Oireachtas Joint and Select Committees

Wednesday, 20 November 2013

Joint Oireachtas Committee on Public Service Oversight and Petitions

Garda Síochána Ombudsman Commission Special Report and Annual Report 2012: Discussion with Garda Commissioner

4:05 pm

Photo of Pádraig MacLochlainnPádraig MacLochlainn (Donegal North East, Sinn Fein)
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I thank the Garda Commissioner, Mr. Martin Callinan, for taking the time to meet the committee today. The Commissioner is accompanied by Ms Noirín O'Sullivan, Deputy Commissioner; Mr. John O'Mahony, Assistant Commissioner; and Mr. Ken Ruane, head of legal affairs. I also understand that Mr. Andrew McLindon, director of communications, and Mr. David Taylor, Garda press officer are attending in a observatory capacity. The witnesses are all very welcome.

The purpose of the meeting today is to discuss the special report of the Garda Síochána Ombudsman Commission to the Minister for Justice and Equality issued pursuant to section 80(5) of the Garda Síochána Act 2005 in respect of issues concerning informant handling and issues arising from the Garda Síochána Ombudsman Commission Annual Report for 2012. I remind everyone to ensure their mobile phones are switched off for the duration of the meeting as they interfere with the broadcasting equipment even when in silent mode. Before commencing, I remind witnesses of the position on privilege. Witnesses are protected by absolute privilege in respect of the evidence they are to give to the committee. However, if they are directed by the Chairman to cease giving evidence in respect of a particular matter and continue to do so, they are entitled thereafter only to a qualified privilege in respect of their evidence. They are directed that only evidence connected with the subject matter of these proceedings is to be given and are asked to respect the parliamentary practice to the effect that where possible, they should not criticise or make charges against a person, persons or entity by name or in such a way as to make him, her or it identifiable. Members are reminded of the long-standing parliamentary practice to the effect that they should not comment on, criticise or make charges against a person outside the Houses or an official either by name or in such a way as to make him or her identifiable. I now invite the Commissioner to make his opening statement.

Mr. Martin Callinan:

I begin by thanking the Chairman and the committee for the opportunity to address them on the special report of the Garda Síochána Ombudsman Commission issued pursuant to section 80(5) of the Garda Síochána Act 2005 on matters relating to informant handling and on the Garda Síochána Ombudsman Commission's annual report for 2012. Before getting into specific detail, I think it might be useful to give a broad overview of some salient issues that I believe will help to give context to our discussions. The first point worth noting is that An Garda Síochána has responsibility for both policing and State security in Ireland. This dual function model is given statutory legitimacy under section 7 of the Garda Síochána Act 2005.

At the outset, I want to briefly explain what is meant by the term "intelligence", in the context of policing. The working definition used by An Garda Síochána is that criminal intelligence "is information gathered, evaluated, analysed and recorded with the objective of providing assistance in the prevention of crime, the investigation of crimes and the prosecution of individuals involved in the commission of such crimes". The objective of the criminal intelligence system is to ensure that all information in possession of Garda members is exhaustively used to prevent and disrupt criminal activity and where possible, to bring criminals, including the planners and strategists, before the courts on criminal charges. Information relating to terrorism and serious and organised crime is gathered largely by the use of covert policing techniques, including the use of informants, and this has resulted in significant successes in tackling illegal and criminal activity by subversives and organised crime.

In 2006, An Garda Síochána introduced a comprehensive organisational policy surrounding the management and use of informants. The system was developed by drawing on the recommendations of the Morris tribunal and by adopting established international best practice. The internationally recognised term covert human intelligence source or its acronym CHIS was adopted by An Garda Síochána to describe the categories of persons who had previously been referred to as "informants". The CHIS policy and procedures deal with all aspects relating to the recruitment, management and use of individuals who provide information to An Garda Síochána on an ongoing basis and expect that this relationship is treated confidentially. In essence, it provides structure and methodology designed to cater for the interests and safety of all parties in this challenging policing discipline.

The expectation of confidentiality on the part of the person providing the information, coupled with the obvious risk to life in the event of compromise, emphasises the extreme sensitivity of the subject under discussion here today. I am anxious to be forthright and frank in this committee meeting. However, I must be mindful of ongoing investigations and our duty of care responsibilities to persons who provide information and I must also stress the continued importance of covert investigative techniques, including the use of CHIS for the proper investigation of crime, especially serious and organised crime. I am sure everybody will appreciate that these techniques by their very nature require confidentiality and while it is accepted that there is a need for independent oversight in covert policing, any public discussion or disclosure must be balanced by protection of life considerations and the need to protect the integrity of the tradecraft and methodologies used therein. I am sure that nobody here would wish that criminals would gain an advantage by being provided with a road map by which they might avoid detection.

An Garda Síochána carries out its policing function with the consent of the community, and this requires the promotion of trust and co-operation that goes to the core of our legitimacy. While the administration of the CHIS system is not governed by legislation, trust and confidence in the measures in place are reinforced by the use of strict internal controls and intrusive external oversight. Internally, all aspects of the CHIS system remain under constant review and compliance with CHIS policy receives the highest priority from senior Garda management. As Commissioner, I am confident that current procedures are in keeping with international best practice.

Externally, on 1 January 2011, the Minister for Justice and Equality, appointed retired High Court judge, Mr. Thomas Smyth, as the independent covert human intelligence sources oversight authority. While it would be inappropriate for me to set out in detail how the judge goes about his work, I assure the committee that I have made arrangements in order that he has complete access to all records, locations and personnel throughout the Garda service. His functions are to review and monitor the use within An Garda Síochána of CHIS and to ensure compliance with the code of practice for the management and use of CHIS. The judge reports annually to the Minister for Justice and Equality on the discharge of his functions. There is also provision in the legislation whereby the judge may communicate to me as Commissioner any matters considered appropriate, including recommendations. Since 2011, Mr. Justice Smyth has conducted annual reviews of the CHIS system and, as acknowledged by the Minister for Justice and Equality and the Garda Síochána Ombudsman Commission, he has found that there has been substantial compliance with the CHIS guidelines.

I wish to make it clear to this committee that any recommendation or observation made by the judge is treated with the utmost seriousness and any recommendation to my office or to the Minister in relation to enhancing the code of practice is very welcome and, where possible, is integrated into organisational policy. The committee members will understand that in the context of our community policing model, there will always be people who pass on information to the Garda Síochána. In many instances, such contact will be a once-off event and these people rightly regard themselves as public spirited citizens, not informants, exercising their civic duties. In normal circumstances they will not be registered within the CHIS system. It is important that An Garda Síochána continues to receive information from such individuals and the CHIS system should in no way prevent this from occurring. The policy of An Garda Síochána is very clear. In every case involving the supply of information where a member of An Garda Síochána establishes a relationship or tasks an individual, the member must have that person referred for assessment within the CHIS system. Once a relationship develops between a member or members of An Garda Síochána and a member of the public, there is an obligation for that person to be referred for assessment to the CHIS system. There is no exception to this policy. The Garda Síochána (Discipline) Regulations 2007, SI 214 of 2007, provide a statutory framework when dealing with discipline and are such that they cater for any breach of regulation or policy, including CHIS policy.

I am aware that the committee has received a submission from the Garda Síochána Ombudsman Commission in which the opinion was expressed that not all the deficiencies identified by the Morris tribunal had been remedied. In particular, it was stated that the deficiencies point to a culture wherein the formal informant handling systems could be bypassed or ignored. In response, as I have previously indicated, An Garda Síochána fully adopted the relevant findings of the Morris tribunal when implementing CHIS. In addition, I have put in place a series of directives and instructions to members of An Garda Síochána on all informants being handled through formal channels. As I indicated earlier, once a relationship develops between a member or members of An Garda Síochána and a member of the public, there is an obligation for that person to be referred for assessment to the CHIS system.

In relation to this aspect, I draw the committee’s attention to the fact that following consultations with the Director of Public Prosecutions, I have issued an instruction to all members of An Garda Síochána about the absolute requirement to fully disclose to the DPP anything that is known about the background of a witness in a prosecution which might impact his or her credibility, either positively or negatively. The policy of An Garda Síochána regarding informants participating in crime is that it is strictly prohibited and all informants are clearly instructed that they may not commit crime and that they are liable to arrest and prosecution if they do so; that they can never act as an agent provocateur to entice or entrap others.

I will address the key matters arising from the Garda Síochána Ombudsman Commission’s annual report for 2012. I fully acknowledge and support the statutory role of the commission, and as Garda Commissioner I remain fully committed to the implementation of the provisions of the Garda Síochána Act 2005. The importance of having an independent and effective investigative body to ensure citizens continue to have trust in An Garda Síochána cannot be overstated. The ongoing respect and trust from communities nationwide is something An Garda Síochána works hard to achieve and which it is our intention to maintain. I regard the Garda Síochána Ombudsman Commission as having a valuable role in this respect. I welcome that the commission, in its 2012 annual report, has highlighted that there has been a significant reduction in the number of incidents referred to it in recent years and that the number of complaints from members of the public has fallen. My management and I are constantly engaging in management efforts to address the issue of complaints and discipline and to promote higher standards of behaviour. I also welcome the comments by the Garda Síochána Ombudsman Commission - when it appeared before this committee in July 2013 - that the timeliness of investigations has improved. This matter requires constant monitoring. As the ombudsman commissioner mentioned at that meeting, there have, however, been some issues in the past with regard to the provision of information in a timely manner. In the past year I have taken a number of actions which I believe will address these issues.

An assistant commissioner is now the central point of contact for requests for information from the Garda Síochána Ombudsman Commission. An Garda Síochána has established a dedicated ombudsman commission liaison office to process and monitor requests for information and to ensure they are dealt with by the 30 day deadline. This is staffed by 12 people and is under the control of an assistant commissioner. This is a significant investment in personnel at a time of reducing resources. After positive discussions between both parties, a new memorandum of understanding and protocols providing for agreed new timelines for investigations, has been agreed between An Garda Síochána and the Garda Síochána Ombudsman Commission. In addition, it should be noted that An Garda Síochána commits a significant amount of its own resources to investigations by the ombudsman commission. In the past year, we have invested in excess of 45,000 man hours in conducting investigations on behalf of the ombudsman commission, at a cost to the organisation of approximately €1.3 million. Since the establishment of the Garda Síochána Ombudsman Commission in 2007, An Garda Síochána has spent in excess of €9 million in conducting such investigations.

I reiterate that we welcome and support the independent oversight by the Garda Síochána Ombudsman Commission. While I acknowledge there may have been some issues in the past, I am confident that the new memorandum of understanding and protocols and the recent actions I have taken will help ensure such issues remain in the past. I thank the Chairman and the committee for their time and I will endeavour to answer any questions committee members may have, while conscious of the critical need to protect ongoing investigations.

4:15 pm

Photo of Pádraig MacLochlainnPádraig MacLochlainn (Donegal North East, Sinn Fein)
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I thank the Garda Commissioner.

Before I open the floor to members, I remind them that their only focus should be on the concerns raised by the Garda Síochána Ombudsman Commission, GSOC, as outlined to the committee in its special and annual reports.

4:25 pm

Photo of Charles FlanaganCharles Flanagan (Laois-Offaly, Fine Gael)
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Like the Chairman, I welcome the Garda Commissioner and his team. I also welcome his comprehensive statement. He mentioned-----

Photo of Pádraig MacLochlainnPádraig MacLochlainn (Donegal North East, Sinn Fein)
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The Deputy's telephone is interfering.

Photo of Charles FlanaganCharles Flanagan (Laois-Offaly, Fine Gael)
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The Commissioner mentioned our July meeting with representatives of the ombudsman commission. The content of that presentation was shocking. I regret that it is some five months later that we are returning to what was, in essence, a scathing criticism of the Garda Síochána by the independent watchdog. I do not know whether this is the fault of the committee or otherwise, but I would have expected an earlier opportunity to address the serious allegations which have been left hanging for five months. Given the sensitivities outlined by the Commissioner and the fact that policing by consent in any civilised society is sacrosanct, I would have expected commentary or rebuttal on the Garda's part at an earlier date. For a statutory body like the Garda, it is not good to have bad relations, and an atmosphere of disharmony causes me concern as a public representative.

Have relations between the Garda Síochána and GSOC improved? I welcome the Commissioner's remark that he has every confidence in that independent body, but I was shocked this summer to see an editorial in a reputable Garda magazine more or less stating that the Garda had a complete absence of confidence in the independent watchdog. What steps have been taken to improve relations? What is the Commissioner's commentary on what was a fairly scathing criticism?

I will not quote extensively, as we do not have time and the Chairman will not allow me, but GSOC commissioner, Ms Carmel Foley, stated:

We remain concerned however that, as a result of Garda Síochána delays in completing these investigations, at any given time there is a caseload of about 500 complaint files of a disciplinary nature awaiting completion ... we look forward to the completion of these negotiations. We hope that the new protocols will be operated in a timely manner.
GSOC commissioner Mr. Kieran FitzGerald stated:
What we found led us to conclude that there were serious deficiencies in the Garda Síochána management procedures regarding informant handling practices. We found poor record keeping and non-adherence to procedures. We found deficiencies in the implementation and management of the old system.
The commissioners welcomed the appointment of Mr. Justice Thomas Smyth, as did the Garda, but continued by stating: "Absence of formal procedures for the management and use of such informants creates significant risks, as it is not possible, in particular, to place parameters upon the extent to which such individuals may be authorised to participate in criminality." I understand the Garda Commissioner's remarks about sensitivity and I do not wish to seek information that might hamper an investigation or place a person in danger. Is the practice described as running informants "off the books" still in use? While I welcome the Commissioner's commentary, it is shrouded in terms like "once a relationship develops". What is meant by this? No one has a problem with Mr. Justice Smyth, the protocols, the regulations or the practice, but the procedures to which he is not privy are the ones causing concern. Are they still in existence?

I would like to hear a rebuttal of the presentation made to the committee. As a public representative, I would like to hear that relations have improved substantially between GSOC and the Garda. I would like to know that practices and protocols are being developed to ensure both agencies can work in close harmony, notwithstanding the sensitivities. I hope that what we heard from GSOC in July will never be repeated to any Oireachtas committee. It had the effect of undermining confidence in the Garda, something that would be unacceptable in any civilised society but particularly in our democracy, given the confidence and trust that has been placed in the Garda by the public since the foundation of the State. I assume that all of the Morris report's recommendations are being fully implemented by the Garda. If they require repetition to this committee, as may have been presented to other committees, they are still engaging in a service that the people of this Republic rightly deserve.

Mr. Martin Callinan:

I thank the Deputy for his questions. I agree with some of his points, but we disagree regarding some aspects of the report. Let me begin by saying that I choose to remain silent on this important-----

Photo of Pádraig MacLochlainnPádraig MacLochlainn (Donegal North East, Sinn Fein)
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I am sorry, and I appreciate that these things happen with technology, but I ask everyone to switch off their telephone devices completely. There was a lot of interference when Deputy Charles Flanagan spoke. It may not have been from his telephone but from the same table. We will get that done before we move on, as this is an important public session. The television camera operators will be annoyed when they see interference during key moments. Please, turn off those telephones. I will check that I have done the same.

Mr. Martin Callinan:

I am obliged, Chairman. It is a fact that I regard this subject as being so serious and critical to the operations of An Garda Síochána that I choose not to make public comment. This is not to say that I do not welcome the opportunity to appear before the Chairman and his committee to answer as fully as I can all the questions they require me to answer. I am accountable to this committee, the Minister and the Government for my public office. Where we have some issues with GSOC, I prefer to deal with them in private. That said, I assure the Deputy that the level of co-operation between An Garda Síochána and the ombudsman commission was and will continue to be an ongoing event. The fact we might not see eye to eye on certain sensitive matters is something we must work through.

For this reason, in most of the cases being discussed, particularly concerning sensitive intelligence and sensitivities in the intelligence world, very careful consideration had to be given to GSOC's requests. I am referring to the need to disclose the identity of an informant. This is a very serious matter for me.

It is a serious matter for all of us in this room and for the citizens of this country. Without me and my colleagues knowing the precise nature of what will happen to that information and how it is handled, we would surely be putting a life, or lives, at risk. That is the naked reality of where we are going. If I am talking about disclosing the identity of an informant or releasing sensitive intelligence that has come from a particular informant, I must be assured that information and intelligence are handled in a particular way and that the disclosure of that information cannot occur to any third party, save that it would be useful to the investigators within the Garda Síochána Ombudsman Commission to achieve their function and purpose.

That is why I have been looking for guarantees as to how that information would be handled and dealt with. That is my duty under the human rights and data protection legislation, as well as under my duty of care as the holder of that information. For the obvious reasons I have outlined, I have to be satisfied as to where and how that information is used. That is what was causing difficulty, in my view, in relation to some - not all, I have to be fair - delays that were caused. I am happy to report that given the situation with the new protocols that were signed, we have in place a mechanism whereby we can move forward on this issue. We have ordained certain things to happen to facilitate the free exchange of that information and access to the documentation we have.

I hope we will be able to move on in a spirit of co-operation. Like everyone else in this room, I have read reports about not co-operating with the Garda Síochána Ombudsman Commission. Not co-operating, however, is a far cry from refusing point blank to engage. There are regular meaningful discussions, some difficult and complex, with the Garda Síochána Ombudsman Commission in terms of how we transact our business. At all times, I and my team of officers - and all the people who are engaged with the Garda Síochána Ombudsman Commission - are clear that we are subject to oversight and must co-operate. We must ensure, however, that whatever we do and say is balanced with the responsibility to protect the information and intelligence we have.

The Deputy mentioned running informants off the books. I assure him that I am not aware, nor is any member of my team here aware, of any such activity. If the Garda Síochána Ombudsman Commission has evidence or information that it is occurring in An Garda Síochána, I and my team of officers will deal with it firmly. Our policy is quite clear. It should not happen, it cannot happen and, as far as I am concerned, it will not happen. If I find out about it, I will deal with it in a most serious way. This business is far too serious for this type of thing to take place.

To be fair, I should also make the point that non-compliance by one particular individual does not, of itself, equate to organisational failures in implementing policy. Any system in any strata of society or business is vulnerable to non-compliance. I assure the Chairman and other members of the committee that if anyone comes forward with information that people are engaging in this sort of conduct, my officers and I will deal with it severely.

4:35 pm

Photo of Charles FlanaganCharles Flanagan (Laois-Offaly, Fine Gael)
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I thank Mr. Callinan for his important comments which are in the public interest.

Mr. Martin Callinan:

I thank the Deputy. I do not wish to delay the committee so the Chairman can stop me if he feels I am going over time.

Photo of Pádraig MacLochlainnPádraig MacLochlainn (Donegal North East, Sinn Fein)
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No. The Commissioner can take as long as he needs.

Mr. Martin Callinan:

The Deputy also mentioned Mr. Justice Smyth and what he was not privy to. It caused me some difficulty when I heard those comments. I am not entirely clear what is being suggested here. If we were aware, for instance, that people were being run off the books, as it was described, we would take action or the judge would ensure I took action. He would not have to convince me; I would certainly take it. I am not quite clear what is meant by saying that the judge can only act on what he sees.

In my opening statement, I indicated to the committee that the judge has access to any member of the Garda Síochána whom he wishes to see, in addition to any location, document or equipment. All of that is available. The reports to which I have been privy indicate we are doing our business in the appropriate manner. We have put a lot of time, energy and effort into ensuring the bespoke system we now have, replicated with all the best international practice, is fit for purpose, fair and transparent. That is obvious to someone who is ordained to look at the system from outside. In addition to that, there are internal processes. On an annual basis, the deputy commissioner examines and audits the system, including all the checks and balances we have within the code of practice. That applies both in terms of the general application and the special arrangements we have in place for the handlers of these people, as well as the controllers and assessors. All of those things are looked at carefully. Every quarter, the chief superintendent in each Garda division where these agent handlers are operating will undertake a review and certify it. Therefore, great effort is put into ensuring not alone that our processes are correct but also that the people in the system are subject to a fine assessment, in the first instance, to ensure they are fit for purpose and they do not engage in nefarious activity such as participating in crime, for example.

Photo of Noel HarringtonNoel Harrington (Cork South West, Fine Gael)
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I thank the Commissioner and his officers for attending the committee. His statement is welcome, as is its tone. He has acknowledged there were issues, but things are moving on and greater resources are being committed to deal with some of the issues about which he spoke.

There was a lot of hyperbole surrounding the Garda Síochána Ombudsman Commission's report, which may not have been comfortable. To be fair and for us to consider both the statement and the report, we must start looking at the context. If we are to look, especially in a public forum, at the trust we have in the Garda Síochána, context is very important. The report acknowledged that great progress has been made in relations between the Garda Síochána Ombudsman Commission and the Garda Síochána. I detect from the commission that there are still issues, which were highlighted in the report, about information it deems to be relevant and what the Garda Síochána deems to be relevant to an investigation.

I wonder how this can be addressed in a meaningful way without mediation at High Court Justice level between the Garda Síochána Ombudsman Commission, GSOC, and An Garda Síochána in regard to what is relevant? We are not judges and cannot make decisions based on reports put before us which state that particular information is relevant when the Garda Síochána say it is not. Nobody in this House can bridge that gap. That is an important point that needs to be developed further.

The Commissioner referred in his opening remarks to the CHIS, the Covert Human Intelligence Source. While members may not be familiar with the system, we are familiar with the term. The Commissioner mentioned that it is an internationally recognised term. What recognition internationally is there of it as a system, bearing in mind that in Ireland this type of information is collected under the umbrella of one organisation, namely, the Garda Síochána which, as we understand it, does not include an MI5, MI6 or FBI? Are similar international models in existence, the best practices of which the Garda Síochána could take advantage?

Another issue of concern is the impact of the Morris Tribunal and Garda Síochána Ombudsman Commission reports on individual gardaí. Many issues were left hanging and remain to be clarified or tied down. As far as I am aware, almost every garda performs his or her duties admirably. However, there are people who, unfortunately, fall short of what is expected of them. It is these people who generate investigates. The GSOC office is not without power. As I understand it - the Commissioner might confirm this - where information is not forthcoming it has the power to search and arrest. In this context and in the context of the testimony of one of the GSOC officials at the previous meeting that the first time members of that office entered a Garda station with a search warrant it was a shock to the system, that the first time they arrested a Garda there was shock and that while they are still at an early stage in their investigation this does not excuse the delays in this regard, how many Garda stations were searched by the GSOC and how many gardaí have been arrested? I know that in carrying out investigations the majority of gardaí provide information and engage voluntarily, quite often under caution. How many gardaí have been arrested?

Has the Commissioner ever been made aware of a case in respect of which a member of the force has not co-operated with the GSOC?

4:45 pm

Mr. Martin Callinan:

I thank the Deputy for his questions, to which I will try respond. If I miss out on any of them, the Deputy can remind me of them later.

The Deputy spoke about trust, which is the ethos of what we do. If we do not have the trust and confidence of the people for whom we provide a service we have nothing. I concur with the Deputy's comments in that regard. I was pleasantly surprised to note from the recently published survey that we are top of the tree in this regard, which is great.

On relevance, this issue has received a great deal of air time. I have had this conversation with the Chairman of the Garda Síochána Ombudsman Commission, GSOC. Relevance in terms of the people tasked and charged with the responsibility of investigating is absolutely and totally in its province. The question, how would we feel if we were being questioned about relevance, was rightly asked. I have no issue with that. The conversation which I had with the Chairman centred around the high end of the business about which I spoke about earlier, namely, sensitive and delicate information and my need for clarity when An Garda Síochána is imparting this knowledge, without interfering with the integrity of the GSOC's investigation, which, I understand, is paramount, as to the reason the information is relevant. When discussing this issue an analogy was drawn between a person stealing a handbag from a lady on the street and running away with it and An Garda Síochána going into a bank and asking the bank manager how much that person had in his or her account. That information would not be relevant to An Garda Síochána in terms of trying to catch the person who snatched the handbag. It is important when we are dealing with sensitivities such as the identity of informants and the product they deliver that we have some sense, while not wishing to interfere with the integrity of the investigation, of the reason that intelligence is necessary. We are not asking the Ombudsman Commission to pour out its soul because obviously there are aspects it would want to protect in order to conduct its business efficiently and effectively. We appreciate that. That was the only I had around relevance.

I know that the ombudsman commission has indicated to this committee, which information is in the public domain, that An Garda Síochána had been questioning the relevance of the material and information sought in relation to, if I might use the expression, "a lower threshold" of investigations by it. I have no crib with the ombudsman commission. It should get what it needs in terms of those types of investigations. It is our duty to provide that. I will do everything in my power to ensure that this happens. As regards whether there will be tensions or issues around this, of course, there will. That is the nature of the business. In terms of policing, confrontation and issues arise. As all members will be aware in policing we are dealing with criminals who are not the most reliable in the world but they are as entitled as anybody else to make complaints against the Garda Síochána in terms of how members of the force deal with them. What is important is that we all operate in an atmosphere of mutual co-operation. That is what I am trying to achieve, both in terms of the protocols we signed off on last September and all of the other arrangements I have put in place, including a dedicated office to ensure that management is monitoring these requests for information and the length of time investigations are taking.

Every six weeks the ombudsman commission furnishes the dedicated office with a list of the top 20 longest cases on the Garda Síochána's books. I can assure the committee that the chief superintendent and superintendent in this area are proactive in terms of chasing down colleagues who are involved in these investigations and whose responsibility it is to pass on this information. They try very hard to ensure that the next list is not a repeat of the previous one. In other words, that they are acting within the relevant timeframes.

The Deputy asked how the CHIS is recognised. All of us have been exposed to systems in the UK - in the security services and the policing service - and we have responsibility for both, as he knows. We have considerable interaction with our colleagues in the security services in the UK and with the CIA in the US etc. We are conscious of the models employed and what is best practice. We have tailored our operation to suit that system to how we are set up.

We have had several reviews since the introduction of the CHIS system in 2006. It was reviewed very comprehensively in 2010 and again in 2011. In the past month I made it my business to go and talk to all the handlers, controllers and people in charge of the sources we operate. The assistant commissioner had convened the meeting and I made it my business to go in and talk to these people in order to reinforce with them the need to be extra vigilant based on the issues that have been highlighted that are now in place. I wanted to reinforce and refresh the memories on recording issues, ensuring that everyone is properly assessed and properly in the system, and ensuring that all of the required housekeeping is in place. I made it my business to do that.

Last week I went to the Garda College along with those in my senior command. The CHIS was put on the programme. We spent a decent amount of time discussing issues that have arisen in an effort to improve on what we have to ensure that everyone was crystal clear about how we should conduct our business. It is well recognised from within and from outside. I am sure everyone in this room and beyond is aware of the extraordinary successes An Garda Síochána has had on the organised crime side and the subversive side, particularly in more recent times. That is a very delicate area. The type of success we have had speaks to the competence of the system. I am often asked how good I am and how good the system I have in place is. One is as good as one's last game. At least if we are aware of what is out there and are bringing home the successes we have been bringing home, it gives some indication of how good we are and where we pit our wits against these people.

In short our international partners, including our European partners, very much respect the type of work we are doing in this area. My colleagues and I have chaired meetings over time. The foremost expert in the covert human intelligence source system area from Europol was present at our meeting in Templemore. He was very happy and very complimentary of the system we have in place.

The Deputy mentioned the Garda Síochána Ombudsman Commission arrests. I know of one. I am not sure if there have been others.

4:55 pm

Photo of Pádraig MacLochlainnPádraig MacLochlainn (Donegal North East, Sinn Fein)
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In fairness, it would be unreasonable to ask the Commissioner for that statistic today. However, I ask him to revert with the figures the Deputy has requested whenever he can.

Mr. Martin Callinan:

Certainly. I would be delighted to do that.

Photo of Noel HarringtonNoel Harrington (Cork South West, Fine Gael)
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I was only asking the Commissioner to answer about those to his knowledge. I was not expecting a detailed response.

Mr. Martin Callinan:

The Deputy spoke about searches and stations. There have been two, one in Cork and one in Limerick. We have offered those facilities to our colleagues in Garda Síochána Ombudsman Commission, but they have chosen to use those orders as is their right and we fully understand it and have co-operated fully. I believe they were happy with the outcome of those searches.

Was there another matter?

Photo of Noel HarringtonNoel Harrington (Cork South West, Fine Gael)
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If the information is not to hand, the Commissioner can supply it later. Has he ever been made aware of a case where a member of the force has not co-operated?

Mr. Martin Callinan:

In the arrest I mentioned, that was certainly somebody who exercised the right not to co-operate. That is what happened in that case. However, when people are the subject of a criminal investigation, they are entitled to the laws of the land and are entitled to protections that are there. All I can do and all my officers can do is try to inculcate in our people the need to co-operate with these people who have a difficult job to do. As I said at the outset, there will always be tensions between the Garda Síochána Ombudsman Commission and An Garda Síochána because of the nature of the work we do and because of the allegations with which the Garda Síochána Ombudsman Commission is involved.

Photo of Trevor Ó ClochartaighTrevor Ó Clochartaigh (Sinn Fein)
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Cuirim failte roimh na toscairí. Tá a fhios agam nach bhfuil cead agam imeacht ón téama, ach ba mhaith liom a rá gur thug an Coimisinéir Teanga moladh don fhórsa mar gheall ar an mbealach ina bhfuil sé ag dul i ngleic le Acht na dTeangacha Oifigiúla nuair a bhí sé i láthair ag an gcoiste seo le déanaí. The Language Commissioner also appears before this committee and he has praised the Garda Síochána on its changes with regard to the implementation of the Official Languages Act. I compliment the Garda Síochána on the positive way it has engaged with him.

During the Garda Síochána Ombudsman Commission presentation here there was a palpable sense of frustration on the part of its representatives. We are basing it on the evidence we heard from them and from the witnesses present now. The two testimonies are poles apart. Perhaps there has been significant bridge building in the interim. It is important to go back to some of the evidence representatives of the Garda Síochána Ombudsman Commission gave to us. They were very careful and judicious in the wording they chose here. I will go into some depth on the issues raised.

Mr. Simon O'Brien cited that requests from the Garda Síochána for information necessary to advance investigations were not being completed within a timeframe of 30 days agreed in protocols under the Garda Síochána Act 2005 and in one case it waited 542 days for a request to be completed. I know the Commissioner has said that there are new protocols. What are the new protocols? Do the new protocols reflect the 30 days specified in the Garda Síochána Act?

In talking about the difficulties between the Garda Síochána and the Garda Síochána Ombudsman Commission, he also stated:

We had hoped, however, that by the time of publishing our 2012 annual report this spring we could have put any comments on these issues in the past tense. Alas, when that date approached, there were still problems.
It indicated to us that even though the CHIS system has been in places since to 2006, the issues the Garda Síochána Ombudsman Commission witnesses related to us were current issues and there were still problems in the interim. They relate to the keeping of data, files, etc.

Ms Carmel Foley stated:

We remain concerned however that, as a result of Garda Síochána delays in completing these investigations, at any given time there is a caseload of about 500 complaint files of a disciplinary nature awaiting completion ... We are very conscious that these delays place unnecessary strain on complainants and on the Garda members concerned
That was current in July.

Mr. Kieran FitzGerald in talking about the report laid before the Houses of the Oireachtas stated:

We submitted the report because our findings in an investigation conducted in the public interest led us to have serious concerns regarding the implementation and management of informant handling procedures, both historic and current.
I am pointing out that they told us these issues are current and not all historical. He told the committee, "What we found led us to conclude that there were serious deficiencies in the Garda Síochána management procedures regarding informant handling practices". It is important to say they are using the language "what we found".
I understand that Mr. Simon O'Brien comes from a policing background and the work the Garda Síochána Ombudsman Commission does is on the principles of policing. I cannot imagine they made any of these statements in a light fashion. If they said that is what they found, there must have been something to back that up. I am concerned that they found serious deficiencies and that they would have evidence that they obviously could not share with us because of the confidential nature of what they were investigating.

Mr. FitzGerald also stated:


We found poor record keeping and non-adherence to procedures. We found deficiencies in the implementation and management of the old system, which was replaced, following strong words from the Morris tribunal, by the current system, known as covert human intelligence sources, CHIS. What we found led us to believe that not all the deficiencies identified by the Morris tribunal were remedied.
Mr. FitzGerald said that in July. Is the Commissioner aware of the concerns? What elements of the recommendations of the Morris tribunal still need to be remedied? Have they been remedied since July?

Mr. FitzGerald recognised that the CHIS system was in place but pointed out that "the oversight operated by Mr. Justice Smyth is not designed to address the possibility that informants might be run outside of the formal system". He continued: "We are unaware of oversight that might monitor this." I appreciate that the Commissioner has said that it is not the policy and he does not expect it is happening. However, Mr. FitzGerald asked whether the Garda has a system in place that can categorically allow the Commissioner to be absolutely certain. The ombudsman commission believes there should be a system in place. Has the ombudsman commission discussed the matter with the Commissioner? Mr. FitzGerald stated: "Another major concern relates to the use of informants who may be participating in criminal activity about which they are providing information." I appreciate the Commissioner has said to the committee that this is not the case and I take him at his word.

The ombudsman commission recommended "that formal procedures be put in place to govern and guide the deployment and management of such informants, the extent to which gardaí should interact with the Director of Public Prosecutions in regard to such informants, including what information gardaí should bring to the DPP's attention and, in light of our findings of poor record-keeping, how such interactions should be recorded and filed". This suggests that the ombudsman commission is not pointing to policing activity but to the record-keeping and management of the information gathered during the process.

Why does the Commissioner believe the Garda Síochána Ombudsman Commission is not confident that there are no off-the-books informants? I appreciate the Commissioner has told us there are none, but the ombudsman commission does not appear to be confident that it could not happen. How does the Commissioner know? What procedures are in place? Has the Commissioner found out whether members of the Garda Síochána have been acting with informants off the books? Has this come up? Has the Commissioner been in a position where he has had to discipline members for not following the procedures?

The sense was that there was a major lack of co-operation between the Garda and the ombudsman commission. Why does the ombudsman commission perceive that the Garda was not co-operating? Certainly, that was the sense we got when the ombudsman commission gave testimony to the committee. The sense was that there was little co-operation. Why is that so? Why did the ombudsman commission perceive it that way?

Will the Commissioner give us a little more information on the new agreed timelines on information? It appears to me that the statute of 2005 refers to 30 days. Will the Commissioner explain that a little more? The Commissioner mentioned the cost of co-operation was 45,000 man hours and €1.3 million. That seems like a great deal of time and money. Is the level of complaints in line with international best practice? Is it common to other police forces or do we have an exorbitant number of complaints? If there are a vast number of complaints, is the Commissioner concerned that so many complaints are being made to the ombudsman commission about the service An Garda Síochána provides?

There is another issue relating to the relevance and passing of information. The Garda Síochána Ombudsman Commission appears to have similar policing powers to the Garda. Given the background of Simon O'Brien in police forces, is there a lack of trust? The Commissioner said it took time to hand over information because of its sensitivity. Is there is a fundamental lack of trust between the Garda and the ombudsman commission on these policing issues? Is the Garda not utterly confident in the ombudsman commission to be able to hand over information? The ombudsman commission has the powers to seek that information. One would expect the ombudsman commission to treat whatever information it had with the utmost confidence. Why, therefore, is the trust not there between the Garda and the ombudsman commission?

5:05 pm

Photo of Pádraig MacLochlainnPádraig MacLochlainn (Donegal North East, Sinn Fein)
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I am conscious of the number of questions asked in that contribution. If there is anything that you reckon you have dealt with already, Commissioner, you need not reiterate the point. Please simply indicate that you have dealt with the point already for the purposes of fluency. We do not need to hear anything repeated. You have given assurances on some of those points. If anything needs to be filled in, then please do so. Deputy Healy-Rae is next.

Photo of Michael Healy-RaeMichael Healy-Rae (Kerry South, Independent)
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It would be helpful and beneficial if I could pose one of the questions I had because-----

Photo of Pádraig MacLochlainnPádraig MacLochlainn (Donegal North East, Sinn Fein)
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No.

Photo of Michael Healy-RaeMichael Healy-Rae (Kerry South, Independent)
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It was very brief.

Photo of Pádraig MacLochlainnPádraig MacLochlainn (Donegal North East, Sinn Fein)
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A brief supplementary question, please.

Photo of Michael Healy-RaeMichael Healy-Rae (Kerry South, Independent)
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My question is brief and the matter has been touched on already. It relates to the significant amount of resources used in investigations by the ombudsman commission. A total of 45,000 man-hours are being used at a time when the Commissioner and his gardaí throughout the country are facing cutbacks. Recently, I saw the figures relating to the dramatic downturn in the amount of overtime being paid to gardaí. This shows that the force is crippled for resources. The Commissioner is doing his best with the resources he has, but I question the use of 45,000 man hours to conduct investigations on behalf of the ombudsman commission at a cost of €1.3 million or €9 million since 2007. I appreciate what the Commissioner has stated, that is, that these matters must be investigated and dealt with properly, but what is the view of the Commissioner on the level of resources being taken from the force, as it were? There are so many competing demands on the resources and hours of the Garda. I figured it was okay to ask that question.

Photo of Pádraig MacLochlainnPádraig MacLochlainn (Donegal North East, Sinn Fein)
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That is fair enough. We will take them as a group.

Photo of Michael Healy-RaeMichael Healy-Rae (Kerry South, Independent)
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I will say at the end what I should have said at the beginning: I welcome the Garda Commissioner and his senior colleagues and I thank them for coming before the committee.

Photo of Pádraig MacLochlainnPádraig MacLochlainn (Donegal North East, Sinn Fein)
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To clarify the matter, Deputy, do you have more questions?

Photo of Michael Healy-RaeMichael Healy-Rae (Kerry South, Independent)
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No, I have not.

Photo of Pádraig MacLochlainnPádraig MacLochlainn (Donegal North East, Sinn Fein)
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That is fine. We can move on.

Mr. Martin Callinan:

I am obliged, Chairman. Thank you for your iteration. I thank the Senator and the Deputy for their questions. I appreciate what they have said to me in respect of the language issue. An Coimisinéir Teanga has been in contact and we are trying hard to address some of those issues. The attrition rate in recent times has been considerable and we are doing our best to upskill people in terms of the Irish language. It is a work in progress.

The Senator referred to 30 days. I would love to be able to report to the committee that everything is as smooth as silk but there will always be issues and tensions. I have said it already and I do not like to repeat myself in view of the Chairman's remarks, but there will always be issues and problems. Our job, having brought the office back to a central point of contact, means that we are able to take a closer and more hands-on approach at the level of chief superintendent and superintendent to monitor peers, colleagues and subordinates to ensure that we move the process on. There are issues and problems but we are working through them.

The new protocols that the committee referred to provide for a range of exchange. Reference was made to the question of trust and confidence. It is the situation that we do have trust and confidence in the Garda Síochána Ombudsman Commission. However, what I was speaking about earlier was my personal obligation as the holder of the intelligence and the necessity to have the reassurances that I now have, contained in the new protocols, which I did not have previously. We have had one or two problems in the past. I am a firm believer in parking it, moving on and learning from the lessons of the past. Let us hope that I do not have to be in a position to come back to the committee and try to explain again what is happening.

The Chairman spoke about regretfully having to highlight issues that are still ongoing. My job and the job of my officers is to work through all the protocol arrangements line by line. It is precisely a protocol not a statutory instant; it is an arrangement that grew out of the primary legislation, a mechanism to provide for the type of co-operation that we are all striving to achieve.

I have said it publicly and I am saying it to the committee this morning that my remit is to ensure that I protect the information and intelligence that I have within An Garda Síochána, that I act responsibly, that I am human rights compliant and that I am complying with the law and the duty of care. Otherwise, we will have bodies lying all over the country.

Do we not know, from well-publicised nefarious activity both on the subversive side and on the criminal side, the view that people take of informants? We have a long tradition in this country and consequently I must ensure that when I am handing over materials, they are properly catered for. Moreover, under section 103 there is a responsibility on the Garda Síochána Ombudsman Commission, which is required to provide updates to people, including myself, on the progress of its investigations. If one is dealing with an informant, for instance, and allegations being made from that informant about the conduct of the Garda Síochána, we must be very careful in how we deal with that. This is treacherous territory to be honest and we must be very careful in how we handle it. It is not a question of a lack of trust, it certainly is a question of trust and confidence. I now have in place sufficient comfort that I can deal with this on a regular basis. Let us hope we will be able to improve on matters but there will always be tensions. I would not pretend to appear before the joint committee and tell members that everything is rosy in the garden; it is not. These are things at which we must work very hard to ensure we get them right. However, my job and the job of my officers is to ensure that we provide the type of co-operation that is required for the Garda Síochána Ombudsman Commission, GSOC, people to conduct their investigations. That is the goal; that is where we are going.

The Senator also mentioned the level of complaints and whether it is exorbitant. I believe the Garda Síochána Ombudsman Commission would be better positioned to talk about other jurisdictions but the only point I would make is it is reducing now. The ombudsman commission has indicated to us that it plans to do a piece of work on analysing the reason this is the case. As to whether it is a lack of confidence in people or whether we are more compliant, I just do not have the answer. I would like to think it is compliance within An Garda Síochána and ensuring we are doing the right thing. I hope that is the case.

As for committing resources to the process, it is the case that I am required by law to assist the Garda Síochána Ombudsman Commission and so I have no choice but to provide that assistance. As to whether I would wish it were different, yes I would. This is because a constant stream of complaint arriving on my table is the amount of time and energy that is expended by my senior officers engaged in the process of assisting the ombudsman commission with these investigations. There members have it. I would dearly love to see a situation in which my officers could concentrate on other matters but the law is the law and we will comply. Moreover, we are happy to engage and are happy to do our best to ensure that we provide as best a service as we can for the Garda Síochána Ombudsman Commission because after all, if there are people who are transgressing, no one wants that. I certainly do not want it as Commissioner and I am sure the public and members of this joint committee, who are public representatives, do not wish to see this happening either. I believe I have covered the other matters. Is the Senator satisfied with that?

5:15 pm

Photo of Trevor Ó ClochartaighTrevor Ó Clochartaigh (Sinn Fein)
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On that point, if there is such a sense of frustration among the Commissioner's own senior officers, is that because the Garda considers most of these complaints really to be unfounded as such?

Mr. Martin Callinan:

No, I am not saying that and nor would I ever wish to say that because it is important that the citizens have a right to complain in the first instance. I certainly would not wish to do anything to inhibit or stem the growth in that area. It is the right of every citizen to complain about the Garda Síochána. We are accountable - every single one of us - and that is the way it always will be. Consequently, I have no complaint to make there. It is the amount of time and energy that is expended in chasing up people, the availability of people, people not co-operating and trying to meet deadlines, that is, all the housekeeping issues that are associated with dragging out and delaying the process. These are frustrations for my officers. That is natural and it is understandable.

Photo of Susan O'KeeffeSusan O'Keeffe (Labour)
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Obviously, as other members have noted, the original report and the meeting the joint committee had on this issue were fairly shocking. The language used was carefully chosen and when one sees carefully chosen language. one always knows it speaks volumes about what is not being said. I am quite shocked today by the Commissioner's initial presentation. I have been sitting here thinking of what word would be appropriate and that is the one I have come up with. As Senator Ó Clochartaigh noted, I believe there is a distance between these two statements. One could not know that these two statements had anything to do with each other. I am surprised that as Commissioner, having been obliged to read what was said here in July and given what he already would have known, that when making his opening statement to members he did not make reference in a much stronger way to the criticisms that were made in this document because they were very serious. Delayed as it was, this was the Commissioner's opportunity. Deputy Charles Flanagan raised that matter and I concur. While it was delayed, these things happen and here we are. If one did not know, were one to come in here as an outsider without being aware of the original document, one would be forgiven for thinking that while the Commissioner had stated it was not perfect, things were going okay.

These two statements have nothing in common with each other and that is quite telling, as are the Commissioner's comments just now about having no choice by law but to deal with the ombudsman commission but yet, at the same time, he really would wish it were different. He would like there not to be, I believe the words he used were "a constant stream of complaint". In a modern age, where we are all striving for transparency, I would have thought the Commissioner of the Garda Síochána in this State would welcome the fact that people felt able to complain and that he was able to put aside-----

Mr. Martin Callinan:

I do not recall saying that.

Photo of Susan O'KeeffeSusan O'Keeffe (Labour)
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The words I wrote down were "constant stream of complaint" and the record will show I took them directly from what the Commissioner said. I would have thought the Commissioner would want people to be able to complain and would welcome that ability. I am absolutely astounded by the idea that the Commissioner would even begin to consider that it was using time and energy which ought to be used for other things. I would welcome the Commissioner's observations in this regard.

I, of course, appreciate the reduction in resources and so on and can only begin to imagine the frustrations the Commissioner has as a manager in ultimately trying to manage those resources. Nonetheless, he has made a very serious observation. It was also telling that in his opening statement, the Commissioner told members about the investment the Garda has made in dealing with matters to do with the Garda Síochána Ombudsman Commission in terms of time and money. I do not know how much the Garda has invested in training or, if one likes, on the other side, that is, on the good side of this. Can the Commissioner provide figures to members in this regard? How many staff are involved in the management of covert human intelligence sources, CHIS? Surely the Commissioner would want it to be like this and not to be telling members it is costing so much money in the way he has. I echo Senator Ó Clochartaigh's impression that there still appears to be frustration in the Commissioner's office with the entire matter of the ombudsman and this is quite serious.

The Commissioner should forgive me, as I may have missed it, but I am not entirely clear that members received an answer on the issue of the off-the-books informants. The point made in the original report was there was no oversight that would allow this to be known. Is there now oversight that would allow this to be known?

The Commissioner was asked very directly by one of the other Deputies, I think it was Deputy Flanagan, whether there were off-the-book informants being run and he said, "I am not aware". That is not a "yes" or "no", it is "I am not aware". I am asking the Garda Commissioner, "yes" or "no", whether there are "off-the-book" informants. Separately, I am asking - please forgive me if I have missed the answer to this question - whether the Commissioner has a system of oversight that will ensure Mr. Justice Thomas Smyth can see that if he wants to see it, as I am sure he might.

I think the Commissioner said in his statement that the judge can make recommendations to him. Have any recommendations been made? Like the Commissioner, nobody present has any interest in causing difficulty either for the informants or for those managing them. Those matters that are confidential remain so. I do not believe the criticisms and observations raised in the committee meeting in July by the ombudsman commission had any bearing on that. There would have been in some of the nitty-gritty details the Commissioner has acknowledged he was trying to iron out. Broadly speaking, they were talking about delays, access not being granted and so forth, which is about process. It is not about the fundamental issue of protecting the people in question. None of us need be reminded of that. I would not wish any damage to be done and I do not think anybody present wants that either.

In regard to what may happen in the future in terms of protocols and so on, is the Commissioner in a position where his informant numbers have risen which makes the burden of this greater? I do not know whether he can tell us that - I am not looking for the details we cannot have - or if he is constrained in some way by some of the observations made in this report from enhancing his own network of informants?

5:25 pm

Mr. Martin Callinan:

I thank the Senator. The Senator said she was shocked by my presentation. Some of the things she has spoken about are out of context in terms of the answers I have given. The Senator said she was surprised I did not react more strongly to the criticisms of the Garda Síochána Ombudsman Commission report. What I said very clearly is that I purposely did not commit my comments on the ombudsman commission's report to the public domain but that I certainly indicated, in very clear and very detailed terms, my reflections on it when I met the Minister and the chairman. None of us was in any doubt as to my position on a number of aspects of that report. I am not, nor will I ever be, in the business of criticising another State agency in public which, after all, is trying to do its job to the best of its ability. I have indicated there were issues and difficulties and I articulated those points very clearly, both in a written submission to the Minister and in my oral presentation to him. That is as much as I am prepared to say on that aspect.

The Senator mentioned she was astounded by comments about my officers being engaged in the type of duty in which they are engaged when taking on investigations of this nature. The Senator mentioned the record. If she goes back over the record she will find I have said on a number of occasions at this fora that we are all engaged in a process of ensuring oversight and doing the right thing. I am paraphrasing but I have made that point a number of times and that is why I and my colleagues present and every other person in my organisation should co-operate fully. I spoke about the tensions that exist. When I was talking about my officers engaging in this type of duty, I was talking about the question that was posed to me whether would I prefer to see them doing other things. Yes, I would - other policing disciplines. That is not the same, with the greatest of respect to the Senator, as saying I do not believe we should be carrying out these investigations. We are mandated statutorily to do this work and we are doing it, but there are so many competing demands on my officers and so many other important issues to be dealt with that had I a preference, this burden would be lifted from my officers and dealt with by the GSOC people or an enlarged staff. That is the point I was making. I certainly was not indicating, nor would I want to create the impression - if I did, I apologise, but I do not believe I created the impression - that I was against dealing with transgressors in my organisation. If one looks at my organisation and its track record through the years in dealing with people who have transgressed and broken the law, one will see we have a very strong record in this regard. I have personally sent colleagues to jail, and so have the people sitting beside me. Therefore, let nobody have any issue with the commitment of the Garda Síochána to ensuring we do the right thing always. That is what we are here to do.

The Senator spoke about the issue of CHIS and the staffing levels within the CHIS system. It would not be appropriate for me to disclose the number of people we have engaged but we have substantial resources engaged in this process. Similarly, it would not be appropriate of me to indicate the number of people we have supplying that type of intelligence to us.

The Senator's last point was about oversight. Again, she said I failed to answer. She thought it was Deputy Flanagan who raised the issue of off-the-books and the oversight we have in place to deal with it. The oversight we have in place speaks to how one deals with a person with whom one forms a relationship in terms of supplying information or somebody that one is tasking to provide information. The policy and the guidelines are quite clear. Within all of that one will have a public spirited citizen who, from time to time, and it happens, will come forward with pieces of information. We are a community-based service. We have many friends, thanks be to God, who are more than willing to help us and pass on information. That is tightly controlled and that is the system. That is our standard operating procedure. If somebody, God forbid, is acting outside of that system, I would love to hear from somebody who can tell me how I would put in place an oversight to capture those people, if they are out there.

The Senator mentioned the language in the reports and said that surely there must be evidence in terms of the use of language. I have been very careful, both in my opening remarks and what I have been saying in response to these searching yet pertinent questions, and I have been very careful in the language I have used, and it is important that I am. After all, we are all responsible people here.

I have described the issues of the oversight in place.

I am not in a position to indicate to this committee or anybody else what more I can do other than to articulate the code of practice in place and the guidelines that govern how we operate. How can one cater for something that is not known? The law is there but does that mean people do not commit crime? How can we stop people committing crime? If we knew the people committing crime, by God we would ensure they would not commit a crime.

These are the imponderables. This is not rocket science and we now have a tight regime in place to deal with the system and management that takes in assembly, collation, analysis and distribution of intelligence. It is there for the oversight judge to examine any aspect he or she feels necessary to examine. There are no holds barred. I do not know what more I can do in trying to satisfy the committee that we have some sort of oversight of people that might be running agents off the books. As I indicated, if anybody, including the Garda Síochána Ombudsman Commission or the Senator, has information to the effect that any of my officers are transgressing the code of practice I have in place, which I believe is effective and speaks to international best practice, I would be more than glad to act on it. We have disciplined people who have transgressed the process.

5:35 pm

Photo of Susan O'KeeffeSusan O'Keeffe (Labour)
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I thank the Commissioner. I was not suggesting at all that he would have been criticising another State body. I was thinking that the observations made by the Garda ombudsman were so serious, it did not appear they were echoed in Mr. Callinan's remarks. With regard to oversight, the Garda ombudsman, when dealing with the off-the-book elements, stated: "The oversight systems in Ireland do not seem to take account of this." My question related to the fact that the words, "in Ireland", suggest there is another part that could be introduced that has not yet been.

Photo of Pádraig MacLochlainnPádraig MacLochlainn (Donegal North East, Sinn Fein)
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That is clear.

Mr. Martin Callinan:

In a word, "no", and not that I or any of my colleagues are aware of. We have collaborated extensively with our close neighbours in the UK and international partners. We sit on an international working group that examines best practice.

Photo of Susan O'KeeffeSusan O'Keeffe (Labour)
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Perhaps the Garda ombudsman might throw some light on that. The two paragraphs in question are very specific. Forgive me but I do not understand it and there is a suggestion.

Photo of Pádraig MacLochlainnPádraig MacLochlainn (Donegal North East, Sinn Fein)
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We have had enough interaction on that and I have some questions. I should say first that our committee deals with all the ombudsmen and we are very proud that the outgoing Ombudsman, Ms Emily O'Reilly, has been elected as the European Ombudsman. We have established a reputation in Ireland in this evolving area, as the ombudsmen would acknowledge. The public service managers, including Secretaries General right down to people taking the telephone calls in the local council office or Garda station, face a challenge in cultural terms, so this issue is not unique to the Garda Síochána. Across the public sector a change in culture is needed to deal with the concerns of the public. I appreciate the points about the evolving relationship. Our challenge as a committee is to ensure the relationship gets stronger and better in order that accountability exists.

With regard to the context of this meeting, the Garda Síochána Ombudsman Commission carried out a special public interest investigation into "allegations of collusion by members of An Garda Síochána with an individual in the movement and supply of controlled drugs, and the nature and extent of any relationship/s between members of the Garda Síochána and that individual". It is a serious matter. As noted by Deputy Harrington, we are thankful that only a tiny minority of members of An Garda Síochána have dishonoured the proud tradition of the force, which has a unique relationship with communities. We are very proud of that special relationship, which compares well with what can be seen in other countries. When an investigation like this occurs, it is in everybody's interest, including ours and the Garda Commisioner's, to get to the bottom of it.

I can have some degree of sympathy with the point about sensitive information, assurances about where that goes and the protection of human rights. Most people can understand this as a concern. There were 63 requests for information made during this investigation of immense public importance but only 17 of them were processed within the 30 day period, with 20 running over six months and some going to years before a response was forthcoming. Maybe the cases which took years could be in the category mentioned by the Garda Commissioner, but it is clearly unacceptable that two thirds of the requests went over the time limit in such an important investigation. What are the thoughts of the witness on that?

The Morris tribunal, which had connections to my home county of Donegal, revealed an appalling abuse of power by some gardaí. I am thankful it is long over and we have a very proud force up there again which is doing a great job. At the time of the tribunal there were lessons to be learned from the recommendations, but what is worrying is that this report states the lessons of the Morris tribunal around the handling of informers and retention of contemporaneous notes, which would be critical for reflection, were not learned.

What were the thoughts of the witness when he read the report from the Garda Síochána Ombudsman Commission? I have no doubt he is as determined as all of us to get to the bottom of these allegations and either prove or disprove them. What does he think of the "grave concerns"?

I commend the Garda Commissioner, the Minister for Justice and Equality and the Garda Síochána Ombudsman Commission on coming together and agreeing a new memorandum of understanding, updating what is in the Garda Síochána Act. Is the witness confident to indicate to the committee that from now on, the majority of requests from the commission will be responded to within 30 days? If not, would he be agreeable to some type of adjudication, as suggested by my colleague, Deputy Harrington? It could happen in agreement with the Minister that a High Court judge, for example, or somebody with that independent capacity, could adjudicate where co-operation is resisted in areas such as the handling of informers or issues concerning a threat to the human rights of individuals. Any sensible citizen could understand the importance of such issues.

Mr. Martin Callinan:

I dislike intensely talking about individual cases but this was a very difficult case that had a significant public interest. I accept that. Nevertheless, I will be limited in what I say. As I mentioned to the Senator, I have certainly articulated in very clear terms my thoughts on that particular report. The idea of people running agents off the books, allowing them to participate in crime and related activities is a no-no as far as I am concerned. There is no contest.

With regard to the 63 requests, it is important we understand certain issues.

In the first seven months of that particular investigation, which ran for four and a half years, 104 volumes of documents, averaging 200 pages per volume, was handed over. That is in addition to well in excess of 1,000 other documents ranging from one page to 60 pages. If one took a mean average of 30 pages and added the two together, one is dealing with well in excess of 50,000 pieces of documentation that was produced to that investigation. In my view, that was a huge level of co-operation, although people will have their own view on the matter. It required two superintendents and a full-time staff to service the requests within the cohort of 63, which translated into something like 237 requests when they were spread out.

Part of the difficulty - we brought this to the notice of the ombudsman's office - was if, for instance, in request one, when all the relevant material was gathered up and produced and there was a requirement to revisit it because there could be ten other subsets of inquiry, that one request remained open, which helped to elongate the process. We did not think that was particularly fair but there one goes. We have moved on.

The Senator asked me about lessons regarding contemporaneous notes and grave concerns that have been expressed. I want to assure the committee, the Chairman and everybody who happens to be watching and listening that there is a very tight regime in place now in terms of the notes that are required to be kept when meeting informants. That process exists and can be examined. There is a clear audit trail. That is in place.

Yes, I was surprised to hear the comment about the lessons of the past regarding the Morris tribunal. None of us need to go into that dark period in our history but I was surprised to hear some of the comments because very clearly, since 2006, my organisation has put a lot of time and energy into getting a bespoke system that fits international practice and is accredited by experts in Europol and the CEPOL police college. Our international partners, as I said earlier in response to a previous question, have commented about and are very comfortable with us in terms of the type of business that we do. In terms of giving reassurance to the committee, I am very happy that the system we have in place speaks to international best practice.

On the issue of the 30 days and whether it would be helpful for a high level official to come in and examine the area, particularly in the area of non-compliance presumably, what has happened since we met the Minister was an agreement by all of us that he would appoint a high level official in his Department to sit down with a representative from my organisation and the ombudsman's office. That senior officer is Assistant Garda Commissioner John O'Mahoney who is in charge of the crime and security area. He can speak to the very high level and sensitive stuff right down. He is working with the other official and someone at appropriate level in the ombudsman's office to look at these issues and to try to identify where the blockages are in order to free them up before they fester and cause a problem. That is in place now. Have I covered all of the points raised by the Chairman?

5:45 pm

Photo of Pádraig MacLochlainnPádraig MacLochlainn (Donegal North East, Sinn Fein)
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Yes. I assume that the vast majority of requests are not sensitive in nature and one expects that there is co-operation within the 30 day period. Where there are disputes, there is now a resolution process in place.

Mr. Martin Callinan:

Yes, absolutely.

Photo of Pádraig MacLochlainnPádraig MacLochlainn (Donegal North East, Sinn Fein)
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That is good to hear.

Mr. Martin Callinan:

It is a work in progress. I would not pretend to be so bold as to come in here and say that everything will work. Of course there will be issues and tensions, as I said earlier, but on this side we are trying desperately hard to accommodate all of those requests and we will continue to do so. The Chairman has my assurance in that regard.

Photo of Pádraig MacLochlainnPádraig MacLochlainn (Donegal North East, Sinn Fein)
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I thank the Garda Commissioner, Mr. Callinan, and his team for a frank and helpful exchange.

The joint committee adjourned at 6.05 p.m. until 4 p.m. on Wednesday, 27 November 2013.