January 29, 2016 § Leave a comment
Today I expressed my concern at the widespread perception among civil servants that their work was not valued by the public. Responding to yesterday’s publication of the Civil Service Employee Engagement Survey, which found that just 15% of civil servants believed the public valued their work, and warned that this could have a “corrosive effect” on staff morale and public service delivery.
Speaking at the Ireland eGovernment Awards Ceremony at Dublin Castle, I outlined:
“It is always important for politicians to remember that the people who work in our civil and public services are at the frontline when citizens experience or perceive shortcomings in service provision.
“The results of the Civil Service Employee Engagement Survey reveal a very high level of enthusiasm, among civil servants, for the work they do. 70% say they are enthusiastic about their work and only 10% say they are not.
“But, I was equally struck by the finding that just 15% of civil servants believe that the public respects and appreciates their work. This is a shockingly low figure, not least because of the huge positive contribution that public servants bring to the lives of our citizens and communities.
“This widespread perception, among public servants, that their contribution to society is undervalued, could have a corrosive impact on staff morale – and potentially service delivery itself – if it is not addressed.
“This is particularly important now that we are experiencing a sustained recovery in economic activity, growth and – most importantly – employment. We mustn’t forget the huge contribution that public servants have made to this recovery, or how they maintained, and indeed improved, services during the worst economic crisis in the history of this state, and against the background of pay cuts and a 10% decline in staff numbers.
“Now that we are recruiting again, and beginning to restore public service incomes, more needs to be done to highlight both the challenges and achievements of public service delivery. This responsibility falls to politicians and senior public service managers. But it is also a challenge for our media, commentators, and everyone who engages in public discourse on these matters.”
January 28, 2016 § Leave a comment
The closure of Stepaside Garda station – one of 139 stations to close on foot of An Garda Síochána’s 2013 policing review – was regrettable.
But I think our focus now has to be on the future, and on one critically important question:
What is the best and most efficient way to use the resources we have – and those resources are limited – in order to ensure that people are protected, and that our communities are policed effectively.
The provision of resources is an issue for Government. And let me come back to the issue of increased resources that we have now put in place.
How those resources are used is an issue for An Garda Siochana. For the first time ever, we now also have an independent Garda Authority, something my party pushed hard to achieve.
That Authority, which is up and running since the beginning of this year, will have a critical role in reviewing the efficiency and effectiveness of policing across the country, and how resources are deployed in order to achieve this.
Efficiency and effectiveness – using the resources to best effect.
I think this means asking the question: which is more effective – modern, well-equipped squad cars, and plenty of them, available to respond quickly, with the most advanced communications technology, and increased numbers of well-trained Gardai – or the maintenance of Garda stations in old buildings, which of course are valued in any community, but which realistically are not geared to the task of combatting highly mobile criminals and gangs, who move so quickly in and out of areas, and can only really be dealt with through a much more modern, sophisticated and responsive policing strategy.
Too many people have had the experience of their house being burgled, with the loss of valuable property and damage to their home. It can be a frightening experience. I know, because it’s happened to me and my family twice.
But I have to tell you that I live only a ten minute walk from the nearest Garda Station, and I know of burglaries within a much closer distance of the station.
In truth, there is no evidence that proximity to a functioning Garda Station is any deterrent to burglaries or other crimes, apart maybe from being next door or right beside a station.
And response time is really down to how many guards and Garda vehicles there are in the area, how quickly they can respond, and how well-equipped they are to communicate.
Since the closure – resources
Since 2013, when Stepaside closed, there has actually been very significant investment in An Garda Síochána.
The moratorium on Garda recruitment, put in place by the Fianna Fail/Green government has been ended, and 1,150 new Gardaí have been hired, many of them deployed in this Division.
My colleague Frances Fitzgerald has initiated Operation Thor, which includes a broad range of activities to tackle burglars, organised crime gangs, and prolific offenders – as well as working with communities to prevent crime.
We’ve invested over €34 million in new Garda vehicles since 2012 with over 640 new vehicles coming on stream in 2015, ranging from more Garda patrol cars to high-powered vehicles for armed units.
This is making Gardaí more mobile, visible and responsive – and effective – on the roads and in the community.
As more public funds become available, there is certainly a strong case for a new Garda station in the West of this area.
The population, and the number of homes in this area, is likely to increase significantly in the period ahead. Cherrywood alone has a projected population increase of 20,000, and Kilternan is identified as an area of future development in the County Development Plan. So we will need to have adequate and appropriate policing facilities, including – but not limited to – physical premises.
So there is a case, perhaps in the context of a strategic review of policing in this part of the city, to look again at what our needs are in relation to Garda Stations, and I would certainly support such a review so that this community can have its say on what the needs of this area are into the future.
Whether this might ever mean the re-opening of Stepaside Garda Station, I think that could only be addressed, as it was in 2013, in the context of what is the best use of resources in order to deliver effective and efficient policing.
Finally, I have also made representations to my colleagues in the OPW about the condition of the building in Stepaside. As a result, I am told that the OPW will undertake painting and other works to improve its appearance.
Although this is not the main issue we’re addressing today, I think it is important to ensure that this building and the physical fabric of the village is retained into the future.
January 20, 2016 § Leave a comment
Speaking at the launch of the 2016 Better Energy Communities grant scheme, which will distribute €20 million to community-based energy efficiency projects this year, I outlined that better-than-expected public finances will allow the Government to review its capital plan earlier than the proposed 2017. Large-scale capital investment is essential in energy efficiency, renewable energy and green transport.
Last month, I published my Energy White Paper, which identifies actions to reduce Ireland’s energy-related carbon emissions by between 80% and 95% by 2050. Ireland will eventually have to generate 100% of its energy needs from clean sources.
We need, as a country, to recommit ourselves to a scale of investment necessary to make our low-carbon ambition a reality. The Government’s capital spending plan, published last September, demonstrates that we are alive to the challenge. But, while significant, it will not be enough to address the entire range of medium to long-term social, economic and environmental priorities that require substantial investment. I very much agree with my colleague Brendan Howlin, when he said that our better-than-expected public finances will allow us to review the capital plan earlier than 2017.
I am part of a political tradition that champions long-term capital investment as a core element of public policy: One that needs to be valued – as much as current spending and tax breaks – by politicians, businesses, commentators and citizens. If we are returned as part of the next coalition Government, Labour will prioritise capital investment in a broad range of areas. This will include Better Energy Communities and other programmes that will help us meet the challenge of global warming, which requires large-scale investment in energy efficiency, renewables, and green transport.
January 18, 2016 § Leave a comment
I visited St John of God in Stillorgan last week (Friday 8th January) to congratulate staff and management on their energy efficiency programme, which cut the hospital’s energy bills by almost a fifth last year.
The hospital undertook lighting, heating and boiler plant upgrades with the help of a €25,000 grant from the Sustainable Energy Authority of Ireland (SEAI). The SEAI develops and implements energy efficiency programmes on behalf of my department.
The work done at St John of God is a magnificent example of the energy-conscious action that will help Ireland tackle climate change by becoming a low-carbon society. The Energy White Paper, which I published last month, placed a huge emphasis on energy efficiency in public buildings, homes, communities and businesses. That’s because all of us have a part to play in saving our planet from the effects of global warming.