Considerable progress has been made by my Department and by organisations associated with my Department operating within the justice and equality sector on the implementation of modernisation requirements, as set out in the Civil Service action plan, under Sustaining Progress, the social partnership agreement 2003-05. Key areas of improvement include the more efficient use of financial, staff and IT resources, enhanced customer service, better staff training and development, further development of partnership, regulatory reform and commitments in the area of equality of opportunity.
In accordance with the procedures set out in Sustaining Progress, the first progress report on my Department's action plan was submitted to the Civil Service performance verification group in October 2003. On 15 December the CSPVG wrote to the Secretary General of my Department conveying its decision that the progress achieved by my Department on the implementation of commitments in its modernisation action plan warranted payment of the general round and benchmarking increases due on 1 January 2004 to all grades of staff in my Department.
A separate justice and equality sector performance verification group, chaired by Ms Olive Braiden, was established to discharge the verification requirements under Sustaining Progress for organisations in the justice and equality sector. The 14 organisations in the justice and equality sector under this group's remit are as follows: the Land Registry and Registry of Deeds; the Courts Service; the Office of the Refugee Applications Commissioner; the Refugee Appeals Tribunal, the Irish Prison Service; the Probation and Welfare Service; the Legal Aid Board, the Office of the Director of Equality Investigations; the Equality Tribunal; the Equality Authority; the National Disability Authority; the Garda Síochána Complaints Board, the Forensic Science Laboratory; the Office of the Data Protection Commissioner; and the Film Censor's Office.
Each of these organisations submitted progress reports on the implementation of their action plans to the justice and equality sector performance verification group in October 2003. On the 17 December the justice and equality sector PVG wrote to the heads of these 14 organisations conveying its decision that the progress on action plans achieved by each of the 14 organisations under its remit warranted payment of the general round and benchmarking increases due on 1 January 2004, with the exception of grades represented by the Prison Officers' Association, in respect of which a decision as to whether payment was warranted was deferred. The PVG has continued to defer that decision while discussions in relation to the situation in the Prison Service are continuing under the auspices of the Labour Relations Commission.
The Deputy will be interested to know that the Department's and the 14 associated organisations' action plans are on the Department's website, as is the report of the justice and equality PVG on the first progress reports submitted by the 14 sectoral organisations.
With regard to the Garda Síochána, following acceptance by the four Garda staff associations of the report of the public service benchmarking body and the terms of Sustaining Progress, an agreed report of the Garda conciliation council recording such agreement was signed by all parties on 28 November 2003. A performance verification group was nominated by the Commissioner and it approved the Garda action plan on 1 December 2003. The appropriate procedure set out in Sustaining Progress in respect of the payment of the general round and benchmarking increases due on 1 January 2004 is in train following the submission by the Commissioner of the first progress report.
My Department and its associated bodies are continuing to implement modernisation commitments contained in their action plans and will be reporting to the verification groups at the end of April ahead of the 2% general round increase due on 1 July 2004.