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Alan Shatter TD
Minister for Justice and Equality and Defence
Wednesday 7 December 2012
Thank you, Ceann Comhairle
The Justice and Defence Sectors, like all public sector areas, must contribute their share to the measures necessary to put our public finances in order. I will address the various constituent parts of the Justice Sector first and will then comment on the estimates for the Defence Organisation.
The Justice Sector has sustained significant reductions in expenditure over recent years, but I am pleased that, even in the current straitened economic circumstances, it has been possible to provide a gross budget of €2.317 billion to the Sector for 2012, based on the estimates published on Monday. The current expenditure budget is €2.261 billion and the capital provision is €56 million.
There is, of course, a very high proportion of payroll expenditure across the entire Justice family. 75% of all current expenditure is either pay or pension related and this portion increases to 90% in the case of the Garda Síochána. The remaining 25% of current expenditure is mainly operational in nature, accounted for by the running costs of the Garda Siochana, prisons and court services, the Property Registration Authority and the Department itself, together with a relatively large number of organisations and agencies which fall under the remit of the Justice estimate. In addition, the limited non-payroll budget must also meet the costs of demand-led areas across the Justice Sector particularly in relation to criminal legal aid, immigration and compensation payments.
As in other sectors, there has been a reduction in Justice Sector expenditure in the period 2008 to 2011, in accordance with the Government’s overall fiscal target. The budget of €2.261 billion for 2012 will reduce to €2.198 billion in 2013 and €2.083 billion in 2014. As a consequence, it has been necessary to make reductions across a broad range of areas within the Justice family.
Significantly, despite the reductions effected in 2011, the most recent crime statistics from the Central Statistics Office - for the third quarter of 2011 - show decreases in 12 of the 14 crime groups for which figures are given, compared with the same quarter in 2010 including; a 42% reduction in homicide (which includes a 9% reduction in the number of murders recorded); a 15% reductions in the categories of controlled drug offences and an 11.3% reduction in weapons and explosives offences.
There has also been a welcome reduction in public order and related offences and in the number of cases concerning persons driving or in charge of a vehicle while under the influence of drugs or over the legal alcohol limit.
The Gardaí are placing a particular emphasis on preventing and reducing burglary and providing a targeted response, having regard to locations, times, offenders and victims.
Fiscal sanctions and their enforcement are the responsibility of my colleague, the Minister for Finance, together with the Revenue authorities. However, the Garda Síochána continues to work in close cooperation with the Revenue Commissioners in tackling excise crimes, such as fuel laundering and cigarette smuggling, which have serious consequences for genuine businesses and for our communities in terms of longer-term availability of Exchequer funding for our social programmes. In addition, the link between such activity and the funding of organised criminal gangs continues to raise serious concern. During the course of this year, the Gardai have been particularly successful in targeting these criminal gangs and the close relationship and cooperation between the Gardai and the PSNI have played a particularly important role which, of course, is also of vital importance in countering the threat from the small number of subversives who continue to engage in acts of criminal terrorism.
For comparison purposes, and allowing for some technical adjustments around the transfer of functions between agencies over the past year, the Justice Vote shows a €97 million reduction (4.1%) on the corresponding allocation for 2011. Very challenging budgetary targets have also been set for the two following years.
There is a significant transformation programme in place right across the Justice Sector, including all the main operational areas. The programme, which links closely in with the Government’s reform agenda, is examining every aspect of the way work is done and resources are deployed.
The Programme for Government sets out a very detailed legislative programme for the Justice Sector, and we have moved quickly, over the last few months, to drive forward key elements of the programme.
For example, the Legal Services Regulation Bill, which was published by the Government on 12th October 2011, gives effect to key structural reforms of the legal sector, including those set out in the Programme for Government, which undertakes to “establish independent regulation of the legal profession to improve access and competition, make legal costs more transparent and ensure adequate procedures for addressing consumer complaints”. These structural reforms, which build on the recommendations of the Legal Costs Working Group and the Competition Authority, are also part of our national EU/IMF/ECB undertakings. When I briefed the Troika recently on the Bill, they welcomed it as having met both the spirit and the letter of the EU/IMF/ECB Memorandum of Understanding.
A new framework of independent regulation together with many other modernisation measures in the Bill, represent an opportunity to bring the provision of legal services in the State out of the 19th century and into the 21st century. The Bill will address the stark and pressing challenges of structural reform, national competitiveness and economic recovery that we, as a nation, face at this time. The Second Stage debate on this Bill will commence shortly. It’s substantive provisions provide considerable protections for the consumers of legal services, greater transparency in relation to legal costs and a new modern framework for legal costs adjudication where disputes arise. It also provides for new structures through which legal services can be delivered, an independent disciplinary structure to address allegations of misconduct by members of the legal profession and removes many of the restrictive practices which remain, to this day, unchanged from another century despite recommendations for reform made some years ago by the Competition Authority. The benefits of these reforms were well described by Isolde Goggin of the Competition Authority in the most recent edition of the Sunday Business Post.
Following publication of the Bill, I arranged that copies of it be furnished to both the Law Society and the Bar Council and invited both organisations to furnish to me any constructive amendments they consider desirable to improve the Bill and invited them to meet with me. It is disappointing that seven weeks after the Bills publication no substantive proposals of any nature have been received from either body and I await with interest any submission that either may make.
It is most disappointing that, instead of constructively engaging, both bodies have simply launched a campaign of opposition to the Bill and I note from newspaper reports this week that, instead of constructively contributing to its development, both bodies joined together in a conference alleging that the legal profession is under attack and that the Bill poses a threat to its independence. Neither is the case.
There is nothing contained in the Bill which in any way prevents members of either profession from continuing to provide legal services as they do as present but the alternative business model options contained in the Bill provide significant opportunity of employment, not only for currently unemployed solicitors and barristers, but also for those presently employed who are struggling to make ends meet. There is nothing contained in the Bill which in any way interferes with the freedom of lawyers to fully and properly represent their clients and to take any action required in their clients interest including actions against the State.
It is time that both professions realised that self regulation is no longer acceptable and that independent regulation is in the public interest and is government policy. The constant refrain that all proposals of reform affecting the legal profession are a threat to its independence is rapidly a becoming a debased currency.
Unfortunately, it has not proved possible to bring the proposed Landlord and Tenant (Business Leases Review) Bill before the Dail. I brought proposals before Government earlier this year to provide relief for tenants whose businesses might otherwise be viable were it not for the adverse impact of the commercial rent paid by them being significantly above prevailing market levels. However, it was the view of the Attorney General that this particular approach gave rise to significant constitutional difficulties. The Government was advised that any model proposed would require the payment of compensation to landlords whose rights were infringed, in order to ensure that the proposal would be compatible with the Constitution and the European Convention on Human Rights. Given the current economic circumstances, the Government is strongly of the view that payment of compensation to landlords in such circumstances could not be justified.
The Minister for Finance spoke yesterday of the role that NAMA can play in dealing with the problems caused by upward only rent reviews where they apply to NAMA properties. NAMA has now published its policy guidance which provides an opportunity for NAMA to approve rent reductions where rents are in excess of market levels and the viability of a tenant is threatened. The policy provides for the appointment of an independent valuer to ascertain current market rent. I welcome NAMA’s pragmatic approach to this matter. It is a model which I would commend to those landlords who have yet to engage with their tenants and yet to accept the fact that current market realities require a greater measure of flexibility than has been shown heretofore.
I hope that the now announced decision will remove the uncertainty for those contemplating investment in the commercial property market and bring about renewed activity in this sector.
As a further contribution to the economic renewal towards which we are all working I introduced, as a pilot scheme commencing on 1st July, Ireland’s first formal Visa Waiver Scheme. This pilot scheme, which will run until 31st October 2012, aims to increase tourist numbers to the State and promote Ireland as a quality tourist destination for markets which hitherto would not have been regarded as traditional source countries for tourism to this country.
The Personal Insolvency Bill will provide for a new framework for settlement of debt and for personal insolvency. The commitment under the EU/IMF Programme of Financial Support for Ireland is to publish the Bill in Quarter One of 2012.
The Heads of the Bill are at an advanced stage and I will be presenting them to the Government later this month for approval for formal drafting by the Office of the Parliamentary Counsel. It is also my intention also to refer the Scheme of the Bill to the Committee on Justice, Defence and Equality for its consideration.
Reform of our insolvency law was recommended in the recent Keane Report as one of the critical elements which could contribute to assisting certain persons in mortgage arrears difficulties. I would anticipate that the development of new statutory approaches to insolvency will encourage financial institutions to adopt more realistic alternative methods of reaching agreements directly with their clients who may be struggling with significant debt problems.
The Garda Síochána budget for 2012 will be €1.425 billion for gross current expenditure, plus €20.4 million for capital expenditure.
This is a reduction on the budget for 2011, and I fully recognise that it will be challenging. The Garda Síochána participated in the Comprehensive Review of Expenditure, concluded recently, which provided a basis for the Garda Commissioner to assess how policing services are currently delivered and to identify the scope for introducing new efficiencies.
As the Garda Commissioner has stated, the Garda Síochána, like every other part of the Public Service, has had to examine how they do their business, in order to identify savings within a reduced budget and to provide a policing service with greater efficiency.
The Garda Commissioner’s examination covered every aspect of policing activity, including courts, escorts, protection posts, training, civilianisation and specialisation, as well as the opening hours of Garda stations both in Dublin and across the country.
Arising from that examination, the Commissioner submitted to me his Policing Plan which details his priorities for 2012 and provides for the closure of 31 Garda stations throughout the country and for a reduction in the public opening hours of 10 Garda stations in the Dublin Metropolitan Region. It also formally recognises the closure of eight other Garda stations which, while still listed as Garda stations, are already non-operational and will not re-open.
The Policing Plan has been laid before the House and I have made public the details of the stations to close and those with reduced opening hours. These changes are part of a process of reform designed to ensure that resources are focused on frontline operational services, and that the best possible policing service is maintained.
The Garda Commissioner has publicly stated that resources could be better deployed and more effectively used on the frontline if these particular stations no longer had to be staffed and maintained. Those who argue against any station closures have to contend with the professional judgement of the Garda Commissioner that the closures will result in a better use of resources.
Ten Garda stations in Dublin, currently open to the public on a 24 hour basis will, from January next, be open to the public from 8am to 10pm daily, the hours when the vast majority of visits to Garda stations are made. Instead of having Gardaí behind the public counter in these stations at night, when there is very little demand for that service, they will be freed-up for frontline operational duties.
The number of closures is small compared to the 703 Garda stations listed throughout the country, which include 47 stations in the Dublin area. These are very high figures by international standards and they have hardly changed since the foundation of the State, despite huge advances in transport, communications and technology in recent years. I expect that there will be further rationalisation of Garda stations in the years ahead. Similar rationalisation of police stations commenced some years ago in Northern Ireland. In 2001 there were over 130 police stations in Northern Ireland. There are now 83 and the Policing Board there is currently reviewing 34 of these with the possibility that by 2015 there will be a total of 49 stations in Northern Ireland. Even allowing for undoubted differences in policing models, the disparity in the number of police stations is striking.
In the context of a reduction in Garda numbers we should not forget that there are 2,141 (Whole Time Equivalent) civilians working in an Garda Siochana who not only bring hugely valuable skills to the Force, but also make it possible for Gardaí to be released for frontline policing, thus increasing Garda operational strength.
In addition, we have almost 900 Garda Reserves who are not a replacement for Gardai but an extremely valuable support, freeing-up Gardaí for more frontline policing.
The Garda Síochána also now has much better equipment and technical capability than in past years. In particular, the PULSE system has been developed into an extremely effective resource for every member, while Garda communications have been transformed by the recent introduction of a digital radio system.
These are all factors which must be taken into account when considering reduction in Garda numbers. We will still have a strong, capable Force, with a presence right across the country, but it will be a Force which is deployed more efficiently and which delivers a policing service more effectively.
The Prison Vote, the gross allocation for which is €336 million, is made up of current expenditure of €312 million and a capital budget of over €24 million. Despite significant efficiency savings through revised staffing arrangements and other savings in areas such as procurement, the demands on the Prison Service continue to grow.
There has been a constant increase in the total prisoner population in Ireland over recent years, with dramatic increases in the number of sentenced prisoners and those being committed on remand, and a trend towards longer sentences.
The number of sentenced persons committed to prison annually has increased by 145% since 2005, going from 5,088 then to 12,487 now. The average numbers in custody rose by 11.84% between 2009 and 2010 and, while the increase in the current year is not as dramatic, the trajectory is still upward.
It is crucial, therefore, that the outstanding progress being made under the transformation programme in the Prison Service be sustained. Under the programme, the Irish Prison Service (IPS) will deliver savings of €21 million in payroll costs alone, in terms of cost avoided due to increasing prisoner numbers and new prison spaces coming on stream. In other words, in the absence of the Transformation Agreement, the Exchequer would have had to provide an additional €21 million in payroll funding because of the increased demands on the Prison Service (€10 million in 2011 and €12 million in 2012, rising to €21 million for each of the years 2013 and 2014).
The Agreement also provides for other measures which are currently being progressed, including an in-depth review of all tasks undertaken in the Prison Service.
It is already known, since the recent publication of the capital allocations, that the Government is not in a position to proceed with new construction works at the Thornton Hall site or at Kilworth in Cork, for now. However, it has been possible to make provision in the 2012 estimates to complete the current construction work in the Midlands Prisons and in The Dóchas Centre, which together will provide a much needed 370 or so additional prison spaces.
The Courts Service:
The Courts Service current expenditure allocation of over €98.390 million for 2012 shows a reduction relative to 2011. The Service has also available a capital allocation of €7.7 million for 2012.
The Courts Service is undergoing a multi-faceted transformation programme including the restructuring of court offices into unified multi-jurisdictional structures (for example, through combining District and Circuit Court offices), the rationalisation of court venues, the centralisation of certain functions, the greater use of IT systems in court rooms and the development of the role of the County Registrar.
The Courts Service is also reviewing, on an ongoing basis, the network of court venues it provides. While the provision of court venues is, obviously, a matter for the Courts Service and Board, I fully support this review, particularly in the current financial climate, when we must find all possible ways to optimise the use of our resources.
The Courts Service, in making decisions in relation to the future of court venues, uses very solid quantitative criteria, including case count, condition of the building, number of sittings per annum, and proximity to other court venues.
I am informed that, in general, the buildings closed to date have been in poor condition and would have required significant investment to provide an adequate service. I am also aware that the rationalisation policy has resulted in considerable operational efficiencies, time savings, and improved speed of access to justice.
Property Registration Authority:
The Property Registration Authority Vote has a gross allocation of €33.8 million available for 2012.
The Authority has invested extensively in IT systems in recent years so that all registrations and related mapping are recorded on a fully electronic register, with online access to practitioners and the public. I will ensure that proposals in relation to the potential amalgamation of State Bodies involved in the provision of property and mapping services with the Property Registration Authority which have been under consideration for some time are critically examined with a view to a final decision being reached in 2012.
Justice and Equality Vote:
The Justice and Equality Vote has a gross allocation of over €395 million available in 2012, plus a carryover of unspent capital from 2011of €460,000 which is being allocated to the Forensic Science Laboratory.
The Justice Vote covers nearly 60 subheads, and includes allocations of funding to agencies and organisations in the areas of integration, equality, disability and human rights, charities, youth justice and others. The allocation for 2012 represents a reduction of €15 million on the 2011 figure and, in allocating the available funding, priority will be given to those organisations that are actually providing front-line services. This means that there will be limited funding available for non-governmental organisations which are largely engaged in an advocacy role. It is, therefore, with regret that I have had no option but to reduce funding to bodies like the National Women's Council of Ireland, and have withdrawn funding from the umbrella group, People with Disabilities Ireland, where a disproportionate amount of funding was absorbed by administrative overheads, so that funding may be maintained, insofar as we can, for other bodies supported by my Department in providing front-line services tackling complex and difficult issues such as domestic and sexual violence and to organisations providing assistance to victims of crime, for example Women's Aid, AdVIC and Support after Homicide. The National Women's Council of Ireland has now received considerable philanthropic funding to support its work and I believe that the reduced contribution from my Department is adequate to enable the Council to contribute on behalf of the women of Ireland to the ongoing programme of Government activities which aim to achieve de facto gender equality, principally through the implementation of the National Women's Strategy.
It has been possible to increase the provision for some areas - such as the Forensic Science Laboratory, Criminal Assets Bureau and State Pathology Service - relative to 2011 expenditure levels. I am determined, insofar as possible, to maintain the funding levels in these key areas, which are crucial in the fight against crime. The Criminal Assets Bureau, for example, together with other specialist Garda units, is to the forefront in the fight against serious and organised crime, and utilises the Proceeds of Crime legislation and other legislation to appropriate the ill-gotten gains of criminals for the benefit of the State.
I am conscious, also, of the need to maintain funding for the Probation and Youth Justice Services at in or around 2011 expenditure levels because of the very important work these organisations carry out. The Probation Service provides cost-effective alternatives to custody which I am determined to continue and grow during my time as Minister.
The Youth Justice Service, while providing places of detention for young offenders, also administers and funds a range of essential Diversion and Community Based Programmes. These programmes aim at deterring young people in particular risk categories from getting involved in crime.
The challenges in the Justice Vote are reflected in the budgetary reductions in areas such as Criminal Legal Aid and the immigration and asylum areas. In 2011, the former Minister for Finance made available €47 million for the criminal legal aid scheme. The estimated outturn at the end of this year will exceed €57 million some €10 million more than budgeted for at the start of the year. The need to contain the costs of the criminal aid scheme in the public interest whilst also ensuring that the rights of alleged offenders are fully protected resulted in my having to reduce fees payable under the scheme this year. However, following the DPP also reducing fees payable to prosecuting lawyers, parity of fees was maintained as between the prosecution and defending side.
A provision of €47 million has again been allocated for Criminal Legal Aid in 2012. Given the likely outturn for this year this allocation represents a considerable challenge to achieve essential savings. In this context I find the threatened strike action from the newly formed Criminal Law Practitioners Organisation absolutely extraordinary.
This organisation, last September, expressed concern that the principle of parity in relation to legal fees would no longer apply to lawyers representing both the prosecution and the defence. As previously explained this concern proved groundless.
Until the formation of this new organisation, issues of this nature were addressed by my Department in dialogue with the traditional representative bodies of the legal profession, the Law Society and the Bar Council. Although both bodies have naturally represented the interests of their members when cuts have arisen, both bodies – and indeed their members - have generally demonstrated the responsible attitude one would expect from the legal profession in these very difficult times.
The contrasting approach of the newly formed Criminal Law Practitioners Organisation has been marked. Bearing in mind its leadership comprises some of the highest earners in the criminal legal aid scheme, I have to deplore last Friday’s threat made to withdraw services tomorrow from criminal legal aid clients. Although I believe that with over 2000 solicitors and 850 barristers on the legal aid panels, there will be adequate representation available, I am concerned and astounded at this proposal to withdraw services from clients who have been granted criminal legal aid by the courts and assigned legal representation and have an expectation of being appropriately represented by their legal team in court.
I should add that whether lawyers are entitled under the law to undertake this kind of action is extremely questionable. I understand the Competition Authority wrote yesterday to the CLPO expressing concern about a potential infringement of the Competition Act.
I have previously invited the Criminal Law Practitioners Organisation to furnish their proposals for reducing the cost of Criminal Legal Aid whilst continuing to ensure that the rights of defendants are properly protected. To date, the Organisation has failed to furnish me with any substantive response to this request. The conduct of this organisation to date starkly illustrates the need to implement reforms with regard to the legal profession and to enact the Legal Services Regulation Bill to ensure proper competition in the provision of legal services.
A significant transformation programme is in place right across the Justice sector and in this context, I am pleased that I have already got a number of initiatives off the ground, aimed at ensuring more streamlined interaction between the various areas in the Criminal Justice Sector.
A programme of structural reform is also being progressed in the immigration and asylum areas, with the objective of achieving a more streamlined and cost effective operation, while also, maintaining the transparency and high standards pertaining to our current immigration process. A key catalyst for further measures in this area will be the passage of the Residency and Immigration Bill through the Oireachtas in the New Year.
In line with the Government’s proposals for the rationalisation of State Bodies, the arrangements for the merger of the Equality Authority and Human Rights Commission are proceeding. It is expected that the pooled resources of the organisations will provide a strong and vibrant body which will promote human rights and equality issues in a more effective, efficient and cohesive way.
Arising from one of the proposals in the Comprehensive Review of Expenditure report, the funding provision for the Legal Aid Board has been streamlined in the current estimates, with the allocation for the Refugee Legal Service being amalgamated with the grant-in-aid provision for the Board. In this context also there has been €2.8 million included in the Legal Aid Board subhead for the Family Mediation Service, which reflects the change in responsibility for this service in November this year. I am pleased that we are able to maintain funding for civil legal aid and for FLAC in 2012 at 2011 levels.
The Defence area faces difficulties that are very similar to those in Justice, when it comes to maintaining operational effectiveness within reduced budgetary allocations.
The Defence Organisation has a proud record of reform and modernisation, unique within the public service. In the past decade, Defence expenditure has reduced in real terms whilst capabilities and services have been improved. The task in 2012 is to make the changes necessary to maintain operational effectiveness within a restricted financial allocation. Achieving this task will require a firm commitment to change, prioritization, cost reductions and effectiveness. I know the Defence Forces in which we should take great pride, are up to this task, and will in 2012 with courage and dedication continue to play an important role in peacekeeping duties abroad and in their domestic duties at home when required.
Because the Defence Forces have downsized faster than the rest of the Public Service and are already 11% below the 2000 strength level, the Government have decided that there will be no further reduction below the strength level proposed in the Comprehensive Review of Expenditure. While the strength will be maintained at 9,500 there will be a major streamlining of the organisation.
The re-organisation of the Defence Forces in the context of the reduced strength will prioritise “front-line” service delivery. This will include a reduction in the number of Army Brigades from three to two which will free up military personnel from administrative and support functions.
The reduction in the number of Army Brigades will require a re-defining of territorial areas of responsibility. Further barrack closures are not envisaged as part of this process. I have asked the Chief of Staff and Secretary General to prepare re-organisation proposals for my consideration. This will also include proposals relating to the Reserve Defence Force, which is currently organised along similar lines to the Permanent Defence Force.
The recently announced barrack closures are a key element in absorbing the reductions in the strength of the Defence Forces while minimising the impact on front-line services. The consolidation of the Defence Forces formations into a smaller number of locations has always been a key objective of the Defence modernisation programme. The location of personnel in a large number of locations has created major difficulties in the provision of collective training, while the manning and security of non-essential barracks takes personnel away from operational duties. It also imposes unnecessary costs and overheads on the Defence Forces in terms of barrack management, administration and maintenance.
In addition to the reduction in strength, a range of cost reduction measures are being introduced to deliver savings. These include the reprioritisation of equipment plans and associated planned reductions in procurement expenditure. A recent re-examination of the Defence ten-year equipment plan has identified the minimum priority equipment required up to 2017 which will inform equipment purchases in 2012. The procurement of the two naval vessels will continue from within the reduced Defence allocation. The first new naval vessel is scheduled for delivery in early 2014 with the second following one year later.
There is no escaping the fact that difficult decisions will continue to have to be made until we get our public finances back in order. That being said, I am confident that, with the resources available and through the changes in the way in which both sectors do business, we will maintain viable and effective Justice and Defence Sectors in the challenging times ahead.
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