Dáil debates

Tuesday, 21 October 2014

Garda Síochána (Amendment) (No. 3) Bill 2014: Second Stage


7:40 pm

Photo of Finian McGrathFinian McGrath (Dublin North Central, Independent) | Oireachtas source

I thank the Leas-Cheann Comhairle for the opportunity of speaking on this new piece of legislation, the Garda Síochána (Amendment) (No. 3) Bill 2014. I welcome the Bill and the debate. More importantly, I acknowledge the urgent need for reform and radical change in the justice system. This is part of a boarder jigsaw, but we need action and an end to all of the talk that has gone on over the past six or seven months.

In recent months, we have seen the former Minister for Justice and Equality go, we have seen the Garda Commissioner go and we have seen the Secretary General move sideways. This all went on while people were being attacked and slaughtered and shot on the streets in a wave of violent gun crime and at times, I felt that the Members in here were distracted from a lot of the real issues in the communities. We have seen trust damaged and the people suffer and live with the consequences. The people of the poor areas suffer more than the rest of society and the rest of society and the establishment merely looks the other way. It is important that we deal with these important issues in this legislation.

Tonight I want to be a different voice. I want to be a voice for radical change, a voice for reform, a voice for good-quality policing and, above all, a voice for a new Garda policing service. That is the way forward, that is the future and that is the direction that we have to go.

We also need a bit of good old-fashioned community policing where the garda knows the person and the person knows him or her. Some will mock that view in the Ireland of 2014, but it is still relevant today, and the Minister and the Government need to wake up to that fact. A good garda does not deserve the respect of the community; he or she will earn it. Good old-fashioned public service is the way forward. When we look at this legislation, that is what we must think of constantly.

The Bill seeks to expand the powers of the Garda Síochána Ombudsman Commission, GSOC. This includes surveillance powers for criminal investigations and allowing GSOC to investigate the Garda Commissioner - with the consent of the Minister for Justice and Equality. The Bill also provides for GSOC to instigate examinations of Garda practices and procedures and the Garda Inspectorate to initiate inspections without the prior approval of the Minister of Justice and Equality. That is the detail of the Bill and that is why I am supporting it.

When dealing with this legislation, it is important to look at broader issues as well. At times, within the Bill it is also important to look at other options and go a little further.

It has been argued that moves in democratic countries towards greater civilian oversight of the police can be attributed to beliefs that internal mechanisms may be biased. Public demand for civilian oversight has acquired an edge because of the widely held perception that police superiors tend to protect their subordinates. The United Nations Office for Drugs and Crime has identified the key features of successful police oversight police systems. These include powers such as those provided for in the Bill. I emphasise that we need oversight, accountability and good-quality policing, and any democratic society will look seriously at this.

We can learn from commissions of the pasts. In recent years, there was the Patten Commission report on policing in Northern Ireland. It identified two aspects of police accountability – "subordinate or obedient" and "explanatory and cooperative" – which were explained as follows. In a democracy, policing, in order to be effective, must be based on consent across the community. The community recognises the legitimacy of the policing task, confers authority on police personnel in carrying out their role in policing and actively supports them. Consent is not unconditional, but depends on proper accountability, and the police should be accountable in two senses – the "subordinate or obedient" sense and the "explanatory and cooperative" sense. In the subordinate sense, police are employed by the community to provide a service and the community should have the means to ensure that it gets the service it needs and that its money is spent wisely. Police are also subordinate to the law, just as other citizens are subordinate to the law, and there should be robust arrangements to ensure that this is so, and seen to be so. In the explanatory and co-operative sense, public and police must communicate with each other and work in partnership, both to maintain trust between them and to ensure effective policing, because policing is not a task for the police alone. These relevant points arose in the Patten report. In the broader debate, it is important that we highlight these issues as well.

I also speak as a member of the Oireachtas Joint Committee on Justice, Defence and Equality. The committee conducted a review of effectiveness of the 2005 Act and considered submissions on the potential reform of the present oversight mechanisms. A lot of hard work was done. I welcome the fact that the Chairman of the committee, Deputy Stanton, is here tonight to listen and participate in the debate because the oversight of the Garda Síochána is an important issue and the measure is an important legislative measure.

During the committee's hearings, there were many excellent oral submissions from human rights groups, Travellers' groups, the Garda Síochána, the Bar Council, members of the public and journalists. They all made a significant contribution. It is important that we heard the voices of those who are directly affected by this piece of legislation. I would mention Ms Brigid Quilligan and Mr. Damien Walshe from the Irish Traveller Movement who made an excellent submission on policing and dealing with minority communities. It is important to highlight that the poorer and marginalised sections of society must be listened to when one is drafting legislation. In this debate, I want to represent their views tonight as well.

An Garda Síochána has been the police force in Ireland since the foundation of the State. The force has enjoyed good levels of support and public confidence. It was set up without any external scrutiny beyond the Department. That has been the case, but recently that trust has been damaged. We need to win back that trust and the community needs to see that we act on these issues.

The lack of oversight continued up to 1984 when a complaints board was established. The board was termed "independent", although it comprised the Garda Commissioner, or his nominee and Government appointed members.


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