Thursday, 19 May 2022
Garda Síochána (Compensation) Bill 2021 [Seanad]: Second Stage (Resumed)
I am glad to have the opportunity to speak to this legislation because it is at least 15 years since I first raised the necessity for it in the House. Many moons have gone by since, as they say, but the necessity remained constant. My concern arises from meeting members of An Garda Síochána over the years, many of whom had ongoing and outstanding issues in this regard and were concerned that there seemed to be no resolution. I thank in particular the current Minister for bringing forward the current legislation, resolving any outstanding matters and setting up structures to give protection to An Garda Síochána that any police force needs and expects for many reasons.
We live in an increasingly violent society and members of the police in every country are coming under greater pressure. They are in danger of attack, of losing limbs and of being incapacitated in a serious way, and this needs to be compensated for. We have waited a long time for the legislation to come into being but that does not remove in any way the necessity for its existence.
Let us consider the reason for the Bill. The membership of An Garda Síochána have families, responsibilities, mortgages and ongoing and preset calls on their salaries. As they have no control over that, when something happens that prevents them from working or reduces the degree to which they can work, there is a need to recognise it. There is also a need to put in place legislation to cater for this. There is a need for the protection of those people in the public sector whose well-being and sometimes their lives, as we have seen, have been in danger from their efforts in the workplace. This legislation is therefore in response to ever-increasing demands. I hope it will make a serious impact.
I have said already we live in an increasingly violent society. Every town and city in this country is subject to the ravages of drugs. To deal with that, the police force must be able to interact with people on a regular basis and they should not have to put their lives or limbs at risk when intervening. That is the way it has been and it is the way it continues. In order to tackle that aspect of crime - the drugs problem - there is a need for a clear indication on the part of the State that it will support the forces of law and order that carry out such work on its behalf.
For example, one can scarcely walk in any direction in the evening or at night in this city without being accosted by people under the influence of drugs. It is a sad event and it should not happen but it does. The members of the public who are concerned about this bring it to our attention on a regular basis. We must also recognise that the members of An Garda Síochána who are expected to interact with people and prevent incidents are at risk as well. The police force itself is at risk. In any country where this happens, special measures have had to be taken. I hope that with this legislation, we ensure members of An Garda Síochána injured in any way during the course of carrying out their functions get recompense quickly. It is important. Once the legislation passes its provisions should come into operation quickly and do the job for which they are intended.
Going further, the ever-increasing problem of drugs and drug violence can be seen by everybody. It is committed against women by men and women. It is committed by young and old. It used to be a pleasure to walk in the streets anywhere in the capital city but now one is accosted by people either promoting their drugs or looking for new supplies of drugs. That cannot continue and it must be challenged. Our society is at risk as a result of this activity and it cannot be properly challenged unless we properly pay gardaí and prevent incidents where members of An Garda Síochána, our police force, are accosted, endangered or injured.
In another branch of the Defence Forces, there is a position I cannot and will never understand. A member injured in the course of duty may find his or her pension reconstructed in such a way as for the State to take back any award that the member may have received because of injury. That is an appalling process but it has operated here for years in another branch of the Defence Forces, which I will deal with in due course again. This is an attempt by the State to second-guess the Judiciary, which would have made an award ten, 15 or 20 years ago, for example. The idea is that the award should not have been made at all, or otherwise why would the State recall it and bring it back to the system, thereby penalising the person concerned? It is an absolute disgrace but I will say more about it at a different time.
There has been a delay with this legislation, which has been unacceptable. Better late than never. I hope sincerely that it will proceed with full speed through the different Stages of the House and will ensure An Garda Síochána can be alert to the fact that somebody, somewhere, cares about this, and that the Houses of the Oireachtas cares, as should be the case. It should tilt the situation in favour of those who are trying to enforce the law.
I refer again to the drugs problem, which everybody knows is getting worse because there is an adequate supply of drugs. If the supply was not there, we would not see such a problem. There are those who say we must have methadone, and I agree with such treatment. The purpose of it, however, is to wean the potential drug addict away from drugs and reduce dependency gradually. I am afraid it does not work in all cases and we are spending money trying to do something that cannot be done. It merely perpetuates the hunger for a particular drug. There are those who say there are some minor drugs and who believe that everybody should have the right to use them for personal use. Every one of them, however, is a gateway drug. All the experts will eventually tell us that, when challenged. Nevertheless, we might continue trying to convince ourselves that it is not true and they are good for people because they relieve anxiety. They will but they will give one hell of a headache further down the road. That is a fact. Medical experts tell us unequivocally that gateway drugs have hallucinogenic effects and side-effects, with a person's health in danger at a later stage. We must take account of that advice and, as a result, we must make the work of An Garda Síochána easier. In our legislation, we must indicate clearly that helping out drug barons is not part of our agenda. We are helping them out if we are ensuring there is a ready supply of drugs on the street and it should not be that way. There is no compelling reason for that. Trying to countenance something like that at any level is wrong and would be detrimental to our society.
We must come down on one side or the other and we are either for or against it. There are those who maintain we should continue as we are, half-heartedly, like Lanna Machree's dog, going a bit of the way with one and a bit with the other, going nowhere in particular. We must be clear about this. In order to be fair to An Garda Síochána, we must interrupt the supply of drugs in a meaningful way. In this regard, I compliment the activities of the past couple of months, when international police forces and governments have come together and made a fair attempt in a short space of time at cutting off supply and preventing growth or expansion in drug barons' industry.
To those who say we will never succeed and that it is not a possibility in any event, this is simply not true. It is necessary to do the work that has to be done as quickly as possible to ensure we prevent, as well as accost in whatever way possible, whenever possible and at every opportunity.
This is important legislation. I hope it will deal adequately with the issue involved, which is the ongoing disquiet among members of the Garda at the delay involved in introducing the legislation. This disquiet is obvious. If something has been going on for ten, 15 or 20 years and it is still on the agenda but not operable there is something wrong. We should not allow ourselves to be lulled into this type of situation. The reason I believe we have been lulled into it is that concentration was elsewhere. We have done everything else. We now have to deal with the issues of the police force and the job it has to do in very difficult and life-threatening circumstances on a regular basis. I pay tribute to those members of the force who paid the ultimate price of their lives in carrying out their ordinary work.
Any family with a member in the Garda Síochána will appreciate the fact that everyone, whether they are parents, sons, daughters or whatever they may be, has a private life. They have a rightful expectation to be properly protected and, in the event of protection not being enough, compensated. I do not want to detain the House any longer than necessary other than to say that I welcome the legislation. I hope it goes through the House as quickly as possible. I compliment the Minister and the Department for bringing it forward. I hope it will be part and parcel of what appears to be international awareness of the necessity to tackle the various issues I have referred to, particularly the drugs issue.