I welcome the recent publication of the independent organisational culture audit commissioned by An Garda Síochána and conducted by PwC. I am sure the Deputy will agree that the conduct of such an audit, the first of its kind undertaken by An Garda Síochána, is of major significance in the context of the reform programme underway. Reform of culture is generally recognised as one of, if not the, critical component in the transformation of any organisation, albeit one of the most difficult to achieve and sustain.
I have discussed the report with the Commissioner and fully endorse his view that the report provides a valuable resource for the organisation and I share his view that it is of critical importance in informing the organisation's provision of the best supports to its people, which will in turn transform the service provided to the public.
It is encouraging that there was a strong response rate to the audit within An Garda Síochána with over 6,500 personnel – members, reserves and civilians – participating through a mix of methods including a survey, focus groups and interviews. Based on this high level of participation, the report can be regarded as establishing a very strong and representative view of the organisation's culture.
I welcome the positives in the report including, in particular, the pride in the central role An Garda Síochána plays in protecting and supporting communities, the value personnel place on using police powers appropriately and acting with integrity and honesty; the esprit de corps, and the "can do" attitude. It is important that these positives are recognised and that they are not taken for granted.
It is important to realise that these positive attributes can also become negatives if taken to extremes and, of course, the report also highlights key areas for improvement including in relation to how the leadership is perceived, how personnel are held to account, how those who speak up are treated, what is termed the "supervision vacuum" and the view, whether real or perceived, that the promotion process for the supervisory ranks is not merit-based.
These are important issues that need to be considered in depth. I am informed by the Commissioner that An Garda Síochána is considering the report in order to formulate a considered and effective response to its insights and recommendations. I understand that the senior leadership team has already met collectively to discuss the report with a view to specific actions being developed before the Autumn.
My Department has, of course, a contribution to make in relation to a number of the areas identified as needing improvement including the areas of supervision and the perceived or real view that promotions at the level of sergeant and inspector are influenced by favouritism and nepotism.
In relation to supervision it is critical that new Gardaí have adequate supervision and support to carry out their duties in a manner that reflects the Code of Ethics that is now in place to guide the actions of all personnel. I know that the Commissioner is fully seized of the importance of this.
A number of competitions are currently in train to fill existing vacancies in the key supervisory ranks of Sergeant and Inspector with the aim of bringing the strength of these ranks to 2,000 and 300 respectively as agreed under the Employment Control Framework.
It is not just about filling existing vacancies. It is also about ensuring that Gardaí are doing the job that they are trained to do. As part of the civilianisation process underway, close to 80 Gardaí have been redeployed including seven sergeants and six inspectors. I have made it clear to the Commissioner that I expect this to accelerate significantly this year. To that end I welcome the fact that the Commissioner has directed that the redeployment of sergeants from administrative duties to frontline supervisory duties be prioritised in the short term to address any supervisory gaps.
The Deputy will be aware that the Government has agreed an overall vision for the Garda workforce of 21,000 by 2021 including 15,000 Gardaí. The Government is committed to ensuring that, as the number of Gardaí increases towards 15,000, the sergeant and inspector ranks expand commensurately.
In relation to promotion processes for the supervisory ranks it is important to note that the selection boards have a majority of external lay members appointed by the Policing Authority under the relevant Regulations. It is also important to say that the Commission on Public Service Appointments in its 2015 audit of the promotion process concluded that it was broadly satisfied that the processes incorporates adequate safeguards that protect the integrity of the selection processes and offers the necessary assurance that candidates are appointed on the basis of their interview performance. That said, it is clear that there is scope for the modernisation of the processes and I welcome the conclusion of the independent review commissioned by An Garda Síochána. The outcome of the review is under consideration by my Department with a view to an updated regulatory framework being developed and put in place for future competitions.
The report of the culture audit also raises issues that touch on resources more broadly. These matters will be examined in the context of the upcoming estimates process for 2019.