant agencies. For example, the working group on efficiency measures in the criminal justice system - Circuit and District Courts, reported to me and the Chief Justice last December on the implementation of significant and welcome reforms, and its work is ongoing in 2013.
As the Deputy will be aware, the programme for Government contains a commitment to legislate to establish a judicial council, which has been promised for over a decade. I can confirm to the Deputy that the Attorney General has indicated that it will be possible to publish the Bill this autumn. The council will provide a statutory basis of formal communication with the Judiciary, as well as promoting excellence and high standards of conduct by judges. The Deputy should also note that I welcomed the establishment by the Judiciary in November 2011 of an interim judicial council, pending the publication and enactment of the proposed Bill.
I thank the Minister for his response. I wish to make a number of comments on the recent controversy involving the Minister and the Judiciary. First, I believe it was not entirely of the Minister's making. Obviously he was partly to blame, but there were two sides to it. The Judiciary must accept that the people of this country voted by way of a referendum to allow the Executive to have a say in setting the remuneration of judges. I am echoing what people on the street are saying. It is not acceptable for the Judiciary to occupy a separate position when it comes to the setting of remuneration. That is just not on and the referendum has put that question to bed.
On the issue of communication, it is obvious that something broke down along the way. The Minister said he was in regular contact with the Judiciary, but that was not the message coming from the Association of Judges of Ireland, AJI, in press statements and briefings. Has the Minister been at meetings of the new forum that has been established under the Chief Justice, Ms Susan Denham? How often will the forum meet? Will meetings be held on a monthly or a quarterly basis? What issues have been raised to date and what routes to resolution will be taken? I ask the Minister to give us an overview of the issues being raised or flagged by the judges.
The controversy that arose and lasted for some days came as something of a surprise to me and it was as a result of a misunderstanding on the part of the AJI. There had been ongoing contact on the issues they raised that fall within my brief. For example, there was a suggestion that there had been no communication or contact with them regarding the provisions in the Personal Insolvency Act relating to the appointment of specialist judges, but that was far from the case. It was an issue on which, together with the Attorney General and in advance of the inclusion of the proposals in the legislation, I engaged in discussions with the Chief Justice and the President of the Circuit Court. The suggestion that there had been no discussion on the matter came as a complete surprise to me. In the context of other issues, which I do not want to go into at any length, clearly there were some concerns surrounding the pay and pensions of members of the Judiciary.
The people made a decision in a referendum on the issue relating to pay, and that is a matter to be dealt with by my colleague, the Minister for Public Expenditure and Reform, Deputy Howlin. There are lines of communication and, as the Deputy may be aware, it has been traditional over the years for both formal and informal lines to be maintained through the Attorney General, which is appropriate. I have had meetings in my Department and discussed issues of concern to the different levels within the court structure. I have had meetings with members of the District Court, for example, together with the Attorney General, as well as members of the Circuit Court and representatives of the High and Supreme Courts.
I deliberately mentioned other events, such as seminars, that take place because frequently when I meet members of the Judiciary at these events, issues of relevance to the running of the Courts Service are discussed. On 2 March we held in the Law Society a conference hosted by my Department to discuss the forthcoming referendum on the court of appeal. Not only did the Chief Justice address that meeting, but members of the High Court Judiciary involved in a sub-committee to consider how to deal with the architecture of the court of appeal were present and I took the opportunity to engage with them.
There is continuing and ongoing engagement and it is unfortunate that there is a perception of some controversy in which I want to engage. I have not wish to be engaged in a controversy with the Judiciary and I fully respect the separation of powers. It is of major importance for us to have an independent Judiciary and that there is no question of members of the Executive or Members of Parliament interfering with the hearing of court proceedings or the decisions made and delivered by judges. It is key to our constitutional democracy and a tenet of our Constitution.
Each body must respect the constitutional independence of the other and get on accordingly but the Minister did not answer my question on the new forum. How often is it intended to meet and what issues have been flagged as being on the agenda?
This forum is being put together to formalise the arrangement whereby the Attorney General, in the past, would substantially communicate with the Chief Justice. Now the group will be representative of the different levels within the court system and it will facilitate members of the Judiciary raising issues of concern. The Attorney General will either address those issues or report to the Government on the issues that need to be addressed. It is important that such discussion takes place and it is not in the public interest for every issue raised by the Judiciary to be publicly broadcast. It is entitled to some degree of confidentiality in the communications that take place.
One of the issues that would have arisen is the architecture of the new court of appeal, which is very important. I welcome the fact that this week the Attorney General furnished a submission to me from the judicial sub-committee considering the issue of the court of appeal and the constitutional architecture that should surround it. I very much welcome that very positive and constructive contribution by members of the Judiciary in the development of a very new important court within our judicial architecture.
5. Deputy Pádraig Mac Lochlainn asked the Minister for Justice and Equality if he has held any recent meetings with the Garda Representative Association and the Association of Garda Sergeants and Inspectors to address the wide range of concerns the representative organisations have repeatedly publicly aired. [20925/13]
In early autumn I invited the Garda Representative Association, GRA, and the Association of Garda Sergeants and Inspectors, AGSI, to discuss issues of mutual interest. I met with AGSI representatives on 19 October for nearly two hours in a constructive and businesslike meeting. I also spoke at its recent conference. However, the GRA never responded to my meeting request. I am always available to meet with representatives of either the AGSI, the GRA or the other Garda representative associations to discuss with them issues of concern to them and to their members. In addition to this, there are ongoing discussions between the Commissioner and his senior management and all the Garda associations on day to day matters as they arise in the Garda Síochána.
There has also been the recent negotiations on an extension to the Croke Park agreement. The aim was and remains to achieve the necessary savings in the public sector pay and pensions bill while at the same time ensuring a fair contribution from all. I regret that the GRA and the AGSI did not take the opportunity to take part in those discussions and to seek to have their concerns taken on board to the greatest extent possible. As has been made clear on many occasions by the Government in recent weeks, a rejection of these proposals does not change the fact that to conform to our budgetary targets and continue on our path to economic recovery, we need to make savings this year of €300 million. The Government has asked the chairman of the Labour Relations Commission to contact the parties to establish if there is a basis for moving forward, and I hope that there will be positive engagement by the GRA and the AGSI in this process. The reality is that a reduction in the public service pay and pension bill – because of its sheer size - must form part of the solution to our financial and economic difficulties.
I am fully conscious that any adjustment to pay and conditions can cause difficulties for members of the Garda Síochána, just as it can for other members of the public service. At an individual level there have been pay reductions, and for the force in general there are constraints on its budget. I fully understand how difficult this is at an individual and operational level and I earnestly wish that things were different and that we had inherited a situation where the public finances were in a healthy state. This, however, as everyone knows, is not the case and Government must take whatever measures are necessary to restore our fiscal sovereignty. I also recognise the important role that members of An Garda Síochána play in our society. It is especially praiseworthy that they have shown this dedication and commitment in these most difficult times.
As the Minister knows, the GRA annual conference is taking place this week and I had the opportunity, like so many others, to listen to the reports from Ms Valerie Cox for the Pat Kenny programme when she spoke directly to gardaí about the issues affecting them. Morale is at its lowest level and, sadly, the relationship has broken down between the Minister and the association, meaning he is the first Minister in 35 years not invited to attend the conference. Nobody wins in that case, which is deeply regrettable.
How can the Minister stand here today and speak about not engaging? Gardaí cannot form a union and right now the AGSI is taking a case to Europe to allow gardaí to form a union and negotiate pay and conditions. It has also proposed an independent commission to examine matters like pay, which has been supported by the Garda Commissioner. What will the Minister do to try to resolve this crisis? It is definitely a crisis when the relationship between the Minister of the day and front-line gardaí or, specifically, the organisation representing 10,500 gardaí, has broken down. We need to sort out the issue as nobody wins in the current scenario.
It is unfortunate that the GRA approaches a number of issues in the manner in which it does. It is unfortunate that it uses, with some regularity, inflammatory language. I recognise that there are members of the Garda force - as there are others throughout the community - who are suffering some personal financial difficulty. Not all the difficulty being suffered is directly connected to the pay and conditions of members of the Garda force. It may be a consequence of other issues and in some instances it is down to property investments that have, unfortunately, not worked out because of the property bubble bursting. The difficulties being experienced by some members of the force are replicated by others in the public sector and many in the private sector.
With regard to the GRA conference, I made a decision in circumstances in which I was not invited to the conference that I would not engage in a megaphone discussion from one part of the country to the other, from Dublin to Mayo, in responding to issues. I have said in the past and I repeat today that my door is open to meet members of the GRA, as it is to meet members of AGSI and other Garda bodies, to discuss issues of concern. Operational decisions on day-to-day matters are made by the Garda Commissioner and An Garda Síochána are a disciplined force. The members of the force, including members of the GRA, should show respect for the Commissioner, who provides leadership.
It was unfortunate and inappropriate that when he concluded his address to the conference, he was greeted with silence.
The GRA should consider the manner in which it approaches issues. I am concerned about some of what was said in circumstances where the Garda is being extraordinarily successful and deserves all our praise for its success in bringing those engaged in criminality to justice in circumstances where crime figures are substantially down, with burglary down in the last quarter of 2012, compared to 2011, by 11%. It is time the Garda representative bodies gave public acknowledgment to the successes achieved by members of the force, for which each and every member of the force deserves praise, and moderated their language and engaged constructively on matters of genuine concern.
To be fair about this, the relationship between the GRA and the Minister of the day has been antagonistic for a number of years. The Minister for Justice, Equality and Law Reform in the last Government had a big row with the GRA as it was about to deliver a condemnatory address. This happened before the Minister's time in office but it serves no one's interest that it continues. I appeal to both the Minister and the GRA to resolve these issues. We cannot continue to have megaphone diplomacy. It is great for headlines, it will get the media interested, but it is terrible for the morale of gardaí on the ground. When I met gardaí on the beat they tell me, like they tell every Deputy, they do not have the personnel or the vehicles and that they are not happy about the closure of Garda stations. These gardaí, who are on the front line, are raising legitimate issues. The Minister might not be able to solve all of their problems but we must deal with this relationship breakdown that started with the previous Government and has continued into this Administration.
I agree with the Deputy that there should be a more constructive relationship between the Garda representative bodies and the Minister of the day. We have a history of this. I can recall when the Garda reserve was being established and the GRA fell out with the then Minister. There are now 1,100 members of the reserve and they are providing an important back-up to the full-time members of the force. There will be another graduation ceremony later this month for members of the Garda reserve in Templemore.
I wish members of the GRA, in the interests of all members of the force, would adopt a more constructive approach to issues and moderate the language they use. It is of vital importance for the continuing reputation of the force that it shows the Commissioner of the Garda Síochána, a man of outstanding ability, the full respect he deserves. Its present stance on this matter is inappropriate. I am willing to take any criticism people want to make but it is inappropriate for the Garda representative bodies to address issues in language that shows a complete lack of respect on occasions for the Commissioner. It is for the public to judge how they deal with issues related to me.
I should respond to one point, the call for an independent review of pay and conditions in the Garda Síochána. The AGSI also raised this and I addressed it at the AGSI conference, although my remarks got little notice. I said that a review of pay and conditions, taking into account any related Garda organisational or structural issues, is a matter that could be considered as one of a range of possible medium-term measures in discussions on achieving savings from the public service pay bill. However, consideration of any such proposal could not take away from or act in any way to postpone the absolute need to achieve the immediate savings required this year. I am giving favourable consideration to the proposal. It must deal with a broad range of issues, including pay and allowances, and it is important. I recognise the value in modernising the structures that exist to take account of present day realities. This is not an issue that can be dealt with in the context of postponing addressing the immediate pay issue.