Before the questions on justice matters are dealt with, I wish to add to what was said earlier regarding yesterday evening's dreadful events in Manchester. Twenty-two people were killed and many others injured. It is shocking that they became victims simply because they were going about their lives in Manchester on a Monday evening. None of us can understand the mind of a person who would target an event at which so many young people were in attendance and enjoying their leisure. That type and level of hatred surpasses understanding. I pay tribute to the police and other emergency services in Manchester for the great work they are doing in dealing with such an appalling event. We must remember that the Garda Síochána, supported by the Defence Forces, is our first line of defence in counteracting evil of this kind. While the threat level here has not been changed in the aftermath of last night's events, I assure the House that the Garda will continue to work closely with its national and international partners to play its full part in keeping us safe from such atrocities. I have no doubt that all Members of the House support the Garda in its vital work.
As Deputy O'Callaghan is aware, there is an extensive programme of reform under way which contemplates all aspects of the administration and operation of the Garda Síochána. This follows the Government's approval of the five year reform and high level workforce plan for the Garda Síochána which combines the Government’s response to the Garda Inspectorate report Changing Policing in Ireland and the commitments in A Programme for a Partnership Government aimed at increasing the visibility, effectiveness and responsiveness of the Garda Síochána. In support of this plan, I secured funding in budget 2017 to increase the number of gardaí. Deputy O'Callaghan is familiar with the figures in this regard so I will not repeat them.
Robust independent oversight is essential to ensuring that the reform programme is relentlessly pursued over the next five years. I have referred the 240 agreed recommendations to the Policing Authority to monitor and assess their implementation by the Garda Síochána and to report to me on progress in that regard. Deputy O'Callaghan has seen the first progress report. I have recently received the second progress report and am considering its contents and what action is required on foot of it. I will publish it shortly and each future progress report in due course.
A number of reform initiatives have already been completed under the modernisation and renewal programme. This is to be welcomed. The initiatives include: the establishment of the drugs and organised crime bureau; upgrades to PULSE to improve victim services; the establishment of victim support offices; risk management structures at national and divisional level, including the establishment of a risk management governance committee; the protective services strategy has been developed and a national protected services bureau established; improvements to property exhibit management have been implemented; and electronic vetting and freedom of information obligations have been implemented.
Additional information not given on the floor of the House
Across the Garda organisation, there are initiatives planned, or in train, aimed at implementing the remaining recommendations.
Priority areas include further civilianisation. It is crucial that we ensure that gardaí are engaged in policing, which is the work they are trained for, and are not carrying out administrative and technical roles that can be done by civilian professionals. The Government has set a medium term target of 20% civilians to be achieved by 2021 to facilitate the redeployment of gardaí to front-line policing duties and also to address critical capacity and skills gaps in the An Garda Síochána in regard to human resources, HR, finance, information and communications technology, ICT, and corporate supports generally. As noted by the Policing Authority in its first progress report, this work will require sustained persistence by Garda management and all stakeholders to ensure that this target is achieved.
Other priority areas include initiatives aimed at the more effective deployment of resources, more effective supervision of front-line personnel and cultural change, including the roll-out of the divisional model of policing to support the more flexible and effective deployment of resources - four pilot schemes in this regard are in train and will be evaluated later this year. These involve: the roll-out of divisional protected services bureaus on a phased basis starting in three divisions with effect from the end of this month; the commencement of the performance appraisal framework in the third quarter with training under way at present; the cultural audit to provide a baseline against which cultural change in the Garda Síochána can be measured in the future will get under way shortly; and the Garda Síochána has selected a company to carry out this work after a tender process. The results of the audit will be published.
I highlight these projects to give a flavour of the important reforms that are in train within the Garda Síochána. There are also a number of important initiatives under way under the auspices of the Garda Inspectorate and my Department. In line with the recommendations of Changing Policing in Ireland, I have requested that the Garda Inspectorate examine possibilities for opening up entry routes into all levels of the Garda Síochána and report back to me later this year. This could include fast-track entry for policing professionals from other jurisdictions at the lower ranks and the targeted intake of experienced, skilled police officers and other experienced managers at the senior ranks. In addition, the Changing Policing in Ireland report recommended that the forensic functions of the Garda technical bureau be divested to Forensic Science Ireland. A working group chaired by my Department has been established to move this task forward and manage the transition to a merged body. The intention is for the group to prepare a plan for the merger by the end of 2017 and to oversee its implementation in 2018 to 2019.
All of these initiatives, if implemented in full, will address many of the problems within the Garda Síochána. While we all wish that reform could be delivered immediately, it must be recognised that real reform requires behavioural change on the part of every individual at all levels in the organisation and will take time and perseverance by Garda management. Independent oversight is essential to monitor and assess implementation and to identify any blockages in order that solutions can be found. With the establishment of the Policing Authority, we now have a body that has the capacity to ensure that a focus is created and maintained on this work. The Government is committed to supporting the Authority in its work.