As Minister for Justice and Equality, I welcome the announcement in recent weeks by the Garda Commissioner of a new Operating Model for An Garda Síochána.
This functional model has long been recommended by independent policing specialists, including the Garda Síochána Inspectorate and in the Report of the Commission on the Future of Policing in Ireland (CoFPI). Rollout of this model meets a key commitment in A Policing Service for the Future, the four-year implementation plan giving effect to the recommendations of the Commission on the Future of Policing in Ireland.
While new to Ireland, this model is the norm in other countries. It is designed to reduce bureaucracy and will shift real decision-making power from Garda Headquarters to Chief Superintendents, closer to the communities they serve. It will also result in significantly more Sergeants and Inspectors on the ground where leadership, supervision and mentoring is crucial.
The new model is specifically designed to provide a more responsive, localised policing service. It re-organises resources around the delivery of front-line policing, placing an increased emphasis on engaging with communities and supporting victims of crime.
There will be much greater community engagement in the new model, including a dedicated Superintendent leading the community engagement team in Divisions. By contrast, in the old District model, Superintendents would have been balancing this important work with competing priorities such as the investigation of major crime.
I am informed by the Commissioner a number of considerations were taken into account in developing the new model and the restructuring of Divisions, including population, geography, projected growth, crime trends and workload across a range of work streams.
Under the new model, the existing Meath and Westmeath Divisions will be merged and will form part of the Eastern Garda Region with the new Meath/Westmeath Divisional Headquarters to be situated in Mullingar.
I am informed by the Commissioner that in light of the new structures, An Garda Síochána is undertaking a review of accommodation requirements, including Mullingar Garda Station. I am informed that the need for new or additional Garda accommodation or facilities in Mullingar will be considered in the context of that review.
As the Deputy may be aware, the Commissioner last week announced the first 5 Divisions were the new Model will be implemented - Meath/Westmeath will be among these first Divisions, alongside Galway, Cork City, Dublin South Central and Limerick.
I understand that the new model will be implemented on a phased basis throughout 2020.
Finally, it may be noted that these changes are being introduced at a time of record investment in An Garda Síochána. €1.76 billion has been allocated to the Garda Vote for 2019, as well as capital investment amounting to € 92 million this year. I am pleased to have secured an overall increase of €122 million to increase An Garda Síochána’s budget for 2020 to an unprecedented €1.882 billion for next year in addition to €116million in capital investment. This level of funding will allow the Garda Commissioner to recruit up to 700 new Gardaí next year and additional Garda staff.
I am confident that this ongoing investment in Garda resources together with the ongoing reform process will result in an improved policing service for all communities, urban and rural, now and into the future.