Oireachtas Joint and Select Committees
Thursday, 7 April 2022
Public Accounts Committee
2020 Annual Report of the Comptroller and Auditor General and Appropriation Accounts
Vote 41 - Policing Authority
We will briefly go into private session at the end of this afternoon's engagement to address some housekeeping matters before the committee adjourns. Is that agreed? Agreed. This afternoon we will engage with officials from the Policing Authority to examine the 2020 appropriation accounts for Vote 41. We are joined in the committee room by the following officials from the organisation: Ms Helen Hall, chief executive; Ms Margaret Tumelty, director; and Mr. Cormac Keating, director. They are all very welcome. As usual, I remind those in attendance to ensure that their mobile phones are either on silent mode or switched off.
Before we start, for the benefit of this afternoon’s witnesses, I will explain some limitations to parliamentary privilege and the practice of the Houses as regards reference they may make to other persons in their evidence. As they are within the precincts of Leinster House, they are protected by absolute privilege in respect of the presentation they make to the committee. This means they have an absolute defence against any defamation action for anything they say at the meeting. However, they are expected not to abuse this privilege and it is my duty as Cathaoirleach to ensure that this privilege is not abused. Therefore, if their statements are potentially defamatory in relation to an identifiable person or entity, they will be directed to discontinue their remarks. It is imperative that they comply with any such direction.
Members are again reminded of the provisions of Standing Order 218 that the committee shall refrain from enquiring into the merits of a policy or policies of the Government, or a Minister of the Government, or the merits of the objectives of such policies. Members are also again reminded of the long-standing parliamentary practice that they should not comment on, criticise, or make charges against a person outside the Houses or an official either by name or in such a way as to make him or her identifiable.
I call on the Comptroller and Auditor General to make his opening statement.
Mr. Seamus McCarthy:
The Policing Authority was established on 1 January 2016 under the Garda Síochána (Policing Authority and Miscellaneous Provisions) Act 2015. The primary role of the authority is to oversee the performance by An Garda Síochána of its functions relating to policing services. The authority comprises a chairperson and eight members, who are supported by a staff that numbered 36 whole-time equivalents at the end of 2020.
The Policing Authority functions as one of the central Government offices, funded directly by the Oireachtas through its own Vote. The chief executive, who is not a member of the authority, is responsible for the presentation of the annual cash-based appropriation account, which records the financial transactions associated with the authority’s activity. The 2020 appropriation account for Vote 41 recorded gross expenditure of €2.8 million. This was almost identical to the gross expenditure in 2019. Almost 75% of the expenditure was related to payment of salaries, wages and allowances, which totalled €2.1 million in 2020.
All of the Policing Authority’s expenditure is classified as administration expenditure, presented under standard subheads used across the Votes. At the end of the year, the amount of the budget provided that remained unspent was €615,000. This full amount was liable for surrender. I issued a clear audit opinion in relation to the appropriation account.
Ms Hall is very welcome. As detailed in the letter of invitation, she will have five minutes for her opening statement. I will give her a reminder after four minutes. I call Ms Hall for her opening statement.
Ms Helen Hall:
I thank the committee for inviting me and my colleagues before it today to discuss the authority’s 2020 appropriation account. The Policing Authority is an independent agency established by the enactment of the 2015 Act and we commenced functions on 1 January 2016. Our key role is to oversee the performance by the Garda Síochána of its functions relating to policing services. The oversight approach of the nine-member Policing Authority, supported by the executive, prioritises meaningful engagement with the Garda Commissioner and senior Garda personnel through regular public and private meetings as well as a comprehensive programme of fieldwork and stakeholder engagement. They all inform policing performance oversight across a wide range of themes.
Our net estimate provision in 2020 was €3.3 million and a net surplus of just more than €615,000 was returned. Having conducted his annual audit, the Comptroller and Auditor General issued a clear audit certificate in respect of our 2020 appropriation account, with no findings or recommendations issued in respect of that year. The year 2020 brought challenges that no one could have foreseen. The authority recognised early in the pandemic that policing and its oversight held huge importance during this time of increased Garda powers, and it responded with agility to the Covid-19 crisis. It was a very full and demanding year with more authority meetings than ever before, 63 senior Garda appointments, and a programme of oversight work engagement to inform oversight across a range of topics, including anti-corruption, the adult cautioning scheme, the Garda review of DNA samples, and the policing of children and youth. Members will find a one-page overview of our work and achievements for that year in their briefing pack.
At the request of the Minister for Justice in April 2020, the authority embarked on what would be a series of 16 reports published across 2020 and 2021 on policing during the Covid-19 pandemic. Since we recognised that the proportionate use of powers through the graduated approach adopted by the Garda Síochána was very important for public confidence, the authority’s executive attended at checkpoints and met with community organisations, NGOs and statutory organisations throughout 2020 to listen to the lived experience of policing during Covid from those being policed, as well as from Garda members. This informed our engagement with the Commissioner and senior management, which continually emphasised the need for the Garda Síochána to respect the human rights of those it was policing, while exercising the new powers afforded to it during the emergency.
It is the authority’s position that restrictions to our rights must be shown to be necessary, legal, proportionate and non-discriminatory. It is also important for public confidence that the policing service is held to account for the use of these powers. An ongoing challenge to the authority and to the Commissioner is knowing whether policing during Covid or at any time is non-discriminatory in the absence of information about the distribution of policing or, in other words, who is being policed. For example, because ethnic indicators are not collected or recorded, one would not know whether members of a particular community were policed or restricted during Covid to a greater extent than others. This requires legislative change and remains of continued relevance to our work. The authority recognised the importance of this consistency and engaged continually with members of diverse communities to enrich our reporting to the Minister. These 16 reports were considered by the Cabinet and provided information and, at times, assurance, as to the manner in which the Garda was using its increased powers.
In 2020, we saw the emergence of an issue concerning the inappropriate cancellation of 999 calls. The independent report to the authority from phase 1 of this work was published in November 2021 and we are currently overseeing the implementation of the recommendations arising. Phase 2 is currently planned and is intended to take place in late May. It continues to be dealt with as a high priority matter for the authority and provides an example to the committee of how the authority’s proactive oversight of the Garda Síochána has brought transparency to an issue that is crucial to public confidence in the policing service. It stands along other critical issues we have dealt with that have arisen in the lifetime of the authority, such as mandatory intoxicant or alcohol tests, commonly known as breath tests, fixed charge notices, governance in the Garda training college in Templemore, youth diversion, and the review of homicide investigations.
The 2015 legislation that established the authority was intended to make a difference. We believe that it has, in that it has created a public, independent, external oversight arrangement for the Garda Síochána where none had ever existed before. The legislation also sought to, and did, create an appropriate distance between politics and policing through the creation of a greater structural distance between the Department of Justice and the Garda Síochána.
In 2018, the Government published A Policing Service for our Future and the Department of Justice is currently drafting legislation to implement that report. Under this plan, the existing Policing Authority and the Garda Inspectorate will come together to form a new body, the policing and community safety authority, in the coming years. We welcome this development. It is our intention to work to ensure that any changes in our functions brought about by this new legislation will not in any way diminish the robust public, independent, external oversight that has been provided by the authority to date and which the Oireachtas saw fit to establish in 2015. We have identified some potential risks in the new legislation that may slow and inhibit, rather than support and encourage, the programme of change to which the authority and the Garda Commissioner are committed. These have been shared with the Department of Justice to facilitate its further development of the legislation. Until such time as the new policing and community safety authority is established, the Policing Authority’s existing statutory functions will continue, along with policing performance oversight that is robust, proactive and independent.
In conclusion, I thank the Comptroller and Auditor General, Mr. Seamus McCarthy, and his colleagues for the work that they do each year. I also thank committee members for taking the time to listen to this opening statement. We look forward to providing any further information that might facilitate the committee’s consideration of the 2020 appropriation account.
The lead speaker this afternoon is Deputy Hourigan, who has 15 minutes. The next speaker is Deputy Colm Burke who, along with all other members, will have ten minutes. I will allow members in for a second round if time allows. We may take a break. We will see how we go. We will evaluate that around 3 p.m.
I thank our witnesses today. Even with the 15 minutes, I have a lot of areas I would like to cover so I hope Ms Hall will excuse me if I cut across her every so often. It is inevitable in these sessions.
I will begin with the issue of the computer-aided dispatch, CAD, incidents. I am aware that the review process is not complete but, of the 2,316 incidents that have been reviewed for invalid closures, it was found that 134 crimes had not been recorded. Is Ms Hall satisfied that this is a fair and reasonable reflection of the level of unrecorded crimes in the context of what we know about domestic violence, when you may be going back to people many days or weeks after an incident has occurred? Is she satisfied that the figure of 134 represents a true reflection of the impact of those CAD calls?
Ms Helen Hall:
It is important to understand the process of the review. The review looked at a certain period and the number of calls within that period was 1.4 million. Of that number, 200,000 were cancelled. As it was not possible to look at 200,000 cases, An Garda Síochána rightly looked at the priority 1 calls or emergency calls as the top issue. Emergency calls involve a threat to life and priority 1 calls involve other very serious threats of harm. Things like domestic violence fall into that category. An Garda Síochána took the category of priority 1 and emergency calls as the first piece. Within that, there were approximately 23,000 or 24,000 calls that needed to be looked at. It then rated the calls for risk and looked into those 23,000. Health calls, domestic violence calls and missing persons were taken. These amounted to approximately 5,000 calls, which were then looked at. Of that, it was found that approximately 3,000 were inappropriately cancelled, which represents quite a high percentage. An Garda Síochána then looked at those calls for further information and drilled down. That is where the figure of 134 has come from. To answer the Deputy's question, no, I am not satisfied. There is more work to be done. While the approach was appropriate, it involved looking at a subset of the 200,000 cancelled calls. If you look at Mr. Penman's report, you will see that there are still unanswered questions and that, while we do not want to tie An Garda Síochána up with looking into these 200,000 calls for the next ten years, we have to ask how much we have learned and focus on what will happen in the CAD call room tonight and in the future. That must be the approach. Having said that, there are still questions in my mind. What about the other priority 1 calls? What about looking at the other 175,000 priority 2 and priority 3 calls? Are we sure they are classified properly? You are never going to get to a point-----
I take Ms Hall's point about nuance and the volume but, even if we take the data provided as a subset and a percentage of calls looked at, is she happy that the percentage is reflective of the level of crimes that were not recorded but which should have been?
Ms Helen Hall:
Last year, the authority said it needed to get an independent expert to look at the process because we were not going to try to second-guess every single case. We did that and, if you look at Mr. Penman's report that was published in November, you will see that he was satisfied with the process An Garda Síochána undertook so, yes, the authority is satisfied that this might be the number of items that were not crimes. Let us go back to the residual concern. What are we concerned about here? Of course, crimes may not have been recorded but the bigger concern and my personal worry, particularly in the context of domestic violence, is that, if something does not get into the system, that may have an impact on the ability to record on the system a risk against a woman who is potentially in danger. It also means evidence is not being gathered for barring orders and so on. That is not being built up. There are other adverse impacts outside of crime not being recorded and prosecutions not getting across the line.
However, I will say that An Garda is very seized of this matter and that it is investing a lot of time in trying to remedy it. We are dealing with 13 recommendations as part of phase 1. We also had a concern about the tone of the responses given to people. We hope that will be the next phase. There has been a little bit of a legal difficulty in that. We hope that will be resolved and that we can do that next phase towards the end of May.
I thank Ms Hall for that answer. I am now going to move onto another topic. At the end of February 2022, there were 227 sworn members of An Garda Síochána at the rank of superintendent or higher. Of these, 38 were women while 189 of their counterparts were male. The Policing Authority is responsible for carrying out selection competitions for the senior ranks of An Garda Síochána. What efforts are being made to address that imbalance?
Ms Helen Hall:
We carry out the appointment and selection processes for superintendents, chief superintendents and assistant commissioners and are part of the Public Appointment Service's process in respect of deputy commissioners and the Commissioner. At the very senior ranks, women are reasonably well represented but we do have concerns, particularly with regard to the rank of superintendent. You cannot force a decision but, looking at the statistics on our website, we have found that, when women do apply, they perform. That is common to many organisations. Women perform a lot better if they can be encouraged to put applications in. That is the first step. During the last competitions that were run, in 2021, we spoke to An Garda Síochána about encouraging people to put their names forward. However, there is a larger issue with regard to the culture of the organisation that needs a lot of work.
Ms Helen Hall:
Yes, you need to see it. It is absolutely more difficult. We have done a number of things. I believe Deputy Commissioner Coxon was before the committee last week. She and the acting director are looking at a gender strategy and have talked to the authority about that. It is something that we and An Garda Síochána are seized of. We are not seeing results coming through yet but the situation has improved. Some 28% to 30% of the entire service is female and the percentage at the senior level is even higher at 40%. Is that good enough? No, it is not good enough. Correcting that will help to change the culture by increasing diversity. It is not necessarily just about gender. We have another concern about the wider situation. While we do not run the competitions at the more junior level, we have a responsibility to oversee them. I refer to the new Garda competition and promotion competitions for sergeants and inspectors. We are constantly asking An Garda Síochána what it is doing to encourage people from diverse communities to apply. I refer to socioeconomic diversity as well. It is not just about gender, although that is also a problem. Does that answer the Deputy's question?
Ms Helen Hall:
There have been some good initiatives. An interim programme was brought in this year. Is it enough? One of the things we often say, which is borne out if you look at the matter, is that the best way to encourage people to apply for a position in An Garda Síochána is to ensure their experience of the service as either a victim of crime or a potential suspect is positive. One of the things we saw through our oversight role during the Covid pandemic was that young people, as a cohort, did not really experience the great improvement in policing. We have brought this to the attention of the Commissioner.
Attention has to be given to how the service provided across the organisation to people who are young, that is. children and young people in their 20s.
In my remaining time, I will move on to the Department of Public Expenditure and Reform spending review and the key performance indicators, KPIs, in policing. It is something that might not be especially exciting to talk about but it is incredibly influential in both decision-making and policy-making. It would be helpful for the authority to set out what it considers when it sets annual policing priorities and performance targets for An Garda Síochána. We will also bring data collection into that discussion. Looking at the information before us, there has already been consideration of quantitative reviews or KPIs that are more about activity than outcomes.
Ms Helen Hall:
Definitely. I will also ask my colleague, Ms Tumelty, to speak on this in a moment. Looking at spending first, the role of the Policing Authority in legislation is relatively limited in terms of the money given to An Garda Síochána. Our role is really just to advise the Minister annually. We do not have a very strong role. That said, we have nudged our way into trying to be more influential in that. We have been pressing the Commissioner to cost the policing plan and say what can be done for the money. It is difficult. There are very few police services that do that sort of activity-based thing. I do not think any do.
The second is clear from some of our performance reports, which we do twice a year. We have found that historically there has been a real lack of investment in the management information system in An Garda Síochána that would allow the Commissioner, or even the head of finance, head of HR or senior gardaí to have at their fingertips knowledge of where people are and what the cost is of deciding to engage in a particular operation. That is just not there.
Can we move to that? My time is nearly up, and I want to hit on the data issue a little. I think it overlaps with the KPIs perhaps, but I am trying to understand how and why we collect certain data. I might submit a parliamentary question and the response that comes back is that the Department does not have that data or does not know the information. I am wondering what the process is. Who decides what we measure? Is there a process in the Policing Authority, for example, where there is a new undertaking? I will give an example. Last year An Garda Síochána formally established the organised prostitution unit. Sex work in general is a matter that I am very interested in. It would be interesting to have information regarding violence against sex workers. It seems that data is very hard to get. At what stage does the process kick in? Who decides what we measure and how do you get things measured? Does the authority have a role in saying that we need to have certain data? I am also a member of the Joint Committee on Health. Access to disaggregated data in health is also a major issue in this State. Is it something that is on the Policing Authority's horizon?
Ms Helen Hall:
It is front and centre to what I would see as our role. We approve the priorities each year. We approve the policing plan. Within policing plans there are quite specific performance indicators, some of which would require the collection of specific data. We have a role there. Every month, we receive reports from the Commissioner as part of our holding the organisation to account for the performance of those.
Returning to the specific question, all the data to which the Deputy refers would be housed within the PULSE system. It would be a matter of getting the appropriate data fields in there. That can take a little time but we have made a change in some of the requirements. For example, hate crime has started to be recorded. We are also demanding, and the Garda are very positive, things in the area of sexual assault. There is a lot of data that can be gathered and we are pressing for that.
I will ask Ms Tumelty to talk about some of the KPIs.
Ms Margaret Tumelty:
Since 2016 there has been an iterative process with An Garda Síochána to look at its policing plan and see what it is setting as targets and how does it know it has been successful. There has been a mix of crime statistics, milestones for the achievement of individual pieces of work and a public attitudes survey. These are very useful, but on their own they do not give a full picture. Crime statistics can be affected, as happened during Covid when the number of burglaries went down. That was not because of any action by An Garda Síochána, however.
Similarly, with milestones, it is a question of whether an activity or an input happened but also whether either of these had an impact on someone's experience of policing on, for example, any given Wednesday. I do not know the answer to that. While useful, the public attitudes survey arguably does not hit enough people in particular cohorts in order to be able to give a real sense of what their experience is. This year, we have been pushing An Garda Síochána and having really good engagement around having new reporting that would place better emphasis on outcomes for people. This is something we are doing in our engagement work.
The Deputy mentioned sex workers. We met with the sex worker organisations twice in the past year, because it is about the lived experience. The policing plan does have a tick beside whether a certain policy has been implemented. We will then go out and listen to gardaí and ask them if a policy has been rolled out. Have they the resources to do it? What is their experience at station level? We will then go and talk to the domestic abuse organisations and ask if it is happening in practice. Those things in concert give a picture. The big emphasis in what we are trying to do is see what is of value to the public in terms of people's confidence in the police service and confidence to report. If I am in a certain part of Dublin, say, will I report? If I am a member of a particular community, have I any confidence in reporting my crime or that I will get a response? The tone of policing is important to people, as is how it is done. It is also in terms of legitimacy. Is there corruption in An Garda Síochána? What about the recording of the use of force? We are trying to recognise that those tangible, quantitative measures have a place but so does bringing in the lived experience of policing and what people tell us is impacting them as suspects, as victims or as people who just engage with the police. That is what we are trying to do. We are trying to talk to gardaí about how they are listening to communities and how do they know they are being successful. What are their measures of success beyond the quantitative? There has been really positive engagement on that in recent months. We hope that reporting will have good outcomes.
Ms Helen Hall:
No, there is just one piece of work from Toland and Byrne on Article 2. We did a particular piece of oversight which ran across 2016 to 2019, namely, the homicide review. At the end of that, there was a residual question around Article 2 and the right to life, but, more particularly, the right of those left behind to have a death appropriately investigated. The report stemmed from the homicide investigations. The authority wanted legal advice on the position around what would be expected for the future in terms of the safeguards to make sure that the Garda had the right things in place. It was really to facilitate our oversight of these investigations in future. It was not to look at a specific case but it was just a piece of legal advice.
Ms Helen Hall:
It was just legal advice to help us.
We have shared that advice with the Garda Commissioner because it is interesting and in order that he can be aware of the advice we have. We try to operate on a transparent basis with him in terms of no surprises. We also ask what he intends to do in terms of making sure those safeguards are in place. Many good changes happened as a result of the homicide review. I can talk to that, if that is of interest to the committee.
Ms Helen Hall:
No. Legal advice would never be published. It is not a report, as such. It is legal advice and it is not our intention to publish that. We published the homicide review which is available on our website. It details overall recommendations arising from the review, of which there are a number. That is part of our ongoing oversight. A number of recommendations still have to be implemented and we will follow those up with the Garda Commissioner this year.
Some of them relate to changes that need to be made to the PULSE system. One of the important things in homicide, for example, is to have peer reviews and double check whether everything has been looked at. We are anxious for peer reviews on homicides and to have the right support in divisions to look at homicides going forward.
Ms Helen Hall:
Very few. We get legal advice on a variety of things. We might get legal advice on a data protection or freedom of information matter. To be honest, I characterise this as legal advice on Article 2 of the human rights side of things but with a particular focus on that. It is not about specific cases. That was part of the homicide review.
-----because every organisation gets legal advice. This committee gets legal advice. We would not define that as a report, which is what this is defined as. It is clearly in the public interest. Other than the fact the Policing Authority does not generally do it, are there specific reasons as to why it will not publish this?
Ms Helen Hall:
This is legal advice. Maybe the naming of that is inappropriate, rather than the other way round. However, something characterised as a report, such as homicide review or reports on youth diversion and mandatory intoxicant testing and mandatory alcohol testing, is published. They are reports. Maybe the naming of it might have been inappropriate.
Ms Helen Hall:
Two different pieces of work were done by the same firm. When I used the word ten, I reminded myself that one piece of work was to do with ethnic indicators. There is a considerable gap in the data the Garda and the Policing Authority have to show that policing is fair and proportionate. We got one piece of advice on whether legislation was needed to allow the Garda to collect ethnic indicators. The answer to that was that legislation was needed. The second piece of advice we got from this firm was on Article 2. It was €5,000.
-----stated: "A substantial report by the Policing Authority into garda compliance with human rights standards during homicide investigations has been completed, following a major controversy over the misclassification of killings".
Ms Helen Hall:
Several substantial reports were given to the authority. I think it was six, in total. They are definitely not for publication. One has to remember there are individuals on the other side of each of these. The Garda reviewed 41 cases. Those six reports were provided. We got the Garda to do a composite review. If one followed the topic of homicide, available on our website, it was very important to make sure that the quality of investigations on homicide were followed through. There were many recommendations for change which are in the public domain. The article to which the Deputy referred is inaccurate.
Dr. Cormac Keating:
The advice was given to us in a report format. It was not like the typical advice one would get from senior counsel. That was in order that it could be read, digested and considered by the members properly. In terms of whether we can make it public, we can take that away and look to see whether it could be published or published in a redacted format.
Ms Helen Hall:
To be honest, we did not consider publishing it because I would never routinely publish my legal advice. That being said, I hear the Deputy and get the idea. We are transparent. However, the substantial report that was published at the end of the review is very important and that is where the critical issues are. That is the piece we routinely follow up in terms of what is being done by the Garda. However, I am happy to take that away.
A very high standard is needed for the maintenance of a document that is confidential. That would need to be clear because, as I understand it and as Ms Hall has said, the Policing Authority has shared it with the Garda Commissioner. I expect that is in the expectation that the Garda will then adhere to the advice, as it pertains in the document. There needs to be a way for the public to know whether that happens. The Government cannot, if it does not know the proposals of the report suggest.
Ms Helen Hall:
With regard to the questioning, the minutes of the authority's interactions are all public. Five meetings per year are streamed live. We have taken the approach, almost exclusively, with homicide that it be dealt with in public. I hope those sorts of things give the Deputy assurance. However, I hear the Deputy. Our default is publication. With legal advice, to be quite frank, it did not occur to us that we would publish legal advice. We would almost have to consider that we would not set a precedent for other legal advice.
When the Garda is asked for statistics, it says it does not publish statistics and that one has to go to the Central Statistics Office for them. At the same time, the CSO publishes the crime statistics with a disclaimer that they are under revision.
We have already heard from Ms Hall about very serious crimes that have been misclassified. What is her view on the status of crime statistics? It is incredibly important that if a policing plan is to be put together, it considers the very many elements that are required, including the crime statistics.
Ms Helen Hall:
Absolutely. First of all, even in our very early days, when we first got our functions in 2016, we thought that information and data were incredibly important not only for public policy but also for the oversight of the Garda. This goes back to Deputy Hourigan's earlier questions about indicators and so on. We are responsible for appointments of very senior Garda staff as well as other Garda members. We recommended the appointment of a chief information officer, who has been in place for a number of years.
As for the matter of homicides I was talking to Deputy Carthy about a few moments ago, some of that came to light initially, back in 2016 and 2017, through the classification of homicides as to whether incidents were being appropriately classified and whether that had an impact on the quality of investigations. That was an element of it and it was a very concerning one. We had a deeper concern about the quality of the investigations. The argument is that if a sudden death is not treated as a homicide, will it get the resources it should get in respect of investigation? The matter of homicides was a critical part of and a really important link into the data.
We meet regularly with the CSO. Going back to the Vice Chairman's original question about whether we are concerned about the reservation, I think the Garda has made a significant number of changes and improvements in the past three or four years, particularly on data. It has invested heavily in the Garda information services centre, GISC. It receives the data in Ballina, records the data on PULSE and owns the quality of that, taking some of the burden off gardaí who are out in the middle of the night. They can dial into GISC. That is one area where we want to make sure there are sufficient resources. I think it will take a number of years for that reservation to disappear, but our interaction with the CSO would indicate that it is quite satisfied that the Garda is making good progress in the right direction. Something like the CAD 999 issue last year might push things back a little because there are concerns there about classifications and things not getting on PULSE. If I were sitting in the CSO, that might make me a little wary. I will ask my colleague, Ms Tumelty, to chip in on this. The plan, as I understand it, is that the CSO, before it lifts that reservation, will do a detailed review of quality. Could Ms Tumelty add when that will happen?
Ms Margaret Tumelty:
They have been doing work on that as they have gone along. There is a data quality improvement plan between the Garda and the CSO. As Ms Hall said, the CSO has expressed satisfaction with the pace and the investment the Garda has been making.
As for calls having to go through GISC, it has review teams there now. There have also been merger teams because there was an issue with multiple identities on PULSE. Another key part is the Garda's information technology vision, which is very much not about kit and hardware but about how we deliver information that will allow for information-led policing. The Garda knows its data reach. The difficulty over the years has been the ability to rely on those data, to access those data and to generate the type of reporting that can improve policing. There is a lot within that vision. I refer to the mobility project and the improvement in accuracy achieved through gardaí being able to put fixed charge notices, FCNs, directly into their mobile phones. Data quality comes up across most the big areas we have dealt with.
I have been a regular reader of policing plans over many years. Part of the reason I have been interested in them is that I have looked at the distribution of resources, which of course is the responsibility of the Garda Commissioner. If you do not have a sufficient number of gardaí, you get a reactive type of policing. It has a real impact. There are particular types of crimes that do not show up if road checks and things like that are not being done. I was looking at the ingredients of the policing plans over the years. I looked at them before and after the most recent census of population. We have just taken a new census of population. I do an update every couple of years on the distribution of resources. I raised this with the Garda Commissioner last week. The same pattern keeps on cropping up and has cropped up for the past 15 years, and that is only since I have been looking at this. The pattern is that the areas that are growing rapidly in population consistently have a lower ratio of gardaí to population. It is important then to factor in things such as the reliability of data because population will not be the only metric. There will be crime statistics, but can you rely on the crime statistics? Then the Garda is not detecting some crimes, so the crime statistics are lower than they would otherwise be and you are almost at a kind of revolving disadvantage. Does the Policing Authority address that resourcing issue, or can it address it, with the Garda? Does the authority look at the policing plans? The quality of the public experience was mentioned. The quality of that experience relies on visibility as well as everything else. Having a sufficient number of gardaí is important, but gardaí also have to be safe in their workplace rather than going out to do their jobs on their own as opposed to in pairs. There is the reactive element, safety and so on, but what does the Policing Authority do in interrogating those policing plans in respect of the distribution of gardaí?
Ms Helen Hall:
We have a very direct role in that in respect of, first of all, the adequacy of resources, on which we advise the Minister, but also in respect of effective policing. That people experience is the bottom line of the service, as the Vice Chairman rightly said. I share some of her questions about the distribution but, obviously, that is a matter for the Commissioner. Sometimes you hear local joint policing committees, JPCs, or local councillors say they do not want a reduction in the number of gardaí, but that should be a moving thing because it should be dependent on need, priority and, as the Vice Chairman said, population. That is important. I tend to be an optimist. One of the big things I see as positive is that the Commissioner introduced in late 2019 - it has got a little delayed due to Covid but it is getting back on track - the biggest change in the structure of the Garda since 1922, which is what is called the operating model. That is changing the way the Garda will resource and manage the organisation. Where there were 98 districts which rolled up into 28 divisions, now there will be 19 divisions. Some divisions will cut across two counties. They will have their own resources but it will be on a needs basis. That is looked at. The decisions around those divisions were made based on population, crime and things like youth and socioeconomics. There was a whole decision on that. I think that will help because if a district is run by just a superintendent and the resources are not shared across the division, that becomes a little tricky. That is one positive thing.
I go back to Deputy Hourigan's point about having the data. One of the things we have been concerned about and one of the things we have pressed in our advice to the Minister is that there needs to be significant investment in IT. It is hard sometimes. This is an organisation of 18,000 people, and the Commissioner needs to know at his or her fingertip where people are, what they are doing and what they are assigned to in order that some of those operational decisions can be made and the force is not, as the Vice Chairman said, being reactive but planning ahead, looking at particular areas that have, for example, population explosions and therefore more young people, looking at the risks in that regard and the socioeconomic indicators and saying we need to take gardaí away from certain areas.
Those are hard decisions that will also not be popular politically, but they are necessary at times.
Ms Helen Hall:
It is the Policing Authority's full-time job to look at this issue, and, if nothing else, we are persistent. I assure the Vice Chair that high on the list is the appropriate allocation of resources to ensure it is based on evidence-led and information-led decision-making. Ms Tumelty mentioned this earlier. It is a work in progress, though.
Okay. Several retirements are due at the same time. We talked to the Garda Commissioner about this matter last week. It is not an ideal situation from the perspective of workforce planning or institutional memory, etc. I asked the Garda Commissioner about another aspect where he said he was not seeing a pattern. Anecdotally, however, I am hearing about people retiring before they are due. Additionally, there have been some cases where people have been suspended and they have retired in that period, before their retirement date. Is the Policing Authority examining this aspect?
Ms Helen Hall:
Yes, to some extent. Workforce planning, certainly, is central to the work we do. The running of the senior grade competitions is our responsibility, so we must constantly have an eye on this issue. One of the concerns the Vice Chair might be alluding to is that this time next year seven of the eight current assistant commissioners will no longer be in place. We are very much aware of this issue and a competition is ongoing to fill these posts. Therefore, we are aware of this issue in respect of the competitions we are responsible for. We also approve the numbers of Garda staff and make the senior appointments. If the Vice Chair looks back at some of our reports, she will see that workforce planning has been an issue we have been like a scratched record on. I refer to getting workforce planning details from An Garda Síochána. This subject again goes back to some of the systemic aspects, but progress is being made in this area and we await a current workforce plan.
Concerning things like discipline and suspensions, we do not get involved in the detail of individual cases. We would, however, want to see that such matters are being dealt with appropriately and independently and that they are being appropriately referred to GSOC. We do not want to see themes arising from complaints that might indicate the presence of systemic issues we should be following up on from an organisational oversight perspective. Therefore, we certainly would be cognisant of these matters.
On early retirements, we think this is common and we factor it in. One provision of the contractual arrangements of members of An Garda Síochána is that they can retire after 30 years' service, in contrast to those working in other sectors, and probably rightly so. This means that there are people who could continue to work until they are 60, but who choose to retire at 50 because they can. Personal choice comes into this context, but this arrangement has also always been a feature of the force. Those of us who have friends and family members in the force, or who know gardaí, know that some choose to go and have a different career, while others wish to continue their service up to the maximum permissible age. It is an aspect that must be factored in and it makes Garda workforce planning a little difficult, but no more than any other organisation facing issues with retirement dates.
Regarding suspensions, I have some responses to parliamentary questions on this issue. One of the longest suspensions was for eight years, which seems extraordinarily long. The people suspended have issues in this regard, but, equally, there are also questions here regarding what kind of a process would allow something to go on for that long. It seems like an inordinately long suspension, although there were much shorter suspensions as well. If it is not possible to resolve issues of this kind in a timely way, that screams out to me that there is a problem here.
Ms Helen Hall:
The Policing Authority has an oversight role in this regard, but the system deals with these individual cases. Obviously, I would not even have the information to comment on an individual case. I am concerned as well that something is up here. To be fair, there has been a recognition in the Department of Justice, GSOC and An Garda Síochána that significant work needs to be done and there must be an improvement in this regard. I heard some of the interactions with our GSOC colleagues this morning, when they were talking about this aspect and the new legislation. A change is needed to the disciplinary regulations, and it is something the Department of Justice is considering. This is overdue to simplify the system.
One of the areas we examine, and one of the areas of emphasis for our work this year, concerns what the Garda do. Talking in the broadest terms possible, I refer to any information or third-party recommendations that come to the attention of members of the force and how they would act on them. Deputy Commissioner Coxon is doing some work from the Garda's perspective on how the force can be assured that things are happening fast enough in this context. I refer to something like a complaint or a grievance, and whether that is being handled. I comment on this point because we had concerns, in the context of our clearance processes over the years, that sometimes the handling of internal procedures was inefficient. Much work remains to be done in this area. We want attention to be given to this matter, and we have already discussed with the Garda Commissioner how this aspect can be improved. That said, we would not know sometimes if a person undertakes a judicial review of a process, because that is his or her prerogative, and it can take time. I point that out just to be fair.
Yes, and that is fair enough. It is not always straightforward. Turning to the Policing Authority itself, it is holding another organisation to account. To do that, the Policing Authority's own board must have the authority to do that, and that is why is it important that it is above reproach. Late last year, there was an issue with a board member concerning the handling of a disciplinary issue in Northern Ireland in respect of an individual who had a degree of protection in the workplace and then that protection was removed. Regret was expressed about the handling of that matter at the time. Is that sufficient? Has what happened undermined the Policing Authority? How can that kind of situation be avoided in future? I think it is the Minister who makes the appointments.
Ms Helen Hall:
Yes, it is the Minister. I may not get this completely right, but it is the Minister who makes the recommendations and then the appointments are made by the Government. Ratification by the Houses of the Oireachtas then follows. I certainly do have anything to do with the appointments to the Policing Authority. Equally, the focus of some of the members of the Policing Authority at the time was very much on, and our focus now is on, ensuring appropriate treatment in respect of domestic sexual assault and any matters of that kind. It is front and centre. It would be inappropriate for me to comment on appointments to the Policing Authority. It would also be inappropriate for me to comment on something that went on in another jurisdiction. I do not, however, think it undermined the Policing Authority.
The Policing Authority examines situations where those plans are being put in place again, and not novel or new contexts. What happens in that process or what is the role of the Policing Authority in this regard? What mechanisms and tools does it have in cases where performance targets have not been met and, equally, in those situations where the Policing Authority does not believe the performance targets were appropriate or have proven to be inappropriate?
Ms Helen Hall:
The important thing in respect of the work of the Policing Authority, as I see it, is that the oversight of those performance targets happens in public. It is important that the plan is published.
Then members of the public can see the Commissioner being questioned on the performance, challenges and targets. Anybody who is accountable for performance will know that one may not always get 100% green, but the conversation about what went wrong and having that conversation in public is also important.
As Ms Tumelty mentioned, we do this every year so we learn. For example, if we say we did not do something for a particular reason, we are going to be asked again and there would be a different target, so if that did not work, we could refine that. I would say it is very much a co-creation, and that is important, because the work the Garda does is extremely challenging and difficult. It is about making sure what is signed up to by the Commissioner - it is his public commitment to all of us as to what he is going to do in a year - is agreed as being appropriate. That does happen, there would be a little bit of a discussion on it, and even the fact that discussion happens in public is important.
I hope that the chief executive does not mind me saying but that sounds like an iterative process. If there is a point of conflict where the authority simply does not agree with a performance indicator, has it a mechanism to follow up with the various individuals or the particular policing plan and say more work needs to be done?
Ms Helen Hall:
With the policing plan, essentially we establish the performance targets. If there is a disagreement, we can still establish them, and that has been the case. I know it was something that was discussed the last time we were before the committee a number of years ago. As long as we maintain our independence and, at the end of the day, we are establishing the targets as an authority, you do not really want to impose something, and yet there have been times when we have said something is very woolly. Those discussions happen and there are tough discussions around it. That independence piece is very important and then looking into the so what, as it were. We do a critical assessment twice a year, which is published, and then there are changes to the plan for next year or a challenge as to why something should be remediated and questions relating to that. Is there anything else Ms Tumelty might want to add?
Ms Margaret Tumelty:
There would be many times when there would be a green on some aspect of the policing plan and we would say "No". We would see if that policy is in place, if it has been resourced, if it is actually happening in stations and if that is the experience of people. That is what I talked about a bit earlier. There would be good robust engagement on that. In the Garda annual report, it would report on the progress against the various milestones. Also, in our twice yearly report, we would have quite robust commentary at times as to where failings have been.
What we have also done this year, because we have a statutory obligation to determine the targets, in addition to what is in the policing plan, is to take the policing priorities and put our targets in there because we want the Garda to see this is what we expect. When we say, for example, the first policing priority this year is around protecting and supporting victims when they are vulnerable, we would expect to see at the end of this year increased reporting, increased detections, the recommendations on the child sexual abuse report in place, the maintenance of the service in terms of domestic abuse that was established over the past two years, increased cybercrime capability to address the existing backlog of devices, and consolidation of the divisional protective services unit.
We have been very clear that there are targets in the policing plan to do with public attitudes, measures or crime statistics but we want to see these outcomes. Those targets have been put in with the policing priorities this year to make it very clear it is not just a list of priorities but tangibly this is what we need to see in order for us to say the force has been successful.
Ms Helen Hall:
One of the things we have learned is that in some of the policing plans, such as the ones before our time or even the early policing plans in the life of the authority, there was, for example, an indicator to develop a diversity strategy, but the question would then be whether it had changed anything. We are trying, as best we can, to challenge that so what, as it were. There has been learning on our side as we are a relatively new body, but it is a challenge to the Garda now as well, and Ms Tumelty referred to the fact the Garda, I believe under Deputy Commissioner Coxon and Deputy Commissioner McMahon, is looking at trying to get more towards being outcome-based and dealing with the so what. It is both. One wants to do several things but ultimately it is a question of whether it makes a difference.
In terms of the softer outcomes, such as perception by the public and engagement with the public, especially when we are, I hope, moving into dealing with particular communities or vulnerable groups, if the witnesses are saying there would be a critical analysis of that and checking those outcomes are correct, how do they envisage their organisation will do that? Is it through particular sessions of justice and policing committees, JPCs? How will the authority communicate with people experiencing the policing?
Ms Margaret Tumelty:
We did a lot of that over the past two years and it was a great learning experience for us. In doing the Covid reports over the past two years, we met more than 50 different organisations, which ranged from family resource centres to those representing different minority groups. We met sex workers and commercial entities. We also maintained the relationship, so it was not a one-off talk. We met them a number of times and, by talking to them, we built up relationships and trust. In some cases, for example, we would have had two or three communities where groups of people said they wanted to bring more to the meeting. A number of our board members sat in on those meetings on a few occasions as well.
These are listening exercises. We are not trying to present them as mad scientific things. They are the particular, so we are not trying to make generalisations, but they are still very valid as the particular. If an inner city group tells us what is happening for them, we bring that back. It helps us to have a more informed conversation with Garda management but also to feed back to them and say that while they are saying it is one thing, this is what we heard in this area. There was a good geographic spread. We did not explicitly state at those meetings or within the Covid reports that it was a group from a specific place, so I think that gave people confidence as well. We would have said we met a group representing Travellers, students or migrants, an inner city group, an urban group or a group representing young offenders in a particular area.
Ms Helen Hall:
The engagement Ms Tumelty has talked about is critical. Another area on which we have done a little bit of work is getting research done. We have recently advertised for some research to be done on the way diverse communities experience policing, and I give a little shout out for that.
Ms Helen Hall:
It is in September and the details are on our website. We try to triangulate information and we have done that since the very beginning. As Ms Tumelty said, we have learned during Covid how the particular can lead to a very meaty question, so that it can be said, while there is a diversity strategy, what we are hearing from young people or young black men is as follows. It is very interesting.
What Ms Hall has explained is very much the Policing Authority going out into communities and double-checking that work is being implemented as envisaged. I know, in the short time in which the authority has operated, there has been a discussion around the relationship with Garda representatives. How is that relationship right now? Does that kind of work pose issues? How is that working out?
Ms Helen Hall:
There are a couple of strands to our relationship with the organisation. We have a very direct productive relationship with the Commissioner and his senior team. I have nothing but praise for the access we are given and being able to go wherever we like. Somebody asked a question about unannounced visits and that sort of thing. Certainly in recent times, there has never been a constraint put on the information we get. Sometimes it takes time, and that is frustrating, but in terms of the relationship, I would say it is positive and appropriately robust.
Ms Helen Hall:
It is human nature. The relationship is appropriately robust but yet productive, so I have no cause for complaint in that regard. Sometimes there is an expectation, in relation to the representative bodies, that we are somehow a conduit to the Commissioner. I suppose we have resisted that because we believe the relationship is between the unions and associations and their employer, the Garda Commissioner.
That is not a popular position. We do try, however, and it is funny the way these things happen. Covid taught us a lot. We have done a lot of engagement within the service. For example, when we were going out to assess how people were experiencing policing, we went to checkpoints back in May 2020. I stood at the side of the road myself and we talked to members of the Garda about the fear, about the difficulty of these regulations and about their own personal situations. It was about understanding. Maybe we have not done enough of that. It is something I would like us to do more of in terms of that engagement with the Garda service. We have not been restricted in any way and we have had nothing but positivity from the service throughout. I commend the committee on its comments last week about using the word "service" rather than "force". It has been there since 2005 but it is not a Garda force or a police force. It is a police service. I like that kind of language from the committee. It is very welcome.
I want to pick up on some of the issues the Vice Chairman raised around the turnover of staff. That kind of senior-level turnover can affect business continuity. What role does the authority have in ensuring continuity and a continuity of skill sets?
Ms Helen Hall:
Statutorily, we are the ones who make the appointment, and that is our primary role. We focus as best we can on there being no gaps and I think we have done a very good job of that. For the last five years there have rarely been gaps, whereas in previous times there might have been vacancies for months or years. For example, with regard to the seven assistant commissioners who will be gone, our priority will be to try to get them in place, or at least put a panel together that the Commissioner can have at his disposal. It is about encouraging good workforce planning. A lot of good work is being done but we are not yet there. I can think of a particular example where the Commissioner asked us to do an early appointment to allow for a handover and that kind of continuity. The authority acceded to that even though there were a few months of overlap, because it was important. We try to be as helpful as we can, where it is within our remit.
I have one final question. I thank the Vice Chairman for her leeway. We spoke to GSOC this morning about the new legislation coming through and the expansion of some of its remit. One of the areas of expansion is the inclusion of the laypeople and non-Garda people who work in Garda stations. Will that change the way the Policing Authority operates, or will it have any impact on the work it does?
Ms Helen Hall:
It is something the authority has been in favour of since the beginning. Those who are at the disposal or in the service of the people should be a coherent workforce. It should not matter whether somebody is a sworn Garda member in uniform or a Garda staff member doing analysis, photographing a crime scene or doing tests on things. There has been a huge shift in the Garda in the six years we have been overseeing it and we have encouraged that. It is moving towards the professionalisation of certain areas that could be covered by non-sworn members and it is prioritising that and giving funding and positions to it. There are a now a little over 4,000 Garda staff members. We have several very senior people enrolled in areas like finance, HR, ICT, which were previously garda roles. That is a positive thing, A cultural shift is beginning to happen within the organisation to accept those people as peers. However, it is only beginning; it will take time.
Going back to the operational model, the chief superintendent having a senior person at his or her disposal who will look after all the business services is crucial. They can work together with a superintendent who is involved with all the serious crime across the division, not just silos in each district. It is about having somebody who is looking at the performance and accountability and somebody who is really focused on community policing. That is potentially a game changer and should be encouraged. It is a change. The idea that Garda staff members are not just typing up the notes and making the tea but are sitting peer to peer is a huge cultural change. I know the Commissioner feels this as well. There are policing roles that can be undertaken by Garda staff. Do not tell me a 25-year-old cybercrime expert is not just as much a part of that policing investigation team. The Garda members value that now. It is about that mingling. We have a role in that workforce mix, in encouraging diversity and having the right people in the right places.
The one thing the public, and the committee as Oireachtas Members, can do is not to automatically say they want more gardaí in the street. A lot of crime now comes into private spaces. It comes in behind closed doors in the form of violence, child sexual abuse happening online or elder abuse happening online. Having a garda walking down the street may not solve that. It may be somebody sitting behind a computer with the right skills. As a public we need to be careful and acknowledge that. The committee should not get me wrong; there is an element of visibility making people feel safer. That is also important but that is not the only thing and it is not always about more boots on the street. It might actually be better to invest in the ICT that could save time so that when those boots are on the street, they are much more effective.
The Garda has made considerable progress with the mobility devices it has put into the hands of members but it is not just a question of handing someone a phone. It is a question of the ICT and the stuff behind that, which costs money. Our latest resource advice to the Minister related to this issue. We sent a second letter in 2021, so seized was the authority of the matter of investment in ICT. It is critical. It needs to be ring-fenced, invested in and prioritised above all else. I have no doubt it is a hard political decision to say we will not bring in 800 gardaí this year but will bring in 600 and use the extra 200 worth of money to do something else. These are hard decisions that will need to be made. That non-visible policing has to happen if we are going to keep pace with the crime that is actually happening behind closed doors.
I will just come back in on a few things. On the 14% of emergency calls that were not responded to, were the automatic recordings preserved? Was the Policing Authority able to listen to those?
Ms Helen Hall:
This is the second phase that I alluded to when I was talking to Deputy Carthy earlier. There were some legal impediments to Mr. Penman listening to those calls. That fact is in the public domain. We have said this already. We are hopeful now that that will happen towards the end of May. That is the second phase and that will happen. The Garda is very positive about allowing that to happen. We are positive that is should happen but there are some steps that need to be taken. A lot of that hinges on data protection and assuring the privacy of the individuals that one might be listening to. That will happen but it has not happened yet.
Ms Helen Hall:
It is essential. It is one thing to remember when members are thinking about the new legislation. It will be critical to make sure the new policing and community safety authority, PCSA, is beyond doubt in terms of what information and data can be accessed by it. This has been a big issue across 2020 and 2021 and it still endures, in terms of our oversight.. I have concerns about the 200,000 cancelled calls, which I expressed that earlier, and there is still more work to be done there. However, it is important to clarify that it is not that the 999 calls were cancelled or knocked off. When a call comes in, a computer-aided dispatch, CAD, incident needs to be created. Some 200,000 of those were cancelled. That will often happen and there are perfectly valid reasons for cancellation.
For example, if five of us see a road traffic accident and we dial in, there will then be five CAD incidences. It would be appropriate to delete four of those and have just one so that double-counting does not take place. That being said, the bigger concern is around where there is a domestic violence call that should have had a response. I am not diminishing the issue but I am just saying that in respect of the numbers, there were still a great number of them that should not been cancelled.
Absolutely. It takes courage to make such a call. It used to be the case that people would not come to a public representatives with issues of domestic or sexual violence but that is not the case anymore. People will come forward. Very often, they lack confidence and not having confidence in a service that is responding has really doubled down on-----
Ms Helen Hall:
I wonder about the adverse impact that appeared in Mr. Penman’s report. He talked about this and Deputy Carthy or perhaps Deputy Hourigan talked about the 100-plus cases that were criminal matters. I have a concern that goes back to what the Vice Chairman has just said, which is that if I have taken the courage to ring and I do not get a response or feel I have got one, will I ring again? That is an adverse impact, which is just as serious as it not being recorded as a crime.
Ms Helen Hall:
It can also impact on court appearances. If one does not have, for example, those four calls to the Garda about this incident and this particular premises, it may make it more difficult to get a protection or a barring order or anything else. It is not just necessarily about the crime that has been committed. One of the things that we are encouraging An Garda Síochána to do is on that adverse impact, which is wider than just the prosecution. It is about the follow-up, as the Vice Chairman has correctly said, but is also whether the person would be happy to call the Garda again, if that person had already managed to pluck up the courage to dial 999.
Another residual concern on this is that many people in rural areas do not dial 999 but dial their local Garda station. That is one of the challenges for An Garda in that we may not know, as the Garda stations are not linked into the CAD 999 service. That is another risk that we know the Commissioner is looking at and is trying to resolve in a way that will reduce the incidents where somebody dials into their local Garda station and it is not then recorded. A great deal of work has to be done on our side and on the Garda side in that regard.
Ms Hall expects then more work to be done in the not-too-distant future, hopefully. We will take a note of that point in respect of the legislation because we are likely to be making a report on this and that kind of detail is of value.
On the legislation, we have seen at the committee over the years mergers and amalgamations and very often systems do not talk to each other. Mergers are more complicated than anticipated, sometimes, and the preparation for it is not there. What work is going on at the moment before that merger that would make it work more smoothly? There is obviously some degree of overlap, in any event, and the last thing that we need is duplication and a lack of boundaries as to who does what. Has the authority identified such issues?
Ms Helen Hall:
As I said in the opening remarks, we welcome the merger of the authority and the Garda Síochána Inspectorate to become the new policing and community safety oversight authority. From the beginning when the Commission on the Future of Policing made its report in 2018, and it was one of the things it noted. To be fair, it was an issue we had been trying to do in any event, and we decided that on an administrative basis that there would be plenty of scope for us and the inspectorate to work closely, without needing to have legislation in place. Myself and the chief inspector, Mark Toland, have been working closely together over the past number of years.
I will give the committee examples of such work as in anti-corruption, where the inspectorate would have done the report, would have kept us informed of what it was, and we would have then been pressing the Garda on implementation, would have had a public meeting on that, and would have received briefings from the Commissioner. There has been a great deal of close working. We have taken some of the reports, such as the report on child sexual abuse, and I will defer to Ms Tumelty on that, where we have worked quite closely with the inspectorate. The recent custody report that was published by the Garda Síochána Inspectorate was taken at our meeting last week. That work is a first step.
The second and more practical step is that the inspectorate is an office of the Department of Justice and the authority has been set up as an independent agency with its own Vote. Myself and the chief inspector have already recognised that there will be some easy ways to do a merger in respect of this aspect. We will start the talks and I am aware that the Department is leading out on that this year in looking at a stream of the things that are needed so that we are ready for much of it. When we were developed in 2015–16, much of the legwork was done in creating an agency and in having just the basics such as having the lights on, an office, and all the financial statements. We have started conversations on those issues but it is more important to look at ways in which we can work together in respect of the staff of both agencies.
One of the positives is that we are both relatively small agencies. Our staff number is 39 in total and the inspectorate has ten to 12 staff. The organisations are not very big and I hope that that will make it a little bit easier. Talking to people and planning for that is ongoing and is top of our business planning for this year.
Ms Helen Hall:
We understand that the legislation will be published and will be going through the Oireachtas, where there were hopes that this might happen before the summer but it looks like it might be the autumn now and I cannot cite anything more accurate than that. We understand that the commencement will be in the middle of next year or on 1 January 2024. That is the timeline that we are working to and we are trying to get many of our ducks in a row this year so that we are ready. We are trying to work together more closely and the chief inspector and myself meet almost weekly, which is very positive.
This is a left field question in a small way, but in the anti-corruption, I am quite critical of how fragmented it has been over the years where, for example, white-collar crime has not been treated as seriously as it requires to be. We have the Office of the Director of Corporate Enforcement, ODCE, for example, which will become new agency, the Corporate Enforcement Authority, CEA. There are members of the Garda embedded there and there is a memorandum of understanding to position members of the Garda within the new authority. There has been a great deal of criticism from the ODCE in respect of the non-provision of members of the Garda and delays in respect of inquiries, and so forth. This is an area of policing but it does not have the same kind of oversight. Should that area come under or is it even one that is considered to come in under the remit of the body such as the Policing Authority?
Ms Helen Hall:
There are two aspects to this. As I understand this, and I will not comment on another agency, but the CEA will be about corporate crime and company law. It has Garda members on secondment to the authority but they work under the director of corporate enforcement. I understand that the interaction mentioned is about getting sufficient Garda members and having them there, which is one piece of this issue.
There are also the areas, which are directly under our oversight, of serious crime, fraud, economic crime and cyber crime. There is also the review carried out by Mr. Justice Hamilton, which is something that we are also overseeing. I will go back to something that I said a little earlier, which is this is very much a case in point of having the right technical and professional resources at the disposal of the Garda Commissioner. One might actually want forensic accountants rather than gardaí in uniform for something like that, or, again, to go back to those ICT specialists. That sort of crime is quite complex. There will be a pass-over between the CEA and something that then comes into An Garda Síochána, but there is a line for that there, which is the economic crime, the fraud, and the elder abuse which the committee has discussed earlier is financial crime and is directly within the remit of An Garda Síochána. It has its own resources. Is there enough of these? The answer from the Hamilton review is "No, not yet", and that is something that there has to be a plan for. Part of the workforce planning is getting the right skills in there to support both investigation and prosecution.
Is that helpful?
Absolutely. It is just that when I look at the people who robbed the banks from the inside and the damage that was done to society and our ability to deliver services, with huge national debt, etc., it is quite obvious that this is an area we have not-----
My apologies for not being able to join earlier. Forgive me if I go over areas that have already been covered. I was caught on some other issues during the day. I thank Ms Hall for her presentation, which I have read.
I compliment the Garda on the work that has been done from 2020 onwards in dealing with the issue of Covid and the way in which it worked with local communities in providing help and support, especially to people living on their own. It was an extremely important contribution. The Garda also worked with other people, getting them to assist as well. As for the issue of policing and the work of the Garda, I wonder about community involvement. I have seen it in my area. I do not live that far from University College Cork, and there is very good co-operation between the local community and local gardaí. However, in areas where we have a high level of drug use and where cocaine and other drugs are now more prevalent - I suppose that applies everywhere but it is higher in some areas than in others - do the witnesses think a lot more could be done to have more gardaí at street level than is currently the case? Do we need to focus a bit more on policy and getting more gardaí to areas where that is prevalent? It is about getting gardaí more involved with the community and working to resolve those issues.
The other issue I want to deal with is the challenge we face of having a growing elderly population and how we can change mechanisms. I know it is not the responsibility of the Garda to provide the level of support it provided during Covid, and it went way beyond its call of duty in that regard. It is about getting more co-ordination between the relevant State authorities, including the Garda, in dealing with issues like this. Has that been looked at? Have we looked at other jurisdictions in respect of that issue?
Ms Helen Hall:
I will start. I may ask my colleague, Ms Tumelty, to chip in as well. I could not agree more with the Deputy that the idea of multi-agency co-operation is key. I echo what he has said, and other Deputies have said the same. The job the Garda Síochána does for us in the middle of the night, in very difficult circumstances, is not to be underestimated. Sometimes gardaí deal with issues of addiction and mental ill health in the middle of the night. They are the ones left trying to deal with that. The new legislation is predicated on community safety. It is in the Bill. The new policing and community safety authority will have a role in overseeing that. One question I have about the Bill is whether it goes far enough in delivering on the ambition of the Commission on the Future of Policing in Ireland, which was about requiring real inter-agency co-operation, working in inter-agency teams, but also that there would be money for that in order that it becomes real at a community level. That is one potential for the future.
We have spent quite a bit of time on drugs policing in respect of oversight because we hear about that from communities suffering from the effect of dealers on the streets they are living on, with their children not being able to go out safely. That feeling is not just a feeling of a lack of safety; they are not actually safe, and there is a sense and a concern that the Garda cannot resolve that for them. There have been a lot of discussions with the Commissioner and his team about the fact that the Garda has made very good inroads at a very senior level in cracking organised crime gangs, but does that make a difference to the communities on a day-to-day basis? One of the strategies the Garda has is to try to look at that. The other thing that is important is the new emphasis on community policing. That is a really important part and should not be considered a softer end of policing. The Commissioner and the team are giving a new emphasis, and that is something we will be pressing for and encouraging. There are things in the policing plan to ensure that that happens apace.
As for rural crime and people feeling safe, we have joint policing committees and there are some pilots out there for what will happen under the new legislation. They are the community safety partnerships. It is a matter of making sure that the initiatives that come from those community safety partnerships, or indeed the joint policing committees, truly come from the needs of the community and that they can see that as a way for them to be able to hold not just the gardaí but also perhaps the local authorities or the local health service to account, looking at how, as a public or a community, we can encourage and engage the multidisciplinary piece.
I do not know if Ms Tumelty wishes to add anything.
Ms Margaret Tumelty:
I will just echo what the Deputy said about the experience of policing during Covid for an awful lot of communities. We talk about Garda visibility; they talked about Garda presence. Very often, having large numbers of gardaí does not actually guarantee a sense of presence of gardaí in one's community. I remember one conversation in an inner-city area outside of Dublin. The person talked about how the Garda station was within 100 yards but many of the gardaí had never come into their community unless it was for enforcement reasons. The person said that to have the gardaí interacting with them on a positive basis was a very new thing and something they relished. There is also the tone of policing. We heard phrases such as "Community policing got back to where it should have been". The operating model will be important in that regard and for the community hubs. The community policing framework is being rolled out at the moment. Our emphasis in overseeing that is that it cannot be just an allocation-of-numbers job; it must be asked whether presence is being delivered for communities.
As for drugs, we have heard very strongly from communities that they know that work is going on where there are large hauls of cash, guns and drugs but that this is not impacting their existence from Monday to Friday or from Monday to Sunday in their communities. This year the Garda located drugs policing not in the section of the plan that typically deals with organised crime but in the community. It is interesting that this can be seen as a small administrative thing or something that actually has meaning. We have had a great deal of engagement with the Garda Commissioner and his team over the years on the need for the drugs policing side to look at the impact on communities. We were hearing very strongly that, in respect of the type of policing, the emphasis on guns and tonnes, which is a phrase we have heard, was not necessarily delivering impact for people in terms of their fears about drugs and intimidation of their kids. We heard from those communities that what we need is good, solid community policing, that gardaí need to be in the community, not just for enforcement, and that they are needed to develop relationships with the young people.
To come to Deputy Burke's point about multi-agency work, that affects not only drugs policing but also elder care. What has come across strongly from our talking to the organisations that work with the elderly is that the gardaí are very often the first people to encounter the vulnerability and have the job of trying to discern where there is risk but that, after that point, there needs to be that multi-agency working and that safeguarding in respect of elderly abuse. During Covid, we heard of people signing over permission to their relatives to collect their pensions. Was that ever signed back? Where was the safeguarding in that regard? The Garda cannot do everything. That is where the multi-agency competence and capability have to come in. The community safety partnerships offer a way of doing that, but it is also a matter of that development of multi-agency working at a local level.
I will go back to the multi-agency approach. I was involved in a project in Blackpool, Cork, with the local gardaí. This is going back 15 or 18 years, when local gardaí worked very closely with the community, such as, for example, in respect of instances where young people dropped out of school.
When we did a survey of the people who had come through the training schemes there, we found that 70% of them were in full-time employment five years later. It was the gardaí who initially started it in getting them into the programme. The people might have committed a minor offence and the gardaí could have taken them through the court the system or try to put them through the centre. Putting them through the centre was a far more effective way of getting the young people back onto the system so that they could earn a living for themselves. I am wondering whether we are doing enough of that especially for young people who, for some reason or other, do not fit in to the educational system and end up on the street, starting illegal activity. Should we be doing more on that? In my area, the gardaí are doing a huge amount of work and I wonder if we are doing enough in other areas in that regard.
Ms Helen Hall:
It is a critical issue. We would have seen it in our own work in overseeing the youth diversion programme, where there were some difficulties with there not being a consistent referral of people, and the importance of diverting people into precisely what Deputy Burke is talking about. Sometimes we hear from the gardaí and communities that it actually needs to go further and extend to primary school children in some areas because the organised crime gangs are becoming more directed at and are targeting younger children, particularly those who cannot be prosecuted, to do some of their running. Children need to be diverted and I would say that the gardaí are doing an immense amount of work.
During Covid some of the youth services closed, which in a way is a learning. In the second phase of Covid lockdown, they were considered more of an essential piece because there were some children who were not getting into those sort of programmes. They were stuck at home in situations where they should not have been. That is where I see the ambition of the new Bill in terms of community safety and trying to get people much further upstream. Why is someone in the court now? Is it something that could have been addressed by investment in education or investment in the poverty situation he or she is in? It is a complex issue but if agencies work together they could support children who are quite young and divert them into education before they ever get near that, or support a family so that they do not live in poverty. Much more is involved.
The gardaí are picking up the impact of some of the societal pieces downstream. Going back to the Bill, the multi-agency piece could be a very significant change. Personally, I do not believe it fulfils the ambition for community safety that was envisaged by the Commission on the Future of Policing but - going back to me being an optimist - I believe it will help. When looking at the Bill, it is something to keep an eye on. Is that powerful enough to make the sort of changes the Deputy is suggesting?
The other issue that needs to be taken into account is the cost issue. For instance, when I was chair of the board, I remember having to spend a lot of money that I did not have and being rapped on the knuckles for spending it. It was costing us approximately £600,000 at the time to provide services for about 50 young people. If four of them were in custody, that £600,000 would be spent to keep them in custody over a 12-month period. Sometimes we do not measure that, whereas we were looking after the 50 young people. I am not sure whether we have grasped that issue yet, especially for young people who have dropped out of the system. We might be better off spending much more money at an earlier stage to make sure they can be accommodated-----
Ms Helen Hall:
If one does not have that multi-agency approach, the budgeting piece that comes across and that information, it is quite difficult to say to somebody "you need to give up your money in order for that person to get an intervention earlier". The legislation will be important there to have the true multi-agency piece. The Deputy is right. One can save when looking at the cost of probation services, prison services and court services. If they are measured against an investment at preschool, it would be a no-brainer in terms of cost benefit.
I am conscious we did not have a break and that the witnesses have been here for quite a while. I thank them for joining us and the staff of the Policing Authority for the work involved in preparing for the meeting. I also thank the Comptroller and Auditor General and his staff for attending and assisting the committee. Is it agreed that we request the clerk to the committee to seek any follow-up information and carry out actions agreed at the meeting? Agreed. Is it agreed that we note and publish the opening statements and the briefing provided for today's meeting? Agreed. We will go into private session before adjourning until 28 April, when we will examine the appropriation accounts with the Department of Justice and the Prison Service.