The priorities for my Department have not changed following the recent Cabinet changes and these continue to relate to the implementation of An Agreed Programme for Government and Sustaining Progress commitments for which my Department is responsible.
My Department is responsible, in a lead role, for the implementation of in excess of 80 of the 477 total commitments contained in An Agreed Programme for Government and a number of important commitments in the Sustaining Progress social partnership agreement. Significant progress has been achieved on many of these commitments to date and further progress is expected on other commitments.
Specific priorities for my Department over the next 12 months include recruitment of additional gardaí. The Government at its meeting on 12 October 2004 approved my proposals for increasing the strength of the Garda Síochána to 14,000 in line with a key commitment in the programme for Government. These additional gardaí will be targeted at those areas of greatest need, especially areas experiencing a significant drugs problem and a large number of public order offences.
The Garda Síochána Bill 2004 contains the most comprehensive and important proposals on policing since the foundation of the State. It will also replace the Garda Síochána Complaints Board with a new fully independent Garda Ombudsman Commission. The Bill is awaiting Committee Stage in the Seanad.
Regarding penalty points and the traffic corps, the Garda Síochána is to increase its enforcement activities with the focus on high risk locations and times. Discussions are underway, in the context of an increase in Garda resources, on the establishment of a dedicated traffic corps. A new internal youth justice task force has been established in my Department with the strategic objective of examining and developing the scope for rationalising and restructuring the State's services in the important area of youth justice.
A significant number of judges will be appointed within the next month or so. These additional judges will, inter alia, help reduce delays and improve the efficiency of the handling of cases. My Department will continue to focus on modernisation and reform of the Prison Service and probation and welfare service. Talks with the Prison Officers Association with regard to the introduction of the proposed annualised hours system and elimination of overtime working have almost been finalised. A Prison Bill, providing for various reforms such as the contracting out of prisoner escort services and the video-conferencing of certain pre-trial hearings, has been drafted. Work has also advanced on the selection of a suitable site for a new Mountjoy complex.
My Department will continue to focus on the processing of applications by non-nationals to remain in the State on foot of being parents to an Irish-born child and improving the processing timescales for asylum applications. The Irish Nationality and Citizenship Bill 2004, which implements the decision of the people in last June's citizenship referendum is due to have its second reading in the Dáil next week.
My Department will continue to play an active role in advancing the implementation of the Good Friday Agreement, with particular emphasis on those areas for which my Department is responsible.
The Disability Bill 2004 is a key element of the national disability strategy launched by the Taoiseach on 21 September 2004. Second and Subsequent Stages of the Bill will be taken as soon as Dáil time can be arranged.
My Department continues to support the creation of centre-based child care places through funding provided under the equal opportunities childcare programme 2000-2006. Over 20,500 of the programme target of 28,500 new places have already been created, while 20,600 existing places also benefit from the fund.
A wide range of other legislative proposals is also being progressed by my Department. These include the Criminal Justice Bill 2004; Proceeds of Crime (Amendment) Bill 1999; Criminal Law (Insanity) Bill 2002; Criminal Justice (Terrorist Offences) Bill 2002; Criminal Justice (International Co-operation) Bill; Immigration and Residence Bill; Intoxicating Liquor Bill 2004; Judicial Council Bill; Adoptive Leave Bill 2004 and Parental Leave Bill.