Thursday, 10 February 2005
Garda Síochána Bill 2004 [Seanad]: Second Stage.
I move: "That the Bill be now read a Second Time."
I am pleased to have the opportunity to open this debate on the Garda Síochána Bill 2004. As I stated previously, it contains the most important legislative proposals on policing ever to come before the Houses of the Oireachtas. The Bill is comprehensive in that it will replace, with only a couple of exceptions, all of the Garda Síochána Acts dating back to 1924. It will act as a modern constitution for a modern and even more professional police force at the beginning of a new century.
Since I decided to publish the general scheme of the Bill with detailed explanatory notes in July 2003, I have been receptive to the comments and observations of interested parties and the public in general on the Bill's provisions. Submissions were invited on the general scheme and approximately 15 individuals and bodies took the opportunity to correspond on the Bill. In September 2003, I participated in a meeting of the Oireachtas Joint Committee on Justice, Equality, Defence and Women's Rights to discuss the draft proposals and hear the views of committee members. Consultations continue with Garda management and the Garda associations. I am grateful to everyone who expressed views on the original proposals, including the Human Rights Commission which raised several points but broadly welcomed the Bill. This input contributed to my deliberations since the original proposals were published and the Bill reflects my Department's detailed consideration of every view conveyed to it.
I remain receptive to suggestions from Deputies that may further improve the Bill, which aims to support the efficient and effective operation and administration of a 21st century police force; promote a good relationship between the Garda Síochána, Government and the Oireachtas; provide appropriate independent inspection and complaints investigation mechanisms; and command and maintain the confidence and respect of the public and members of the Garda Síochána in equal measure.
The Bill was introduced in the Seanad in February 2003 where there were full, lengthy and robust exchanges during the three Second Stage sittings on 2, 4, and 11 March 2004, and the six sittings on Committee Stage on 7, 8, 9, 10, 14 and 15 December 2004. Overall, the Bill was well received and the changes made as it progressed through the Seanad have sharpened its focus in some areas.
In the time allowed and given the extent of the Bill I can provide only an overview of some of its main provisions, highlighting key aspects as I go. I will be interested to hear the initial views of Deputies.
Most of the changes made in the Seanad were technical and do not warrant significant attention in this House. The key amendments however concern sections 31 and 32, dealing with the establishment and composition of joint policing committees with local authorities, and sections 105-112 where a new Part 5 was inserted to provide for the establishment of a Garda Síochána inspectorate.
The Bill as initiated has two main objectives. One is to reform the legislative structure under which the Garda Síochána is managed. This involves clarifying the role and objectives of the force and redefining its relationship with the Minister, the Government and the Oireachtas. It also provides for a new mechanism to deal with complaints by members of the public against members of the Garda Síochána.
Both objectives aim to meet key commitments in the programme for Government. I tabled an amendment on Committee Stage in the Seanad to provide a third objective for the Bill, namely, the establishment of an independent Garda Síochána inspectorate which will provide independent advice to the Minister in respect of the efficiency and effectiveness of the operations and administration of the Garda Síochána.
During the debates in the Seanad there were references to the policing function in the United Kingdom and the establishment of the Office of the Police Ombudsman in Northern Ireland. Circumstances here are quite different from those in the United Kingdom and in many other jurisdictions. In countries where there are several separate police forces, different structures are required from those in countries such as Ireland where there is a single, national police force. In the United Kingdom, for example, there are 43 regional police constabularies and several related but separate national law enforcement agencies, including the intelligence and security services, colloquially known as MI5 and MI6.
Here, the Garda Síochána is responsible for all policing matters and the intelligence and security functions relating to the security of the State. The structures as proposed in the Bill reflect this and are designed to meet our policing and security needs. Police complaints system models were examined in several jurisdictions, not just Northern Ireland, as a basis for the proposals in the Bill. We have learnt from and adapted the experience elsewhere to our needs and circumstances in the Bill.
The proposals in Part 2 of the Bill reflect the outcome of the review of the Garda Síochána carried out under the Government's strategic management initiative which set down some fundamental principles namely, the roles and functions of the Minister and the Garda Síochána should be clear; the management of the force should be responsible for operations, including finances; and the level of democratic accountability should be enhanced.
The provisions of the Bill covering the management of the Garda Síochána set out for the first time in legislation the functions and objectives of the force. The practice of gardaí initiating prosecutions in the name of the Director of Public Prosecutions is placed on a statutory footing.
While existing legislation is silent on the relationship between the Minister and the Garda Commissioner, which has changed substantially, this Bill openly defines their roles and relationship. Provision is made for the Minister to set policing priorities and to issue directives to the Garda Commissioner on a policing matter.
These measures attracted some criticism in the Seanad where it was suggested that some provisions may politicise policing or have the effect of the Minister for Justice, Equality and Law Reform controlling the operation of the police force. This is far from the truth, these provisions aim to clarify the separate roles of the Minister and the Garda Commissioner and to provide a transparent accountability structure.
The outbreak of foot and mouth disease is an example of a case in which a directive might be issued. Should such a situation arise again, the Garda Síochána might be required to close the Border immediately. There should be provision in law for such directives to issue. It should not be a matter for the judgment of the Garda Commissioner because it entails other issues such as governmental competence.
One can never foretell when the State's capacity to respond decisively and effectively to a significant event will be tested. This type of legislative provision will help support the State in responding efficiently to unforeseen events and as such it is an essential feature of the Bill.
There will be nothing secretive about this as the Bill contains inbuilt safeguards. Provision is made for every directive to be approved by Government and laid before both Houses of the Oireachtas, unless that would prejudice national security and even where it would, the fact that a directive had issued must be disclosed to both Houses.
No directive could ever interfere with the independence of the Garda Síochána in prosecutions. These safeguards provide the necessary openness and transparency to assure everyone that the process of issuing directives will not be abused and the requirements of democratic accountability will be met.
The Garda Commissioner is to be assigned new powers and responsibilities for the deployment of the force, financial matters and civilian support staff. The Garda Commissioner will take over responsibility as accounting officer for the Garda Síochána from the Secretary General of my Department and will appear before the Committee of Public Accounts in that capacity.
Other Oireachtas committees are not mentioned because the Garda Commissioner is required under other legislation to appear before them. The new powers and responsibilities assigned to the Garda Commissioner will be accompanied and balanced by more comprehensive accountability measures including the establishment of a statutory audit committee with independent members.
The Bill also provides for the establishment of joint policing committees. These will provide fora on which the Garda Síochána and local authorities can co-operate and work together to address local policing and other related issues managed by the local authorities, and where the gardaí can press for their interests to be taken into account. This is a significant innovation which will strengthen policing at local level. Shortly after my appointment as Minister, Deputy Rabbitte pressed upon me the importance of making this provision and this measure is in part a response to that proposal.
While the establishment of policing committees has been broadly welcomed there was much debate about the provisions in the Bill as initiated on Committee Stage in the Seanad. This transcended political lines and party ideologies. The key points raised were primacy at local level of elected representatives and town councillors who had a mandate, the involvement of Members of the Seanad and the Dáil on the committees and the appropriateness of the committees operating within the framework of city and county development boards as was the original model.
In the light of the debates, changes were made in section 30 to introduce representation on the committees at town council level and I have moved away completely from the county and city development boards model. A number of changes were also made to section 31(2) on making the guidelines governing the establishment of the committees which have been expanded to include points raised in the Seanad concerning, for example, Members of the Oireachtas, not just the Dáil, being on the committee, nomination of members by local authorities, the appointment of a chairperson from the local authority members, nomination by the Garda Commissioner of gardaí of adequate rank and seniority, the establishment of sub-committees, the term of office of the committee, the application of qualified privilege, the attendance of bodies and persons before the committee, an enabling type of provision to allow for guidelines to facilitate the attendance of Members of the Oireachtas and the circumstances in which meetings of the committee may be held other than in public.
In framing those proposals, I have taken into account the views and recommendations of the National Crime Council. I have explained to the chairman of the council, Mr. Padraic White, whom I met earlier this week, the reasons the provisions in the Bill differ in some respects from those favoured by the council. I am considering further points made to me by Mr. White and I may bring forward further amendments to these provisions on Committee Stage. He is particularly anxious that voluntary and community bodies should have some recognition on the committee. Naturally, I will be very interested to hear the views of Members on these important and novel measures.
Significant provisions are included in the Bill in regard to upholding and protecting human rights. The Garda Síochána must have regard to this important new element in performing its functions. The revised solemn declaration new members of the Garda Síochána must make will also contain a specific reference to upholding human rights, and this will be underpinned by a provision in the Bill for drawing up a new code of ethics for the Garda.
I made a change on Committee Stage in the Seanad to allow a declarant to omit the reference to the deity from the declaration if he or she wishes to do so.
Provision is made in the Bill for the appointment of properly trained volunteer members to the Garda Síochána in the future. This provision attracted much comment during the debates in the Seanad. As I stated last week, this is entirely separate from the business of increasing the strength of the force to 14,000 members, and I make it clear that in no way do I consider a Garda reserve to be a substitute for a professional full-time police force in the community. In the light of recent ill-informed comment on the subject, I emphasise that the provision is contingent on the making of specific proposals to the Minister for Justice, Equality and Law Reform by the Garda Commissioner on the training issue and the making of regulations dealing with that matter, as well as recruitment and terms and conditions of service.
The intention would be that committed members of the public could volunteer to provide a reserve of part-time personnel to support the work of the Garda Síochána. Legislation has existed since the 19th century in the United Kingdom providing for the appointment of special constables who to this day provide a valuable and unsalaried role involving members of the community in policing. Almost every common law country with a system similar to ours has some form of police reserve of that kind.
The confidentiality of information provisions, set out in section 55, were amended slightly on Committee Stage in the Seanad. The effect of the changes was to expand the circumstances in which a person may disclose information which may have a harmful effect. The original provisions were perhaps a little too restrictive and the changes made allowed a little more latitude to persons performing duties coming within the ambit of section 55. For consistency, a similar change was made in section 73 which deals with confidentiality of information provisions to be applied to persons performing duties in the ombudsman commission.
As I stated earlier, the second objective to be achieved under the Bill is establishment of an independent Garda Síochána ombudsman commission to investigate complaints by members of the public against members of the Garda. The new body will replace the existing Garda Síochána Complaints Board. While the existing board has performed well given the limitations of the existing legislation, it is clear the present system does not command full public confidence and the complaints board itself, to be fair, has identified the problems it has encountered. Therefore, change is necessary and a new mechanism must be put in place to ensure openness and transparency if public confidence in the investigation of complaints against members of the Garda Síochána is to be reclaimed.
A significant development is that the new body will not require the catalyst of a complaint being made by a member of the public before it can initiate an investigation. Provisions are included in the Bill which will enable the ombudsman commission to investigate Garda conduct even where no complaint has been made, but where an investigation is clearly called for in the particular circumstances. The commission will be able to act on its own initiative in such cases or on a referral from the Garda Commissioner or the Minister.
As regards its membership, the commission will consist of three persons, one of whom must be a man and one of whom must be a woman. The provision is made for the possible appointment of a superior court judge to one of the positions. The appointments will be to full-time positions for a term of between three and six years and the members will be appointed by the President on the nomination of the Government and on the recommendation of both Houses of the Oireachtas. The ombudsman commission will be independent in its composition and its investigations. None of its members can be a current or former member of the Garda Síochána.
As regards the investigation of complaints, every complaint will be either made to or referred to the ombudsman commission. In the case of the most serious complaints, involving death or serious injury, provision is made for the ombudsman commission to investigate, which will satisfy a requirement under the European Convention on Human Rights. In the event of any other complaint, it will be a matter for the commission, exercising its — I stress "its"— independent judgment, to decide whether it should investigate the matter or refer it to the Garda Commissioner for investigation. In cases where complaints are referred to the Garda Commissioner, the commission can decide whether to supervise the investigation. If the commission is not satisfied with the progress or even the outcome of an investigation, whether supervised or not, it can take over the investigation itself at any time. Therefore, the commission will retain ultimate independent control over every investigation. In that respect, the statutory powers of the ombudsman commission are the same as those in Northern Ireland.
It was stated in the Seanad on a number of occasions, and I am sure I will hear it again in this House, that the Bill provides for gardaí to investigate gardaí. In no way do I accept that the Bill provides for gardaí to investigate gardaí as a matter of course. No matter what route is chosen by the ombudsman to investigate complaints, ranging from the most serious allegations including possible criminal offences to those at the lower end of the scale including breaches of discipline, the commission retains control and direction over the whole proceedings. I cannot emphasise this point strongly enough.
As regards more minor complaints, and when I say that I am talking in relative terms as every complaint is important to the person making it, I hope many of them will be amenable to the informal resolution or mediation processes provided for in the Bill. While the existing system has provision for informal resolution, it simply has not worked. The provisions of the Bill are directed at promoting informal resolution in cases where the ombudsman commission considers it appropriate and where all parties concerned agree.
The ombudsman commission will be able, at the Minister's request or following the Minister's approval of a recommendation of the commission itself, to examine Garda practices, policies or procedures with a view to preventing or reducing the future incidence of complaints arising from those practices, policies or procedures. Therefore, the system proposed will have the capacity to deal with systemic problems which give rise to complaints.
The staff of the ombudsman commission, both administrative and investigative, will have civil servant status. The commission will also be able to enter into arrangements with the Garda Síochána or other police forces, or any other body, to engage police officers or other persons on a temporary basis to assist it in carrying out its investigations. Similar provisions exist in Northern Ireland. In the early days of the commission's operation, time will be required for its staff to gain experience and get up to speed in carrying out civil and criminal investigations. It therefore makes sense to empower the commission at its own discretion to make use of such expertise.
The commission's investigative staff will have comprehensive powers of criminal and civil investigation. When I published the details of the general scheme, I deliberately omitted the detail of the investigative powers to be given to the commission as I wanted time to consider what would be required to ensure we got it right. I concluded that, where criminal offences are involved, the commission must be capable of conducting an investigation to the same standard as the Garda Síochána. Therefore, its investigating officers must essentially have the same powers as members of the Garda Síochána, frightening though this may be for those who see it in print for the first time. The Bill confers on designated officers of the ombudsman commission all the powers and immunities and all the duties imposed on any member of the Garda Síochána by or under any enactment or the common law. There are two exceptions to this: powers under the Offences Against the State Acts and powers under the Interception of Postal Packets and Telecommunications Messages (Regulation) Act 1993, other than the power to gain access to call-related information, known as telephonic data.
An aspect of the powers to be conferred on the commission which attracted considerable attention in the Seanad and the media is the special provision for the search of Garda stations, in recognition of the position of the Garda as a security service and the fact that information relating to national security could be held in some stations. As there has been much misunderstanding about these provisions, I will explain precisely what the Bill provides for in this regard. There have been inaccurate suggestions that the special provisions dealing with Garda stations holding information relating to national security apply to searches of Garda stations generally. This is not the case.
Section 91 deals with the search of Garda stations. Designated officers will have power to enter and search any Garda station for the purpose of investigating complaints which may involve offences. Such searches must be authorised by a member of the ombudsman commission. Where the station which is the subject of a search holds sensitive security information, subsection (3) provides that the commission must notify the Minister and the Garda Commissioner of the intended search. It does not provide for a period of one, three, 12 or 24 hours, as has been canvassed. That is not provided for in the Bill. The Garda Commissioner may object to a search, but only on grounds relating to national security and for no other reason. In such circumstances, provision is made for the Minister to issue directions excluding from the search any part of the premises in question or any storage facility containing information or documentation or to impose the necessary conditions relating to the security of the State.
So that there will be no confusion about the stations likely to be involved, provision is made for regulations to be made designating Garda stations where information or documentation relating to the security of the State is held and which shall not be subject to search except to the extent that the Minister so directs. Regulations may also be made designating information or documentation relating to the security of the State which must not be disclosed, except to the extent that the Minister so directs.
These exceptional limitations, which are exceptions to a general rule, are reasonable and essential having regard to the fact that the Garda Síochána is not just a regional constabulary but a national security service. No other security service in the world would allow people to walk in off the street and start rooting through its files and records. I will not introduce such a rule into Irish law. I am sensitive to the concerns expressed in some quarters that the exceptions might be too readily invoked. As I explained in the Seanad, this is the reason I included a counter-balancing safeguard in the Bill. Provision is made for a judge of the High Court to have oversight of the operation of the provisions of the Bill authorising the withholding of, or denial of access to, information on grounds of State security. This will be a sufficient deterrent against potential abuse of these provisions. I reiterate that a judge of the High Court will have the function of examining every time that particular immunity is invoked, supervising it and being in a position to give an objective view as to whether it has been abused on any occasion.
As I mention judicial oversight, I should also mention that provision is made for judicial oversight of the conduct of designated officers of the ombudsman commission. This is in recognition of the extensive powers being granted to them under the Bill. The phrase, quis custodiet ipsos custodes, immediately comes to mind. It was a key concern of the Garda associations when I met them. A superior court judge, nominated by the Chief Justice, will be able to conduct an inquiry into any allegations that the ombudsman commission's officers may have abused their powers or position.
It might be recalled that the Director of Public Prosecutions commented previously on the impact of the normal six-month time limit for summary prosecutions in cases dealt with under the present complaints system. The DPP pointed out that investigation files on complaints can be almost date-expired when they reach his office, thereby making prosecution decisions impossible, no matter how strong the evidence may be. While one response to this would obviously be speedier investigations, which I favour, I also think it right to take the opportunity to provide that the normal time limit of six months, which was originally set down in the Petty Sessions (Ireland) Act 1851, should be 12 months for summary proceedings relating to an offence reported to the DPP under the Bill. The Bill provides accordingly in section 96.
The most significant addition to the Bill, which was brought forward on Committee Stage in the Seanad, involves the inclusion of a new Part 5 providing for the establishment of a new body to be called the Garda Síochána inspectorate. My decision to establish the inspectorate had its origins in the first report of the tribunal established under the chairmanship of Mr. Justice Frederick Morris to inquire into allegations of Garda corruption in Donegal. Specifically, the proposal is brought forward in light of recommendation 13.96 on page 489 of the tribunal's report that the Department of Justice, Equality and Law Reform, in line with its statutory oversight role in regard to the Garda Síochána, must be empowered by knowledge. Therefore, the main functions of the inspectorate will be to ensure that the Minister and the Department have objective information on matters relevant to the functioning of the force in line with the aims of the Bill to make further and better provisions in regard to the Garda Síochána. There is no point being accountable to this House if one does not know what is going on.
The inspectorate will be a three-person body, one of whom will be known as the chief inspector. The inspectorate will examine thematic policy issues with standards, practice and performance benchmarked to comparable international policing experience. The key objectives will be to ensure and promote advice and support to the Minister and the Department. I am confident this body will ensure that the Minister for Justice, Equality and Law Reform of the day will be better informed on particular aspects of the policing function and will be in a position to give up-to-date and accurate information to the Members of this House and the other House as required and in accordance with his or her constitutional and statutory obligations.
Section 122 deals with the exercise of special powers by security officers. There was confusion over this provision in the Seanad. This is an enabling provision allowing the head of any of the bodies listed in subsection (1), for example, the Courts Service, the Office of the Attorney General, the National Gallery, a Department etc., to take on private security staff in certain well defined and regulated situations. The intention underlying these provisions is to facilitate the release of highly qualified members of the force for duties for which they were trained. It is certainly not the intention that private security personnel will replace the Garda security presence at all locations.
Special mention was made in the Seanad of the position regarding the courts and these Houses. In this regard, there will continue to be a need for a Garda presence in both cases. It will be a question of finding the right balance as to the Garda presence required in association with the security presence. With regard to the recent announcement by the Courts Service about new security arrangements which will operate in the Four Courts complex, these arrangements, which have been put in place independently of this Bill, are not linked with the special powers provisions of section 122.
There was also much concern in the Seanad that the Bill was providing for police powers to be given to these security officers. I stress that security officers will not have general police powers. Their powers are set out in subsection (4). In the main they relate to what might be regarded as normal checking of identity, examination and seizure of articles, refusal of entry and use of reasonable force where necessary. Their capacity to search a person is limited and there is no mention in the section of their being given a power of arrest. In the latter regard, security officers will be no different from other members of the public who decide to make an arrest under section 4 of the Criminal Law Act 1997 which provides for what is colloquially termed a "citizen's arrest".
I reiterate the importance the Government attaches to the significant reforms set out in the Bill. They have been carefully crafted and I advocate them in a spirit of support for the Garda Síochána. I have no doubt that the provisions contained in the Bill will underpin the sterling work of the Garda Síochána in protecting our freedom as individuals and as a society. I want to take this opportunity to pay tribute to the force for the success of Operation Crossover as set out in today's newspapers. It is a pleasure on occasion to see that the forces of law and order, in an organised and systematic way, take on the threat to the security of society which exists in some quarters in an effective way which yields results.
As I said in the Seanad, we must never forget the sacrifices individual members of the force have made for our protection. I want to reiterate this because they are criticised on many occasions, but very few of us would or could do their job for a week. I will not go into the detail of what they do, but it includes staying with bodies found dead, informing relatives, looking after victims of crime, preserving scenes of crime, standing up to thuggery and all the things most gardaí hope they will not have to do on a given day but expect they may have to do. When one considers what they do and are expected to do for us, some of their critics would not last a day in the job without cracking up.
The task of the force has always been difficult, but challenging. Our society, which is policed by the Garda Síochána, is more questioning, sometimes more aggressive and less respectful of authority. The changing nature of our society with increased urbanisation, a decline in traditional authority structures and the like, all require a different form of policing. The Garda Síochána has to change to meet the changing Ireland.
The force has been subjected to a fair deal of criticism in the recent past. It should accept criticism when failures are evident and where that criticism is fair. Nonetheless, when passing judgment on the force we should never forget the courage and good character which, for the most part, characterise daily policing. In my experience such qualities are much more constantly prevalent than any, or all, of the infrequent failures.
We should never lose sight of the fact that the Garda Síochána is made up of ordinary men and women performing extraordinary tasks to whom we entrust the most challenging, demanding and difficult tasks in our community. There is goodwill, support, respect and trust for and in the Garda Síochána. My intention in the Bill is to build on those reserves and, as such, I commend this Bill to the House.
Fine Gael has far more ambitious objectives than the Government in regard to the Garda Síochána. We in Fine Gael want the Garda Síochána to be the best police force in the world. That means a range of things. It means being the best resourced, best trained and best motivated force. It means having adequate numbers and being best managed. It also means being equipped with cutting edge technology and having decent modern accommodation and equipment. I am convinced that we have highly motivated new recruits coming into the force but they are coming into a system that is in major need of reform. The Bill does not provide for that reform.
From the commissioner down to the newest recruit, there is a desire by members of the force to achieve their potential to provide the best they can in the interests of the force and that of the country, but they are trapped in an archaic system. It is archaic in regard to deployment, management and many other factors. This Bill will not change that to any great degree.
I note the transfer of accountability to the commissioner, but the emphasis is on accountability and that is not enough. Our aim in regard to the public service generally must be that of achieving excellence. That is a principal policy priority for Fine Gael and very much one in regard to the Garda Síochána. We want to support the Garda Síochána to achieve that aim of excellence. This Bill does not do much towards achieving that objective.
I have examined developments in this area in other countries, in particular the introduction of the CompStat approach in New York and the consequences of the influence of the former Mayor Giuliani. I have examined developments in the UK and the other part of this island in Northern Ireland as a consequence of the Patton reform. Are we giving the Garda Síochána the best chance from the point of view of allowing them to produce their best to achieve their full potential in doing their job? The Minister has not provided for that. That is a major reservation I have about the Bill.
The Minister's objectives are far more limited than mine. His main objectives are designed to reform the legislative structure and, in particular, to clarify the role of the Minister as opposed to that of the commissioner. Another main objective relates to the complaints procedure. His third main objective relates to the inspectorate. In so far as they go, I go along with the Minister, and Fine Gael can support the Bill, in principle, with reservations on the details.
The provisions as outlined by the Minister have to be examined against the backdrop of current realities in many areas, particularly that of resources, which are not provided for in the Bill. Day in day out our gardaí are at the coalface of the darker side of society. When the Minister and I are sleeping in our beds the gardaí are confronting dangerous situations and fighting crime. They deserve the best to match their willingness to put themselves on the line. From that point of view, the Minister has failed to win the battle for resources for the Garda.
He has failed to secure the resources to rollout the new Tetra radio system and he has failed to fight for the resources to refurbish and rebuild Garda stations, some of which are more appropriate at this stage to the developing world.
In terms of meeting the needs of gardaí, this legislation is limited. I accept there is a limit to what a Bill, when enacted, can achieve. I am aware of the Minister's penchant for legislation and his belief that legislation is some kind of panacea, but more law does not necessarily mean more order. He can put in place structures here and make announcements there, but that is all abstract. What is happening on the ground in reality land is a different matter. I fear that the basic needs of gardaí are not being met and that limits their effectiveness in the fight against crime.
I wish to deal with a few issues before I go into the detail of the Bill. An issue that concerns me is the annual haemorrhage of gardaí from the force. Those numbers are increasing. Up to a few years ago it was running at 400 a year and last year the number increased to 460. Early retirement seems to becoming more a feature of the force. I wish to make two points in that regard. First, an assessment should be carried out as to why there are early retirements and whether steps can be taken to ensure there is not that haemorrhage of experienced members from the force. Second, we have to bear in mind that Garda retirements, particularly the retirement of experienced members, puts more pressure on serving gardaí.
I want to refer briefly to Garda numbers. They have not kept pace with the massive increase in population in recent years. The Minister will tell us that we now have the highest number of gardaí in the force. That is true, but a number of points can be made in that respect. The level of crime is up 25% on the 2000 figures. The Minister quotes selective statistics when he talks about reductions in crime. Following the rainbow Government period in office, crime figures were down to 90,000 in 1997, 85,000 in 1998——
The Minister can spin statistics to his heart's content. He can give the impression that he is on top of the problem, but that just proves he is in denial. There are enormous problems of crime in our society. The crime figure have increased from 73,000 in 2000 to nearly 100,000 in 2004. The Minister tells us the problem is in hand and the crime figure is decreasing. There is also the youth problem of anti-social behaviour in our society. We do not have a sufficient number of gardaí to deal with these problems.
I want to deal with the Minister's reference to 14,000 gardaí. That number of gardaí will not be on our streets in the near future. We need them now, but they are not there. They will not be on the streets during the Government's term of office. In spite of the Minister's spin, all we have had is an average increase of approximately 80 extra gardaí each year for the past three years while the Minister has been in office.
A number of steps that could be taken to deal with this in the short term and to cover the promise of the provision of extra gardaí on the ground, which has not been kept. Some 373 gardaí are doing desk work. Why has the civilianisation programme not been implemented? Subject to medical examination, I take the view that there is major need for experienced supervisory gardaí. Why do we not consider allowing or encouraging sergeants and inspectors to stay in the force beyond the age of 57? I am in favour of initiatives such as the panel of retired gardaí in each division to stand in for gardaí who are on maternity leave or prolonged sick leave. Such ingenuity overcomes the problems that arise because the promise of the extra gardaí will not result in their being on the street for some time.
We cannot even provide the gardaí with basic communications equipment. The radio system is obsolete. Gardaí must use their own mobile telephones to get in touch with the station. That is not good enough in this day and age. Also, some of the stations are in an appalling condition. Stations that have been on the priority list for years are becoming more dilapidated. This problem is not just limited to Finglas, where there has been justified publicity. The story is the same throughout the country. If we expect a modern, well equipped Garda force, we must provide it with decent stations.
Some €60 million was spent developing PULSE but of the 703 stations in the country, only 181 have the system installed. This gives rise to the farcical situation of gardaí having to drive to a station with PULSE to input data. It is no wonder gardaí are not available when they are needed. They are off typing up reports. It is beyond belief in the technological age that this problem has not been overcome.
The Bill is limited, it does not deal with the Garda Síochána in the way it deserves. Section 14 covers the Garda volunteer force. It enables the Minister to appoint volunteer members to the force, a tacit acknowledgement that he has not provided the 2,000 full-time members he promised. There is a case for a reserve force but volunteer members will have to be trained and the Minister does not appear to have addressed this. Section 14 states that volunteer members are to have the same immunities, privileges and duties as permanent members of the force. Volunteer members can only have the same powers as permanent members if they have the same training. It takes two years to train a member of the Garda Síochána. I am not happy with the notion of volunteer members having powers of search and arrest without having the training required by a full-time member of the force.
I will go into it in more detail on Committee Stage. I have no problem with reserve members under the control and supervision of existing members of the Garda Síochána operating in crowd marshalling on All Ireland Final day. Depending on the degree of training, they could even form part of a visible presence in the community. I do not want, however, inadequately trained people to have the power of search and arrest, the basic power of the Garda Síochána.
Some people have suggested that the additional powers granted to the Minister in the Bill turn him into the chief of police. At the moment, the Minister and the Garda Commissioner liaise and consult on an informal basis. The Minister has no statutory role of influence over the operations or focus of the day to day activities of the Garda Síochána and this Bill radically changes that. The Minster will have a substantive role in directing the gardaí and must approve substantive aspects of policing.
The setting of Garda priorities, the Garda strategy statement and the annual policing plan must be submitted to the Minister for approval and the Minister can issue directives. The Minister mentioned a directive on foot and mouth disease in his speech, something to which no one would object, but how far will these directives go? Does this power offer the potential to politicise the activities of the Garda Síochána? The Minister may say that is not his intent but laws are not the Minister's intentions, they are the contents of the legislation. Is there a danger that the gardaí could be made act at the whim of a political master?
The Minister was good enough to refer to the fact that I have some experience in this area when I resumed my role as Fine Gael spokesman on justice. I recall a Taoiseach and a Minister for Justice, Charles Haughey and Seán Doherty, and the activities that occurred at that time, the difficulties with various Garda files and phone tapping. I must bear that in mind when I look at the powers being granted to a Minister under this Bill. I have many criticisms of the Minister but I do not question his basic integrity when it comes to administrating the powers in the Bill, and I would have no difficulty in discharging those powers. We are not inserting powers for the Minister for Justice, Equality and Law Reform, however, or for Deputy Jim O'Keeffe, we are inserting powers for whomever may in future be Minister. There was an abuse of this position in the past and we must bear that in mind when considering these powers.
For the first time, the Bill will place the involvement of local authorities in policing matters on a statutory basis. Interaction between local authorities and the Garda Síochána is long overdue and Fine Gael has advocated it for some time. If communities are to experience a long-term reduction in crime, local authorities must take on a dedicated oversight role in policing matters, providing a forum for gardaí and local authorities to exchange views and co-ordinate their activities to bring real benefits to local communities. It will provide an opportunity for real interaction to bring back a sense of ownership to a public that has become dissatisfied with and distant from the criminal justice system. There is a rift in the relationship between the public and the Garda Síochána and I hope this provision will reverse that trend, a trend that arises from the fact that people do not even bother reporting crime in many cases any longer. My only criticism is that this process does not go far enough. It should extend below local authority level and involve local communities with the Garda Síochána.
With regard to disclosure to journalists, I accept that the Minister has made substantial changes from the original head 26 of the scheme to the Bill. The offence of disclosure now only arises where the information disclosed has harmful effect and the Minister's definition of harmful effect is broad. The change is an improvement but it may not have gone far enough. I will go deeper into this on Committee Stage but there should not be a free flow of information between the gardaí and journalists. As a lawyer, I was used to the notion of confidentiality and, in general, the gardaí should treat matters arising in the course of their jobs as confidential. On the other hand, a free flow of information between the Garda Síochána and journalists could be of advantage to the Garda because journalists turn up information or leads that might be of use in Garda inquiries. I would not, therefore, want to preclude discussions between the Garda and journalists. There needs to be a balance and a middle line between allowing discussions that may be of benefit to the Garda Síochána in carrying out its job and ensuring that serious confidential matters are not disclosed. I would like the Minister to consider a new approach involving a code of ethics by which members of the Garda would be bound, rather than the creation of a criminal offence that could lead to 12 months in prison on summary conviction or seven years on indictment. One would also need to provide for a breach of such code of ethics, which could be dealt with under the Garda Síochána disciplinary regulations. That would not be such a heavy-handed approach but would cover the position even better than the amended approach now proposed by the Minister.
The Garda complaints board has been the focus of consistent criticism for some time and does not now enjoy the confidence of the public. This is in no way intended to reflect negatively on the members or staff of the board. They performed as best they could under the regime under which they had to operate.Their hands were tied to a great extent and consequently the body failed to function as an effective, independent arbiter.
The case for appointing an ombudsman has been well made and I do not propose to go over that. I have had an opportunity to examine the Garda complaints board's annual report for 2002. In that year the board received 1,405 complaints and at the end of the year it had 841 cases on hand and only 13 cases had been finalised by the tribunal. These figures do not reflect well on its operations. I am, therefore, all for a new approach and I favour the ombudsman model.
The Minister is proposing an ombudsman commission composed of three persons to be appointed by the Dáil. The example of a police ombudsman of which we are most aware on this island is the Northern Ireland Police Ombudsman, Ms Nuala O'Loan, a single ombudsman. I have been to see her in her office and have met some of her staff. I have seen the manner in which she operates and it seems to be very effective. Why do we need three ombudsmen when Ms Nuala O'Loan does the job very effectively on her own? That is an issue to which I would like to return.
I particularly welcome the power of the ombudsman commission in section 94(4) to initiate an investigation on its own initiative. However, I would like to see the scope of such investigations widened considerably so that the commission could examine more general policing practices.
There is a provision to allow the transfer of all the staff of the existing Garda complaints board to the ombudsman commission. Would this not tie the hands of the commission unduly? I am aware that many of the staff are very good at their jobs and very experienced, but is it fair to the new ombudsman commission to have no say in selecting its staff?
In the context of the commission employing gardaí, not alone must justice be done, it must be seen to be done. The lack of independence and failure of the Garda complaints board to adhere to the fundamental principle of nemo iudex has ultimately led to its downfall. Is there not a danger of repeating that mistake? It is not acceptable that members of the Garda be brought into the ombudsman commission to investigate other gardaí. That is an issue we must tease out in more detail on Committee Stage. The people who investigate our gardaí are policemen. If it is not appropriate to have gardaí investigating other gardaí. Can we not look beyond our own boundaries to the UK, specifically Northern Ireland where there is now a very fine police force in the PSNI? I intend to revert on Committee Stage to a discussion on what might best be done in this regard.
The Minister referred to the search of Garda stations but not in sufficient detail. I am not entirely happy with how he dealt with the requirement to give notice or the issue of security files. The Bill had provided that the inspectorate could search a Garda station on giving 48 hours' notice to the Garda Commissioner. In section 91, this has now been changed and the ombudsman commission must notify the commissioner and the Minister of its intent to search. Has the Minister achieved the right balance in the Bill as it is now amended? It is an issue that needs further teasing out. I understand that in the Seanad reference was made to a telephone call five minutes before an inspection. What would be the practicality of that? The Minister is now talking about judicial oversight. Is this before, during or after the telephone call five minutes before? The Minister has not dealt adequately with this issue and it is one with which we will have to deal in more detail on Committee Stage.
The Minister has made the point ad nauseam that the Garda serves two roles here. It polices the State but also acts as our intelligence service. I accept there is no separate MI5 and MI6 here. If the Garda's role in intelligence matters is of such a high level and is of such gravity, should we not establish a separate intelligence service? The issue is one to which we should return on Committee Stage.
The inspectorate is a late addition to the Bill and my initial reaction is to support the establishment of some form of inspectorate. It could help to bring about improvements in the Garda and will be appreciated by gardaí as time goes on. An issue that arises is whether we need two separate bodies, an ombudsman commission with three persons on it and an inspectorate. Is there not a case to be made for one outside body that would perform all the functions? Is there not a danger of duplication of effort? The issue has not been fully thought through or fully debated. The ombudsman commission will consist of three persons. The inspectorate will also be a three-person body, one of whom will be known as the chief inspector. It will look at and examine thematic policy issues, standards, practice and performance, benchmarking and comparable international policing experience. I raise the possibility of having one outside body to deal with the various functions.
There is a range of issues and much detail within and outside the Bill regarding the Garda Síochána that I would like to go into in more detail. We will have the opportunity of doing that on Committee Stage.
One aspect of the Bill I heartily commend is the provision regarding the annual report. It has annoyed me as a Member of this House over the years to see various official bodies producing annual reports often more than a year after the period they cover, when the information is historical and out of date. Annual reports are useful in so far as they give a reasonably current assessment of the state of operations. They allow for informed and constructive criticism. However, a report that is more than a year out of date is historical and is virtually a waste of time. I recollect at one stage tabling questions to all Ministers as to when the annual reports of the State bodies under their aegis were produced. There are still some appalling examples of annual reports being years out of date. I am glad the Bill provides for an annual report to be furnished quickly. The optimum would be that an annual report should be furnished before the end of the first quarter following the year it covers. The Bill provides that it be furnished four months after the year's end. I can go along with that. Much complex detail goes into that report which is very useful. I support that heartily.
Since assuming office the Minister has made provisional statistics available. That is a good practice but it is not much good when it is confused with the issue of an annual report a day later that contrasts with the figures in the provisional statistics. Hopefully the new provision will change that.
The Fine Gael Party will support the Bill. It does not go anywhere near tackling the broad objectives I have outlined. The objectives of Fine Gael for the Garda Síochána would be far more ambitious. We have a dedicated body of men and women in the force, new recruits coming in with enormous potential and we have people who are highly motivated. They are operating in an archaic system that is in need of radical reform from the point of view of employment, management and so on. This Bill will not achieve that objective. There are improvements and advances in the Bill but it does not cover the essential problems of the force, such as lack of resources, the lack of input to modern technology and the kind of things that will allow us to have what I want for the Garda Síochána, namely, the best police force in the world. This Bill is but a modest advance towards that objective and in so far as it is I am prepared to support it.
I welcome the Minister for Defence, Deputy O'Dea, and lament the fact that, once again, the Minister for Justice, Equality and Law Reform, Deputy McDowell, is not present. It appears he prefers to spend most of his time making statements outside the House. When we are dealing with such a fundamental issue as the restructuring of the Garda Síochána, and fundamental legislation, I would have thought he would be present to hear what Deputies on the other side of the House have to say but, instead, he disappeared half way through Deputy O'Keeffe's presentation.
The Garda Síochána has served the country well throughout most of the 20th century. However, at the beginning of the 21st century there is need to reflect on the strengths and weaknesses of the force in a modern, urban, rapidly changing and complex society. Serious questions have been posed of the Garda Síochána in recent times ranging from harsh criticism by Judge Morris of misbehaviour and mismanagement by certain gardaí in Donegal, to the failure to tackle the spread of drugs nationwide, to the declining crime prevention and detection rate, to a rising clamour of public discontent regarding Garda professionalism and Garda commitment. The time has come for a root and branch review of the culture, role, structures and operations of the Garda. Unfortunately, this is not what we have here.
It is time to establish an independent commission on policing in Ireland. It would be similar to that Independent Commission on Policing which was set up under the Good Friday Agreement in 1999 under the chairmanship of Chris Patten to create, in the words of the Agreement, "a new beginning to policing in Northern Ireland with a police service capable of attracting and sustaining support from the community as a whole".
The terms of reference of the commission would require the identification and setting up of new structures to ensure accountability, independent scrutiny and, above all, partnership with the community. Its methodology, if the Minister wants to set it up, would involve a comprehensive consultative process. A wide-ranging public debate on policing in the 21st century would be initiated. The commission would take that debate to the highways and byways. It would engage local communities in local parish halls, the length and breadth of Ireland. Equally, those professionally involved in policing practice and theory including the Garda would be consulted and best international practice would be ascertained.
In this context it is interesting to explore the thinking and methodology of the Patten Commission. The commissioners started out by rejecting Lord Denning's view — he of the "appalling vista"— that "the police officer is not a servant of anyone but of the law itself" and went on to quote with approval the first commissioners of the Metropolitan Police, Rowan and Maguire, who wrote as early as 1829 that:
Every member of the force must remember that his duty is to protect and help members of the public, no less than to apprehend guilty persons. Consequently, whilst prompt to prevent crime and to arrest criminals he must look upon himself as the servant and guardian of the general public and treat all law abiding citizens, irrespective of their social positions, with unfailing patience, courtesy and good humour.
Is not this what we would like to see all the time from the Garda Síochána? These sentiments mirror the statement of the first Commissioner of the Garda Síochána, Michael Staines, whose grandson is one of our chief criminal lawyers, who said in 1922 that, "the Garda Síochána will succeed not by force of arms or numbers but by their moral authority as servants of the people". These were brave sentiments in 1922 when the Civil War had just started and armed men were roaming the country. Even more than creating an unarmed police force, the founders of the State had got to the core of the issue. The police would be the servants of the people, no longer policing the community like the RIC it had replaced, but serving the community. In Northern Ireland the RUC had become a hopelessly polarised body. They were perceived as defenders of the Union from the Unionist perspective and oppressors of the people from the Nationalist perspective. The Patten commissioners asserted that "the police do not serve the State or any interest group, they serve the people by upholding the law that protects the rights and liberties of every individual citizen". The Minister would do well to reflect on these basic fundamental principles that were the starting point for the Patten Commission and the Garda Síochána in 1922 to the point of establishing our own independent commission to see the way forward. It would be valuable to look at the extraordinary, comprehensive methodology that was used. They set out on a course of informing and briefing their members by examining the existing policing arrangements in Northern Ireland, studying best practice worldwide and inviting written submissions from the general public and all political parties, churches, non-governmental organisations and bodies with a particular interest in policing. They held numerous private meetings with politicians, civil liberty groups, youth workers, editors and academics. They visited every police subdivision, every police station, police headquarters and spoke to individual police officers. They held oral meetings and hearings with political parties, businesses and trade unions. They held public meetings in every district council area in Northern Ireland. They employed consultants to conduct focus group studies and other consultants to conduct a cultural audit of the RUC. They carried out a survey on public attitudes to policing and the commission visited the Garda Síochána and a number of police services in Britain, Canada, South Africa, Spain and the United States.
A more exhaustive process or methodology could hardly be envisaged. The findings of the Patten Commission constitute a valuable reservoir and resource of methodology and material to be drawn from and adapted.
This was completed in a 12 to 15 month period. A new commission in the Republic could complete its work in six to nine months. A comprehensive and inclusive process is crucial. A lasting new police culture of service can only be delivered if a strong sense of participation, responsibility and ownership is first engendered through the consultative process. The Minister has missed a golden opportunity by failing to establish such a commission. The excellent proposals on community policing could now be jeopardised by a lack of an open, wide-ranging debate and consultative process prior to radically changing the future policing role of the Garda. It may not be possible to do it without having the background of a consultative process.
The view of the Labour Party is that there is a need for a Garda authority to oversee operation of the Garda Síochána at national level, to set objectives and priorities, to adopt policing strategies and annual plans with the Garda Commissioner, to conduct interviews and make promotional appraisals, to negotiate the annual policing budget with the Department of Justice, Equality and Law Reform, to monitor and evaluate Garda performance and to produce an annual report for the Minister. The Garda authority would be answerable to and appear before the Oireachtas Joint Committee on Justice, Equality, Defence and Women's Rights and the Committee of Public Accounts as required.
The Government has rejected the proposal for a new Garda authority made up of representatives of the community. Such an authority would be the only way to introduce full public accountability into the operations of the force.
As an example of the direct relation being retained, section 18 provides that the civilian member of the force, whether transferred from the Department or newly appointed, is to be a civil servant of the Government. Why can he or she not be a civil servant of the State?
Will the ombudsman have the power to investigate misbehaviour prior to the establishment of the office? Will the commission have the power of prior review? The lack of such an authority to act as a bulwark between the Commissioner and the Government means that there will continue to be an inappropriate degree of political interference in senior Garda appointments at every level above those of Garda sergeant and inspector. This remains a serious matter. A Garda authority would have the function of conducting the interviews and making promotional appraisals but this will not now be the case.
The failure to legislate for a Garda authority represents another missed opportunity. The umbilical cord between the Minister and the Commissioner gave rise to Mr. Justice Morris's conclusion that, "The Department of Justice is now utterly isolated from Garda headquarters. The Minister is obliged to take everything on trust." He is utterly isolated in terms of knowing what is happening. Mr. Justice Morris recommended that headquarters should take a more active role in the management of Garda divisions etc. The Minister has now admitted to the House that the reason he has introduced an amendment to set up a Garda inspectorate is as a result of this criticism in Mr. Justice Morris's report. If the Minister establishes an independent Garda authority, he would not need to set up his own eyes and ears body to determine what is happening in the Garda. This is essentially what the inspectorate is. The poor Minister is now setting up this body so that he will have an eyes and ears structure to monitor the Garda. If the authority was in place this would not be necessary. This is another missed opportunity.
However, the relationship between the Commissioner and the Minister is being placed on a formal basis, even if not an entirely open and transparent one. The Commissioner has direction and control of the force. He is the accounting officer of the Garda Vote and has power to enter into contracts. He is accountable to the Minister for his functions. According to the Act the Minister may issue written directives concerning any matter relating to the Garda Síochána, but the directives must be laid before the Houses of the Oireachtas. Section 22 envisages that the contents of a directive might be kept secret and instead the fact that it had been made would be disclosed. That information of itself would be entirely inadequate. Such lack of transparency must be addressed on Committee Stage.
It goes without saying that a police force constituted to serve the people should be accountable to the people. Therefore, the discredited in-house Garda complaints machinery should be dismantled immediately. An independent Garda ombudsman should be established to ensure that Garda behaviour in the course of duty is above reproach at all times.
The Irish Times -TNS MRBI opinion poll in February 2004, at the time when the establishment of an ombudsman was mooted, asked the following pertinent question:
The Government is proposing to establish an Ombudsman and /or independent inspectorate to investigate complaints against the Gardaí. Do you believe that the independent inspectorate should or should not have full powers of search and arrest in the initiation of investigations against the Gardaí?
An incredible 86% of those surveyed responded that the ombudsman should have full powers of search and arrest in the initiation of investigations against the Garda. Clearly the public have no faith in the existing Garda complaints machinery and they would support robust measures that would ensure Garda accountability.
As the title Garda ombudsman commission suggests, the Bill provides for a compromise, half-way house proposal. On one hand, the three-member commission is to be appointed on the nomination of both Houses and can only be removed by joint resolution of the Houses of the Oireachtas. Its independence is guaranteed. It will have power to conduct investigations on its own initiative and to examine and report on Garda policies, practices and procedures, even if the conduct of individual members is not culpable. When investigating complaints that may involve offences its officers will have the powers of gardaí, including powers of entry, search, seizure and arrest. This is to be welcomed.
On the other hand, while the ombudsman commission will have power to appoint its own staff and will inherit the staff of the former Garda Complaints Board, it will also have power to engage the temporary services of serving members of the Garda Síochána. Those members' services as officers of the ombudsman commission will count as continuing service in the Garda Síochána for purposes such as pension, seniority and promotion. These seconded officers will have power to act as investigating officers in respect of complaints against their former and future colleagues.
This enabling provision, set out in section 66, has the potential to undermine completely the real and perceived independence of the commission. It should be abandoned and removed from the Bill. The initial step on receipt of a valid complaint of obtaining and preserving all relevant evidence is entrusted under section 81 to Garda members. This function should instead be vested in the officers of the ombudsman commission. In the absence of a complaint by or on behalf of a specific and identified individual who claims to have been directly affected by the conduct to be investigated, the commission has no power to investigate a matter if it suspects a Garda may have committed a criminal offence or breached discipline. I have already referred to the investigative role of the ombudsman and whether that office will have the power of prior review of cases. These matters require to be addressed on Committee Stage.
The provision on joint policing committees is one of the central areas of the legislation. Chapter 4 dealing with co-operation between the force and local authorities and with arrangements for obtaining the views of the public is welcome as a considerable strengthening of the Minister's original two short sentences in the general scheme published in 2003. It goes a long way towards the Labour Party's proposals for policing liaison committees which, in turn, were drawn from the Patten Commission report. Those important sections of the Garda Síochána which specifically relate to working with people in the community context, namely, community policing and neighbourhood watch, remain Cinderellas of the force decades after their establishment. These programmes are underresourced, understaffed, underpromoted and underappreciated, to coin a few words. New structures of policing and community participation must be developed and allowed to evolve to reflect the new ethos that the Garda Síochána's role is not to police the community but to police with the community.
To be effective, community policing requires new structures to be anchored at local level. These structures must reflect a partnership between the police and the community. Local government administered by local authority officials and local public representatives is the obvious choice of location for new partnership structures. Local level requires co-operation at far more immediate level than having, for example, a single policing committee to deal with Fingal County Council which covers an area of approximately 173 sq. m. and has a population of 168,000.
They will not have to pay so much for the houses adjacent to the Minister's prison when it is built.
Section 32 would allow for a joint policing committee in respect of each of the 26 counties, five cities and 80 towns, while major metropolitan suburbs such as Fingal and Tallaght are ignored. There should not be a single model of community policing. Urban and rural areas and towns and cities have different policing needs. Flexibility is required to ensure that whichever model is chosen, it meets the policing needs of the community in question.
I noted the discussion on the county and city development boards in the Seanad and the decision of the other House to remove them as suitable models. I am inclined to agree with its decision and strongly favour the inclusion in the structures of community policing of an operational model consisting of a strategic policy committee based on the county council or county borough. This would bring together local public representatives, local authority officials, senior gardaí, representatives of State agencies and community and business interests. Together and in consultation with a new Garda authority, these committees would prepare a county or city policing development plan. As matters stand — we do not yet have a Garda authority — this plan would be prepared with the Garda Commissioner.
Area committees in the local authorities, based on Dáil constituency boundaries, would then prepare a constituency policing plan. This would be agreed by local public representatives, senior Garda officers from each Garda station, community and business interests and local authority officials for the area. It would be approved by a Garda authority.
The community policing forum would be the basic unit of interface between the public and the Garda. It could operate within a geographical remit of one Garda station or more or a local electoral area or part thereof. Local needs would determine time and place. It would be a forum in which public representatives, local Garda officers, residents' associations, community groups, members of the public and local authority officials could assemble in committee or open forum as circumstances warranted. Residents would articulate their concerns, observations and experiences of crime in their communities. Crimes against the person or property, alcohol and drug abuse, vandalism and anti-social behaviour would be discussed and noted. Factors giving rise to these criminal activities and strategies to tackle them would be identified. Allocation of policing work would be agreed within the forum. In some instances the local authority would be asked to take action through such means as improved lighting, extinguishment of rights of way over laneways and issuing warnings to or evicting tenants. A community co-ordinator would liaise with the Garda, local authority and community and business groups to ensure the agreed policing work and other delegated work was carried out and the various groups and individuals were kept informed on a regular basis of progress.
Incidentally, the Joint Committee on Justice, Equality, Defence and Women's Rights recently approved my appointment as rapporteur to draw up models of best practice for community policing structures. The joint committee will shortly place advertisements in the national media inviting oral and written submissions. We will hold a series of oral hearings at the beginning of March which we have asked TG4 to televise live. We will invite in the main players, including the Minister, the Department, the Garda Commissioner, the Judiciary, the Courts Service, existing pilot models of community policing, the Northern Ireland Policing Authority, the Lord Mayor's commission, local authorities etc. It is intended that our report will include model schemes which are sufficiently flexible to be adaptable to rural and urban community policing needs.
The power of the Garda to prosecute summary offences in the District Court as "common informers", effectively as ordinary members of the public mounting a private prosecution, is to be abolished. In future the Garda may prosecute only in the name of the Director of Public Prosecutions and will be subject to his direction. This reflects recent practice and is a major step towards the establishment of a unified prosecution service. However, section 8(6)(b) then provides that nothing done by a member of the Garda Síochána in instituting or conducting a prosecution is invalid by reason only of the member's failure to comply with a direction given by the DPP. What is the thinking behind this proviso which runs the risk of making the reforms irrelevant?
While one can understand that there may be circumstances in which it is necessary to appoint a person from outside the force to be commissioner, as section 9 permits, why is the same wording repeated in following sections to permit non-gardaí to be appointed to every rank? This provision needs to be tidied up.
The Minister attracted considerable publicity when he announced his intention to abolish unauthorised communications between gardaí and journalists. In particular, he alleged that what amounted to institutionalised bribery was taking place. His proposals in section 55 represent a more measured response. Nonetheless, we will submit amendments to the section to ensure that unauthorised disclosure of information can be defended on overriding public interest grounds, such as whistleblowing.
With regard to the legal status of members of the Garda Síochána, the intention behind the Bill is to repeal all the Garda Síochána Acts other than those dealing with Garda compensation and the acquisition of premises. The Bill continues the existing force in being and, for the first time, sets out the statutory functions of the force. It then provides, however, that nothing in the Bill affects the common law powers, immunities, privileges and duties of members of the Garda Síochána. This naturally raises the question as to what exactly is the status of an individual member of the force at common law. Is a member of the Garda Síochána a "constable" enjoying common law powers and immunities? The word has never been used in any of the Garda Síochána Acts. If the member has common law powers, the term used in the other jurisdiction on the island, is he or she subject to control in their exercise? Is the commissioner, the Minister or the State liable for their wrongful exercise?
When statutory powers are conferred on a member of the force, are they exercisable by him or her at personal discretion, as an individual garda or is the member subject to the direction and control of a superior officer as a member of the Garda Síochána? If, for example, a superior directs a member to arrest someone and the member does not have any grounds for suspecting that the individual is guilty of an offence, is the arrest lawful? Although this is a fundamentally important question, the answer is uncertain and is the subject of a Supreme Court appeal. It is regrettable the Minister did not take the opportunity to provide clarification.
Education and training of Garda recruits has been carried out in Templemore College, County Tipperary, since the foundation of the force. Templemore College has served the country well and is internationally respected for the quality of its work. It is located in an idyllic rural setting which is conducive to tranquil learning. The Minister recently decided to provide a four storey extension to enable the extra 2,000 gardaí to be recruited and trained over the next couple of years. It is time we reviewed the role of Templemore as the sole centre for training and education for the gardaí.
A historic opportunity exists to locate a second Garda education and training centre in Grangegorman on the north side of Dublin. The Dublin Institute of Technology is building the largest third level college in the country on the site. The enabling legislation is currently going through the Oireachtas. A Garda Síochána college or a police academy could easily become the seventh faculty in the DIT. The 65 acre site has 30 acres of playing fields and will have other sporting facilities.
It is located in an inner city urban setting and reflects the general context where most policing work is carried out in a modern Ireland that has rapidly changed from rural to urban in character. Garda students would mix and interact with their peers in other third level disciplines and not only with their trainee colleagues as at present. It is ideally located for in-service courses and for further education research studies in such areas as policing methods, crime statistics and criminology, and an international policing dimension could easily be added. It should be possible to share some facilities with the Police Service of Northern Ireland and to establish an exchange link with the new police college in Northern Ireland.
A Garda college in Dublin would not replace Templemore but would add an extra dimension which would make the Garda Síochána a thoroughly modern and professional force in tune with the best policing practice anywhere in the world.
The thinking behind the proposal in section 14 to admit unpaid but trained volunteers to the rank of garda in the force "to assist it in exercising its functions" is not explained. It requires further elaboration and justification. The section does not even state that volunteer gardaí are to be unpaid, part-time, or both.
Section 15, as published, requires a newly appointed garda to "declare before God" that he or she will, among other things, have regard for human rights. The religious stipulation is itself a disregard for human rights. Thank God it is now optional.
This is a case of what I term a "Patten lite" version. It is a missed opportunity to open a nationwide debate on the role and function of the Garda and to put in place structures appropriate to a modern police in the 21st century. The Garda Síochána, as well as the citizens, deserve that.
Ba mhaith liom am a roinnt leis na Teachtaí Gregory agus Cuffe.
Cuirim fáilte roimh an Bhille, mar táimid ag fanacht le 80 bliain lena leithéid de Bhille chun leasú ceart a dhéanamh ar an tslí a ritear an Garda Síochána. In ainneoin go bhfuil ceann de na rátaí póilíneachta is airde againn ar domhan, níl an Garda Síochána éifeachtach, agus tá súil agam agus ag mo pháirtí go gcuideoidh an Bille seo é sin a dhéanamh le go mbeadh an Garda Síochána ní b'éifeachtaí agus é ag déanamh a chuid oibre agus le go mbeadh muinín ag an phobal sa Stát seo as an fhórsa póilíneachta ar an chuid seo den oileán.
It is a disgrace that this is the first major reform since the establishment of the Garda Síochána. I welcome the fact the Minister has undertaken this reform and recognise that he has accepted submissions on this issue, including recommendations from Sinn Féin. Moreover, he has proved somewhat more flexible than usual in shifting from his original position and considerably weaker proposals in this regard.
I also welcome the recommendations of the Dublin City Council mayor's commission on crime and policing published last week. I urge the Minister to take on board the findings of that document to see whether amendments, based on those findings, would be appropriate on Committee Stage, and I will table some amendments. Sinn Féin councillors Christy Burke and Nicky Keogh made submissions to the commission which were taken on board. It is good there is an all-party approach to amending this legislation to ensure it is the best possible. We have a chance to undo the problems we have had with the Garda Síochána in this State over the past 80 years.
Many people in working class communities experience higher levels of anti-social crime in particular. They have stopped reporting those crimes to the Garda Síochána and have stopped co-operating actively with it because they have come to believe the Garda Síochána does not serve their families or communities. That must change and the Garda Síochána must, once again, win the trust of every community in this State so that crime levels might be reduced rather than playing around with statistics through the PULSE system which does not reflect what is happening.
The onus for change is on the Minister. The key to this reform is some element of oversight and accountability, although the Minister does not go far enough. Much work needs to be done on Committee Stage to ensure effective oversight of the Garda Síochána and real accountability to communities. I welcome the Minister's move as a first step towards local accountability but it does not go far enough. If his lack of support for the existing local policing fora in my area of Rialto in the south-west inner city is anything to go by, then the Minister's joint policing committees will struggle to have any effect. I hope they have an effect because that is the way forward and we should go further than his recommendations.
The change in focus to a more accountable Garda Síochána is particularly welcome from a Minister who has until now done very little to increase the security of working class communities in this State, particularly in my area of which I have most experience. Only yesterday joy-riders were driving around Ballyfermot when school children were returning home from school. When one of our councillors rang the Garda Síochána, the councillor was told the only car available to Ballyfermot Garda station was busy transferring a prisoner. It is a scandal in this day and age that there was one police car available to Ballyfermot Garda station. The same is probably the case throughout the city. I would say Deputies Gregory and Finian McGrath could cite other instances where the Garda has been unable to use resources properly and where resources have not been allocated to local Garda stations.
The demand for greater community accountability dates back as far as 1925. In the Dáil debate on the Police Forces Amalgamation (Amendment) Bill 1925, Major Brian Cooper proposed the establishment of a police advisory council for Dublin, but that did not happen. The Labour Party's Tom Johnson called for greater local control. Some 80 years later we are only getting to grips with it, which is welcome.
I agree with the Minister who stated that we should never lose sight of the fact that the Garda Síochána is made up of ordinary men and women to whom we entrust the most challenging, demanding and difficult tasks in our community. They should be praised for doing that work. However, the abuse of power and privilege by a minority of gardaí has tainted the force as a whole and has led to mistrust and a loss of confidence and faith in the organisation on the part of a significant sector of society. A culture of impunity has evolved and senior management has been implicated in a number of serious incidents.
Sinn Féin does not put the Garda Síochána in the same category as the RUC or PSNI. However, the history of the Garda Síochána is not unblemished and it points to the urgent reform needed. Elements of the Garda have been involved in aggressive, undemocratic, unlawful action. Its special branch has been used as a political force against republicans over the years and must be changed from the unaccountable force within a force it has become. I would go so far as to say that the special branch in its present formation should be disbanded.
There are two ongoing tribunals into alleged Garda misconduct and a documented failure on the part of the force to co-operate with Garda Complaints Board investigations regarding, for instance, claims of excessive force against Reclaim the Streets protestors in May 2002. It is not just a case of a few bad apples. In the past there was the heavy gang, now there is an inquiry into the actions of gardaí in County Donegal. Misconduct by the Garda has included killings in disputed circumstances, torture, rape, breaking and entering, lying under oath, falsifying evidence, misappropriation of funds and drug dealing. This is an indictment of a Garda management which has not managed to deal effectively with these types of incidents on an ongoing basis and has not prevented this type of culture emerging within the force.
If I were to list all the incidents involving special branch dealings with republicans, I would be here until tomorrow and beyond. Some of the high-profile cases include the Sallins train robbery and the abuse of power by the heavy gang at that stage. The Garda totally failed to properly investigate the killing of a Sinn Féin councillor, Mr. Eddie Fullerton, in County Donegal. Proper professional standards were not adhered to in this instance, yet there was no investigation into the circumstances and no garda was called to book in this regard. Others mentioned illegal tapping of telephones. No action has been taken in regard to Garda collusion with British Intelligence.
The European Committee for the Prevention of Torture found, in 1993, 1998 and 2002, that persons held in certain Garda stations ran the risk of being physically ill-treated and called for greater action to prevent such occurrences. Certain stations in this city are renowned for abuse by gardaí. There have been instances of perjured evidence, assaults and stitch-ups. The victims of such behaviour have no confidence in the Garda Complaints Board and fear further intimidation by the Garda on the basis of other spurious charges.
Críochnóidh méá rá go bhfuil mé sásta tacú leis an Bhille seo ag an phointe seo, ach muna nglactar le leasuithe, beidh mé ag cur ina choinne níos deireannaí sa phróiseas.
Earlier this week, I attended a public meeting in St. Finbar's school in west Cabra in my Dublin Central constituency. The hall was packed to capacity with 300 to 400 local residents concerned about the increasingly serious cocaine problem, an issue that affects working class areas across the city. The national drugs unit had recently seized €1.5 million worth of cocaine in one operation in the area. It is generally accepted that the amount of drugs seized usually represents a small percentage of the quantity of drugs in circulation.
The point of relevance to this Bill is that there are only two community gardaí to patrol this area of west Cabra, the largest single working class area in the Dublin Central constituency, along with the adjoining Navan Road estates. Senior Garda management has stated that the resources are not available now or in the foreseeable future to provide the necessary additional gardaí. There is an irony in debating the role and functions of the Garda Síochána, as set out in this Bill, while this incredible lack of resources exists. Although the Minister is not here, I hope he gets the message and ensures that additional community gardaí are provided for this part of Dublin Central.
In regard to the section of the Bill providing for reform of the existing mechanism for dealing with complaints against members of the Garda Síochána, I refer to another meeting in my constituency. This took place last Friday in the office of senior Garda management in Store Street Garda station. Along with two other members of the management of the local community policing forum, I conveyed a detailed written complaint which we had received from a young man who had been given a severe beating by gardaí from that station.
Senior Garda management told us that the complainant had three options. These were to go to the Garda Complaints Board, seek an internal Garda investigation by a Garda Inspector, or find a solicitor who would take his case through the courts. The Garda Complaints Board is long since discredited among people in this part of Dublin and, by its own admission, never had the resources to do the job in any event. An internal inquiry by a Garda inspector would not even be contemplated. This left the complainant with the option of securing the services of a solicitor. Undoubtedly, we would not have been in Store Street Garda station last Friday and this young person would not be in a dilemma as to which course of action he must take if there were a Garda ombudsman.
On the issue of internal inquiries, I take this opportunity to put on record my disgust at the Minister's recent decision not to allow an inquiry into the Garda handling of the Grangegorman murders and the interviewing and charging of Mr. Dean Lyons. I have no doubt that if Mr. Lyons were a person of affluence instead of an unfortunate heroin addict, there would have been an inquiry. This case, above all, clearly demonstrates the need for a Garda ombudsman. It is a black mark against the Minister that he did not face up to his responsibilities in this regard. We saw a man wrongly charged with a most horrific double murder, the experience of which probably contributed to his subsequently untimely death, and it seems that nobody else can now be charged with the crime. If this does not deserve an independent inquiry, I do not know what case does.
This clearly demonstrates the urgency of this legislation. There is a litany of cases where people who get the wrong end of the stick from the gardaí have no confidence in getting justice other than through costly legal proceedings. All these experiences demonstrate the long overdue importance of the section of this Bill dealing with the Garda Síochána ombudsman commission and make it all the more disappointing that the proposal in this regard is flawed. It will not generate the confidence of the public as presumably intended.
I am convinced of this, having a read a critique by Professor Dermot Walsh of the University of Limerick. He states:
The ombudsman commission is intended to play the central role in generating confidence among gardaí, complainants and the public that complaints against gardaí will be dealt with fairly and efficiently, and that public concerns about policing policies, practices and incidents will be addressed seriously when they arise.
He argues that this will be dependent on its composition, on the expertise of the persons involved, on its independence of Government and on it having the necessary powers and resources to employ and train investigators independent of the Garda with the necessary powers to investigate complaints against gardaí robustly fairly and swiftly. He points out that the office of ombudsman is almost invariably a single individual because it is vital that the complainant and the public have full confidence in his or her independence of the body under investigation.
The office of ombudsman must be filled by someone who enjoys a public reputation for independence and impartiality with the necessary qualifications and expertise to pursue the types of grievances that will be brought before him or her. Even if the three proposed members are wholly independent and impartial, it will be very difficult for them to generate the sort of public reputation or profile associated with a single ombudsman. With the ombudsman, the complainant and public can put a name and a face on the person upon whom they are depending to deliver justice for them. The significance of this human dimension in generating public confidence in the system should not be underestimated. However, with the multi-member commission as proposed, the complainant and the public will almost invariably be expected to place their trust in a faceless impersonal body, whose offices are on a particular floor of an office block somewhere in the city.
With an ombudsman, unlike the commission, the buck would stop with a single publicly identifiable individual. The individual could attract the necessary public recognition for independence, impartiality, integrity, expertise and commitment. It is much more difficult for an impersonal multi-member commission, which will inevitably function in a committee-like manner, to cultivate and retain these attributes. Professor Walsh argues that even the use of the term "ombudsman" alongside that of "commission" is merely window dressing.
I wish to refer to the community policing structures. While I welcome that public representatives will be on community policing boards, it is interesting that we have just passed legislation precluding public representatives from being on health boards. The change in the health boards was media-driven and a sign of a knee-jerk response from the Government, which does not seem to have a consistent policy on public representatives being members of such bodies. Clearly the community sector is not represented on the community policing boards, which is a vital error. While the Bill provides for the establishment of fora, who will set these up? This will be done by gardaí and city council officials. However, a wealth of experience exists at local level, certainly in my area, which should be fully utilised. People from the community sector involved in community policing fora should be elected to the city-wide structures and should have a role in establishing the local community forum. The Lord Mayor's commission met the local community policing forum in my area, gathered a number of ideas and put them into its report, but failed to acknowledge that it had spoken to this group and failed to acknowledge its expertise.
The Green Party welcomes the Bill. Any measure designed to drag the police force, kicking and screaming, into the 21st century is long overdue. Confidence in the Garda Síochána must be restored. The drip feeding of revelations from the Morris tribunal remind us on a daily basis of the need to reform radically the way the force recruits, promotes and goes about its business.
The Minister for Justice, Equality and Law Reform has often stated that one must be radical or redundant. I am disappointed that the Bill is cautious and restrained. We need radical reform of the Garda Síochána. The measures in the Bill are not as radical as necessary. While we recognise the positive move to establish the Garda ombudsman commission, other issues need to be addressed such as training, the political accountability of the Garda Síochána, the recruitment process and the reporting of crime. On the independence of the police service, we are concerned that the Bill largely retains the existing system of political appointment of senior officers in the Garda Síochána. The relationship between the Government and senior figures in the Garda must be at arms length and there must be transparency in this process.
Several sections in the Bill provide broad discretionary powers to the Minister for Justice, Equality and Law Reform. Section 23(2)(c) directs the Garda Commissioner to have regard to "any relevant policies of the Minister or the Government". The independence of the police service is central to its credibility and people's perceptions of it. Therefore it is imperative that the Bill be transparent and allow for full accountability within the police service.
Some of the Green Party's concerns are as follows. Section 7(4) states: "In performing its functions, the Garda Síochána shall have regard to the importance of upholding human rights." We suggest that we should insert "and ensure fair and equal treatment and respect for all". Simply referring to human rights gives too broad a remit. We need to be specific and ensure that equality is mentioned in the Bill. This section covers the functions of the Garda Síochána and its objectives in preventing crime and preserving peace. While upholding human rights is covered in the section, we feel it warrants expansion to incorporate the prevention of discrimination.
Section 55 outlines 11 different circumstances in which the disclosure of information can be reasonably considered to be harmful. Section 55(2)(j) states: "affects adversely the international relations or interests abroad of the State, including those with Northern Ireland". Again this wording is too broad and is open to interpretation as the concept of the "interests abroad of the State" might encompass diplomatic or economic effects, which might be difficult to foresee or quantify.
Section 14(1) states: "The Garda Commissioner may, subject to subsection (4) and the regulations, appoint persons as volunteer members of the Garda Síochána to assist it in exercising its functions." I am concerned about the "Dad's Army" aspect of this provision. I am concerned that we will have a second grade of people with very strong policing functions who perhaps do not have the training or background to use those powers correctly. I urge the Minister to ensure that volunteers are given the same training as other gardaí before exercising Garda functions. In particular they need to receive human rights training.
Section 122 relates to the exercise of special powers by security officers. Section 122(2)(b) states that the head of an authorised body may:
(b) designate a person as a security officer in relation to those premises if satisfied that——
(i) the person is a suitable person to exercise the powers of a security officer under this section in relation to specified premises,
(ii) the person has received adequate training for that purpose,
After "training" we need to insert: "including human rights training", which must be seminal to the Bill and cannot be included in an À la carte fashion. I am concerned how these volunteers will work. Will they have a parallel rank structure to the current Garda service? Will these volunteers need to subscribe to the solemn declaration and the code of ethics? They too must be held accountable.
Section 58 refers to the appointment of three members to make up the Garda ombudsman commission. We are very concerned about dilution of powers to a three-person commission. As in many other areas, there should be one person as the ombudsman to oversee the Garda. Having three people gives rise to the danger of buck passing and losing personal accountability. If three persons are to be appointed to the Garda ombudsman commission, we recommend that the positions should be publicly advertised and an independent advisory body should make the appointments.
Section 86(3) states:
The Ombudsman Commission may decide, either on referring the complaint under section 84(a) or at any time during the investigation, to supervise the investigation of a complaint if it considers it desirable in the public interest to do so.
While this provision is of significant importance, the involvement of the ombudsman commission in a supervisory function should be mandatory in all cases, rather than discretionary. The staffing of the commission should be completely independent. I appreciate that Ireland is a small country, but I would be worried if the commission were to be staffed by people who are on secondment from the Garda. If we are to ensure that there is full independence in such circumstances, we have to break that link.
I have concerns about section 91, which restricts the right of the ombudsman commission to direct an investigation or search of a designated Garda station. The European Court of Human Rights considers national security to be a legitimate ground for restricting accountability and transparency. The investigating staff of the commission will be bound by the Official Secrets Act 1963. Any warrant will be confined to material relevant to a specific complaint. Restriction of the powers of the ombudsman commission seems somewhat anomalous, given that investigators from international bodies like the Council of Europe's committee on the prevention on torture already have the power to enter any police station on demand. We recommend that section 91 should not restrict the ombudsman commission's general right of access, on demand, to Garda stations.
I remind the House of what the Council of Europe's committee on the prevention of torture found when it came to Ireland. Its most recent annual report stated that the allegations of ill-treatment heard by its delegation were given some credibility by their number and consistency. A person who was interviewed in Cork Prison alleged that four or five police officers had dragged him down the stairs of Anglesea Street Garda station the previous day. He said the gardaí had repeatedly struck him with batons. A person interviewed in Clover Hill Prison alleged that the police had twisted his wrist a few days earlier, at the time of his arrest. He said that several baton blows were subsequently delivered in the direction of his head by a police officer at Store Street Garda station. He had to deflect the blows with his left arm.
Another person who was interviewed by the committee's delegation in Dublin alleged that the police treated him roughly at the time of his arrest a week previously. He said he was subsequently assaulted many times by police officers at Store Street Garda station. He said that an officer hit him six or seven times on the thigh with a baton on one occasion, while he was being restrained. It is easy to be sanctimonious in the Dáil Chamber, but we have to admit that the allegations have some credibility. We need to ensure that the ombudsman commission will be allowed to enter any Garda station at any time. Such a provision is needed in the Bill.
Section 98 allows the ombudsman commission to engage in a review of practice and policy procedure. As the Bill stands, the commission will need the authorisation of the Minister for Justice, Equality and Law Reform before it can engage in such a review, but we believe it should have the power to instigate such reviews.
Section 76 provides that "a complaint must be made within the period of 6 months beginning on the date of the conduct giving rise to the complaint". Regardless of the provision that allows for the extension of that time limit in exceptional circumstances, we think the current timeframe provided for in the Bill is inadequate. Logically, the timeframe is not practical because books of evidence in criminal proceedings are often not served within six months. We think it would be a reasonable compromise to extend the relevant timeframe to 12 months.
We welcome the establishment of joint policing committees. We would like the members of the committees to be people who are broadly representative of the community. The committees should represent those with specific policing needs and groups which experience high levels of contact with the police. We can follow the model in Northern Ireland in this regard.
The Green Party is disappointed that the Bill does not deal in detail with the issue of recruitment. Garda recruits should be trained in how to liaise with the public and respond to people's needs. They should be given the opportunity to give feedback on Garda operations. We would like positive steps to be taken to recruit ethnic minorities, including members of the Traveller community. We are concerned that the current entrance criteria make it difficult, if not impossible, for ethnic minorities to enter the force, with very few notable exceptions.
I am concerned that gardaí who are doing good work in the community are being removed from community policing roles. Such officers should be allowed to stay in the same place for two years. I agree wholeheartedly with Deputy Costello's suggestion that an urban police training institute be established. A wonderful old woman in the Liberties once asked me if a decent garda from Crumlin could be assigned to the area. While it could be said that she had a prejudice or bias in respect of gardaí from certain places, she had genuine concerns about the arrival into her local area of gardaí with no link to it. It would make absolute sense to locate part of a police college in Dublin, for example in Dun Laoghaire. The suggestion should be accepted.
The Garda Síochána Bill 2004 is a step in the right direction. It is not as radical as we would have expected from the Minister, Deputy McDowell. We need to restore confidence in the Garda. We look forward to strengthening some of the provisions of the Bill on Committee Stage so that it can help to reform the force and restore confidence in its operations.
I reject Deputy Cuffe's suggestion that this Bill attempts to "drag the police force, kicking and screaming, into the 21st century". The Government is responsible for ensuring that the Garda is accountable and changing the way it acts and is managed. Successive Governments did not take action in that regard until this Government decided to do so. I congratulate the Minister, Deputy McDowell, for taking such action by introducing a Bill that will serve us well for the 21st century.
The Garda Commissioner, Noel Conroy, has always been most co-operative and helpful in his dealings with the Joint Committee on Justice, Equality, Defence and Women's Rights. When the committee contacts him he is immediately co-operative and receptive, without hesitation, to the suggestion that he should attend a meeting to discuss any specific or general matter. I thank him for his co-operation with the committee. The Commissioner immediately agreed to appear before the sub-committee on the Barron report recently. He agreed to put in place a liaison officer for the victims of the bombings of the early 1970s, so they can examine the Garda's files in situ with the liaison officer. That will help the victims to achieve some closure in respect of their problems.
There are approximately 12,000 gardaí. They are noble people who do a good job. Instances of officers doing certain things have been highlighted, but all gardaí are not proud of such events. The officers in question deeply regret their actions. The number of gardaí involved in such matters is a minimal proportion of the total of 12,000 gardaí.
I reject Deputy Ó Snodaigh's suggestion that there is a general broad-brush approach of perjured evidence, assaults and stitch-ups, as if all 12,000 gardaí were involved in such matters. That suggestion is totally at odds with the experience of law-abiding citizens. Those who respect this country's laws and the Garda Síochána also respect the way in which the Garda serves those who respect our laws and the force. I hope that in the not too distant future, all the people of this country, including members of all the political parties in this House, will be in a position to respect fully the laws of this country and the gardaí who try to uphold those laws in our name.
What I am looking for is a positive and proactive approach to the matter. I am not trying to blame anybody. I am seeking to increase the level of respect for the law and the Garda Síochána.
I thank the Minister for appearing before the Oireachtas Committee on Justice, Equality, Defence and Women's Rights in September 2003 to discuss his proposals on this Bill. I believe both Deputies Costello and Ó Snodaigh were present. We found the meeting very helpful and it afforded the committee an opportunity to express its view that it would prefer the use of the term "ombudsman" to that of "inspectorate". We felt the latter would create the impression that there would be another internal body examining the Garda.
On human rights, both Deputies Cuffe and Costello highlighted the need for an urban training institute for gardaí. I have given thought to this and I understand where they are coming from. St. Brendan's is in Deputy Costello's constituency and Deputy Cuffe obviously has a site in mind in Dún Laoghaire. However, there is a fine site in Templemore. It is reckoned that the population of Ireland will increase from approximately 4 million to 4.8 in the not too distant future. I would like to see a mingling of Garda trainees and the general student body which represents both urban and rural people.
I regard the university in Maynooth as a good model in this regard in that it was opened up to students other than seminarians. Although the number of priests has declined, the opening of the college to general students has helped those who have gone through the system to become more open to and knowledgeable and accepting of the needs of individuals. I am sure the Garda will state its training course is not characterised by a macho ethos involving drills, marching and physical education, all in the same barracks, yet one cannot think of any other ethos applying. If Templemore were opened up and transformed into a third level institution in which students of other disciplines could train academically, it would be very helpful.
I agree with Deputy Cuffe that members of the Garda reserve force should be given full training similar to that of gardaí. They should have to abide by the same ethics and rules and take the same oath.
The Bill provides for the establishment by the Minister for Justice, Equality and Law Reform of a code of ethics for the Garda Síochána which will be incorporated into the disciplinary framework for the Garda Síochána. The code is to make gardaí aware of their obligations under the European Convention on Human Rights. We have noted at meetings of the Committee on Justice, Equality, Defence and Women's Rights that the principles of the convention are becoming more pertinent to the laws of the State and those of all other EU states. I refer in particular to Article 2, which protects the right to life. There is an obligation to vindicate the right to life. If a crime, particularly a murder or a serious assault, is committed, it should be fully investigated. The articles of the convention will help to make Ireland a more responsible and better nation. An awareness of our obligations under the convention must be instilled into the minds of all trainee gardaí.
Section 26 provides a statutory basis for the provision of police services by the Garda Commissioner in circumstances where it is consistent with the functions of the Garda Síochána to provide such services and the commissioner is satisfied that the recipient of the services has paid or will pay for the services. Certain sports organisations avail of the services of the Garda. The prices of tickets to their events are so high and the gate receipts are so numerous that I would expect such organisations to pay in full for the services provided to them by the Garda. The same applies to banks which should pay fully for the services provided by the Garda in the transfer of cash.
I was taken by the heading to Chapter 4 which reads: "Co-operation with Local Authorities and Arrangements for Obtaining Views of the Public". I was always under the impression that this chapter would cover a wider area and that it would be intended to implement some of the suggestions of the public.
I am slightly concerned about that. I am delighted to follow up on Deputy Costello's remark that the justice committee will prepare a report on co-operation with local authorities and arrangements for obtaining the views of the public. The Deputy is the rapporteur of that report. We hope to have persons before the committee in early March who will be able to make an input into the legislation in this area. I hope the Minister, the Garda Commissioner, members of the public and perhaps relevant representatives of the Independent Commission for Policing for Northern Ireland will be able to attend.
I am interested to note that the joint policing committee may include elected representatives such as Members of Dáil Éireann. This is the first little chink in the armour surrounding the abolition of the dual mandate in that a Member of Dáil Éireann is now regarded as competent enough to become a member of that committee.
Deputy Costello mentioned the north inner-city policing forum. Deputy Ó Snodaigh mentioned the Rialto policing forum and I share some of his reservations thereon. I hope that at the end of our discussions we will have a template that can be used to assist local authorities and communities in adopting this chapter of the legislation. The Rialto policing forum has met the Minister to try to secure funding of only a few thousand euro to maintain its administration. Unfortunately, the forum is no longer operating because it does not have the necessary resources. This is a great loss to the area in which it operated. I hope the Minister can provide in the Bill for local authorities, the Garda Síochána or the State to help fund the local police fora.
Section 33 places a duty on local authorities to take steps to prevent disorder, crime and anti-social behaviour in their areas of responsibility. Recent good practice guidelines gave local authorities the power to evict people engaged in anti-social behaviour from local authority tenancies. That has helped reduce the amount of anti-social behaviour in the Dublin area and improve the quality of life in these areas.
Section 34 states:
(1) The Garda Commissioner shall make arrangements for obtaining the views of the public about matters concerning policing and the state of crime.
(2) Before making any arrangements under this section, the Garda Commissioner shall consult with the Minister about the proposed arrangements and the Minister may approve the arrangements-
(a) as proposed, or
(b) with such revisions as the Minister, after consulting with the Commissioner, may determine.
That is what I thought. Not only is this onerous for the Minister but it somewhat diminishes the Garda Commissioner's authority and his responsibility for such a programme. The Garda Commissioner, in conjunction with the local authorities and the communities, would be able to devise programmes which would present no problem to the Minister. Amendment of that section would reduce the Minister's responsibilities and workload.
I am delighted to see that under chapter 5 which deals with accountability, the Garda Commissioner will be the accounting officer. This is significant for the Committee of Public Accounts and the Oireachtas Joint Committee on Justice, Equality, Defence and Women's Rights. Someone who is effectively the chief executive officer of an organisation, whether the Garda Síochána or a health board, should come before an Oireachtas committee to explain and account for work done.
It will be useful for those of us on the Joint Committee on Justice, Equality, Defence and Women's Rights to have before us the person who is fully responsible for the Garda Síochána. Previously, the Secretary General of the Department of Justice, Equality and Law Reform, who has many other responsibilities, was the accounting officer for the Garda Síochána. The new arrangement will be more efficient.
It is a good idea to set up an audit committee but while that works closely with the Garda Commissioner, it should be independent of office. People who work to the audit committee, as well as the internal auditors, should work for the Garda Commissioner but report also, fully and openly, to the audit committee.
The presence of a deputy Garda Commissioner on this committee could constrain the discussion that might take place between an independent audit committee and the internal auditor. A deputy Garda Commissioner should attend audit committee meetings to help the committee in its dealings, but as a member of the committee he or she would be primus inter pares with extra clout that would not be good for corporate governance.
The audit committee should look not only at the financial affairs of the Garda Síochána as set out in the section but also at the management structures and information systems within the force. Recent events, particularly in Donegal, show that, while the structures operate well in many cases, they are too reliant on one person. Layers of management would be more fluid and responsive and would be better able to deal with problems.
I am concerned that this Bill does not address the question of management of the Garda Síochána at all levels. It addresses well matters of leadership and accountability, but middle management needs more attention. There is an opportunity to address this as the Bill goes through the House.
I welcome the opportunity to speak on this important Bill and, in general, I welcome the Bill. The issues that concern me most are those things which were promised in the past but have not happened, for example, an extra 2,000 gardaí on the beat. The Garda service in the Border area, especially following recent threats from the IRA, worries me. Several barracks are closed for all but a few hours a day and the distance between those that are open is unacceptable in the new situation we may face. We cannot ignore these issues.
A previous speaker said that almost 400 gardaí are involved in ordinary desk duty. They could be out on the beat. If the Government is serious about having people out and visible, that is not justified. A great deal of Garda time is spent in court. My colleague, Deputy Jim O'Keeffe, who is a solicitor, and the Minister might not agree because the legal profession likes people to spend as much time in court as possible, for various reasons. For gardaí to spend time in court is not in people's best interests. They may be on call for court attendance on one day but if the case is not dealt with and is put back to another day they will be on call again. They could be released from this duty to do what they should do.
It is crazy to employ Garda personnel in the collection of fines. To get around that problem, my party proposed a Bill that could have dealt with fines by way of attachment to earnings or social welfare. While the Minister stated he had other ideas, the Bill does not deal with this. It is a means of freeing up more personnel to do the work we want them to do.
The Minister will appreciate that I and my party, more than any other in the House apart from the Minister's, support the Garda Síochána and want it to work in the best interests of the public. I do not like Members to state in the House that, as public representatives, they could not advise supporters to provide information to gardaí. That is not my attitude, which is that we work with and deal with the Garda as the force of law and order.
Community policing is often overlooked but provides a tremendous service. As an example, one need only look at my town of Monaghan, where a community garda dealt with an ongoing problem in a housing estate. He did a tremendous job and worked at all hours, far beyond the call of duty, to supply, with the aid of outside organisations, a community building to allow for sport and other recreational activities. This will lead to better education, better facilities for young mothers and better control. This is the type of positive activity we want.
I welcome increased Garda involvement with local authorities. The more gardaí who can become involved with local people, the better. While I question the need to get permission from the Minister to hold meetings and so on, this is possibly only legal jargon in the Bill. However, any such involvement must be as near the ground as possible to ensure that communities feel involved and trust is built up with the Garda. Gone are the days when a local garda travelled by bicycle or on foot, knew every person and could keep tabs on people.
Many years ago, two eminent clerics contacted senior Garda personnel to have a sergeant removed from a town because they felt he was not hard enough in closing pubs at night. However, it was less than a year before the clerics were begging for the same officer to be moved back to the town because he was in touch with everything and knew exactly what was happening. He did not try to impose the law in a negative way, although he could have done better in the view of some. However, he was on the beat and knew what was happening. When the local bank was robbed, he was able to arrest the perpetrators within hours because he had been watching events unfold.
While I welcome this aspect of the Bill, it is not certain who pays for this involvement by local authorities. As one who spent almost 30 years on a local authority, I know that over the years it was given an increasing number of roles to play but less and less funds with which to play them. It must be made clear that local authorities are not being asked to take on additional responsibilities or personnel and that they will be funded as necessary.
While I am not sure it is covered in the Bill, I wish to refer to the issue of traffic wardens. As all politics is local, I will use the example of my town, Monaghan, which has had a welcome increase in the number of traffic wardens from one to three, as well as the introduction of pay parking. Despite some initial complications, the traffic wardens are doing a good job. However, a technicality arises in that while a traffic warden can deal with parked cars, he or she cannot play any role in directing traffic but must call the Garda. If traffic wardens are able to control car parking, they should have a role in traffic management. Although Monaghan is awaiting a bypass, it has not yet been built and one or two vehicles in the centre of town can cause chaos. Traffic wardens are usually available and should have a role to play in this regard.
I welcome the proposed increase in liaison with the policing authorities in Northern Ireland and elsewhere. As a representative of a Border area, whatever build-up of trust can be achieved with the police forces North and South is extremely important. There have been good relationships in the past but questions arise at times as to how well the system works on the ground. It is no harm for the personnel to be interchanged and for this new format to be used to build better relationships.
I referred in another recent debate to the events at Omagh and the fact that at that stage nobody had been arrested. Little did I know that somebody from this State was arrested 24 hours earlier and held awaiting trial for related offences. I hope this is just the beginning of a resolution to this investigation.
With regard to the Garda volunteer force, I am conscious that the 2,000 full-time gardaí have not been delivered. It is intended that the 1,400 members of the new volunteer force would have the same powers as full-time gardaí. How will this work? Will they have full Garda training? Will they be paid? To whom are they answerable? Under what structures will they work? What role will they play? The Minister referred to this but his contribution does not make us much the wiser. It is a matter that will need to clarified on Committee Stage for us to be able to support the measure fully.
There is a need, to which I referred earlier in regard to county council structures, for every format to be used to make more personnel available to enforce the law. This will provide peace of mind to the public in their homes, in particular at night, so that drunks, not all of them young, outside chip shops and pubs can be watched. Towns such as Cootehill, County Cavan, and Ballybay, County Monaghan, are a long way from a Garda headquarters which is open at night, and much can happen in a few minutes or hours if gardaí are not available. However, I question the granting of additional powers in this regard. If one individual takes on too much power, serious problems can arise. We will have to reconsider this matter on Committee Stage.
I welcome that the annual report will now be published within four months. I hope this great improvement is realised because in the past the report has not been published for at least a year. When one considers how quickly we can obtain figures from banks and so on, one must ask why has a vital structure like the Garda Síochána not got a computer system that would provide instant information, not just on reports but in other areas.
The decision to dissolve the Garda Complaints Board is vital. I welcome the ombudsman commission proposal. It has been the focus of consistent queries, and I will bring one such query to the Minister's attention in a few minutes. It appears that the ombudsman commission will comprise three people to be appointed by the Dáil. Why has the Minister decided on three people rather than one person, as is the case in Northern Ireland?
I welcome any improvement in this area, but it is not acceptable that, under section 66, the ombudsman will employ gardaí. Is it acceptable that gardaí should be involved in investigating complaints against their colleagues? For instance should advice be sought, from Canada, France, the UK or wherever? I recall the abuse my former Dáil colleague, and now MEP, Jim Higgins, got from the media and so on when he tried to highlight what was happening in Donegal. The gardaí were supposed to be above reproach. I want to put on record once again my commitment and that of my party to the Garda Síochána. However, we must recognise that there are bad eggs everywhere, and a completely independent body must deal with these people.
I raise a case with which I am familiar. I am sure the couple concerned visited the Minister's offices. They met with me in regard to their treatment by the Garda, particularly the Garda Complaints Board. I have a letter dated 12 May 2003, addressed to the Chief Executive of the Garda Complaints Board, Irish Life Centre, Lower Abbey Street, Dublin 1. Before coming to this House, I checked if the case had been dealt with. I was told that there has been no word to date, which is totally unacceptable. There may be questions as to what a case is all about because people may have over-reacted and so on, but surely a body such as this should have the courtesy to get back to people and hear their complaint. I have many queries relating to this issue. I have gone through the boxes of files with a fine tooth comb. My interest in the case is that the wife comes from my constituency, and I know the family extremely well. Cases such as this must be examined and dealt with. They may involve a bit of bother or hassle, but these people have certainly been harassed. I am very concerned that they have not been given the full benefit of the law. I do not normally complain about the gardaí, but when one examines this file, as I am sure the Minister has, it raises major questions about how the existing Garda Complaints Board and a number of very senior personnel within the Garda deal with individuals. These people are not criminals. They are not the type of people one would want to see living the hell they have lived. The man involved has lost a good position in public life. He lost his career because of what has gone on.
Another issue about which I am concerned happened along the Border. A young man was left for dead after being beaten with shovels and spades. The windows in his house were broken and his car and tractor were damaged, yet no one has been held responsible. There is ongoing racketeering in that area. This is not happening on a cross-religious basis, it is happening within one group of people. Questions must be asked, as this is extremely serious. I have met senior Garda personnel in the matter but I am not satisfied with the response. Summonses arrive late and many other things happen, which should not happen. I would like to see this matter cleared up, therefore, the setting up of the ombudsman commission is very important.
There appears to be some concern about searching Garda stations without authorisation. I would question why. I highlighted at the agriculture committee yesterday that inspectors from the Department of Agriculture and Food can walk into a farm without notice and carry out a full inspection. Farmers may not end up going to court, but they could lose thousands of euro if everything is not perfect on the day. However, there is a different attitude to the Garda who have a serious responsibility to the State. If the ombudsman commission is to work, Garda stations should be as open to inspection as anywhere else.
There appears to be a broad welcome for the general reforms to the Garda force. There has been a long consultation period in this regard. The Minister has allowed all interest groups to make submissions. He invited groups to come to see him. The Fianna Fáil parliamentary party had a meeting on the issue. It has allowed the Bill to develop in the Seanad and I hope it will develop again as a result of the contributions of Members of this House.
I will begin by commenting on the ombudsman commission proposal in Part 3. I want to set out the background to all of this. The gardaí are not ordinary members of the workforce, they operate in very stressful and often very dangerous circumstances. As such, motivation and morale is a key issue in carrying out the job successfully on behalf of the people. When they put themselves in harm's way, they must feel they are doing so for a good reason, that they will have the support of the State and that they are appreciated to a certain extent. It is sometimes too easy for people to criticise the entire force when the problem may lie only with the misdemeanours of a few people.
Having made that general point, we should remember this aspect in the context of the proposals on the ombudsman commission. Its primary function will be to deal with complaints by members of the public relating to the conduct of members of the Garda. It will replace the existing Garda Complaints Board established in 1987. The public did not perceive the board, rightly or wrongly, as being transparent, impartial and fair in all its dealings. In some circumstances that may well have been the case. The example to which Deputy Crawford alluded identifies that there are shortcomings in the operation of the board.
The appointment of Nuala O'Loan in the North has inspired a certain amount of impetus in this area. The events of May Day were also influential. It would be unfortunate to think the events in Donegal would be used to piggyback reforms of the Garda. I am not sure if that is entirely the case, but there has been an upswell of interest in reform of the Garda in the last while.
Deputy Howlin published a Bill in 2001 on the question of an ombudsman, proposing a single individual as ombudsman. I do not have a problem with the appointment of three individuals as opposed to one. That indicates we would be dealing with three full-time individuals who would be applying their minds to this issue. As we now have a larger population, inevitably we will need more people dealing with complaints that will be made to the commission.
It is important the three people who will be appointed will be of the highest calibre, held in high regard throughout the community and that they will operate independent of the State and the Government. They will have to inspire confidence not only among gardaí but among members of the public. Nuala O'Loan has confidently taken on that role in the North in recent years. We need people of that calibre for those appointments.
The Bill seems to suggest that judges of the superior courts might be appointed. There is a need for more judges of the superior courts as opposed to seconding them to do full-time jobs elsewhere. We need to look elsewhere to appoint members to the commission.
It is also important that the Minister puts his mind to ensuring there is wide publicity of the existence of the office. It is essential that members of the public are aware that this complaints procedure is available to them, is straightforward, that there is no intimidation and they would be able to approach a Garda station or the ombudsman commission directly to make such a complaint.
I wish to briefly deal with the sections. Under section 75, if a complainant approaches a Garda station directly and makes a complaint, which in normal circumstances would be an appropriate complaint for the ombudsman commission, it appears the complainant may have to indicate to the garda that he or she wished to have the complaint forwarded to the ombudsman commission. Section 75(2) states that the complaint may be made directly to the ombudsman commission or by stating, giving or sending it to any member of the Garda Síochána at a Garda station, or to a member at or above the rank of chief superintendent at a place other than a Garda station, for forwarding under section 77 to the ombudsman commission. In other words, a member of the public may not be aware of this and I am concerned that a garda may simply take the complaint and it may wither because the member of the public failed to indicate that it was for forwarding to the ombudsman commission. If he or she fails to use that language or to make that clear, the complaint could wither and the 12 months period during which summary prosecution can be brought might have elapsed. My reading of that subsection might be incorrect, but that is an observation with which the Minister might deal with if he can.
Under section 81, in regard to informing the person complained of, the Garda Commissioner must make sure that evidence has been preserved. This is a good measure. However, a time limit for informing the person complained of should be inserted. Natural justice would require that the person complained about would be informed with all due dispatch in a reasonable time. Inevitably, these matters will come before the courts and a judge will decide on a case by case basis what is a reasonable period of time. However, we should set down clearly that the Garda Commissioner has a specific period of, say, two to four weeks to ensure that evidence is preserved before the person concerned is entitled to have the complaint about him or her explained.
I have a concern regarding section 86 which appears to provide for a circular type of lengthening of the complaints procedure. Section 86(10) states that following a review of the matter, the ombudsman commission may request the Garda Commissioner to review the investigation of the complaint and to report back to it concerning any further action that he or she proposes to take in the matter. We do not want complaint procedures hanging over members of the Garda Síochána for long periods — they should have a beginning, middle and end. That subsection appears to allow for an investigation to drag on indefinitely. We must have confidence that the complaints procedure system will work well and that it will not be allowed to operate in an open-ended way.
When I heard Deputy Crawford's comments, I recalled that a complaint brought to the Garda Complaints Board in May 2003 has not yet been dealt with. We must properly resource the ombudsman commission and, thereby, demonstrate that we are serious about its role. A long-drawn out investigation does nothing to instil public confidence in the complaints procedure, to build morale among members of the Garda Síochána or in regard to the specific complaint.
The Garda Complaints Board has a staff of 20 and a budget of €1.5 million. Section 64 provides for the transfer of such staff to the ombudsman commission. However, we need more staff and more funding. This Bill provides for the commission to have extensive powers. Section 66 provides for the employment of outside assistance. If a serious complaint is made, as in the Donegal case currently being dealt with, there is a potential that somebody from outside the jurisdiction would be called in to oversee a long investigation. Such a long investigation could put a serious dent in a budget as small as €1.5 million.
When Michael Mills was Ombudsman he made complaints regularly that he could not discharge his functions properly with the funding and resources he had to hand. If we are serious about this legislation and if we want to restore public confidence in the Garda — some Members have complained of a lack of confidence — and to restore Garda morale, funding is an absolute prerequisite for the successful operation of the Bill when enacted.
I favour the six month window in which to make a complaint. That allows for a cooling off period if a complaint has arisen due to a clash of personalities, which is often the case. It allows sufficient time for the person concerned to reflect on the matter and consider whether he or she wishes to go through with making a complaint. There are mediation facilities under the Bill, which are welcome. The Bill provides that this period can be extended by the ombudsman commission. I would have thought it was necessary to set an upper limit on that time extension. Given that under section 96 one has only 12 months to bring summary proceedings, the upper time limit that applies is six months because there is no point in making a complaint if the time allowed for bringing summary proceedings has elapsed, although my reading of that section may be incorrect.
Section 91 is worthy of comment. It provides for powers to search a Garda station. It does not seem to restrict what parts of a Garda station can be searched nor does it provide that anyone must be informed what the search is for. The section refers to an authorisation to search rather than to a search warrant but all judicial rules and rulings on search warrants should still apply.
At a meeting of the justice policy group of the Fianna Fáil parliamentary party views were mixed on the volunteer members of the Garda Síochána but I welcome the idea. The existing neighbourhood watch and community policing models are inadequate for localised, low level anti-social behaviour. Everyone in the House has had regular complaints from people in suburban areas about low level crime and the incidence of anti-social behaviour, almost all of which takes place on weekend nights between 11 p.m. and 3 a.m. It happens all the time and affects people's quality of life. It is at least a nuisance, if not worse, and if we are to be serious about a voluntary force, that is the area in which it can be used. This type of crime does not require high level policing.
The Garda Commissioner will make proposals on the volunteer force training but I understand it will have the same powers as the gardaí. Is that necessary? Why is it necessary for a volunteer member to be able to take intimate samples in the way a professional garda can do? Why is it necessary for them to be able to discharge an arrest or search warrant? Their powers should be at a lower level.
The Lord Mayor of Dublin, Councillor Michael Conaghan, produced a report this week on policing in which he referred to community policing fora. Deputy Gregory expanded on the issue and highlighted some of the weaknesses of those types of fora and I echo his comments. There should be something more serious than these fora for low level anti-social behaviour and the volunteer force would be ideally suited for that purpose.
The Minister should have an influence over what the Garda Commissioner does because that will lead to greater democratic accountability. There are malpractices, particularly in rural areas, where gardaí do other jobs such as farming and rarely investigate small-scale crimes or complete their shifts. Such problems must be addressed. There is no point talking about extra resources or gardaí if the existing resources are not efficiently used. The Committee of Public Accounts will now also have the power to talk to the Garda Commissioner as the Accounting Officer for the Garda and that will be helpful.
The court presenter system must be expanded. I did not do much criminal work as a barrister. Most of my work was in the District Court, but I was always struck by the large number of gardaí standing around on a routine basis in the Dublin Metropolitan District Court and the waste of time and resources involved. The system should be expanded because there is no need for these gardaí to come in, claim overtime and waste resources waiting for a traffic fine or a minor offence that does not require the high level of expertise of a fully trained garda.
The joint policing committees, a recommendation in the Lord Mayor's report, are to be welcomed, although it is not necessarily a good idea for Members of the Oireachtas to serve on them. That is not a proper function as we move away from serving on health boards and local authorities. Also, many local authorities do not overlap with Garda divisions. The fire in St. Brendan's school in Bray occurred in the Dún Laoghaire-Rathdown county area which is covered by the gardaí in Bray and County Wicklow. It is a technical difficulty and the Minister will be able to address it.
I hope the Minister's detailed consultations will continue and I look forward to Committee Stage of the Bill. I commend the Bill to the House.
I welcome the opportunity to speak on this Bill. When Bills of this nature come before the House, Members should be encouraged to speak their minds freely and I hope the editor of Garda News notes this. There was a time when Deputies had gardaí shifted but now the gardaí seem to think it is their job to get Deputies shifted. Neither is right and since we have ended the process of Deputies moving gardaí, it is time the Garda Representative Association ended some of its less mature activities and inability to take criticism. It should grow up and realise this House exists to examine and oversee the role of the Executive and some of its agencies.
I pay tribute to Assistant Garda Commissioner Tony Hickey and Superintendent Kevin O'Donoghue for the way they handled the situation in Midleton. I have no intention of raising this ongoing issue other than to say it would restore the faith of anyone who doubted the professionalism and compassion of the Garda Síochána. They handled it in a sensitive manner and, despite the publicity, they did their job without letting it influencing them.
I am concerned that every time we introduce a measure in this House to look at Garda ethics and accountability, the machinery we put in place is often pro forma and does not work. When we raise this issue, it is like talking about the press council where the media owners get protective. It would help the Garda Síochána if a fair complaints procedure were in place. Vexatious complaints should not be entertained but the Garda should not be able to decide what is vexatious. An independent person must do that.
The office of the Police Ombudsman for Northern Ireland has established itself as a fair, independent and reasonable oversight body. I am increasingly concerned at our partitionism, where we change from miles to kilometres seemingly to ensure the Republic is somehow different from Northern Ireland, instead of looking at ways we could be the same. Should there not just be one ombudsman, North and South, to hear complaints about the Police Service of Northern Ireland and the Garda Síochána, who would be totally independent and act without fear or favour? Is it necessary to establish an entirely different complaints machinery?
I instigated the proposal that the Garda Commissioner become the Accounting Officer for the force and I welcome that development. I am glad that the Commissioner will have to appear before the Committee of Public Accounts to account for expenditure, efficiency and effectiveness in carrying out policy. He will not be there to be questioned on policy. Local policing committees would be very welcome, but I hope they will not be like what we had in the past when the assistant commissioner came and, with the press present, councillors made outrageous statements and no real work was done. I do not know what is provided in the legislation — I could not pick it out on my first reading of it — but there is a case for providing that those bodies meet in private if they are to be taken seriously. The question of who chairs the committees is also important. A committee is only as good as its chairperson. If it has a good chairperson and the committee meets in private, some work will be done.
I was the instigator of policing fora. I drafted the first motion on behalf of the policing forum in Rialto and got the Dáil Deputies at the time from Dublin Central and Dublin South-Central to sign it. On behalf of the Rialto network I arranged a meeting with the Garda Commissioner. The Deputies from both constituencies who were available met the Commissioner in Garda Headquarters in the Phoenix Park and fora were set up. That was approximately five years ago. Some of them have worked well while others have not.
I am glad the committees are being put on a statutory footing. However, it has been argued by the policing forum with which I am most familiar that there are no resources for the forum. I do not believe it needs a full-time secretary but there should be an independent resource who would be available to keep minutes, ensure that what is agreed is followed up between meetings and help the chairman to ensure there is an orderly meeting of the forum and that it does not meet three or six months after the previous meeting and merely discuss issues it discussed previously. There needs to be a follow-up process. That would assist the Garda Síochána as well as the local community.
When we started the process in Rialto, the atmosphere was so hostile that it was difficult for the public representatives to sit in the room with the gardaí and the local community at the same time. The gardaí, middle ranking Garda management who were there, felt badly done by. To some extent they had a case because some of the activities going on were for covert political purposes — gardaí were being used in a propagandist way. The community felt, also with a great deal of justification, that they had been let down by the State. I was a Minister of State at the time and one day I stated that we, the State, had let these people down. At the time there was an open supermarket of drugs in Dolphin's Barn in my constituency. Despite the fact that the local community, including local business people, wrote down the registration numbers of the vehicles coming to collect the drugs, nothing was done. The judges let them down. The Garda let them down. We, the public representatives, let them down. The Government, of which I was a member at the time, let them down. I said that and was denounced for it by the spokesman on behalf of the Garda representative organisations and even by Garda management. A retired judge also got in on the act. However, what I had said was true.
I am glad to see there have been changes. In many cases now community gardaí in my constituency are known by their first names to local youths in the inner city flats complexes. That is a great change. That sort of turnaround in a community cannot be bought. It is, therefore, very important that the gardaí engage with the community and that the community engages with the gardaí for the morale of the gardaí and their self-fulfilment but also for the good of the community. These fora could be made to work and could be beneficial to both sides.
Reference has been made to the Lord Mayor's commission. This is the second Lord Mayor's commission. I set up the first one, and I did not get the same co-operation from the then Minister for Justice as the current Minister is giving to this Lord Mayor's commission. I salute the Minister for that. It is right that national Government should co-operate with local government. In my case the commission was not chaired by me, nor did it include politicians. It was chaired by Mr. Justice Moriarty who compiled a very good report. I ask the Minister to examine that report and see what outstanding issues there are that he might address in the context of Dublin. Much of it dealt with street furniture, ensuring there were no dark dank stairwells and matters of that kind, which is part of the policing environment but not, strictly speaking, a policing issue.
On the issue of training, I ask the Minister to take the opportunity at some stage to report to the House on the training procedures used for gardaí and what sort of testing there is of the people who sign up for the Garda Síochána. Do they receive any training in communicating with the public? Quite a while ago I had a constituent who was a great supporter of the Garda. When his bicycle was stolen one day, he went to the station and the garda on duty told him the book was not there and to come back in six hours when somebody else was on duty. From being a great supporter of the Garda, this man was completely turned off. All the garda needed to do was take the details and that man would have continued to be a fan of the Garda forever. How gardaí engage with the public is important, particularly for the gardaí themselves. People think highly of the Garda Síochána. There is nothing people like to see more than a garda on the beat.
Will the Minister examine what ethical training is given to garda officers regarding the importance of the oath in court cases and the criminality of perjury? That needs to be re-emphasised, given the flippant way in which some cases have, allegedly, been referred to in the past.
I have a further criticism regarding the management of the Garda Síochána. It is sometimes amusing, even for gardaí, to hear that the Garda Síochána is investigating a leak. One senior garda told me the Garda Síochána was the leakiest organisation in town. That must stop. If a citizen, whether he or she is a public figure, is pulled in by the Garda Síochána, his or her details and telephone number should not be supplied to the nearest press office or media contact even before the person gets home. Unfortunately, that has happened in the past. It is all very well for this Bill to provide that a garda cannot be a member of a political party, but gardaí should be banned from all political activity, not just party-political activity. It is wrong for gardaí to involve themselves as players, for whatever reason, in communicating information to the press, whether it is done officially through the press office or by individual gardaí. It should be a serious disciplinary matter to breach confidence or be involved in currying favour with the media by passing on private information about citizens.
I am concerned about access to telephone records. I understand that, without any oversight, the Garda can go to Éircom or one of the other providers and obtain details of people's telephone calls, for example, a Member of the House talking to a journalist or two journalists talking to each other. Details of the fact that they made a call, not the content of the call, can be obtained. I see heads nodding. Perhaps that has been changed. If it has not been changed I would like the Minister to tell the House what oversight is in place to ensure that is not abused, that somebody does not go to their favourite uncle to get information that would be of assistance to them and that the rights of journalists, public representatives and other citizens are not interfered with.
I have not seen that, but I am glad to hear it.
There are two other issues I want to mention, one of which I mentioned at some length in the House some time ago. When most people thought I was going to take up the time of the House talking about local issues, I spent a considerable amount of time talking about crime statistics. Many years ago I published a Private Members' Bill, the Bureau of Crime Statistics Bill because I have held the view for a very long time that if something cannot be measured it cannot be dealt with. If we do not know which areas are successful, we will end up putting resources into areas that are not. There has been some improvement in the compilation of statistics, but the compilation of statistics and the independent measurement of crime will lead to greater accountability.
I went through this issue in considerable detail and quoted at length CompStat in New York, the experience of Mayor Giuliani, and how they had changed the whole process by providing for accountability. Those who were successful were praised and those who were not, called to account. Will the Minister tell the House how this independent measurement of crime statistics will operate under the new legislation and if he is happy that the concerns I raised in some detail on the last occasion are being dealt with?
Many in this House probably would not see me as a great civil libertarian, although I hold myself to be one who stands up for the rule of law and would be concerned about any abuses of the law. I am concerned about growing infringements of the rights of citizens. There is passport control at Dublin Airport and ports generally. If I am not correct, perhaps the Minister will say so but I believe there is no obligation whatsoever on the part of an Irish citizen to show his or her passport to anybody within Ireland. If one is on an Aer Lingus flight, one will be asked to show one's passport, not for verification but to ensure it is up to date and that on arrival at one's destination one will be allowed to access the country in question. I do not have my passport in my pocket but the preamble states the Minister for Foreign Affairs asks other friendly nations to assist the bearer who is a citizen. I ask the Minister to confirm that if Irish citizens arrive at an Irish airport or port and have some form of identification to show that, say, one is a Member of the Oireachtas, it is not necessary to show one's passport to anybody within the State.
It is easy to show one's passport and walk through. Some do this as a matter of convenience but it should not become a right and we should know this. That people do it as a matter of convenience should not erode their right to independently decide they have a clear form of identification which shows they are not a foreign person who does not have the right to access the country. This may seem a trivial point but it is not. All of these safeguards and rights in place for citizens should not be easily thrown away. I do not say any necessary law should not be in place but if a law needs to be put in place, put it in place without eroding the rights of citizens. I hope the Bill has the effect that the Minister——
I have seen people getting off aeroplanes from outside the country and showing an identity card. They are not Irish. I have seen Irish people in the same queue having to show a passport. People will do it as a matter of convenience but it should not be a right. No Irish citizen should be asked for or have to show a passport within Ireland. The simplest thing to do would be to show a passport as it saves everybody a great deal of trouble but it should not become the right of anybody to ask a citizen to show his or her passport. One is not required to show one's passport anywhere within the country. Once the garda at passport control is satisfied that a person is an Irish citizen, he or she should not seek from him or her, as a right, his or her passport.
I hope the Bill has the success for which the Minister hopes. I would like to see a strong and vibrant Garda Síochána where morale is high and it is confident enough to take constructive criticism and knows its friends who are not necessarily those who smile at the force and tell it what it wants to hear. I want to see a force that is effective in policing and has the career structure and level of morale that members will want if they are to be fulfilled in their work.
This Bill has the potential to bring the justice process and the Garda closer to the community. I hope it will do this. Sometimes it is not right to mention the Judiciary specifically in the House but we cannot deal with a Garda Síochána Bill without looking at all the factions involved. Coming from County Donegal where the Garda Síochána has received one of its greatest batterings in the history of the State, through the tribunals, this is a time when not only the people of the county but the Garda are getting a bad name and are being tarred with the one brush unnecessarily. This Bill is a move in the right direction to send a positive message about the Garda. In that respect I am pleased it is before the House, particularly the elements dealing with joint policing and the concept of working with people on the ground, those with an electoral mandate and, I hope, health and other services which are obvious partners in engaging with issues that arise daily.
When I became a Member, few Garda stations in County Donegal had a fax machine, a computer and a printer. I came from a school in Derry that had everything from photocopying facilities through to a fund of €40,000 for instruments. I also found that Members did not have a telephone with an answering machine or fax machine. Thankfully, we have moved on.
Now people can contact us whenever they want. I am not a Member for very long but discovered that Garda stations did not have such basic equipment and that if they bought their own typewriter, head office refused to supply replacement ribbons. That was one of the issues about which I had a vendetta. It took a while but I got there and the facilities are now much better. However, they may not give me credit for this, probably because a politician should not have intervened in the first place.
I fought a battle also in regard to Muff Garda station, an area in which there was a lot of petty crime and some more serious. I thank the Minister and the Department for eventually resolving the issue. Burnfoot Garda station is being upgraded. I would also like to see progress on Buncrana Garda station on the basis that it needs to be relocated on a greenfield site. This could be done easily under the decentralisation programme but it must be done as a matter of urgency. One cannot turn around in Carndonagh Garda station.
Why do I raise this issue in the context of a Garda Síochána Bill? The answer is simple — if the Garda does not have a right to solve these issues, there is no point in us bashing it. There are small stations with relatively insignificant difficulties and others with major difficulties. These are facilities that have been included in plans for decades and need to be advanced. Where there is an opportunity to look for a simple solution, it should be sought. In other words, if there is decentralisation, let us roll the two together. For example, when the Carndonagh council offices were being decentralised, the concept of Carndonagh Garda station should have been progressed but the opportunity was missed.
In the age of computerisation I do not understand the reason gardaí have to leave every station to head to Buncrana to input information. That is a complete waste of resources. There are only two gardaí at Malin Garda station. In this age of fax machines and e-mails, it does not make sense that gardaí have to leave for Buncana to input information. There has to be a better way. I am looking at the matter in the context of those who say one can never find a garda or when one telephones the Garda station, there is no response.
The Garda gives quite legitimate reasons for not dealing with such cases. The national perception is that people's admiration for the Garda is in decline. I am very worried about the lack of continuity at the highest levels. For instance, a school cannot afford to change its principal on a whim because both teachers and students would enjoy too much freedom.
In my area there were six Garda superintendents in five years, or five superintendents in six years. If a superintendent's tour of duty is only a year or 18 months, this is not conducive to ensuring the outstanding facilities are in the charge of one person to follow through from beginning to end. It often means they do not live in the area. This is not intended as a reflection on the current staff because the current superintendent is one of the longer-serving in the area, having being there for two or three years.
I ask parliamentary questions regularly about Garda numbers in my area. I am always given the stock reply that everybody is happy with the number of gardaí in Inishowen and in Donegal. However, the local people are not as satisfied. It is considered that post the Good Friday Agreement, my region is a wonderful place to live, which is true. The region is the hinterland of the fourth largest city in the country and as such the city has the same difficulties as all the other cities, such as illegal drugs. People from the city socialise in our area, which is to be welcomed. However, the follow-on effect is social problems such as rowdiness outside discos, window-breaking, joy-riding and petty crimes such as smash and grab. My region could be said to be hidden by being in the hinterland of the city. For instance, there are no road direction signs for Donegal because Derry is regarded as the end of the road but when we lobby for a motorway to Donegal, the end of the road is regarded as being in Aughnacloy.
We are told Donegal is well-served in Garda numbers. This cannot be the case when there were twice as many gardaí in Donegal a few years ago. Deputy Ó Snodaigh was very upset about human rights violations. When the so-called Troubles were at their height, robbing, illegal drugs and anti-social behaviour seemed to be dealt with, which does not seem to be happening now. There has been a rise in the amount of cross-Border crime.
The use of police horses in Letterkenny was welcome but it is unfortunate that was necessary. There are very few police forces in the world which are able to deal with such a situation without being armed. Horses, not weapons, are all that is needed in quite a rowdy, drunken, after-disco scene in Letterkenny. It is to be welcomed that this is a country where that level of unarmed intervention still works.
One is not permitted to refer to the Judiciary but I have some comments. I am aware of gardaí who work very hard to assemble a case for court. The accused is usually an habitual offender and not necessarily a first-time criminal. The accused has often been involved in a number of crimes or has a criminal record. It can be very frustrating for these gardaí when the criminals leave the court with tears of laughter and the gardaí leave with tears of frustration. The consistency of sentencing should be examined as should the relevance of the sentence in a particular case. There seems to be much inconsistency. Some people are regularly before the courts and the judge does not seem to take account of this regularity. This makes it very difficult for the gardaí to explain to the community affected by the crimes that the criminal must be taken to court again. The community is often as disillusioned as the gardaí.
I am not in favour of the "lock them up and throw away the key" attitude. In the case of juvenile crime, I favour the approach that they should pay recompense to the community in a practical way such as repairing the windows they smashed or other forms of community service. Repeated offending must be taken into account in the response to it.
The Garda in my area is solving crime but this message needs to be more publicised. The proposed policing board might supply a mechanism for this. People complain to me that the Garda is not doing enough to solve crime. However, the gardaí in the area will inform me when asked whether a case is pending or in hand and if a definite line of inquiry is being pursued. Often good news messages, which act as a form of deterrent to crime rather than people assuming nothing every happens, are not being publicised. One must be cautious in avoiding information being made public and so jeopardising a future case. The annual Garda report is probably not the best forum for information, which should be made available at local level.
Towns in my region were reduced to no-go areas this time last year. It was a local election year and this may have had something to do with it. People did not feel safe in their beds in towns. Windows were being smashed all around them and little boy racers were stopping to change their burned-out tyres in the middle of towns before taking off again. This situation seems to have improved significantly. I suggest the reasons for this change should be food for thought for the Minister. He could inquire as to the reason for the difference between last year and this year. The perception of many people is that there is no point in reporting crime. A mechanism is necessary to deal with deficiencies in the system or with members who are not pulling their weight, whichever is the reality. Local committees may provide local solutions to local problems. At the very least, the issues can be laid before a number of different bodies which should not be talking shops but have teeth. They must be able to give any support needed such as passing the information on to a higher level or even financial support. This needs to be dealt with.
I am Chairman of the Joint Committee on Arts, Sport, Tourism, Community, Rural and Gaeltacht Affairs, which completed a report on volunteering. One of the key recommendations concerned vetting procedures which is a significant problem in respect of sporting and other organisations. There is a need for gardaí to be freed up so they are visible. I want the Bill to achieve this. I often wonder if a change in the speed limit would be necessary if more speed cameras were used on the roads, or if volunteers would be needed if Garda administrative support was available. Perhaps the volunteers need to provide the administrative support. Are volunteers required to organise traffic management in towns? Those of us familiar with small country towns know the chaos that can be caused by double and treble parking and dangerous parking. It can be a frustration not only for the pedestrian but also for car owners. The solution is often a proposal for a huge roundabout or money is spent on traffic surveys to allow for the installation of traffic lights when all that is needed is a man or woman volunteer or a garda to direct traffic.
If the Minister does not favour the Garda support system in a volunteer capacity, the Army is an available resource. Could the role of the Army not be expanded? It is not often engaged in war and is almost always involved in peacekeeping. Most of the problems we have involve, for instance, gangs emerging from discos and becoming rowdy in towns with perhaps just two gardaí on duty. It should be possible to call in the Army or, if that is not possible, the FCA? Is it not possible to expand the role of existing trained organisations and remunerate them accordingly?
On the issue of volunteering, I wonder what person would voluntarily give up his or her time to be a law enforcer. Perhaps my doubts are related to the geographical area in which I live. I am aware that the issue of volunteering has been studied and it has been found that people give up their time for genuine reasons so I may be wrong in this regard. Sometimes gardaí do not want to deal with a problem in case they fall out with their neighbours. Would a volunteer be prepared to take action in circumstances in which a person paid to intervene is not prepared to do so?
In my area, we have received offers on voluntary policing which I would not advocate. These may be effective in the short term but they are not the types of policing I want in future. While the legislation provides for a vetting procedure, the role of volunteers in law enforcement needs to be considered with care.
With regard to the role of juvenile liaison officers, under the current system recommendations on whether to prosecute a juvenile or deal with him or her under the juvenile liaison officer system are frequently made to the Director of Public Prosecutions who must then make a decision on the matter. Local sergeants should be able take such decisions because, having dealt with the juvenile in question at local level, they will know whether he or she has been given a fair chance. It is important that decisions on this matter are taken locally.
The Minister stated that he does not want a perception to emerge that investigations into complaints about the Garda are not independent. Most people want justice to be done and to be seen to be done. Whether Garda investigations of gardaí will work remains open to question.
Is it not self-defeating for the ombudsman commission to notify the Garda Commissioner and Minister in advance of a search of a police station? If notification is issued before the event, will evidence not be concealed?
I welcome the proposed changes on policing committees. If, however, in the case of County Donegal only one of the councils, Bundoran Town Council, Letterkenny Town Council or Buncrana Urban Council, is represented on the County Donegal policing committee, it will cause problems. For example, if Buncrana was represented, the people of Bundoran, which is nearly 90 miles away from parts of Inishowen, would feel they are not represented and vice versa. I am not sure this issue has been fully resolved.
The provision to allow personnel of the Garda Complaints Board to transfer to the ombudsman commission creates a problem of perception, although the recent problems have been related to the structures of the board rather than its personnel involved.
Residents' associations should be included on policing committees, even if it is only at sub-committee level. While this could prove unwieldy, it is important that those involved in neighbourhood watch schemes or various other fora at community level are engaged in the process. In my region, various development groups have, on an ad hoc basis, asked the local superintendent, chief inspector or sergeant to attend development meetings. The information exchanged has been positive and useful to both sides and this approach should be expanded. This issue is the crux of the Bill.
Many other questions arise. For example, should there be three ombudsmen and what would be their gender make-up? Other issues arise regarding civilian support for the Garda. The Bill has the potential to make positive change. I hope worthwhile suggestions raised in the debate will be listened to with the same care as those raised in debates in the Seanad. The legislation is overdue and will significantly improve society as a whole if implemented in the manner I anticipate.
I welcome the opportunity to speak on this Bill. The main outcome I would like it to deliver is greater visibility of police on the ground. The most common complaint I receive from constituents, particularly the elderly, relates to the lack of a police presence and the small number of gardaí on patrol, which is unnerving. To be fair, however, people also point out that when the police come, they are helpful, considerate and co-operative. Nevertheless, people need reassurance that gardaí are available and will respond to calls. The outcome I most wish to see is greater visibility and availability of police to control and contain what is often low level crime, to use the term employed by the Lord Mayor of Dublin yesterday.
Arising from this concern, I welcome the proposal on volunteer gardaí. Although it is a positive step, it requires considerable elaboration and detail. My colleague, Deputy Costello, commented on the issue. It is not clear, for instance, whether the volunteers will be part-time or full-time, paid or unpaid. Deputies would welcome the involvement of more volunteers in many areas.
By their nature, volunteers do not, as a rule, expect to be paid. As I stated yesterday in the debate on the Finance Bill, perhaps there is scope for introducing a tax credit to encourage people to volunteer. While policing is clearly much wider than the issue of volunteers, this aspect of the Bill is to be welcomed as it will create more policing facilities in many areas.
One of the issues I wish to address is not covered in the Bill. It is an incident I had to deal with in my constituency which concerns the relationship between planning and crime. The Ceann Comhairle kindly allowed me to raise the matter, a controversial planning application for a super-pub in the Ballyfermot area, on the Adjournment recently.
I will elaborate on the significance of the application. When it was made there were already 11 alcohol outlets within 200 metres of the proposed site. The professional planning advice of Dublin City Council and the inspector of An Bord Pleanála was that permission should be refused for the development, largely on the grounds of crime and anti-social behaviour. Complaints had been made about such problems in the area and the residents were concerned about the risk of further anti-social behaviour evolving if another super-pub was opened in the area. The members of the board of An Bord Pleanála, as opposed to its professional staff, overturned the professional planning advice of both bodies and granted approval for the development. In their determination, the members made a policy statement indicating that crime and anti-social behaviour were not part of the planning code. This was in spite of the wide berth given to the planning code in section 34 of the Planning and Development Act 2000.
The Oireachtas must give An Bord Pleanála clearer direction on assessing future applications, with a view to preventing crime and anti-social behaviour. I ask the Minster to consider this in the legislation. Given that anti-social behaviour and the risk of crime are key factors in any new planning development, to ignore them is to show scant regard for the concerns of residents.
I thank the Minister. I would appreciate if that could be looked at again.
A number of policing fora have been set up in my constituency and they were working quite well and there was quite good co-operation between the gardaí, local community activists and public representatives. I would have liked to have seen wider involvement by people from the Department of Education and Science, the health boards and so on. The policing fora need an assurance of continuity and sustainability. In the absence of any substantial funding — in the case of Rialto, no funding at all — it is difficult for them to be sustained and they cannot deliver for the community. They find it difficult to meet the conventional administrative costs associated with writing up a small report, even communicating with their local representatives and so on. While the policing fora have been positive in getting the community and the gardaí together and have made great strides, they will not continue to be successful unless there is a structure in place to ensure they are sustained and that basically means substantial funding for them.
In regard to the administrative areas, if the boundaries of the Garda districts and the Dáil constituencies were similar, it would probably make life a little easier from an administrative point of view. I would also include in that the former health board areas. One finds oneself in a Dáil constituency dealing with a Garda district which is perhaps outside one's own area. I appreciate that, in the context of this Bill, this cannot be done but it would make life much simpler from an administrative and a public representative's point of view if those two areas coincided.
My colleague, Deputy Costello, addressed the issues of training and education. When I was chairman of the NCEA, one of the responsibilities I was honoured to perform was to confer certificates and diplomas on gardaí graduating from Templemore. It is great there is an opportunity for progression to a third level qualification. Deputy Costello made the point strongly that it would be useful to have a training college in an urban area. Dublin would be a particularly suitable area and he identified a place in his constituency he considers to be particularly appropriate.
I agree with Deputy Costello that the training facility in Templemore in a rural area might provide a different training than that which one might hope could be provided in an urban area where those being trained would have an opportunity to work in the same district.
One sector of society which suffers most in terms of lack of visibility of policing is the elderly. The community police are to be congratulated but they have particularly difficult jobs to do much of the time. Much of the work they do is not fully appreciated. I welcome councillor Michael Conaghan's commentary on that. He has emphasised the issue of community policing. I particularly support the recommendation of the Lord Mayor's commission on an assistant commissioner with responsibility for community policing. It is important the status of community policing is recognised and that there is a reward for it. It seems the opportunities for promotion for gardaí who make a considerable commitment to the local community, often above and beyond the call of duty, are rather limited compared with other responsibilities within the policing area.
I often hear complaints from communities that gardaí seem too distant. The one group of police which they see as very much accessible and available are the community police. For that reason, their role should be strengthened and they should be recognised. In areas where there are many elderly people or perhaps in poorer communities, it is important for people to have that one to one connection with their local community Garda sergeant.
I welcome the provisions in Part 4 which provide for co-operation between local gardaí, the public, local authorities and Members of the Oireachtas. Again, that will build on the structure of the policing fora. As I said, there have been quite successful outcomes in terms of the policing fora in Rialto, Inchicore and in the inner city in my constituency and it needs to be developed.
Above all else, I would like to see increased visibility of gardaí on the street. While people occasionally have complaints about gardaí, when the gardaí finally connect with them, they are very happy with the outcome. People's biggest fear is the lack of policing. I hear constant complaints and concerns from elderly people, in particular, about the slowness of the response. That will only be covered by increasing the number of gardaí and by a commitment to the volunteer gardaí.
I am glad to speak on this Bill which is long overdue and which, in keeping with the Minister's style, consolidates and reforms much of the legislation for which he is responsible. However, the Minister undersells himself because he only said the Bill would improve relations between the Garda and the Government. I would like to think it will improve relations between the Government, the Garda and the communities it serves. It is a brave attempt to bring the legislation governing the members of the Garda Síochána up to date.
The Bill is important for a number of reasons but largely because it is an attempt to reform the management of the Garda Síochána. It is the first time in 80 years that this has been done. Trust in law enforcement is vital in any properly functioning democracy. This Bill also acknowledges that there has been a decline in that trust of late and it seeks to restore it, particularly through the establishment of the Garda Síochána ombudsman commission in place of the Garda complaints board. The purpose of this commission is to ensure openness, transparency and accountability in the process by which complaints against the Garda are investigated.
The commission will be an independent body, which is tremendously important, and this is in line with the Government's commitment to establish a new body with the power of an ombudsman to investigate complaints. This move is welcome and timely. There have been many justified complaints about the existing mechanism and the way in which complaints against gardaí are dealt with. There is a perception that many complaints are not investigated properly and that breaches of discipline are not adequately dealt with. This has contributed to the breakdown in trust between the Garda and the public and it must be restored. Trust is both a fragile and precious commodity and it can easily be broken. The establishment of this Garda ombudsman commission will fully repair that trust and restore public confidence in the force.
The important element in the establishment of the Garda ombudsman commission is that it will be fully independent and a three-person body. This is to maintain full independence from the Garda. No person serving on that body will be a garda or a former garda. That is fundamental because criticisms of the current complaints procedure have centred on the inadequacies of gardaí investigating other gardaí which has resulted in an absence of confidence. The independence of the new commission is an important gesture.
Deputy Cuffe criticised the fact it will be a three-person board. He felt that was diluting the responsibilities. I beg to differ because one vital aspect of the commission is that there must be no sense of a personal vendetta on the part of a commission member against, for example, the Garda Commissioner. This is what happened in Northern Ireland in that it became a stand-off between personalities. This was not good for the force. This aspect of the legislation is somewhat protected by the provision of a three-person commission.
In general, the commission may decide whether it will conduct its own investigations or investigate specific complaints brought to it by the Garda Síochána. However, complaints involving death or serious physical injury must be investigated by the commission's investigators. When reading about this, I was prompted to think of the ongoing Abbeylara inquiry. The measures proposed in regard to the commission will be more satisfactory because I am not sure there is anybody who is satisfied to date with the Abbeylara inquiry, which seems to go on interminably. I doubt if the family of Mr. John Carthy are satisfied because it has not had closure and the satisfaction of a swift inquiry into the events surrounding his death.
I hope the new commission will obviate the necessity for inquiries such as that into the Abbeylara incident and will permit the conduct of the Garda to be investigated swiftly. I welcome the fact that there will be a staff of 80 people on the commission. This is an indication of the seriousness with which the Minister views the issue. It is important the commission is properly resourced, and the annual budget of €7 million is positive in this regard.
The commission will also examine Garda practices and procedures and, within two years of its establishment, will report to the Oireachtas on its effectiveness and the adequacy of its functions. This is important because responsibility rests ultimately with this House. We are representatives of the people and new initiatives must be checked. There is no point establishing a body and allowing it to go in the wrong direction by not performing its functions as intended. There is no better place than this House to set things right in such instances. The commission will do a great deal for morale among the force and, therefore, engender a greater level of trust among the public.
Another significant reform measure in the Bill is the establishment of an independent Garda Síochána inspectorate, in a bid to improve democratic accountability for the actions of the force. A healthy democracy is based on the principles of civil obedience, law and order. This requires a properly functioning police force which commands the trust, support and respect of the public. The Garda Síochána inspectorate will introduce the concept of benchmarking to the force, with standards, practice and performance benchmarked to comparable international policing experiences. The key objectives will be to ensure trust, promote the efficiency and effectiveness of the Garda and provide independent and objective advice to the Minister for Justice, Equality and Law Reform on the operation and administration of the force.
I also welcome the provision that Garda recruits must make a declaration to indicate their regard for human rights. However, I was somewhat astonished to observe this is a new measure. One imagines that members of the Garda Síochána would have respect for human rights when carrying out their policing duties, but it is an important measure to include. It recognises the need for members of the force to have well-developed interpersonal and communications skills, which are just as important as their ability to perform their duties competently and efficiently as officers of the law.
The Garda Síochána has its critics and must take fair criticism for the failures that have taken place in the past. We must form judgments on the force and its members but we would do well to remember the simple, spontaneous acts of bravery demonstrated by our unarmed gardaí on a daily basis. An incident took place last year, for example, whereby an unarmed female garda managed to apprehend a violent, armed and dangerous gangland criminal who was well-known to the Garda. The bravery of this garda in doing her job by confronting this menacing figure brought a great sense of pride to the force. We must remember that gardaí are unarmed in this increasingly violent and dangerous society. Time and again, there is evidence of the spontaneous bravery of the force.
A further reason to welcome this Bill is that it embodies the principle of community involvement. Deputy Upton referred to this week's report by the Lord Mayor into policing and crime in the Dublin area. It is timely that this report was issued when this Bill is before the House. The Bill provides for the establishment of joint policing committees with local elected representatives whereby the latter will be able to make recommendations about local policing matters. It is always good to have matters of this nature dealt with as closely as possible to where people have responsibility for the conduct in question.
The committees will also allow local gardaí to make recommendations to local authorities about steps the latter can take to reduce crime. This measure establishes on a formal basis the partnership between community and the Garda which is currently enjoyed by many communities. My area of Dún Laoghaire enjoys a tremendous service from its community gardaí. A common item at resident association meetings throughout the constituency is the report from the community garda. Great tribute is always paid to these gardaí because of the close co-operation they have with the local residents, who feel they know those who are looking after them by name and regularly see them on the beat.
Tackling crime on a local level is very much a two-way street. Councillors and local community representatives cannot fairly blame the Garda if they have failed to play their own part. Local authorities cannot criticise local gardaí for a rise in incidents of joyriding if they fail to put in place an appropriate infrastructure to deal with the problem. Nor can they fairly criticise an increase in mugging incidents if proper street lighting and other facilities are not provided by the local authority. They cannot criticise a rise in youth crime in areas that have been badly planned with no recreational services for local residents.
This part of the Bill was subject to a number of amendments in the Seanad and it has emerged stronger as a consequence. A Bill going through both Houses should change in its passage because we see things about our society which need to be changed. The Minister for Justice, Equality and Law Reform is to be commended for his acceptance of amendments. It is not every Minister who is so generous in accepting help, support and input from Members.
The provision for the establishment of a Garda reserve is particularly welcome as it maximises the potential of available policing facilities. Ireland is the only civil law country in the world without such a reserve on which to call and its establishment is long overdue. As the Minister made clear in his speech the reserve is in no way meant to be a replacement for the existing force, but rather it is intended as a valuable community resource to be called upon and used to perform certain functions at certain times.
When passed the Bill will ensure the Garda Síochána is a truly modern force, fit for the 21st century, efficiently organised and run. It will have the full faith, trust and confidence of the communities it serves. I thank the Minister for his energy and drive. I encourage him to continue the reforms he has brought in his portfolio. I commend the Bill to the House.
Four and a half minutes should be sufficient for a contribution from the north side of Dublin. Like my colleagues I welcome the Bill, which represents a major step forward and is long overdue. The Minister is to be congratulated on its introduction. Whether the Bill goes far enough is another question entirely. For the requirements of the moment the Bill is to be welcomed.
The Minister will not be surprised to hear that my key issue relates to the recruitment and retirement of gardaí. We have seen significant publicity in recent years about the number of gardaí and the requirement for additional recruits. I congratulate the Minister on his recent initiative in extending the recruitment age limit from 26 to 35, which in time will prove to be a major step forward, allowing a whole new age cohort to be eligible for recruitment to the Garda. It reflects the times in which we live. Mobility of the workforce in geographical and professional terms is a hallmark of the current era. I received a number of representations from individuals who discovered relatively late in life, at least in terms of choice of profession, that they genuinely believed they wanted a career in the police force. It is interesting and hardly totally coincidental that this year in excess of 10,000 people applied for 2,000 places. On the contrary it is reflective of the change in the recruitment age limit.
However, in line with the change in the recruitment age limit, I draw attention to the stipulations on retirement age. It is a pity that we lose a number of highly qualified and very valuable members of the force at the age of 50. I understand the issues regarding the rules that pertained at the time of recruitment. I am thinking of a Garda sergeant in my locality who has a wealth of local knowledge and genuine policing expertise to contribute to the force. He felt obliged to retire when he became eligible at the age of 50 to pursue another interest because he knew he would be obliged to retire at the age of 57.
Change in this matter should be considered, as it would have benefits not only for the force, but also for society in general. While it may be some time before the benefits accruing from any change to the retirement rules accrue, it can be addressed to the benefit of the community, the force and particularly individual gardaí. People with approximately 15 years good working life ahead of them should not be compelled to retire from their chosen profession because of the rules under which they were recruited. While it may be understandable in the circumstances and particularly in the context of the evolution of the Garda Síochána over the years, nevertheless this topic could be addressed with benefit all around.
The Garda has given outstanding service to the State over the years. I do not feel qualified to comment on its contribution to the State. The phenomenon of violence against gardaí and fatal incidents in particular has only occurred in my adult lifetime. In 1970 Garda Richard Fallon was murdered when he answered an emergency call in response to a bank raid at the Royal Bank on Arran Quay. This incident had a huge impact on me at the time and listening to a radio interview last weekend with the son of Garda Richard Fallon it would appear that some issues remain outstanding. In deference to the force and its morale, and in the interests of society at large, if issues need to be addressed, however uncomfortable it may be politically, they should be addressed. The vast majority of people remember the sacrifice made by Garda Richard Fallon. If issues remain outstanding they should be addressed for the sake of his family.
Unfortunately he was the first of a number of gardaí to give their lives in the service of the State and the force over the period of what we euphemistically call "the Troubles". Some considerable time has now elapsed since the murder of a garda in the course of his duty. The incident resulting in the murder of Detective Garda Jerry McCabe and the injuring of Detective Garda Ben O'Sullivan has been well rehearsed in this House and I will not go into it further.
The Garda has been of indescribable benefit to the State. It probably owes its genesis to Sir Robert Peel in Britain. I doubt if Sir Robert Peel had current lifestyles in mind when he founded the British police force. The founders of our police force could not have anticipated what the present force needs to deal with. The Bill is extremely welcome and goes a long way towards addressing the issues that arise. The issue of policing on the street and in terms of white-collar crime needs to be addressed. I look forward to a further debate on the matter.
I am happy to have the opportunity to speak on this Bill, which I welcome.
I deal with the Garda in towns in my constituency, such as Clonmel, Carrick-on-Suir and Tipperary town, on a regular basis. I find the gardaí with whom I deal co-operative and helpful. They do an excellent job. Issues of trust and confidence in the Garda have arisen in recent years for a number of reasons. People are concerned about Garda manpower, buildings, locations, equipment and the independence of its investigations. In fairness, there have been some high-profile investigations in the recent past. I consider the deployment of Garda manpower, the location of Garda stations and the provision of Garda equipment to be the primary reasons for the reduction in trust and confidence in the force, rather than the high profile investigations I have mentioned.
The number of gardaí serving at present in Clonmel, a town of between 17,000 and 18,000 people, is smaller than the number serving there 20 years ago. There are 40 gardaí, of all ranks, in Clonmel and just eight members of the force are on duty in the town at any one time. The eight gardaí are supposed to police an area that has a population of almost 25,000, when one takes Clonmel's hinterland into account. An inadequate number of gardaí is being deployed to police an area of that size. One wonders what criteria are used to determine the allocation of manpower resources within the Garda. Tralee has a similar population to Clonmel, but it has almost twice as many gardaí as the latter town. Approximately 60 gardaí are stationed in Thurles, which has a population approximately one third that of Clonmel. The manpower issue arises often when one examines the reasons for the undermining of trust in the Garda. Individual gardaí are doing their best, but they cannot respond to calls from the public in the way they would like.
The recruitment and appointment of community gardaí is probably the single most important issue facing the Garda Síochána. It is not a new phenomenon — we have been considering it for many years. Community policing has proven its worth in many parts of Ireland, but large swathes of the country are not served by community gardaí. There are no dedicated community gardaí in my constituency of Tipperary South. Some gardaí have community functions as well as their other duties. Community gardaí are absolutely necessary. The problem of a lack of trust and confidence in the Garda is found primarily in large urban housing estates. Visible gardaí are needed on the beat in such areas, where they can liaise with local communities, tenants' associations, residents' associations and RAPID groups.
Significant resources need to be invested to help community gardaí to build up relationships with young people in certain areas, but that is not being done at present. Such relationships would help to curb the development of low-level crime in the form of anti-social behaviour. Such behaviour is often not reflected in crime statistics, but it is serious, especially for elderly and vulnerable people. It is difficult for people who are different in any way to live in some of the areas to which I refer. They constantly suffer from stone-throwing, abuse, daubing and egg-throwing etc. The investment of more resources in community policing would help to stop a substantial proportion, if not all, of such behaviour.
While I welcome the sections of the Bill which provide for the Garda ombudsman commission, I would like the commission to be entirely independent. If the Garda is to be completely accepted by the people, it is in its interests that a totally independent investigations procedure should be put in place. It would not be a good idea to allow gardaí to be involved in the ombudsman commission's investigations, or to allow gardaí to transfer some investigations to other gardaí. That would not be a good way of dealing with the problems I have discussed. I would prefer if the commission was allowed to operate entirely independently. Such a system would be better and would be more likely to be welcomed by the Garda. I would like to have discussed various other matters, but I have run out of time.
I am glad to have the opportunity to discuss this important Bill. As we examine the broader issue of crime and how we deal with it, we need to consider some of society's major problems. Not enough is being done to address broader aspects of the crime problem, such as anti-social behaviour and dysfunctional and violent young people. The Bill is an important part of the debate on crime because policing is such a central aspect of the matter.
We need a police force that is professional and accountable and can sustain the trust and confidence of the people. I would like to bury the myth, which is often spun in response to those who raise human rights issues and cases of miscarriage of justice, that people who ask serious questions about the Garda Síochána do not support the force. Such people are merely interested in the provision of a quality police service. I welcome many aspects of this legislation for that reason. The Minister for Justice, Equality and Law Reform, Deputy McDowell, needs to be accountable, radical and creative. Above all, he needs to listen to people on the ground.
Honesty and integrity in policing are essential. The Minister should listen to the people more often, rather than basing his policies on hearsay. I want him to be professional and objective when dealing with issues. I feel uncomfortable when a Minister or senior Garda figure says they think they know who perpetrated a crime. I have questions about such statements. I question the integrity and professionalism of such an approach.
I commend the many gardaí who do valuable work and provide many examples of good practice. I have seen many examples of good practice in my constituency over the years. However, we should not be afraid to say in the House that there have been many examples of bad practice. I commend those gardaí who are focused on their job and are not distracted by other issues, such as the possibility of double-jobbing. We should not be afraid to refer to such practices.
I would like to raise with the Minister a number of issues which arose in my constituency in the last week. Two people armed with a knife and a gun entered a shop in the area last Saturday and stole €6,000. The shopkeeper, who worked her way up from being a shop assistant to running the business after she bought it out, is trying to decide whether to continue to run the business in the face of such intimidation and fear. I have reassured her that she should not give up and advised her to stick with it, but it is difficult for her to be confident. She needs the support of the gardaí on the ground.
I would like to mention another case, which highlights the fact that some people in society are treated differently from others. I refer to the case of the mother of a gentle drug addict who was murdered. She was told the day after the trial that the case was coming up. Such treatment is not acceptable. It would not have happened on the south side of Dublin, where the relevant authorities would have kept in touch with the family and informed it of developments. I recently dealt with the case of a man whose young daughter was slashed in the face with a glass in a pub. Those who were responsible got away scot free because of fear and intimidation. Such issues need to be highlighted.