Oireachtas Joint and Select Committees
Wednesday, 24 October 2018
Joint Oireachtas Committee on Justice, Defence and Equality
Future Direction of An Garda Síochána: Garda Commissioner
The purpose of this engagement is to meet the new Garda Commissioner, Mr. Drew Harris, to discuss matters related to An Garda Síochána and its future direction. The Commissioner is joined by the deputy commissioner, Mr. John Twomey, who is welcome back, and the chief administrative officer, Mr. Joseph Nugent, who is also welcome. The Commissioner is also joined by Mr. Andrew McLindon, director of communications, and Ms Marie Broderick, superintendent in the office of the Commissioner. We are joined in the Visitors Gallery by Mr. Liam Geraghty from the Garda press and public relations office. I extend a warm welcome to the Commissioner and congratulate him on his recent appointment. I ask all those in attendance to ensure their mobile phones are switched off or left in flight mode as they interfere with the recording and broadcasting equipment.
Witnesses are protected by absolute privilege in respect of the evidence they are to give to the joint committee. However, if they are directed by it to cease giving evidence on a particular matter and continue to so do, they are entitled thereafter only to 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 asked to respect the parliamentary practice to the effect that, where possible, they should not criticise or make charges against any person or entity by name or in such a way as to make him, her or it identifiable.
Members of the committee should be aware that, under the salient rulings of the Chair, 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 invite the Commissioner to make his opening statement.
Mr. Drew Harris:
I thank the Chairman and committee members for the invitation to meet them. I look forward to working with the joint committee in a spirit of accountability, openness and transparency and a way that will improve the policing service we provide for society. I have supplied written comments, on which I want to enlarge somewhat. One of the themes on which I will pick up is how policing is changing, as identified by the Commission on the Future of Policing in Ireland.
Policing is moving towards dealing with harm and vulnerability, as set out clearly by the Commission on the Future of Policing in Ireland. It is a recognised phenomenon across Europe. The commission has set out the next steps for us as an organisation. It will be a roadmap for us in the next three to five years for the policing service we will provide. Within it, we need to have an understanding of the demands placed on us, how they might change in the next three to five years and how we will deploy our resources and what they will look like in terms of the people we employ and their skills to deliver a policing service. These are big management problems, with which many police services are wrestling, but there are two particular strengths we have which I should highlight in the context of how policing is changing. The first is that we still retain a strong link with local communities. That has been very evident to me and we wish to retain and strengthen it. As I visited Garda stations and offices throughout the country, I met high quality people. It is clear from our own cultural audit that they, too, are fully committed to providing an excellent policing service for the people of Ireland and are determined to do so.
I have arrived against the backdrop of the report of the Commission on the Future of Policing in Ireland, our own modernisation and renewal programme and cultural audit, as well as the report of the Charleton tribunal of two weeks ago and the tribunal's recommendations. The first three documents set out what has to be done and a roadmap for how that work should be taken on. I have read the Charleton tribunal's report and the last few pages, in particular, seem to have been written directly for me. They are a clarion call for action. We will take action to reform the policing service provided and reassure the people of Ireland that we are here to protect them and do our very best for them as public servants and that we are fully determined to do so.
Compared with any of my contemporaries, I am fortunate that I have arrived at a time of investment. There is considerable investment in An Garda Síochána. It is an organisation that is growing, which is almost unique among law enforcement agencies. There is a responsibility on me and the rest of the organisation to use these resources efficiently and effectively and in such a way that will also promote confidence in the policing service we provide and An Garda Síochána. That is important in the behaviours we exhibit both inside and outside the organisation. At every opportunity I emphasise the importance of the code of ethics. It is a living document which is there to guide us on the behaviours we expect internally but, more importantly, the public expects of us and which we must live and demonstrate to them every single day.
For my part, I am motivated by public service. Policing is my public service. I applied and have been appointed. I am here to serve and lead An Garda Síochána in the next stage of its development, all with a view to making sure we are doing our very best to protect the people of Ireland, the vulnerable in particular.
I congratulate the Garda Commissioner on his appointment. We look forward to engaging with him and his colleagues in the coming months and, I hope, years.
Does the Garda Commissioner believe there should be complete and full implementation by his management team of the recommendations made in the report of the Commission on the Future of Policing in Ireland? Are there aspects of the report on which, having looked at it with his management team, he might consider taking a different or slightly different approach, or does he believe it will serve effectively as a road map and should be implemented in full?
Mr. Drew Harris:
The report of the Commission on the Future of Policing in Ireland is a very valuable document. When I say it sets out a roadmap, we are accepting all of the recommendations made within it.
We have been asked to report on those recommendations, but there are some recommendations on which we would perhaps seek some modification in terms of our view going forward. To pick one, there is a concentration on district policing. We hope that district policing provides a local, community-focused service to the public but within a divisional structure. A division should be self-sufficient for the majority of what it has to do. Obviously at times the whole service may have to come in behind a district to assist it with big public events or a series of criminal outrages for instance, but by and large a division should be self-sufficient and should have sufficient resources so that the divisional commander and the chief superintendent have enough resources to provide a locally tailored service to the public. That would be based on the district model but the divisions should be autonomous in terms of the provision of the local policing service. They should have their own human resources, HR, and financial support for example, but all within a corporate framework. If I set the corporate framework for how we go about our business it will then be for the divisional commanders, the chief superintendents and their staff to deliver on the service with all of the local characteristics that people will require.
Mr. Drew Harris:
We have picked out small nuances only. If I pick out some of the recommendations on training, we are already well developed in our learning and development strategy, so rather than setting all of that work to one side we would seek some modification because much of what has been said in the inspectorate's report into the future of policing in Ireland, in our modernisation and renewal programme and in the cultural audit has already set us on a course and by and large we are all facing in the same direction. This commission has made much of that public and brought it all together. We do not want to lose some of the work that we have already started and are well under way with. In effect they are just nuances on a limited number of the recommendations.
I refer to the community policing aspect. Within the roadmap of the report there is a very strong emphasis on community policing. I am interested in getting some concrete examples from the Commissioner. My personal experience with this is that community policing delivered by An Garda Síochána works very well occasionally. It works very well because somebody comes in, he or she is enthusiastic, is on the ground and working with the community but it is never envisaged as a career or a long-term posting. That garda moves on and gets promotion. It is the type of job that the young man or woman coming from Templemore does and then moves on from and therefore it is stop-start. A gap arises when they move on and the post is not filled or it gets diverted. Under the proposal that is there, the whole force re-emphasises and refocuses on community policing. How does the Commissioner envisage that we would be changing structures in a more concrete manner to deliver that, as distinct from the way in which most communities would feel that it works at the moment?
Mr. Drew Harris:
Community policing will undoubtedly be the ethos of the organisation but also, as the Deputy has said, we have to deliver on this structurally as well. The particular characteristic of the service that we must deliver is that we have both urban and rural areas where there is deprivation, high crime and the problems attendant with those such as drug abuse, alcohol abuse and mental health issues - all of which require a multi-agency response. Community policing should play its part there and in effect, the gardaí who engage in that become specialists and should be regarded as such because skills are needed in order to work with other agencies and there are also community problem solving skills. It is not just a post that a garda will fill for a period of time. It is specialism but it depends on relationships as well.
The rural areas are somewhat different because there will be a more hybrid model. Gardaí in rural areas will not only have that problem solving, community responsibility, they will also have a response capability. We are still working on this but I envisage dedicated community policing teams built up against the need that we see in critical areas where those interventions can make a real impact. That can be clearly seen in urban areas and in areas of deprivation. Those areas have a high demand for our services but a high demand for other services as well. The commission of policing takes that on further in terms of widening the definition of policing and widening the scope for who may engage in policing. Much of that is down to ensuring that the State's energies are focused on the right places and towards the right people at the right time. There are areas and individuals with high demand and we need to collectively work together to see how we can best address that to improve the quality of their lives, along with the quality of the lives of the people who live around them and community policing is a big piece of that.
I have another question linking to that if the Chair will indulge me. In the police service in which the Commissioner formerly served there was an extensive programme of the closing of police stations. There is obviously a very contentious issue around the closing or potential reopening of Garda stations. In the context of refocusing on communities, both in urban and rural areas and in the context of delivering the type of service the Commissioner described, what is his view on the need for additional Garda stations, the locations in which they might be needed, whether we need to radically increase the number of Garda stations and whether that type of community policing that the Commissioner described can be delivered with the Garda station profile that we have at the moment?
Mr. Drew Harris:
I have not come to a final conclusion on that. I certainly do not feel any particular pressure to close stations. I should retain the stations that I have and then examine what is going on in terms of the demand they are meeting and the reassurance they are providing as well. People take comfort from having a Garda station in their location and there is no doubt about that but I have to look towards where the new demands are and where the issues are in respect of which the intervention of the Garda will make a difference. It also comes down to our resources and how we best use them. I refer to my earlier comments on the demand that we are dealing with, how that demand is changing and how we are best placed to meet it. It is not necessarily the case that building new stations and reopening stations is the way to go forward. We want to be sure that our service is responsive, that people feel that it is approachable and that it is providing a local service. That is undoubtedly true but at the same time stations are expensive and they draw on the public purse a lot. I could not make any promises here today that there will be a wholesale reopening of stations because it depends on the need and the demand that it is filling as opposed to just making a promise that we will reopen stations.
I thank the Commissioner for his answer and I acknowledge his remarks on investment going into the Garda. It is welcome to hear the Commissioner say that. In the IT area we have heard so much here over so many years and I particularly hope that the Garda will utilise the investment in IT to deliver some of the solutions that we need.
Mr. Drew Harris:
If I may remark further, there are other ways of delivering a local policing service.
There is a social media presence. In addition, I have seen the mobile police station on Store Street and it has been very well received. There are, therefore, alternatives to bricks and mortar, which are only that. Obviously, where there is a station, there is reassurance for the community in seeing Garda patrols backwards and forwards and it feels there is visibility. I can look to my last service, in which a lot of closures were driven by economics in keeping police stations open. I do not feel the same pressure on me because we are in a time of investment. I want to think about the divisional structure and the community policing structure before I come to conclusions on the reopening of Garda stations.
I thank the delegates for coming, in particular the new Garda Commissioner as it is his first time here. I wish him all the best in the job. He has only been Commissioner for two months or so, but what is his assessment of the force?
Mr. Drew Harris:
As I said, there are a couple of very healthy things to which to point, one of which is the people we have within the organisation. The cultural audit flagged how committed they were to public service. There is also the confidence people have in their local gardaí, which is important. There is probably less confidence in senior management. It is for me and the rest of the senior leadership team to work on improving the leadership of the organisation. Therefore, the second piece is that we have strong community contacts. Beyond that, a process of digitisation and digital investment is required as a lot of time and effort are spent in dealing with paper. When we talk about demand, it is very difficult in a paper based system to understand entirely what it is as we do not have the statistics we need to understand how much time we are spending on particular calls. We are moving towards computer aided despatch, a system which will give us far more information on what we are spending our time on in patrolling and responding to incidents. I require a lot more information and having a process of digitisation is the way to do it. Beyond that, there is the training and development of our staff. There are a lot of online systems coming on-stream that require training, but we also want to increase the focus on the human rights aspects of policing, as well as on the code of ethics and how central it is. Everyone is undergoing training on the code of ethics and that process will be completed by the end of the year. It has been a big commitment by the organisation to deliver it. The people are good, as is the level of public support. Some of the systems are old and antiquated, but there is a programme to bring them up to speed. A paper based system in an organisation of our size, given the demands with which we are dealing, is just not sufficient in the 21st century. That is what we have to concentrate on.
Some of the Garda stations I have visited are not of the standard I would expect. Some look a bit tired and rundown. Some are crowded and we have had to move outside the core premises and extend into other buildings. I know that these issues receive attention all of the time.
For my part, I also want to bring a degree of corporate governance and discipline - if I may use that expression - to what we are doing in order that we are working within a corporate framework while also providing for local autonomy and autonomy for operational commanders.
In comparison with the PSNI, with which the Commissioner worked before, are there weaknesses in An Garda Síochána that stand out to him? When he became Commissioner, did he think: "God, we did much better in the PSNI"?
Mr. Drew Harris:
Everything I have seen here points to an organisation that wants and is seeking to move on. The big difference is that the investment in IT happened in the PSNI perhaps 15 years ago. Other things which are being lifted such as, for instance, risk management were in place perhaps ten years ago. I recognise entirely the journey the organisation is on and the place it is at. However, I also recognise the investment being made and the desire of people to move forward.
Mr. Drew Harris:
I think it is a disciplined force, but it is not helped by its disciplinary procedures, if I could put it like that. Perhaps we need to break the link with a disciplinary code. It has been set out clearly in the commission's report and also by the Charleton tribunal, going right back to the Morris tribunal, that our disciplinary procedures are not fit for purpose. I agree. We need to think far more of having an organisation which, instead of discipline, intervenes to deal with poor performance and intervenes appropriately to provide for supervision, as well as providing support and extra training, such that it is a management, as opposed to a discipline, intervention. In cases of serious misconduct, where trust in an individual is entirely broken, they have no place in the organisation.
The Commission on the Future of Policing in Ireland recommended doing away with the Policing Authority and transferring its functions elsewhere. That is obviously not a matter for the Commissioner to determine but the Oireachtas. However, what is his assessment of the Policing Authority from his engagement with it? Does he think it is a body that is worth preserving?
Mr. Drew Harris:
For me, the Policing Authority is an organisation which provides for accountability to the public. Accountability is essential in modern policing in that it keeps us sharp, but it also promotes public confidence in the organisation and fulfils an essential and important role. I appeared in public in front of it four or five weeks ago. It was a three-hour grilling which certainly sharpened me up. I will be there again on Thursday. It is good. It is what it is supposed to do in holding me and my senior staff to account for performance. The commission has considered the issue and made its recommendation which is for the Government to consider. I do not really want to get drawn into that debate.
Mr. Drew Harris:
No matter what happens in the future, the Policing Authority will remain the body that will constantly engage with us and hold us to account. Therefore, I have to take that relationship very seriously and will throughout the rest of its tenure, however long that might be. It could well be in place for a large part of my tenure. Therefore, I have to treat it very seriously and have assured it that I will.
I agree with the Commissioner when he refers to the last chapter of Mr. Justice Charleton's report which sets out the obligations of members of An Garda Síochána. That is very useful. The report states one of the most important obligations is to be visible. The Commissioner mentions this in his statement. What can he do to increase the Garda's visibility and to what extent is he aware of the number of members of the force out among the general public on any day of the week?
Mr. Drew Harris:
The modernisation of the workforce we are undergoing in terms of employing Garda staff is the main vehicle by which we will increase visibility, with the increase in the number of members and officers. We are in the fortunate position where we are able to genuinely say we will have more gardaí on patrol across the country. That is a really good place in which to be. I can see that the level of visibility will increase and that we will be displacing some members from their current roles.
It is not only newly trained gardaí coming out of Templemore but also members who will be displaced, in effect, from administrative roles or other roles out onto the ground and into the front-line roles.
The only thing I would say about the visibility piece is that more and more of our work is not in a visible space as a lot of the crimes against the vulnerable happen in a private space. Things like violence towards children online and child abuse online, domestic abuse, or serious sexual assault require specialist intervention and investigators. A lot of that is hidden from the public in terms of visibility on the ground. While I am addressing visibility, I am also keeping an eye on how the demand for our services is going to change.
More than most people, the Commissioner will know the complexity of policing the Border. If it is the case that we have a hard border on this island next year, which is something none of us in this room can predict with certainty, is the Garda prepared for that and does it have the resources to deal with it?
Mr. Drew Harris:
We are an organisation that is growing. We are an organisation that is appropriately staffing those Border divisions and districts even as we speak. Later in November we will have another 180-odd staff. Our members will graduate from Templemore and go out to stations throughout the country. We are staffing that appropriately as we see the threats at this time.
There are three areas of concern. The first is local policing and local reassurance and confidence for people. I know the Police Service of Northern Ireland is also concerned about this. People living close to the Border will be worried and will have a fear that their area could be raided from the other side, backwards and forwards, and there is the fear of crime and the travelling criminal crossing the Border.
There is also the reality of night life in Derry, where a lot of young people travel across the Border to engage in night life there but there is also attendant crime. It is about managing those scenarios where a serious crime may be committed in one jurisdiction but the perpetrators are located in the other jurisdiction. How do we manage the evidential issues that emerge from that? We want to know how well the European treaties, particularly around criminal justice, are going to withstand Brexit or what will go in their place.
Organised crime is the third area of concern. Any change in trading tariffs gives opportunity for smugglers to make illicit profits or to evade tax or duty. There is an organised crime element to that and any organised crime element on the Border will also provide some additional element of funding to terrorist groups, dissident republicans in particular. It has been suggested that they might use this as an emotional driver for their particular campaigns, and we want to avoid anything like that at all. We want to avoid them being able to use this as a rallying call. There is a lot of focus on a hard border in terms of the threat of terrorism but there are two other elements as well that are equally important. We as an organisation have been engaging with the Police Service of Northern Ireland since the Brexit vote in respect of this. We have plans in place but we are not yet quite sure what the nature of the Brexit is going to be, so there is an unknown element. We have prepared as best we can for it.
Mr. Drew Harris:
I believe it is one of six stations which we are in the process of reopening. When we reopen and staff it, we will see then what impact that has on local crime and local confidence in the Garda. One of the things about Stepaside is that the local people had a great affection for it and wanted it back and raised protests in respect of its closure. We have responded in terms of reopening it.
Mr. Drew Harris:
I think the decision was sort of waiting for my arrival there, but yes, I stand over the decision. I can see the logic of doing it. It goes to the station closure. People take a lot of comfort from having local gardaí. In some ways it would be wrong for the organisation or for me to ignore that.
I thank Commissioner Harris and his colleagues for coming before us. I congratulate him and wish him the best of luck in his position. He is taking the position at a time of great change following on from several controversies, which unfortunately somewhat undermined public confidence in the institution as a whole. Notwithstanding that, I believe that in the vast majority of cases the local garda still enjoys great trust from the people and the people have great faith in him or her. People want to see more gardaí in their community.
This is also a time that has a lot of potential. While I do not agree with every single recommendation in the Commission on the Future of Policing in Ireland report, there are many positive elements which can modernise and transform policing. One of the major priorities in the recommendations was the emphasis on community policing. I am a big fan of the community policing model. I may have a slightly contrary view to Deputy Brophy in that I think the model as it is works reasonably well where it is resourced correctly. Unfortunately, the number of dedicated community gardaí has fallen by about 40% since 2010 or 2011. That has undermined the model. Does the Commissioner intend to make policing in the community a core priority? Does he favour the use of dedicated community gardaí to ensure that the model is restored?
Mr. Drew Harris:
The short answer to both of those questions is yes. We will be an organisation that focuses on community policing. All of us will have a community policing ethos. I recognise what the Deputy says about local confidence in local gardaí, and I want to build on that and make sure it is enhanced going forward. One of the routes into that is community policing. As we work out our new divisional and district structure, an integral part of that will be how we will police with the community in each particular district or division. There will be a focus on local policing whereby service delivery will be focused on the district. Part of that will be how we manage the community policing element within a particular district. The Deputy can have assurance of that. I have seen the initial plans about what divisions will look like going forward, and that is built into them in terms of how we manage local accountability, local responsiveness and dealing with people's concerns at a local level. That is a given.
Community policing, as was said, will be a specialism in some areas depending on the demand. We see that in the urban areas. In rural areas, it may be more of a hybrid model where we will just regard all of our response officers as having a community responsibility but also having to attend calls as well. I was privileged to be in one of our small towns two weeks ago. The local guard also answered calls but he knew everybody we spoke to on first name terms and he introduced me to dozens of people. That is community policing. Everyone knew him by name and he knew and was able to identify and speak to many individuals. That is what we want to build on. We do not want to lose that.
We are an organisation of growth and which displaces people on to the front line, and we have the opportunity to build on that.
I take that on board but I emphasise that, with respect to knowledge of the community, there is a role for specific and dedicated community gardaí at district level in particular. In the past three or four years, of particular concern to the public has been the matter of serious and organised crime. We can give significant credit to the Garda because considerable headway has been made in the past 12 months in particular, or a little over that.
Nonetheless, it is an area that contains very significant challenges, particularly with the number of communities that it is fair to say have been tormented by this scourge. There is also an international element, so it is a big challenge for the Garda. How will the Garda Commissioner address these matters, what initiatives will he take and how will it be prioritised?
Mr. Drew Harris:
I recognise very much the very good work I have seen since my arrival. I point to extensive seizures of both drugs and money, and I also point to the work of the Criminal Assets Bureau. Only on Monday I saw the list of cases it has, which runs to three or four dozen cases of individuals whom the office is pursuing to seize criminal assets. There is very good work going on.
With regard to the overall question, when dealing with such determined organised crime groups, we must come at it on a number of levels. One element is community policing. In effect, organised crime always puts a foot down somewhere and leaves a bad trace in a local community. In part when I speak of critical neighbourhoods where there is high demand, I mean areas where organised crime gangs may try to find shelter or impose their writ on the local community. Much of our community policing will be about those areas and undermining, in effect, the legend and story of the gangs. We have a national response and, as I stated, great work has been done through seizures of money and drugs, as well as bringing individuals before the courts. There have been some very significant convictions.
On the international aspect, we enjoy good relations with the international partners who engage with us. We have had great support from Europol and the United States through its Drug Enforcement Agency and other federal law enforcement bodies. We also have involvement with the United Kingdom's National Crime Agency, as well as with the Police Service of Northern Ireland, PSNI, on the island of Ireland.
Once we can muster those sorts of resources and the different elements they can bring to bear, as an international entity we can start to degrade or break down a crime gang. There is a focus on those gangs and the focus brings results. There are three ways into this and we have demonstrated success in the matter. We want a particular emphasis on the community policing aspect, including those estates and areas where gangs have a particular influence. We want to take back that ground, in effect.
Before and upon the appointment of the Garda Commissioner, several victim groups expressed significant reservations. In particular, some of those groups expressed some anger as they viewed Mr. Harris as somebody who would block their access to truth and justice, as he would have been the key person within the PSNI responsible for legacy matters. To a large extent this relates to the decision in July 2017 in which Mr. Justice Treacy found in the High Court in Northern Ireland that Mr. Harris took decisions that were not compliant with Article 2 of the European Convention on Human Rights and frustrated any possibility that there would be an effective and overarching investigation into the Glenanne gang cases. They were responsible for dozens of deaths, perhaps more than 100. Mr. Justice Treacy found this as an abuse of power and evidence that the state is not genuinely committed to investigating collusion. Does the Garda Commissioner accept that decision and how does he intend to address the concerns of victims and demonstrate he will be a Garda Commissioner who will work with and support victims in seeking truth and justice? Will he meet those victim groups to address and discuss their concerns?
Mr. Drew Harris:
The July 2017 judgment was addressed to the Chief Constable of the PSNI, which is currently in the midst of the appeal process. It would be entirely wrong for me to comment on matters still seized by higher courts relating to that judgment.
On the wider point, of course I will work with the various coroner inquests and other ongoing avenues in Northern Ireland inquiring into matters that occurred during the Troubles. We have a process under way and, for example, we are assisting Operation Kenova. Only recently I viewed papers supplied to the coroner in an inquest. It is an ongoing process and as a Government agency and police service, we are about assisting the judicial investigation and inquiry.
The Deputy's last question was about meeting victims, and of course I will meet those victims. There is no issue and I have invitations pending relating to meeting various victim groups.
I am pleased to hear that. The Commission on the Future of Policing in Ireland report has been discussed already, to an extent. I have some issues with some of the specific recommendations, especially those relating to the Policing Authority, but I wish to speak to the ability to deliver reform. The Policing Authority has expressed serious concerns that the Garda renewal and modernisation programme is not fit for purpose, and that not only is the pace of reform too slow but that the vehicle set up by the Garda for reform is not delivering. On 9 August it stated:
If the Garda Síochána does not at this juncture pause ... to reconsider in a determined and focused way the end to which its efforts and resources are being directed, as well as what key enablers and levers it needs to achieve that change, then it is the authority's view that a continuation of the current activity and effort, however well-intentioned, will not deliver the fundamental reform envisaged.
Essentially, this questions whether the Garda is properly set up with the vehicle it set out to deliver reform, both in terms of the Garda Síochána Inspectorate reports that are a few years old now and the Commission on the Future of Policing in Ireland document. Is the Garda Commissioner satisfied with the modernisation and renewal programme and is the Garda capable of delivering the kind of reforms outlined in the report?
Mr. Drew Harris:
Much work has gone into the modernisation and renewal programme. I have arrived to see some of the benefits, with the investigation management system to be introduced in the new year, as well as the computer-aided rostering system and computer-aided despatch, which will deliver command and control. These are big information technology projects that are being landed into a public organisation with multiple complex systems. It would be a challenge for anybody to deliver.
Just looking at the digital strategy, there is much under way. Beyond that there is a human resources piece, which very much relates to workforce modernisation. It is a major project as well in terms of expanding the organisation and having the required training, in effect, for every new garda who comes in. There is training and investment in the individual while Garda staff are brought in to displace others at the front line. There are many plates spinning. We need more support in financial and human resources skills and we are working up what that would look like. It is well recognised within the organisation that we need more expertise.
The Commission on the Future of Policing in Ireland has described an end point for us and what the model of policing should be. It is now for us to deliver on that.
It is not at variance with the modernisation and renewal programme, MRP. In some areas, it leaves a great deal of discretion and it knows a great deal about the work that was ongoing. The commission took a great deal of time to look at the MRP. As such, the commission builds on and will guide the work which has already started. In the circumstances, I am not so pessimistic. While one needs to be realistic about what is in one's way and what problems need to be solved, if one has a clear idea of where one is going, one can be optimistic about what can be done. It has become clear to us and the Policing Authority what needs to happen to make these changes, acknowledging that it is complex. We have staff and skills issues to deal with, including training, and we have to look at our own structures and how we deliver policing and at the style of that policing. There is a great deal to do, but we have made a start and are standing on good foundations with a great deal of Government support.
In addition to some of the concerns raised by victims, concerns were raised by a variety of people about issues of national security, in particular given the Commissioner's overall responsibility for intelligence within the PSNI, his status as its liaison officer with MI5, Britain's domestic intelligence agency, and his current responsibility for significant areas of State security. My question on this is threefold. First, what is the Commissioner's understanding of the security responsibilities he has within An Garda Síochána? Second, how does he respond to concerns expressed by persons such as Michael C. Murphy, a former head of military intelligence, that is not possible to do adequate security checks on persons from outside the jurisdiction? Third, does the Commissioner believe there is any contradiction between his ongoing obligations under the UK's Official Secrets Act and the Irish Official Secrets Act?
Mr. Drew Harris:
In respect of security checks, I am an individual who was subjected to a very high level of vetting for two decades on foot of the various roles I held. That vetting, which was under constant renewal, was still in place for me and still live. I have had to do it for other individuals who have transferred from the PSNI to An Garda Síochána. What happened is that the Chief Constable provided an assurance in respect of that vetting and, indeed, my vetting certificates were provided to An Garda Síochána as a demonstration of that. The vetting is there to ensure that one is not open to coercion or blackmail or whatever it might be and that there are no issues surrounding one's private life or affiliations which could give rise to concern. It is a very thorough process, including both financial and private life checks. I have undergone that vetting process and been subject to it. One does not do it once, but is subject to it constantly. There is no issue about the level to which I have been vetted and that was resolved through the normal channels.
The obligations I have under the Official Secrets Act here are similar to those I had under the UK's Official Secrets Act. In effect, when I left the Police Service of Northern Ireland in early August, I stopped being an individual who was a member of the police service. On 3 September, I swore my oath in the role of Commissioner and undertook within that to defend and secure the State under the Constitution and the requirements placed on me. Those are obligations I take very seriously. I have answered questions previously on this. Any matters I am aware of were always dealt with properly in terms of sharing information with An Garda Síochána when I was serving with the Police Service of Northern Ireland. As such, I have no reservations about any of my time in charge of crime operations. A lot of this has been pointed towards me, but I am not really sure what the issue is. It was one police service dealing with another, namely, An Garda Síochána. That was the course of how events happened throughout that time.
Very well. I will ask two supplementaries if I can, but there was a third element to my questioning. Leaving aside what is recommended in the Commission on the Future of Policing in Ireland report, what is the Commissioner's understanding of his current responsibilities in intelligence terms? I accept absolutely that the Commissioner has undertaken his obligations and oath in the fullest integrity and comprehensively. However, it remains the case that he is bound by both Acts on an ongoing basis. Is that correct?
Mr. Drew Harris:
Yes, that is correct. I am bound by the UK's Official Secrets Act. After my tenure as Commissioner, however, I will be bound for life by the Official Secrets Act here as well. That is how the legislation works in respect of these functions. Honestly, I do not see where the problem arises. The Deputy is talking about our near neighbour and the Police Service of Northern Ireland. When I worked there, we had very much, if not exactly, the same outlook on dealing with terrorism and organised crime. I worked very closely with my colleagues in An Garda Síochána throughout my time as assistant chief constable with responsibility for crime. Information was shared constantly, in fact daily, backwards and forwards all the time. We enjoyed good relationships. I did not have a responsibility for national security in Northern Ireland, however, whereas I have responsibility for national security here and for securing the State not only from the threat of terrorism but also from the threat of espionage. I have a responsibility also for counter-espionage. Those two latter responsibilities are new to me compared with the role I had in the Police Service of Northern Ireland. I undertake them very seriously and am briefed on ongoing operations almost daily.
I do not know if the Commissioner has answered the final question. As such, I might ask it in a different way if that is possible. I do not necessarily say there needs to be a problem, but it is important we are clear about procedure and due diligence and so on. To ask the question another way, what is the division of labour between the intelligence responsibilities of An Garda Síochána and other intelligence agencies in this jurisdiction?
I have two final questions, with the indulgence of the Chairman. The Commissioner has responded to the publication of the disclosures tribunal report, which, it is fair to say, contains some extraordinary conclusions. To enumerate them briefly, the tribunal was convinced that there was a campaign of calumny by former Garda Commissioner, Martin Callinan, against Maurice McCabe, in which he was actively aided by former Garda press officer, Superintendent David Taylor, they being in it together, and that Maurice McCabe was repulsively denigrated for being no more than a good citizen and police officer. The tribunal also found that An Garda Síochána needs a complete turnaround in its attitude which must be led by senior management. I ask the Commissioner to respond to that. How does he intend to lead that complete turnaround? He referred in his opening statement to the code of ethics. How does he intend to lead the change in culture required and how does he intend to ensure An Garda Síochána as an organisation is open to and supportive and accepting of whistleblowers who come forward and highlight wrongdoing?
Mr. Drew Harris:
Culture change comes from behavioural change. My behaviour and that of my senior leadership team has a dramatic impact on the organisation, of that there is no doubt. The first place one looks to is the standards I set and the standards I expect from the senior leadership team and how they spread that throughout the organisation. There is no point in me saying one thing and doing another. I cannot talk to sergeants or inspectors about their behaviour if they are able to say that it is hypocrisy on my part to do so because I did X, Y or Z. It is very clear that the code of ethics is the bedrock of our behaviours. I take every opportunity to emphasise that and to stress that people need to live those behaviours.
We intend to follow through and completely overhaul our discipline code. The current code creates an atmosphere in which people fear being disciplined. Instead of proper management intervention, guidance and an organisation that promotes learning, they see an organisation that is punitive towards its staff. There are structural, systemic changes that we need to make in terms of how the organisation is run. I have also emphasised the fact that if any individual in the organisation wishes to come forward and whistle blow or make a disclosure, that will be treated with the utmost seriousness. Indeed, my door is open to individuals should they wish to speak to me in terms of being whistleblowers.
People talk about cultural change and the place to start is with the behaviours one expects in an organisation. We have been very clear, through the introduction of the code of ethics, about what those behaviours should be. It is now up to me and the rest of the senior leadership in the organisation to start to live those and to see those behaviours through in order to have a positive impact on the rest of the organisation.
I will just emphasise, before I ask my final question, that the Commissioner has made a vitally important point. People were really shocked at the strength of the finding against the former Garda Commissioner, Mr. Martin Callinan, and the fact that someone in his position could be responsible for a campaign of that nature. It is vitally important that such behaviour is never repeated and that An Garda Síochána becomes an organisation that supports whistleblowers.
My final question is on overtime, which I have raised with the Minister for Justice and Equality on a number of occasions. Mr. Harris has introduced a moratorium or an effective ban on overtime as I understand it, between now and the end of this year. Any overtime request must now be sanctioned by two of the most senior gardaí in the State. A similar ban was introduced at Christmas last year but this ban is a much lengthier one. There is also a reduced budget, I believe, for overtime for 2019. I recognise that Garda budgets are under severe pressure and that in the abstract, too much is being spent on overtime but that is caused by the very real gaps that exist across a number of districts. According to replies to various parliamentary questions, most Garda districts are still at or below 2011 staffing levels. It is because of staffing gaps that districts are relying overtime to deliver essential policing services. I was canvassing yesterday on the south side of Dublin and two issues were flagged to me in terms of the problems this is causing at an operational level. Problems arose in Inchicore with an operation that was targeting a number of people involved in what appeared to be racially motivated attacks. In Drimnagh, a call was made to a Garda station on foot of serious anti-social behaviour but the call was not responded to because there were not adequate numbers of gardaí to safely respond. The Commissioner will not be aware of the specific details of these incidents and I do not expect him to respond in that regard. I am merely giving some examples of what was flagged with me. My question is whether Mr. Harris is confident that the overtime ban will not have a very significant impact on the quality of policing and the ability of gardaí to respond to crime between now and the end of the year, particularly with any potential spike in crime, public order issues, or increases in burglaries that often arise around the Christmas period.
Mr. Drew Harris:
Overtime is sometimes an emotive topic but it should not be thus. We received a budget at the start of the year. We overspent the budget and corrective action had to be taken. That is my responsibility as Accounting Officer. This is public money and I have to show good management of it. There is still per roster, which is every four weeks, approximately €7.2 million to €7.3 million available for overtime, so it is not an absolute moratorium. We have covered what we believe are essential areas but have kept a small pool in the middle for emergencies or pre-planned operations. People bid in to my colleague, the deputy commissioner, in terms of releasing overtime funds for those operations. Regrettably, overtime has grown quite considerably over recent years. I feel an obligation now to get a rope around it, to understand what the money is being spent on and what we are getting for that overtime. An Garda Síochána is a growing organisation and the number of staff hours for policing is growing all the time with each release of individuals from the training college. I have to think carefully about overtime because it can quickly suck dry the ability of the organisation to be proactive in other areas and to spend money on things like training, equipment and other vital areas. I am not apologising for the cut in overtime. I regret if it is having an impact on operations but at the same time, that has not been conveyed to me. Our managers are living within the overtime that is being provided to them. It will probably be a feature going forward but we have not finalised the budget for 2019 yet. Overtime will remain in and around the figures outlined but we will have to manage it going forward. Hopefully, we will have an overtime budget of over €90 million next year but we can quickly overspend that. Then overtime starts to suck money out of other projects that we want to push forward and that is not where we want to be. We need to be managing it because not doing so takes away my ability to do other things which are also very important.
I thank the Garda Commissioner for his responses. I appreciate him appearing before the committee. It is our responsibility to hold him to account but also to work with him and support him in his work, which I look forward to doing.
I welcome the new Garda Commissioner and his team and thank them for appearing before the committee. I wish the Commissioner well going forward.
My first question relates to the Commission on the Future of Policing in Ireland report, which the Commissioner referenced in his opening statement. Having been in his post for two months now, what is his view of the current policing oversight architecture? One of the issues raised in the aforementioned report and other reports on An Garda Síochána is that there are many bodies through which the force is held to account. The Commissioner has said that public accountability is important to him. New offices have been proposed, including an independent office of the police commission and a policing and community safety oversight commission. The Policing Authority, the Garda Inspectorate and GSOC are in the mix already and there is also the potential for a new board. Where does the Commissioner see this going? I know that ultimately it is a Government decision as to the architecture surrounding An Garda Síochána but does the Commissioner believe it is too complicated at present? Would he like to see it simplified, while still upholding the principle of public accountability?
Mr. Drew Harris:
Undoubtedly, the landscape at the moment is complex. As a chief officer, I spent a long time - 12 years - being held to account by the Northern Ireland Policing Board in Belfast. I worked with the Police Ombudsman for Northern Ireland and I was subject to investigation by that office. I am well used to vigorous and rigorous public accountability and investigation. That brings a lot of benefits in terms of public confidence and dealing with difficult issues. It brings an objectivity when dealing with complaints. It means that the policing service itself is subjective in its view on how to go forward.
As I said, I do not want to comment specifically on the recommendations of the Commission on the Future of Policing in Ireland. We will make our views known as part of our commentary to the Government. We still have the Policing Authority, the Garda Síochána Ombudsman Commission and the Garda Síochána Inspectorate. The responsibilities of those bodies are set out in legislation. We have to be responsible as we work with them into the future. I can say without any equivocation that our position is that accountability, independent investigation and oversight are very important for the role we provide and are central not only in the performance of what we do but also in promoting public confidence in what we do. All this serves as a very useful sounding board and acts as a route for getting the opinions of the public on various matters. Regardless of what happens, we wish to see rigorous accountability that adds to public confidence in what we do and provides us with good and viable feedback that we can use to improve the service.
Mr. Harris has mentioned that public accountability is important. I understand he does not want to comment on the report. Obviously, there is a link with the Department of Justice and Equality and it has been recommended that they should be separated. Obviously, Mr. Harris is here. There are many channels that facilitate oversight and accountability. Maybe a private submission will be made to the Government. My view is that there should be some streamlining so that Mr. Harris is not getting direction from 20 different places and so that oversight can work. That was something that came out of the report of the Commission on the Future of Policing in Ireland. I appreciate that Mr. Harris does not want to go into his full thoughts on that.
My next question relates to IT systems and PULSE. After two months in the job, what are Mr. Harris's thoughts on PULSE?
Mr. Drew Harris:
The latest edition of PULSE is PULSE 7.3. I know PULSE gets a bad press. Like any big IT system, it has started to evolve. PULSE 7.3 will be very different from the version of PULSE that was used several iterations ago. We can already see that some of the systemic issues that were encountered with earlier editions of PULSE have started to fade away and diminish. We have put a lot of effort into the quality of our data. We have a great deal of work to do in that respect. This is a point of emphasis for me and for the rest of the organisation because the data determine how best we should use our resources. It has been said to me that PULSE, in itself, is unwieldy and difficult. The Garda Síochána, as an important organisation that uses PULSE, is always thinking about the next iteration of PULSE and about how we should improve and expand it. We have other systems coming online. I think the investigation management system will be of particular assistance. Reference has been made to computer-aided despatches as well. The challenge is to get these systems to communicate with one another and start to populate things on through. These are complex programmes. It is inevitable that any time we buy a product, we are not the only user of it. We have to work with others when new editions are coming out and new changes are being made. We work those through with the suppliers.
Is there remote access to PULSE when PULSE is used? I am asking about the inputting of data. People have said that there can be a gap between when an incident occurs and when the data are submitted. How does that work in an operational sense when an incident occurs? If data can be submitted on the scene or as things occur, is that what happens in real time or are the data submitted a day or two afterwards?
Mr. John Twomey:
There is a facility and an ability for that to be done in real time. That work has primarily been done in the background. We have tested and piloted our mobility programme in the Limerick division. The people there have handheld devices that they can use for inputting. They have real-time information at the point and at the time they require it, which is at the roadside. All this improves the processes when gardaí are making the decisions they are required to make. We have done some work to look at how this will extend and roll out. We have developed a series of apps. It has been pointed out that PULSE is continuing to adapt to change, to evolve and to become more agile. This is enabling An Garda Síochána to provide information to the people on the front line. As I have said, we have tested and piloted that. We have completed the proof of concept in the pilot division. I think this will develop considerably over the next 12 months.
I think that is very positive. The ability to input in real time will help the Garda's data. When there is a gap between people's operations out in the field and their work at the desk, there can be a mismatch between data submissions. I welcome what Mr. Twomey said. I know that members of other police forces, particularly in the US, which is always the first with IT, go around with handheld devices all the time. It is good to see that PULSE is moving on that.
Mr. Harris mentioned during his last appearance before this committee that the Garda has ongoing engagement with the CSO with regard to data. I understand there is disagreement in this regard. It seems the CSO will not fully approve certain data. It is applying a qualification to some data that are submitted. When does Mr. Harris expect that this will be resolved? Will he update the committee on it?
Mr. Drew Harris:
I met senior CSO officials earlier this week. The Garda is the subject of a CSO report that shows improvements in data quality. Those improvements have been acknowledged by the CSO. The CSO, which is obviously entirely independent of the Garda, must be absolutely assured that we have made sufficient improvements and that those improvements have been built into systems and will last. It has been assured in those respects. I do not have a timescale for when we will achieve the point referred to by the Deputy. We have put our own systems in place. Certainly, there has been an improvement in data. The next thing we have to look to is clarity around our crime-counting rules. The CSO has pointed to that as well. We have appointed an interim chief data officer, who is an expert in the field, to assist us with what our strategic approach should be and what else we have to do with our systems to ensure the quality of the data. As I said, data is essential in modern policing. We have a focus on this. We want to get to a place where this qualification no longer exists. We are working towards that and the improvements have been acknowledged, but I do not think we are quite there yet.
I would like to follow up on Deputy Ó Laoghaire's point about the overspend in respect of overtime. When the Minister appeared before this committee a number of months ago, we flagged as an issue the fact that this year's planned overtime allocation for the Garda represented a reduction on the actual spend last year. Obviously, the overtime that was utilised or provided for last year was important in the context of organised crime or various operations.
Has the Commissioner had any discussions with the Minister about wanting to bridge the gap or is he focused on trying to drive better value, as he mentioned earlier, in terms of what the force is allocated?
People have mentioned their concerns that overtime cuts will have an impact on front-line policing. I ask the Commissioner to elaborate on it a little further. Will he seek an additional overtime budget next year, or does he think he has a sufficient budget?
Mr. Drew Harris:
An Garda Síochána gets a lot of money. It has a big budget. We get a big slice of the public purse, and it is taxpayers' money. As Accounting Officer, I have the responsibility of ensuring the budget is used efficiently and effectively. I am clear about my role and what I have to do. If we have a pressing operational requirement for additional resources then I would make a case. At the moment I plan to live within the budget provided for the force in 2019. It is a responsibility placed on me and I am not starting the year thinking I must ask for more somewhere down the line. That would not be acting responsibly. Negotiations are still ongoing for the 2019 budget and we have not reached a final position as yet.
I wish to make a wider point. In terms of our operational footprint things are happening other than overtime. We have touched on the number of staff. The number of uniformed gardaí is increasing and beyond that we are recruiting Garda staff to displace other officers and members out on to the front line. It is not just about overtime. Indeed, when I looked at even this slight tightening of the belt for the end of the year, the reduction was not even a percentage point of the overall budget. It was a small cut in our expenditure. It seemed to me to be entirely prudent given the position we were in, which was one of overspend, that we would try to retrieve as much of that overspend as we could.
My next question is on supervision. Across all the reports, there is a mention of the existing gap in sergeant and inspector levels. Significant gaps still exist. There have been some promotions, which leave gaps. When does the Commissioner expect to fill many of the vacant positions to ensure we have an appropriate level of supervision in all the divisions? Can he provide an update on the matter?
Mr. Drew Harris:
We have recently promoted 172 people to the rank of sergeant, so the vacancies that existed at that time were filled. We will soon have a list of inspectors and we hope there will be over 100 promotions there, in terms of promoting sergeants to inspectors. There will be a further pull through of promotions to sergeant. One of the concentrations we have in the organisation is at front-line supervision, that is, sergeant-inspector supervision. There is an emphasis on that. It certainly has been emphasised to us in the various reports that have been written by the inspectorate, the authority and the Commission on the Future of Policing in Ireland. We take supervision very seriously. Supervision is essential in terms of the behaviours and standards we expect in the organisation. I am fortunate to arrive at a time when these gaps, which have opened up and are considerable, are starting to be filled. That makes a difference. In lots of ways, it creates optimism within the organisation. It was a nice and positive day for the organisation when I made the announcement. It was very positive then, several weeks later, to see newly promoted sergeants on their first or second day in their new posts.
Some of the questions posed in the last contribution queried the Commissioner's vetting and background, and the Minister mentioned that there was sectarian prejudice. I wonder if the Commissioner was from Australia, Spain, Germany or America would he have been subjected to same tone of questioning. Has the Commissioner felt that certain elements have tried to undermine his position?
In fact, knowing the Deputy, it would be utterly and absolutely anathema to him to be associated with such remarks. In fact, I will affirm that I believe the Commissioner accepted that and took the questions in good stead, and answered accordingly. I thank him for that.
Mr. Drew Harris:
I have addressed questions which have been the subject of much commentary. I think some of that commentary has been ill-founded. At the very start, I set out that I am here to serve the people of Ireland. I have accepted, and have been appointed to, the role of Commissioner. I swore an oath and that oath is important to me. I am here to serve and I am here to protect the people of Ireland. What I bring are the experiences and skills I learned in my time - 34 years - serving in the Police Service of Northern Ireland and in the Royal Ulster Constabulary, RUC, before that.
Overall, and without fail, the welcome I have received has been complete and wholesome. The welcome received I received from the organisation and from members of the public has been complete and wholesome. In some ways, the manner in which I have been received has been very moving for me. For instance, I felt really welcomed and well received at the National Ploughing Championships. I have to say that within the organisation, I feel very welcome and I have been well received. Hopefully, I have been able to dispel some of the concerns about appointing someone from outside of the jurisdiction but, strangely, from this island to this position.
The welcome extended to the Commissioner is absolutely endorsed by everybody in the country. So far, he appears to be doing quite a good job and he has done quite a lot to build confidence. He is in his job two months. In that time, has he uncovered anything that disturbed him? Has anything been brought to his attention that has raised a serious red flag? I mean issues that he would not have known about previously or would not have been made available to him in initial briefings. Has he unearthed anything that we should be concerned about, or that he is concerned about?
Mr. Drew Harris:
I run a large organisation. It is a complex organisation and it deals with all sorts of issues. A huge continuum of demand comes in through the door. One is always going to see things one thinks are not right or need to be improved on. One can never get to an end point with such a complex business where one thinks one's work is done. That is not going to happen. We are on a constant cycle of improvement. I want to emphasise that where we identify something, we take actions to deal with it and to ameliorate the problem and then move on from that. Probably, that is what I have seen. I do not want to highlight any particular area because things I have seen are not things I have discovered. They are things that have come up through the management processes.
Things have come up through the senior leadership team at meetings we have had and been brought to my attention. Like any other organisation, we are identifying what we need to do, some of which is for the risk management process, and where we need to go next. We have talked about data quality which is well on the agenda. We have talked about the digitisation of policing and that is well on the agenda also.
I am not coming at this with any information I have and which I believe the Commissioner should have. It is not motivated in that way. However, I have been a member of the committee for longer than anyone else and sat here on numerous occasions with the last two Commissioners when information was not put in the public domain in a timely fashion once it had been discovered. I hope sincerely that if serious malpractice is uncovered, it will be made known to the committee, the Policing Authority and other relevant agencies at the first available opportunity. Openness and transparency are matters in respect of which change is required within An Garda Síochána. They have not been there to date, but we are moving very much in the right direction. As such, my purpose in asking the question is to give the Commissioner an opportunity to make the committee aware of anything significant, if there is, and, in that way, put it in the public domain. Obviously, there is not anything.
Questions I was going to ask about Garda overtime and ICT have been asked by Deputies Jack Chambers and Ó Laoghaire and others. There is no point going over that ground again. As such, I move to the last set of concerns I have about the disclosures tribunal. Its recommendations have been well documented. To be fair, the Commissioner came out quickly and made his position known on them. Has he met Sergeant Maurice McCabe since the disclosures tribunal reported and had a conversation with him?
That is very positive. Is the Commissioner satisfied that there are proper mechanisms in place for whistleblowers within the system? If someone has concerns and becomes a whistleblower, are there enough supports within An Garda Síochána to ensure such he or she will feel confident about coming forward?
Mr. Drew Harris:
I believe so. For the organisation, these are bitter lessons, but they have been learned. I assure everyone in the organisation that it is one in which he or she can come forward to raise concerns. He or she will be dealt with and supported appropriately. Everyone in the organisation has my absolute assurance in that regard and I take the opportunity to emphasise it again.
I thank the Commissioner who is welcome. I preface my questions by responding to some earlier points. The questions put to the Commissioner by my colleague, Deputy Ó Laoghaire, were not ones which were initially raised by Sinn Féin or any other party represented around this table. They were points, concerns and legitimate questions from victims' organisations and individual victims. Labelling fair and legitimate scrutiny and questioning as somehow sectarian indicates a degree of tone-deafness to the complexity of legacy issues that is off the scale.
In response to Deputy Ó Laoghaire the Commissioner was almost blasé about concerns about the sharing of information cross-Border. He lauded the existing arrangements between the PSNI and An Garda Síochána in dealing with these issues. It is good to hear that because it is pertinent to my questions. The families of victims and survivors are still seeking the truth about what happened on the day of the Dublin and Monaghan bombings in 1974. Will the Commissioner tell us whether An Garda Síochána has been given all of the information it has requested from the PSNI on the case? If not, what is the current status of the request from the Garda to the PSNI in that regard?
Mr. John Twomey:
There are a number of work streams on a variety of inquiries and An Garda Síochána is co-operating fully on each one. I cannot speak specifically to what happened in 1974, but I know that work has been done on the matter. Certainly, we can send a note to the committee on it. I assure it, however, that there is a great deal of work taking place involving An Garda Síochána, the Police Service of Northern Ireland and the coroner in Northern Ireland on the provision of information. While a great deal of information has been provided in other areas of ongoing work, I will have to provide the detail of the specific work referred to in a note. I assure the committee, however, that all committees are receiving proper co-operation from An Garda Síochána.
I appreciate the response and would appreciate receiving such an update. However, families will be quite unsettled by the fact that this level of senior management in An Garda Síochána is not alert to the current status of the case.
Mr. John Twomey:
What I am saying is that a great deal of information is being exchanged among all of the agencies, including An Garda Síochána in co-operating with the Police Service of Northern Ireland and the coroner in Northern Ireland and vice versa. I said what I said in order not to mislead the committee. If we had received the question in advance, we would have obtained all of the information and provided it. It is a matter of detail.
I take Mr. Twomey's point. Perhaps we might revisit the issue at a later stage. The Commissioner has acknowledged that he will meet victims' groups and that there are a number of pending invitations. On the back of some of those meetings, there have been public calls. Will the Commissioner provide reassurance for victims' groups which desire An Garda Síochána to engage actively with the PSNI on their cases that it will do so on their behalf, where appropriate?
Regarding the investigation into the death of Denis Donaldson in April 2006, the Commissioner may have noted the statement from the family's solicitors, Madden and Finucane, which included the following remarks:
At the heart of this case is a criminal conspiracy involving State agents in the exposure of Denis Donaldson as an informer for the RUC, PSNI and MI5, leading to his murder in April 2006. In the cover-up which has followed, Gardaí have invoked "State security" to prevent the return of the Journal in which Denis was writing days before his murder.
The Commissioner will know that the inquest into Mr. Donaldson's death has been adjourned on 22 separate occasions. That has caused not only deep distress to Denis's family but also his legal representatives deep worry and concern. In July 2017 the Police Ombudsman for Northern Ireland confirmed the investigative value of Denis's journal to his investigation and gave an explicit undertaking to the Donaldson family that he would initiate proceedings to recover it. To date, however, Denis's journal remains within the control of An Garda Síochána, notwithstanding confirmation that it has no evidential value to gardaí. Will the Commissioner direct that the journal be provided for the Police Ombudsman for Northern Ireland?
Mr. Drew Harris:
I recently received correspondence to the same effect and it is being dealt with. I will report to the committee when a conclusion is reached. The specific point the Senator raises has been raised in the correspondence from the family's solicitors. It is a live issue and we will have a response quickly.
That is appreciated.
Turning to Brexit, there were a number of questions put about the issue of community policing and the worry and concern about a hard border. There was a reiteration by the Commissioner of that concern, but we have not heard about mechanical preparations. It is a difficult question because of the uncertain times in which we are all living. It is a question similar to the one I asked the Minister a few weeks ago when he was before the committee. Will the Commissioner assure the committee that no funds, in Ireland opting in, from the EU internal security fund are being directed towards the provision of additional militarisation infrastructure and a mechanical hardening of the Border?
Mr. Drew Harris:
An Garda Síochána is not engaged in effectively any form of militarisation of the Border. It intends to police the Border through community policing. It must also be alive to the concerns of local communities which have real concerns that may be realised in increased crime levels. Beyond that, there are threats from organised crime and terrorism. I want to check the specific fund the Senator has mentioned and can give the committee a written assurance in that regard. It is unlikely, but I want to be sure about it.
I will follow up with the Commissioner in writing and give him some space to check it out. I appreciate what he is saying about community safety and policing concerns. That is a given. From a political and societal point of view, one of the biggest concerns would be the re-emergence of infrastructure along the Border.
That is encouraging to hear. I wish I had received as decisive an answer from the Minister a few weeks ago.
Does the Commissioner have concerns about the resources available to and within the Garda to deal with cybercrime? Does the Garda have enough equipment and qualified staff to deal with the increased threat posed by cybercrime? Does the Garda have enough resources and personnel to tackle white collar crime, including forensic detectives who are able to address financial crime and impropriety?
Mr. John Twomey:
There are three elements to the ongoing work to deal with cybercrime. We have regionalised much of our cybercrime capacity and introduced units in the south-eastern and southern regions. Additional units have been introduced at regional and national level. There is a programme of work to increase and enhance capacity from a tactical perspective.
From a strategic perspective, at national level, we have a superintendent specifically in charge of dealing with cybercrime and boosted the resources available to him. Cybercrime is evolving and changing more quickly than most other areas of police work. This is an area to which we pay constant attention because it is constantly evolving. We do a lot of work with academic institutions, corporate bodies and our European partners. It is continuing to evolve and improve. A lot of work has been put in within the organisation, from both tactical and strategic perspectives.
An Garda Síochána does a lot of work with the National Cyber Security Centre. There is a member of An Garda Síochána permanently placed with it and working with other agencies. It is continuing to improve. The position is considerably better than it was a year or two ago and will be considerably better again in the future. It is under constant evaluation and review.
We have provided additional resources for the Garda Bureau of Fraud Investigation to address white collar crime and will keep the position under review. Where additional resources are required, they will continue to be provided.
Between January 2016 and August this year, GSOC received 1,794 reports of use by gardaí of incapacitating spray - what is known as pepper spray - on suspects. In 80%, or 1,566, of these cases, gardaí failed to notify GSOC about using the spray within 48 hours, as mandated by internal Garda directives. Some uses of pepper spray were only notified to GSOC up to two years after they had occurred. Much of this falls outside the Commissioner's tenure in office, but he will agree that these are startling and unsatisfactory figures. Are there measures he can put in place to address and deal with that matter?
The Commissioner touched on the code of ethics. According to the statistics I can obtain, the Policing Authority was informed by management of An Garda that less than 40% of the force had signed the code. If I caught what he said correctly, the Commissioner said he imagined everybody would be trained in the code of ethics.
Mr. Drew Harris:
The training will be completed by the end of the year. The signing of the code of ethics is another issue, as the Senator alluded to in his question. It is not just a question of obtaining signatures. I want everyone in the organisation to conceptually and behaviourally sign the code. I will not issue a diktat that everyone must sign it. This is about managers engaging, persuading and making arguments. My colleagues and I are doing this with the representative associations. There will be meetings shortly about it. Writ large in the report of the Charleton tribunal is the need for the organisation to demonstrate its support for, and adherence to, the code of ethics. It is an important vehicle for us. I constantly emphasise this point, but I do not want people to sign it because they are told to but rather to engage with the concerns they might have. Some of these issues are somewhat misplaced and, through explanation, the concerns can be allayed. People must understand why they are signing it and, through persuasion and explanation, adhere to and live by it.
Mr. Drew Harris:
There is day-long training provided for everyone.
Let me add one thing about the code of ethics. It is a requirement for promotion that an officer sign the code of ethics. The behaviour of all Garda supervisors is important and they need to signify that they understand and will adhere to the code of ethics. It is an important element of behaviour within the organisation.
The Commissioner touched on many issues, including those that I wanted to ask him about. He spoke about police training and development and touched on the human rights aspect of that. Will he expand a little more on that? Could he give us an example of the human rights aspect of training and what that entails?
Mr. Drew Harris:
Human rights is an essential part of policing. It can underpin and clarify much of our decision making. As a police service we have access to powers such as those of search and arrest. We can use force in terms of incapacitant spray, as has been said, and up to and including lethal force in the use of firearms. All of that should be bound by human rights provisions and that should guide us in our decision-making. There is a whole set of European jurisprudence which guides police on how they should use their powers of arrest, search and force and, underpinning that, how they should plan for major events, critical incidents such as a public order, or firearms incidents. There is a lot of guidance underpinning human rights which is invaluable to us in terms of how we seek to police, with public support, to the very high standards that are expected of us in terms of human rights. When we say we want to incorporate human rights we are saying we want to bring all the guidance that has been provided through European jurisprudence as to how we should police certain types of events.
A report covering mental health within Garda Síochána was published earlier this year. The reality is that gardaí at the coalface have to deal with major issues. I imagine that have to deal with very traumatic issues.
Some of the issues they might have to deal with at the coalface could almost trigger a form of post-traumatic stress disorder, PTSD. Quite a high percentage of gardaí would deal with addiction issues, in particular, an area of which I am very aware and have worked in. I imagine there is a high level of burnout among the members. Addiction issues bring on many difficult situations such as fights, car crashes and domestic violence. It is a major area. I understand that often gardaí may not want to ask for help because it is not cool to do so. What supports would the Commissioner be considering putting in place around all of that?
Mr. Drew Harris:
This relates to the well-being of the organisation. The Senator is right in saying that the work members undertake can be very difficult at times. They have to deal with difficult scenarios and incidents which are seared into the mind, and that has an impact. We have a well-being strategy in place. I will ask Mr. Nugent to outline the detail of all that we have done, as we have made significant advances in that area.
Mr. Joseph Nugent:
It starts with us all supporting one another. That informal mechanism starts the process off where we as members of the organisation are supportive of those who have to deal with the types of circumstances the Senator described. That is enhanced by formal peer support mechanisms where individuals can contact others who have been trained in this space to assist in dealing with the realities of the experiences. A further layer is our employee assistance service which is available throughout the country and comprises professionally trained individuals who are in place to provide the range of supports for any individual who encounters difficulty in any aspects of his or her personal or work life. In the formal space, a confidential 24-7 counselling line is available, delivered independently to the organisation, which provides the option for counselling services to those who feel they need that. Underpinning all of this, we have a new chief medical officer who was appointed in the past 12 months and he is very conscious and aware of this space.
As the Commissioner said, we need to ensure the types of supports that need to be provided to all our Garda staff and Garda members are available and in place. The Commissioner is committed to enhancing and developing that further over the coming years. I agree completely with the Senator. In my role I will not face the traumatic experiences that my colleagues throughout the country have to endure, but my responsibility is to ensure that, if and when people are in difficulty, the necessary supports are in place, and we will continue to do that.
Sometimes prevention can be better than cure. It would be a good idea to train up many gardaí to deal with people on a compassionate level, which is not easy to do. I understand it is hard to do but if they learned to treat people in general, whatever crime they may have committed, and some crimes are more serious than others, when it comes to addiction issues with dignity and respect, it could prevent burnout. That sounds a little complicated but that is the reality. I would encourage the Commissioner to explore that more. I believe it would greatly help the gardaí who are working on the ground. Such prevention measures would help them prevent getting to the point of burnout. There is such shame involved, particularly for members of the Garda Síochána, in asking for help, so that is a difficult one. They are afraid to ask for it in case they might appear weak. I would love the Commissioner to consider doing that.
Regarding overtime, is the Commissioner saying that the money that would normally be spent on overtime will go into training? Is that what I heard him say?
Mr. Drew Harris:
This is relevant to the Senator's previous point. Overtime involves hours worked beyond the working week. It is additional hours that individuals work. There is a welfare issue involved in that our staff cannot be expected to be in the workplace constantly. They should have proper periods of rest and time with their family and friends. The downside of overtime can be literally physical burnout and the attending issues that come with that.
With respect to the Senator's previous question, I want to make another point. The report of the Commission on the Future of Policing in Ireland refers a good deal to the rise of the work we are doing in respect of harm and it put that in the context of a multi-agency response, critical intervention teams and perhaps a co-location between us and other primarily healthcare and social service professionals. If that happens, that will change some of the culture. It will be a good thing if we are able to do that. Overtime is a budget matter, however, and if I overspend on that budget, it means something somewhere else will have to give.
I agree with the Commissioner about overtime and burnout in particular. He said that cultural change comes from behavioural change. When he said that, I had the sense that from his perspective that he will be leading by example. Would I be right in saying that?
Mr. Drew Harris:
One is around communication within the organisation so that all of us, in effect, are lined up with the mission and all pointing in the one direction. If we get the communication of our vision clear in the organisation and how we will deliver that as a policing service, given that a lot of decision-making rises up through the organisation of An Garda Síochána, I can expect the members to exercise a good deal more autonomy in what to do because they have an understanding of what is required of them and they can make their own decisions. Then one starts to reap the benefits of fast-time decisions being made with innovation and energy, and that is where we want to get to.
It is the first time I have met the Commissioner. All I have seen of him has been in the newspapers and on the television. I am impressed. Even though the Commissioner says he is not an outsider, he has come from a different part of the country. I wish him the best. To me, what I see is what I get. The Commissioner seems to be a very honest person. He seems to be a person who wants to get the job done. What I like about him is that the first point he made was that he had confidence in the force. It means that the people working under the Commissioner note there is a man coming here and he means business.
One of the biggest challenges the Commissioner mentioned from day one when he got the job was the Border after Brexit. Coming from the Dundalk area, I am aware the Border plays a big part in the life of the community. As an ex-member of the 27th Battalion in Dundalk, an Army man, I know what it is like to patrol the 34 Border crossings from Cullaville to Omeath. During the troubled time, it was not a nice time to be involved. We also have a lot of illicit trade there at present. I refer to the fuel smuggling, the cigarettes and everything else. It is just not a nice time.
I am a member of the British-Irish Parliamentary Assembly. I spent the past two days in London and the main topic was Brexit. The British Prime Minister, Mrs. Theresa May, has said that she has 95% of Brexit sorted out. The last 5% is the Border. The Taoiseach has said that if the Border situation is not sorted out, violence will return. These are statements that we do not want to hear. The bottom line is that it is important that the Commissioner has a plan of action.
I have been very lucky in recent months. The Minister for Justice and Equality, Deputy Flanagan, visited Dundalk recently and met Superintendent Gerard Curley. I would like to record that I find Superintendent Curley approachable, honest and upfront. In fairness, he gives the Garda a good name in the area.
We visited Dundalk Garda station. Given the amount of stuff they are taking in and the level of investigation they are doing, my main concern about the Garda station is that there does not seem to be an inch of space left. They are doing a good job. I can see a presence of the Garda on the beat, which is good there.
We also visited Dromad Garda station, which is a prefab building at present. I do not know whether the Commissioner is familiar with it.
A good few years ago, they bought a house beside the Garda station and it is an awful shame that is not being used. The Minister has given a commitment that he will invest in the Dromad Garda station. I would like to know if the Minister said anything about Dromad Garda station. The reason I ask is that we also have a traffic corps there at present. In fairness, I see the Garda in the area conducting patrols on the motorway. It is doing a pretty good job.
What are the Commissioner's plans for the Border areas? As the Commissioner stated, it is one of the biggest tasks that he will have.
Mr. Drew Harris:
First, the rule of law will prevail. We have to provide a service that protects people, prevents the further growth of organised crime, and, in fact, erodes such crime, but which also deals with the threat that there may be of terrorism as well. We are not sure how Brexit will work out. We are not sure of the drivers that there may be behind any of those issues, but certainly we have identified properly the concerns of the local population and how we should address those. We emphasise that because in many ways people's local concerns about robbery, very bad driving or anti-social behaviour through bad driving, etc. are somewhat missed in the big political debates around Brexit, but those are of concern to us. We will be there for the local communities.
In terms of organised crime and terrorism, we will be watching those very closely. We will be in a position to react should the climate change in terms of the threat posed by either of those, but we are particularly concerned in respect of how organised crime will use the difference in tax tariffs, as I have said, to try to build up revenue. We will work with other partners in respect of that. Two weeks from now, we have the annual cross-Border organised crime conference. That always has a focus on the various forms of criminality that we see right across the island of Ireland, not only smuggling but also other areas of organised crime that we can co-operate on, and not only in the Border area. I am meeting the Chief Constable before that to agree further areas that we can develop. It is incumbent on us at these times of uncertainty to do our utmost to reach out to our neighbouring law enforcement agency to assure to the best of our ability that we are ahead of the game even though we are not quite sure exactly what shape the game will be, which is part of the problem here.
I want to talk about resources. I am concerned about what will happen on the Border following Brexit. I have lived in Dundalk all my life. I have family on both sides of the Border. In fairness, the peace process in 1998 was one of the best developments to happen in this country. I would not like to see it go back to the way it was. I have no intentions here of slagging off anybody. What is most important here to me is peace and working together.
I am a bit concerned about resources. There has been one good development in that I am delighted to see the Garda College in Templemore up and running again. The Commissioner mentioned there are 180, whether one calls them graduates or recruits, coming on line in November. That is a major plus.
Is the Commissioner happy enough with the numbers that are coming out from Templemore? At present, he has between 600 and 800 per annum. My main concern there is the Garda has a lot of retirements as well. The Minister has given a commitment that there will be 4,000 civilians employed by the Garda, which in turn would release gardaí to work on the beat. The Commissioner mentioned getting the paperwork sorted out. Will he elaborate on the resources, especially this commitment on the 4,000 civilians?
In Dundalk - the reason I mention Dundalk is it is the best example for me because it is the area I am from, but I am sure this happens in all the other Border towns as well - they seem to be short a few Garda cars. Living close to a motorway, there are many pluses but there are also many negatives. As gardaí tell me, people from the other jurisdiction come in, rob and get back on the motorway, and it is difficult to monitor the motorway. As I stated earlier, it is important that we get these resources.
The Commissioner mentioned promotions. He mentioned 100 or so sergeants getting promoted. In Dundalk, there are six vacancies for sergeants. As the Commissioner will be aware, it is important to have the more experienced people in the Border area or in certain other areas. It is important that we have the proper resources there. Will the Commissioner elaborate? Is he Commissioner happy enough with the resources, with Templemore and with these 4,000 civilians the Garda is getting?
Mr. Drew Harris:
There are very positive elements although, while we are recruiting, there are also cessations from the organisation. This year more than 700 will enter Templemore and about 300 will leave, so there is a net gain of well over 400 Garda members. Similarly, next year, our plans are around a particularly big recruitment of Garda staff who will displace officer members out to operational duty, but we will also have a growth next year in terms of Garda officers. That is a very strong position to be in. While there is an issue around the money for this, and as that is all being worked through I cannot give the precise figures, this time next year we will be many hundreds ahead in our overall headcount, so that is positive.
In terms of promotions, I will have to inquire about the specific situation in Dundalk. We have 172 promotions to sergeant and, in effect, they took up their roles last week. If there is still a gap in Dundalk, I will inquire about that and see what can be done. We will then report that to the committee. In respect of vehicles, this is an issue for us but there is ongoing investment in that regard.
Mr. Joseph Nugent:
There is ongoing investment. If there are particular issues in Dundalk, we would be happy to look into that. However, we are in a period where the Government has made a significant allocation to us in recent years and this will continue into next year in regard to enhancing our fleet. Again, if there are particular issues, we will happily take that offline and come back to the committee.
I am delighted for the simple reason that, the last time I asked a question about resources, I was told the number of recruits coming in from Templemore was just balancing the retirements. I am delighted that has changed and I think it is very positive.
Morale is a very important issue. Mr. Harris is the boss of the Garda and he has to keep gardaí happy. I believe there have been a lot of issues in recent years but we are close to getting the numbers up and running and getting the resources we need. It is important to get the pay and conditions back. The Commissioner mentioned he is meeting Sergeant Maurice McCabe this afternoon and it was a good move to communicate with Sergeant McCabe last week. What happened to Sergeant McCabe should never happen again. I am delighted to see that. While it might not be a fair question, how does the Commissioner find morale in the Garda Síochána compared with morale in the PSNI?
Mr. Drew Harris:
Police officers the world over have certain character traits, although it is hard to explain. Some of them are content in their discontent or happy in their ability to raise issues, so there is a little of that. The vast majority I meet when I go out and about seem to be in a good place. Pretty quickly any frost there might be falls away and I have good conversations with them. When talking to people, not just the probationers but those with ten, 20 and 30 years’ service, after five minutes they will tell me the way it is. We all have an innate understanding of each other. I would not be pessimistic about where we are in terms of morale.
In terms of how we build that morale, the cultural audit showed there was a real, strong public service ethos in the organisation. It is for me to motivate people additionally so they know they are supported and that I am trying to make life a little simpler for them through the equipment they are given, through digitisation and even through the uniform they wear, by making sure they are supported through training so they see this is a place of career opportunity in terms of promotion or specialisation. It is very important for us that we are placed as an employer of choice in the employment market because we are competing in a busy market for the talent that is out there, and we want to be one of people's first options when they are thinking of what their employment is going to be.
As I said, it is very important for the Commissioner to keep Garda staff happy. My area has been very unlucky in recent years. On 25 January 2013, we had the murder of Garda Adrian Donohoe, and on 11 October 2015, the murder of Garda Tony Golden. Is the Commissioner still putting in plenty of resources to try to solve those two murders?
One thing I do not like at the moment, and I have seen it happen myself, is the verbal abuse of gardaí on the beat and there is also the verbal abuse they get when they attend disturbances in their patrol cars. What is the up-to-date situation on the body camera? I recently had a dash camera put in my car because I heard about all these so-called fixed accidents on the roads and so on. I now feel a lot safer driving the car. When the Japanese person was killed in Dundalk recently, a few cars passed at the time and I understand the Garda got a lot of information from dash cameras. I would like to see it being compulsory for gardaí on the beat or in patrol cars to wear body cameras. This would be good in regard to collecting evidence and would also be good for protecting against the abuse gardaí get from the public.
Mr. Drew Harris:
We have an ongoing project looking not only at body-worn video but at the overall subject of CCTV. I am a big supporter of body-worn video. It provides quick evidence but it can also settle down situations if people who would otherwise be disruptive or difficult realise that all of this is being recorded on camera. It is also very good in terms of going into court. I am a big supporter of it. There is a project under way and we are exploring some of the legal complexities of introducing body-worn video for individual officers and making sure we are on the right side of the legal position. The case for them is well made. I am a supporter. Once we know the legal position and clear that hurdle, we want to move forward with a roll-out of cameras.
The question has been asked on the conflict between Mr. Harris having been a member of the PSNI and now being the chief of the Garda Síochána. I will be honest. I think it is very good. We had two Garda Commissioners who are gone. In fairness, I feel we got the best man for the job. As I said, I am taking Mr. Harris at face value. I believe the experience he had working with the British security service, MI5, will be important going forward. Let us get rid of the negativity about this. The Commissioner is here to do a job. He is going to look after the Garda and protect the public. He mentioned working hard in the local community. He could make it a simple or a difficult job, and the thing I like is that he is making the job simple.
In his presentation he said he wanted gardaí to be visible, polite and honest, to work hard and to remember that their core duty is to protect and support the community, which is perfect. Given the contacts he has made in his years working with the PSNI, what are his plans? Will he still be able to contact the people he met in his previous job? Although I am a Deputy now, in my previous life I was involved in a business. The important part of running a successful business is being able to delegate, and a person has to phone up and ask people for advice and everything else. It is pretty much the same in all fields. I am sure the Commissioner has made good contacts and I am sure he has much information from his previous job. Will all of that still be available for him to work with?
Mr. Drew Harris:
My contacts with the Police Service of Northern Ireland are entirely open. The Chief Constable and I are meeting in two weeks to consider how we take the relationship on to the next stage. It is clear that we can learn a lot from each other. Law enforcement organisations throughout the world can learn a lot from one another. When we have such a close neighbour, those relationships should be deep and meaningful. That should not just relate to crime investigation or the sharing of intelligence, though they are important, but also to sharing personnel, skills and training and all other areas in which we can properly collaborate, as envisaged by the intergovernmental agreement on police co-operation that we have from 2002. We will want to emphasise that. Anyone who has been in policing for as long as I have has contacts not just in the United Kingdom but throughout the world and can draw on those too. Being Commissioner of An Garda Síochána, a lot of goodwill is extended towards this organisation which I intend to tap into, both with regard to operational co-operation and training or other expertise and assistance.
Maybe I did not speak strongly enough with regard to the conflict of interest point earlier. I have been in the job for eight weeks. It is all-consuming and I am entirely absorbed by it. I am here to lead the organisation and serve the people of Ireland with the outcome that we protect them, particularly the vulnerable, as well as I and this organisation can. That is my agenda in a nutshell and what I expect of the rest of the organisation.
I thank Mr. Harris for his honesty and the way he answered the questions. He answered them straight away and off the cuff. We are all here to work together. Over the next few years, days or months - we do not know how long this Government will last-----
I thank Deputy Fitzpatrick. I have some last questions. I seek elaboration on a number of the Commissioner's introductory remarks in the circulated text. Some of these are connected with the engagements we have had previously. His colleagues on both sides, Mr. John Twomey and Mr. Joseph Nugent, will know some of the areas that we have addressed with An Garda Síochána previously as a committee. I welcome the Commissioner's statement that acknowledges the significant contribution made by the civil servants within the Garda. These are the non-sworn members.
These personnel are now known, quite correctly, as Mr. Harris says, as Garda staff. This is important. We have had members of said staff before us before and it was the view of this committee that there was some evidence that non-sworn staff within An Garda Síochána were not appreciated and respected on the same level as sworn members of the Garda. I expect this statement by Mr. Harris is a clear indication that that will not present in the future. Would he like to comment?
Mr. Drew Harris:
They are known as Garda staff because they are integral to the delivery of the policing service that An Garda Síochána provides. It is as simple as that. I hope it illustrates that I recognise how central their role is. We are on a path of growth towards 4,000 Garda staff. They will be essential to the service that we provide. There is no question of there being two-tier membership or employment in the organisation. I changed the name of the Garda staff in the second week to make it clear. The expression had hitherto been "civilians" and I could not get my head around it because they are integral to what we do. Their importance will grow. We have been given a figure of 4,000 but I could see it going beyond 4,000 in the years ahead.
I welcome Mr. Harris' reaffirmation of that point. Mr. Harris referred to having a police and security service that is "more representative of the community it serves". Will he elaborate on that phrase? What is he honing in on? Are there deficits with the recruitment base? Will he give us more information?
Mr. Drew Harris:
One only has to walk around Dublin city centre to see that it is visibly an increasingly diverse place. In time, An Garda Síochána should reflect that diversity of the society we are charged with policing. As for gender in the first case, we have good gender representation in the organisation but our representation of visible ethnic minorities is somewhat lower. That is an area on which we will have to work. There is a question of how we do that outreach. People know people within An Garda Síochána, whether they are friends, fathers of friends or relations, and get to know policing through those sorts of associations. We are a bit of a mystery for others. We have to reach out and explain what we are about. We have to explain that we are a good employer and that if one works for us, no matter what the role is, one has a good employer, can have a career and there are options for advancement and learning development along with the rewards of public service. We as an employer have to promote the organisation and try to reach people who had not hitherto thought of a career in An Garda Síochána.
Mr. Harris talked about delivering a professional policing and security service that protects the vulnerable. I presume this is not only looking ahead but includes historical inquiries. Mr. Harris has alluded to a number of ongoing murder inquiries and we wish those well. There was an earlier reference to the Dublin and Monaghan bombings on 17 May 1974, a day that I will never forget. With no reference to a hierarchy of victimhood, it was the single greatest atrocity through all the years of conflict we have known on this island in relatively recent times. The Houses of the Oireachtas, this Parliament, have on three occasions unanimously passed motions appealing for full co-operation with the appointed inquirers into the Dublin and Monaghan bombings.
We have appealed to the British Government and its agencies to co-operate fully in the provision of all documentation, information and files relevant to the respective inquiries into those matters that took place north of the Border, and elsewhere if that be the case. Deputy Commissioner Twomey responded earlier to one of my colleague's inquiries on this particular matter. The Commissioner himself earlier indicated a willingness to meet victims and the representatives of victims. In this particular instance, that is the Justice for the Forgotten organisation, heroically led by a lady called Ms Margaret Irwin. Will the Commissioner facilitate an opportunity to meet Ms Irwin and with victims of the Dublin and Monaghan bombings, the survivors and bereaved families? There were 33 deaths in those bombings.
Commissioner Harris is unquestionably highly qualified for the position he has undertaken. His experience is a significant factor in that. Can the Commissioner, because of his previous roles, responsibilities and exposure, bring something more to the call, the wish and the cry for justice? Despite the passage of time since 1974, here we are heading for 44 years later and that cry for truth and justice in respect of those particular atrocities has not faded. Can the Commissioner, given his experience, knowledge, contacts, communications et al., offer any hope for a better position than maintains currently? As Deputy Commissioner Twomey indicated, this is not an area where there has been a flow of communications. That is something we all too sadly know very well.
Mr. Drew Harris:
These atrocities are now my responsibility to investigate. I need to preface my comments in that regard. I am aware of my obvious responsibilities concerning these atrocities. I might take time to consider those questions and then come back to the Chair on where we are at this moment. On the earlier question about meeting the group Justice-----
Mr. Drew Harris:
-----Justice for the Forgotten, I will meet representatives of the organisation. When the Chair spoke of hope for individuals, I have to temper that remark a little. My experience of trying to investigate these matters, legacy matters as they are now called, has been one of frustration. Very little is achieved through the criminal justice route. I will meet the group, I will consider the points the Chair has made and I will respond to those. Down through the years, however, these cases have proven incredibly difficult to bring to a successful criminal justice conclusion. It may be possible to find other information which is new but it is very rare for that to lead to a criminal justice ending to a case such as this.
I will close on this. In this particular instance, information held long past has not been forthcoming. This has been repeated time after time by those entrusted with the exercise of investigation and enquiry. That failure to co-operate on the part of the British Government and all of its agencies, including the Royal Ulster Constabulary in its time, in respect of proffering and presenting whatever information could be shared about those events on that day back in May 1974 is a significant issue. I appreciate the reply from the Commissioner and I look forward to hearing from him in due course on this topic. I welcome his willingness to meet the Justice for the Forgotten group. I have no doubt the organisation will initiate a process to set such an opportunity in place. I thank the Commissioner for that. I have two final points. The Commissioner mentioned priorities and communications to Senator Black. He has undertaken today to come back to the committee on a number of matters.
We very much welcome that. Commissioner Harris was talking about internal communications in the first instance as a priority. With no specific reference, I have to say as Chair of this committee that I hope communications with the committee will also improve in the future. There have been inordinate delays in responses to specific questions this committee has posed to former holders of the post of Garda Commissioner. I am saying this on behalf of all of those present and all those elected members who make up this committee. It has vexed us in the past and it is unnecessary. I would greatly appreciate a significant improvement in that area.
My final question is on something that came up only last week. We met with Assistant Commissioners Leahy and Finn and Commissioner Harris's former colleague, Assistant Chief Constable Alan Todd. They were before us in these very seats. We talked about the importance of partnership in addressing issues that very often present almost wholly and solely to An Garda Síochána. I am speaking about areas such as mental health and, as the Commissioner referred to earlier, youth crime and reducing recidivism. It came out in the engagement last week that there might be - this might be a point of opinion - a better degree of interaction and co-operation between the different agencies north of the Border than may be the case here.
That may be a moot point and perhaps the Commissioner might have a different view. That is neither here nor there. The point is that we need to see that level of co-operation across the board. As elected public representatives, we are very much aware that members of An Garda Síochána find themselves having to deal with situations that present that are not their primary responsibility in respect of community safety. I refer particularly to the area of mental health. Some of the difficulties relate to An Garda Síochána being a 24-7 hour organisation. Some of the other services concerned are not and that is a huge problem.
Even in my years of public service, I have had to strive to find where one can get help in a given situation after 5 p.m. in the evening and at weekends when, very often, these problems present. It is an important area for the members of An Garda Síochána and societally. I would like to conclude by asking the Commissioner to elaborate on building this interaction perhaps in a more structured way. I know it is early days for the Commissioner, and I do not mean to put him on the spot. It is, however, an area he has reflected on. I welcome that and I would like to underscore the importance of it. Could he offer any additional commentary on this important area?
Mr. Drew Harris:
I will address that last point but I will start with the Chair's first point on communication. As I said at the start and in my comments as well, I want to have open and transparent communication with the committee.
I was struck by Senator Conway's remarks. He asked me to identify what issues I have seen in the organisation. As I see them and as they crystallise, the committee, along with the Policing Authority, will be briefed properly on those. I also noted his comments about the expedition of correspondence and reports. In terms of collaboration, the commission is very strident about this. It talks about widening the definition of policing, how the policing mission is changing and about harm. The commission makes specific recommendations on Departments working together and crisis intervention teams but also An Garda Síochána working together with co-located social service and healthcare professionals.
I think we have a different vision for what the service to the public will look like going forward but underpinning that, we need to have the correct organisational strategies in place with our partners, and we also need to resolve the issues around appropriate information sharing as well. Undoubtedly, more of our time is being spent dealing with mental health issues but, increasingly, our work also involves dealing with issues concerning drink and drug addiction. Crimes against the vulnerable also seem to be increasing. Certainly, reports to that effect are increasing as well. That brings us in contact with our partners to have a more holistic and victim-centred approach to individuals and the dire circumstances in which they find themselves. The commission has specific recommendations and we are very much alive to them.
We have sat in this session for more than two and a half hours so without further ado, on behalf of the committee, I thank Commissioner Harris and wish him well in his new role. I hope that today is the first of many engagements this committee will have with him. Deputy Fitzpatrick has speculated that this Dáil will still be here in two years' time but we are not all as confident of that as he is. I also thank Deputy Commissioner Twomey, Mr. Joseph Nugent, and their colleagues who are present this morning. We look forward to meeting with them again in the future.