I propose to take Questions Nos. 31, 44, 54, 65 and 130 together.
As I have previously informed the Dáil, the Cabinet has authorised me to make the greatest possible use of the existing capacity of the Garda Training College in Templemore over the next two years to bring the strength of the force to 12,200, its current authorised maximum strength. While it will not be possible to increase numbers beyond that point for as long as the cap on public service numbers remains in place, this in itself will represent an all-time record level of strength.
Earlier this year I authorised the commissioner to make appropriate arrangements with the Local Appointments Commission to conduct a further recruitment campaign, and this is now in place. It is anticipated that 642 Garda trainees will be taken into the Garda College during 2003. The commissioner has projected, based on the anticipated rate of retirement, that this level of recruitment will result in the maximum authorised strength of 12,200 being achieved during 2004, but I am conscious in this regard of the recent increase in the rate of retirement and I intend bringing to Government shortly proposals to address this.
There are a range of factors which determine the effectiveness of the criminal justice system. I emphasise that I am committed to supporting the Garda Síochána in every way I can in tackling crime, not only through increasing Garda numbers but also through facilitating and promoting change and reform, both within the force and in the criminal justice system in general, aimed at meeting the challenges of present day crime.
I am, for example, finalising proposals for legislative change to significantly improve Garda powers of criminal investigation and to both free up and supplement Garda resources to enable them to be concentrated on frontline policing activities.
I remain committed to making progress as quickly as financial circumstances permit towards the target of a strength of 14,000 provided in the programme for Government, and in this regard I am examining the planning and logistical issues involved, including the extent to which existing training capacity might need to be expanded or supplemented. I want those resources and the resources of the entire criminal justice system used effectively to combat crime, and I hope and believe that I will have the support of the House for the measures I will bring forward to achieve that objective.