Plenary 3: Assistant Garda Commissioner Louis Harkin

Assistant Garda Commissioner Harkin opened by saying that it is important for the Gardai to be involved in this type of conference in order to get a flavour of what aspects of the system the various organisations and academics believe are in need of improvement. In his paper, Assistant Commissioner Harkin sought to deal primarily with the Gardai’s role in the system and what they can offer in terms of juvenile justice. He began by examining the diversion programme run by the Gardaí. This programme was highlighted several times throughout the two day conference, most notably by Sergeant Ben Flahive who presented a comprehensive power-point during one of the parallel sessions. Harkin indicated the high levels of training undertaken by the Juvenile Liaison Officers to take part in the programme. He highlighted the criteria for inclusion on the programme and the success rates of the programme. He addressed criticisms of the programme saying that critics need to take a more holistic view of the programme. A youth taking part in the programme may re-offend while still working through some behavioural issues and Harkin believes it is unfair to deem work in progress a failure. Harkin also noted the use of the Youth Diversion programme. It is based in the community and seeks to target those most at risk of offending.

He then went on to explain the Restorative Justice Programme. This is a conference where the victim will attend. The offender hopefully realises the effect of the crime on the victim, also that the crime was not just against the victim but against the community as a whole. There were 378 restorative conferences in 2007 and figures show that 60 % do not re-offend in the following 12 months.

He then went on highlight the challenges facing Gardai. It is Harkin’s belief that the delivery of services provided by the Gardai must be effective to both the offender and to society. The multi-agency approach so talked about must be embraced. A large number of people from many cultural and ethnic backgrounds have settled in Ireland in the recent past and a relationship of trust must be built between the Gardai and these new communities. Many of these communities are coming from countries where there are hostile police forces; the Gardai must present themselves as approachable and even-handed.

He concluded by saying that Youth Justice in Ireland is changing dramatically and that the Gardai are looking forward to working closely and developing links with other relevant agencies.

Summary provided by LL.M (Criminal Justice) candidate, John Cronin.