Thursday, 23 June 2005
Garda Síochána Bill 2004 [Seanad]: Report Stage (Resumed) and Final Stage.
Michael McDowell (Dublin South East, Progressive Democrats)
——and receive the stock answer in reply that it was a matter for the RTE authority and that one should not ask the Minister about it since he does not employ or manage those people who are independent and supposed to be discharging their functions separately from the Government. Deputies should not ask the Minister why some journalist, commentator or presenter is biased or being overpaid since that is a matter for the RTE authority. That is what happens when we establish bodies not subject to ministerial authority and accountability.
The fundamental intellectual flaw that the Members opposite have continually exhibited in this debate is a radical inability to distinguish between operational independence, which we all accord to the Garda Síochána — when its members carry out their duties, they are supposed to do it themselves — and accountability. The two are not mutually exclusive.
One can say to the Commissioner, his deputy and assistant commissioners and the entire pyramid of authority in the Garda Síochána down to the men and women who serve as gardaí that they are operationally independent as a force. The Minister will not tell them from day to day where they should deploy their forces, how they should enforce the speed limit, whether they should put people out on shifts at 3 a.m. or work three equal eight-hour shifts. One can say all those things by endorsing the principle of operational independence and saying to the Commissioner of the Garda Síochána that he is Accounting Officer and that he should take part in value-for-money discussions with the Committee of Public Accounts to justify what he is doing with the resources deployed in the force. One can say all those things but certainly one cannot say that the Garda Síochána should be an unaccountable force.
People keep arguing that if there were an independent police authority, the Garda would be accountable to it. However, let us consider what there is in Northern Ireland where the police authority consists of two groups of people married together. On the one hand, there are the great and the good selected by the Northern Ireland Office and, on the other, there is a group of politicians chosen on the d'Hondt principle. That amalgamated body runs the Police Service of Northern Ireland.
Imagine if we had that here, if the Government selected eight people and Members of the Oireachtas had some kind of mini-Seanad election and selected the remainder. What accountability would I have if such a group were running the Garda Síochána? What criticism could be made of me for the state of management or otherwise of the Garda Síochána if such a wonderful group were put in charge of our police? How would I be to blame if the rate of arrests or detections declined? What would the Deputy say to me as Minister for Justice, Equality and Law Reform about the state of the police if such a group existed and ran the Garda Síochána from day to day, demanding accountability from the Commissioner? It simply does not add up. Frankly, the more that I think about it, the more that one thing in this debate——