Go raibh maith agaibh. Is mór an onóir domsa a bheith anseo inniú.
It is a huge honour to serve as Minister for Justice at any time, but particularly so in this, the centenary year of An GardaSíochána.
Today is a very special day - one that few of us privileged to be present here today will ever forget.
Whether at a great event of State like this, or the community gatherings in our local stations, I have been so proud throughout this year to hear the stories and mark the courage and service of our Gardaí, our ‘Guardians of the Peace’, as part of the Decade of Centenaries Programme.
This phase of the Programme focuses on a period which saw the foundation of the State and the establishment of many of the institutions which have served us since then. This year’sGarda centenary is a cornerstone of the programme across the justice sector over the next three years.
One hundred years ago this month, Commissioner Michael Staines and Chief Superintendent Matthias McCarthy led thenewly-formed Civic Guard through the gates here at Dublin Castle, the headquarters of British rule in Ireland for centuries past.
The march into Dublin Castle, so movingly re-created by serving members this morning, was a hugely symbolicstatement of the ability of the newly formed Irish Free State to govern ourselves.
Of course we can’t forget that this occurred during a time of great danger in Ireland, amidst the beginnings of the Civil War, with Michael Collins himself killed only five days later during the attack at Béal na mBláth.
Yet, amongst the chaos of those times, the establishment of our national police service - an unarmed service - helped to pave the way for stability and confidence in the new independent Ireland. It was one of the key foundation stones of the Irish Free State and is without doubt one of its greatest successes.
Commissioner Staines famously articulated what would now be called a ‘vision statement’ for the country’s new police, often quoted but never bettered: “The Garda Síochána will succeed, not by force of arms or numbers, but on their moral authority as servants of the people.”
Those seminal and prophetic words, with their special emphasis on serving the people, encapsulate so much that is good about An Garda Síochána to this day.
Those brave young recruits in 1922 succeeded in coming together with their former opponents to gain the trust and respect of a people divided by a bloody civil war. They forged a strong connection with the community. A connection that remains the envy of so many police services across the world today.
While the breadth and complexity of criminal activity faced by members today has changed considerably, the vital importance of that bond with the public - that fundamental relationship of trust - endures.
Over the first 100 years, every generation of Gardai has faced a succession of challenges, from establishment to the Emergency, the border campaign of the 1950s, the daily risks and terrorism of the Troubles, tackling the forces that sought to undermine and subvert the state, through to the advent of drugs and organised crime, to domestic and sexual violenceand, most recently, the COVID-19 pandemic and the exponential growth of cyber crime.
I know, as we stand here today, that the comrades on the Garda Roll of Honour are not far from your minds. Those 89 men died in the course of going about their work, to the very best of their ability, in the service of the State and the people of Ireland.
We will continue to remember and to mourn each of them and to mark the dedication which Gardaí have shown, and continue to show, in preserving the security of our countryand the safety of our people.
The public’s respect and high regard for your service is evidenced daily, with overwhelming public support for and trust in your work. That connection with the community is something to treasure and cannot be taken for granted.
As Ireland changes, An Garda Síochána changes with it and continues to grow and learn. It is a growing organisation and an increasingly diverse one.
It is vital that every person living in our country can see theirown communities reflected in the ranks who serve them. I know this is a priority for the Commissioner and hisleadership team, as it is for Government.
My thanks to you Commissioner for inviting me to join you on this very special day.
As Minister for Justice, on behalf of the Government, my Department, and myself, I want to pay tribute and express my gratitude to all members and staff of An Garda Síochána, and to your families, for your service each and every day.