That Dáil Éireann approves the nomination by the Taoiseach of Deputy Charles Flanagan for appointment by the Commission, constituted as provided in Section 2 of Article 14 of the Constitution, to be a member of the Government.
Acting on my advice, the President accepted yesterday the resignation of Deputy Alan Shatter as a member of the Government. Following this, and pursuant to section 4(1) of the Ministers and Secretaries (Amendment) Act 1946, I assigned the Department of Justice and Equality and the Department of Defence to the Department of the Taoiseach. I have now moved that the nomination of Deputy Charles Flanagan be approved. Following his appointment, I intend to assign to him the Department of Children and Youth Affairs. I further intend to assign responsibility for the Department of Justice and Equality to Deputy Frances Fitzgerald. It is also my intention to reorganise responsibility for the Department of Defence, pending which I am retaining responsibility for the Department on a temporary basis.
As a vastly experienced member of the House, Deputy Charles Flanagan is eminently qualified to continue the hugely important work of this Government in the area of the welfare and protection of children. Deputy Flanagan has represented the people of Laois-Offaly in the House for 22 years. During this time, he has served with distinction and has held several important responsibilities as Opposition spokesperson, including as Fine Gael spokesperson on children. I commend his name to the House and look forward to his contribution as a member of the Government.
As the State’s first Cabinet-level Minister with responsibility for children, Deputy Frances Fitzgerald inherited a system that was failing to adequately protect our young people. In just three years, she has transformed the constitutional, legislative and administrative systems to make the welfare and protection of children the top priority. She has overseen a constitutional referendum on children’s rights, the enactment of the Children First guidelines on a statutory basis, and the creation of the Child and Family Agency. I know she will bring the same energy, commitment and reforming zeal to her new role as Minister for Justice and Equality.
I would like to take this opportunity to thank Deputy Alan Shatter for his work as Minister. During his three years as Minister for Justice and Equality, he implemented huge reform right across his areas of responsibility, from the creation of the personal insolvency system to the referendum on a court of appeal and the reform of the legal profession. His work in opposition on Private Members' legislation will also leave a great legacy on the Statute Book. One relatively minor reform that struck a chord with many people was the way in which new Irish citizens are confirmed. When Deputy Shatter took office, he inherited a degrading system in which people had to make their declarations before sittings of the District Court. He personally changed the system to create proper, dignified ceremonies in which our new citizens can be confirmed in a dignified and appropriate setting in the presence of their families. I have met many new citizens who have been deeply moved by these ceremonies and the dignity of the new process. I wish Deputy Shatter and his family well for the future.
While acutely aware of recent crises that have shaken An Garda Síochána, I acknowledge the successes that An Garda Síochána achieved at a time of financial constraint. The most recent CSO figures show reductions in 11 of the 14 crime categories for which figures are given and an overall reduction in crime of 6.6%. Burglaries continue to fall, down 7.2% on 2012, building on earlier reductions and providing definitive evidence that the Garda operations to confront gangs involved in this type of crime are succeeding. A new Garda roster and working time agreement was developed, agreed and implemented by the Garda Síochána and results in more gardaí being on duty during periods of greater policing demand. The Government has agreed the commencement of a Garda recruitment campaign as well as a substantial investment in Garda vehicles.
Restoring confidence and integrity to the Irish justice system now becomes the number one priority for the new Minister. As Head of Government, I want transparency and accountability in our public service. It goes to the heart of what we all seek to achieve here in the House in representing the Irish people on a daily basis. In pursing this aim, the Government is committed to the establishment of an independent Garda authority. It is hoped that the new Minister will seek written submissions from the public on the structure and remit of the proposed Garda authority by the end of May and, following receipt of these submissions, to organise hearings before the summer break. In addition, the Oireachtas Joint Committee on Justice, Defence and Equality will commence hearings next Wednesday on its review of the legislation with regard to the oversight of An Garda Síochána under the 2005 Act. The Government looks forward to receiving its report.
We can never lose sight of this Government’s top priority. I was again given a reminder of that mission when I visited Collinstown Community College in Clondalkin this morning. I had the opportunity to meet recent school leavers and those soon to take their first steps into the world of work. Since becoming young adults, they have never known an Ireland where jobs were plentiful, where people planned for the future with confidence and hope, and where their friends did not automatically look to foreign horizons for new opportunities. Three years ago, when Fine Gael and the Labour Party took office, the country was lacking hope, subject to an international bailout from the EU and the IMF and with an unemployment rate soaring to unprecedented highs. In the face of crisis, the Irish people gave Fine Gael and the Labour Party a strong mandate to fix our public finances and get the country working again. In the three years since, we have steadfastly implemented our plan for recovery based on jobs, stability and growth. Last December, the hard work, patience and resilience of the Irish people was recognised as the country successfully exited the EU-IMF bailout programme. It was an important milestone for our recovery and enhanced our international reputation. Along the way, the Government successfully renegotiated key parts of the EU-IMF agreement. We removed the millstone of the promissory notes from the necks of the Irish people and consigned the toxic Anglo Irish Bank to history. We renegotiated the interest rate and loan terms of our programme loans, saving the taxpayer billions, reversed the reduction in the minimum wage and prevented increases in income tax to help working families. In the three years before we took office, the record of Fianna Fáil was the destruction of 1,700 jobs per week.