Security and justice in a modern Ireland

Almost one hundred years on from the establishment of the Garda Síochána, we are embarking on a major transformation.  We established the expert Commission on the Future of Policing in Ireland to undertake a root and branch analysis of policing in Ireland.  Its blueprint for reform will transform An Garda Síochána into a model of policing excellence delivering the best policing services to the people of Ireland.  We will set out an implementation plan and deliver upon it, so that the transformation of An Garda Síochána will be complete by its centenary in 2022.

As a country, we are rightly proud of the Defence Forces. We are proud of those who put their lives on the line on our behalf, especially overseas. Ireland is the only country with unbroken United Nations service. The Defence Forces contribute to the societal bedrock that underpins our national well-being across social, economic and environmental elements.  In contributing to wider international security, particularly through Ireland’s commitment to collective security through membership of the UN and the EU, the Defence Forces make an active contribution to broader well-being which in turn supports international relations and economic prosperity.

Our ambition is that:

  • we have a world-class policing service focused on frontline policing;
  • we protect Irish citizens and vindicate their rights through a reformed justice system which recognises and protects the rights of victims;
  • we meet the targets for our Defence Forces as set out in the 2015 Defence White Paper;
  • increased supports are provided for current and retired members of the Defence Forces; and
  • innovative responses to new and emerging criminal threats are found.

Among the actions that will be brought forward to meet this ambition are:

A reformed policing service, fit for the needs of a rapidly changing Ireland

For decades in Ireland, there has been a debate about how best to modernise our policing service, the structure of which has changed little since independence.

In government, we recognised the damaging impact of recent controversies in An Garda Síochána and the urgent need for more effective oversight, accountability and cultural transformation.  For this reason that we established an independent Policing Authority which is driving reform within the Garda organisation through consistent oversight and through promoting an ethical, accountable and professional model of policing.

Building on these reforms, Fine Gael established the Commission on the Future of Policing in Ireland to undertake a comprehensive analysis of An Garda Síochána and its oversight arrangements.  In September 2018, the Commission published its landmark report.  Fine Gael is committed to delivering a roadmap to implement its recommendations by the end of 2018. This roadmap will set out clearly our proposals in response to the Commission’s recommendations.

We strongly endorse the message at the heart of the report of the Commission on the Future of Policing in Ireland: that Gardaí need to focus on policing duties; too much of their time is spent on other work and this has to change.  The report clearly states that more Gardaí are needed on the front line and should be highly visible in communities; a recommendation we strongly endorse which is also echoed in the most recent report from the Disclosures Tribunal.  The Commission highlights the need for Gardaí to partner with communities as they undertake their policing work.  We believe community policing must be the heart and soul of what An Garda Síochána does on a day-to-day basis.

We are committed to the work of the Effectiveness and Renewal Group for the Department of Justice and Equality, which will ensure that the department can best perform its important role in serving the public effectively.

Sustainable recruitment to the Gardaí and the Garda Reserve enabling more Gardaí to be out on the street

The economic crash had a detrimental effect on Garda numbers as recruitment stopped.  Fine Gael in government restarted Garda recruitment, and we will ensure that there are 15,000 Gardaí in place by 2021. Since we reopened the Garda College just under 2,200 new recruits have attested and been assigned to duties nationwide. Budget 2019 makes provision for up to 800 new recruits, recognising that the new Commissioner is best placed to determine needs in the context of the Commission on the Future of Policing Report.

The complexities of modern policing require appropriate civilian experts and support staff working alongside members of An Garda Síochána as they go about their policing work.  Civilianisation is a crucial aspect of our recruitment drive and also our reform agenda for the Gardaí. Gardaí should be doing policing work, not paperwork.  We will continue the emphasis on civilianisation to provide vital expertise and free up Gardaí for frontline duties.

The Garda Reform Programme includes a strategic review of the Garda Reserve; our vision is to build a strong Reserve that is rooted in local communities. We will continue to provide policy and financial supports to ensure that the Garda Reserve can become a successful integral aspect of community life in Ireland.

We recognise that criminals increasingly exploit technology and we will ensure that members of An Garda Síochána are appropriately equipped and trained to tackle all forms of criminality.

Update and modernise our justice system

Family breakdowns and child custody and protection proceedings must be dealt with in a sensitive manner, without delay.  We have introduced significant legislative reforms including the Mediation Act 2017 which encourages the greater use of alternative dispute resolutions which are less adversarial, less costly, and more efficient.  We will continue to bring forward reforms to assist families at what can be a very difficult and vulnerable time.  We will introduce a dedicated Family Court to streamline family law and structure the court to ensure it operates in a user-friendly and efficient manner in the best interests of those who avail of the court’s services.

We will undertake a major review of the District Court to ensure this critical part of the justice system is equipped to deal with modern demands. We will establish a Judicial Council to promote excellence in the Irish judiciary. We will provide for sentencing guidelines in the Judicial Council Bill to promote consistency in sentencing.

We will introduce new legislation on criminal procedures which will facilitate pre-trial hearings to reduce the length of complex trials such as those involving white collar crime and corruption.

It is important that our courts perform their important work in an efficient way.  To enhance court efficiency, we have asked the President of the High Court to review and reform the administration of civil justice in the state.  We will support this important work and ensure that effective measures are taken to improve citizens’ access to justice.

Supporting victims

We will bring forward important changes to the parole system, placing the Parole Board of Ireland on an independent statutory footing and to take account of the concerns of victims and survivors.

We recently commenced a review of the protections for vulnerable witnesses in the investigation and prosecution of sexual offences to identify the practice and/or legislative steps which can be taken to better aid vulnerable witnesses in these tragic cases.

We recognise that under-reporting of sexual and domestic violence has long characterised these areas of criminality.  Therefore, we will ensure a follow up survey of Sexual Assault and Violence in Ireland to update the data from the landmark 2002 report, and to ensure that government policy is informed by accurate, up to date data.  We will take steps to ensure that such research does not take place on an ad hoc basis but becomes part of how we gather data as a state.

We will change the law so that victims of sexual offences are offered the opportunity to give a further victim impact statement when an offender applies to have their name removed from the Sex Offenders Register.

Giving effect to the Istanbul Convention

The Istanbul Convention is a significant legal instrument in the fight against domestic and sexual violence. Since signing the Convention in 2015, Fine Gael in government has prioritised work in a range of departments and agencies to implement at an early date the legislative and administrative actions required to enable Ireland to ratify the Convention.

Those actions are set out in the whole-of-government ‘Second National Strategy on Domestic, Sexual and Gender-based Violence 2016-2021’, the implementation of which is monitored by a group comprising stakeholders from government departments and agencies and non-governmental agencies. The enactment of the Domestic Violence Act 2018 is a significant advancement in the government’s progress towards ratification of the Convention as it delivers a number of essential actions required. We will legislate for extraterritorial jurisdiction in respect of offences covered by the Convention and this will enable Ireland to ratify the Convention in 2019.

Tackling White Collar Crime

We do not tolerate white collar or economic crime.  In November 2017 we brought forward a suite of anti-corruption measures including tough new laws and a pilot joint agency task force which brings together a number of state agencies.  Our suite of measures includes a review of the effectiveness of all state bodies with a role in the prevention, detection, investigation, and prosecution of engagement on fraud and corruption. We will consider the outcomes of this review and either increase the number of specific joint agency task forces or bring together all relevant state agencies in a new multi-agency body.  We will be guided by expert advice and research outcomes.

We will establish the Office of the Director of Corporate Enforcement as a standalone statutory body, and give it the flexibility and resources to do its job to the highest possible standards. The Criminal Justice (Corruption Offences) Act 2018 will be rigorously enforced and we will ensure that robust anti-money laundering legislation is in place.

Supporting the work of the Special Crime Task Force and Armed Response Units

We will ensure An Garda Síochána is resourced to tackle organised crime through the Special Crime Task Force and Armed Response Units.  We will work closely with partner governments and police forces around the world to ensure that gangsters and criminals cannot exploit free movement and trade flows.

Reducing Recidivism

Recognising that 25% of recidivists are responsible for 75% of crime, we will continue to work to reduce recidivism by extending the successful Joint Agency Response to Crime, which we established in 2016 to manage prolific offenders (J-ARC) to more locations around the state.  We will also extend the Youth Joint Agency Response to Crime (YJ-ARC), launched in 2017 which targets prolific offenders aged 16-21.

Introducing a Fagin’s Law

We will legislate to criminalise adults who groom children to commit crimes and ask the Oireachtas Committee on Justice and Equality and the Oireachtas Committee on Children and Youth Affairs to consider the recommendations of the Special Rapporteur on Child Protection regarding the age of criminal responsibility.

Making the internet safer – driving implementation of the Action Plan for Online Safety

The internet has transformed our lives. It allows us to connect with loved ones in an instant or find information on pretty much anything. However, it is important to acknowledge that illegal and harmful content can be encountered easily online, and while this presents challenges for all internet users, it is children that are most vulnerable.

Online safety requires a whole-of-government response incorporating criminal justice measures such as strengthened legislation and greater enforcement to tackle illegal content coupled with action to help educate and inform people – in particular parents – how to avoid exposure to content or internet activity that while legal, may be harmful. That is why Fine Gael is driving implementation of the Action Plan for Online Safety.

The ‘Action Plan for Online Safety’ was published in 2018 and the actions contained in it cut across six government departments – underlying the range and breadth of the issues involved. Through this Action Plan the government will work with stakeholders to implement actions, over an 18 month period, that are achievable and which will have the greatest impact on online safety for everyone in Ireland. Among the actions are:

  • creating a National Advisory Council on Online Safety to provide advice to government on online safety policy issues with stakeholder input and engagement;
  • legislation for new online criminal offences;
  • a national communications campaign and single identity – Be Safe Online – with key online safety messages targeted at specific groups, including children and young people; parents, guardians and teachers; and
  • the creation of a single online access point through which all available Online Safety resources can be accessed.

Fine Gael is committed to protecting children online.  We believe the era of self-regulation is over. However, if we are to introduce further legislation we must ensure that it is robust, effective, and meets the urgent public policy need to protect children which we are trying to address.

Establishing an independent gambling regulator

We will introduce an independent gambling regulator to ensure that abuses are eradicated and public safety is protected.  We will emulate best practice in the design of the new regulatory body and ensure that it is equipped to respond to a rapidly evolving gambling environment.

Delivering the ambition of the 2015 White Paper on Defence

The publication of the 2015 White Paper on Defence set out a national policy framework for the next decade. This policy framework is flexible and responsive given the dynamic nature of the security environment and enables the Defence Forces to be adaptive to changing circumstances.

Fine Gael is committed to ensuring our Defence Forces are in a position to meet the security requirements of the state and to undertake our international obligations.

Capability development, equipment planning and infrastructure upgrades are essential, that is why we are investing in:

  • force protection assets for the army including the delivery of ten new armoured logistic vehicles and an upgrade programme for the eighty MOWAG Armoured Personnel Carriers;
  • three new fixed wing utility aircraft for the Aer Corp, replacing the existing supporting Cessna fleet and providing for the transportation of troops and equipment, medical evacuations and air ambulance taskings. The first two aircraft will be delivered in 2019;
  • naval services capability following the delivery of a fourth Offshore Patrol Vessel and providing for mid-life refit of LÉ Niamh and LÉ Róisín;
  • accommodation facilities in the Defence Forces Training Centre, Cathal Brugha Barracks and Casement Aerodrome; and
  • training facilities in the Defence Forces Training Centre, Sarsfield Barracks, Limerick and Stephens Barracks, Kilkenny.

Increasing supports for Defence Forces veterans

In wearing the uniform of the Defence Forces our soldiers embody the patriotism of citizens of our state. That relationship, between soldier and citizen, requires practical and formal expression. Therefore, we will continue to support the establishment of centres for retired members of the Defence Forces. These centres provide an important resource to our veterans and can assist them in accessing services while at the same time providing a social outlet and network for retired members.  This will provide a public recognition of the unique role members of the Defence Forces play.