Friday, 17 June 2005
Morris Tribunal: Statements.
Before the statements commence I wish to make a brief announcement. As my predecessors have ruled in similar circumstances, while the Chair fully acknowledges that the House is about to embark on a discussion of a tribunal of inquiry report which criticises named individuals who I realise are in the public domain, I ask Members to be mindful when making their contributions to take into account, as far as is reasonably possible, the long-standing convention of this House, namely, that Members should avoid criticising or making charges against persons outside the House as they are defenceless against accusations made under privilege.
I pay tribute to Mr. Justice Frederick Morris and his legal and administrative team for the outstanding work they have done in uncovering the truth of what happened in Donegal. It is due to them that serious wrongdoing has been exposed and innocent citizens' rights have been vindicated. It is now for us to build on their work and to respond to their findings.
Due to domestic circumstances yesterday it was not possible for me to include in the script, which I will circulate, all the remarks I intend to make and there will be some substantial departures from it.
As I said on the publication of the first report and again on the publication of the second report, the findings of the Morris tribunal are profoundly disturbing, at times shocking, and call for a strong and effective response. The first report found that a superintendent and a detective garda had engaged in planting hoax explosives in various places in Donegal. On one occasion they planted real ammunition in a place in Northern Ireland. Their fraud ought to have been quickly exposed, but through local management weakness and incompetence, and a blatant disregard for procedures, they got away with it for far too long.
The second report found that the Garda investigation into the death of Richie Barron in Raphoe was characterised by similar incompetence, weakness and disregard for procedures, but also that it was heavily prejudiced against two suspects, Frank McBrearty Jr. and Mark McConnell. Most shockingly, that report found that some elements within the Garda Síochána tried to frame those two completely innocent men for that murder. As if that were not enough, the report also found that a garda colluded with an informant in the making of blackmail demands of a third completely innocent suspect, Mr. Peoples, in an attempt to procure evidence against him.
These findings are deeply shocking to the public and to the vast majority of the Garda Síochána alike. Gardaí everywhere will feel bitterly let down by a number of their colleagues who have cast a shadow over the force. The fact that a relatively small number of gardaí were involved does not lessen the case for the programme of radical and wide-ranging reform which I am undertaking. The reality is — we have to accept this — that the whole system failed badly. The handful of corrupt gardaí should not have been able to get away with their outrageous behaviour for so long, but they did. The fact that they even started out on their corrupt path indicates a certain confidence on their part that they would not be challenged and stopped. The damage inflicted on their victims is enormous and the damage inflicted on the force would be incalculable unless we respond decisively to address the management and system failures exposed by the Morris tribunal report.
The Government, at the request of the Opposition spokesman in the committee, arranged matters so that the debate today would precede the taking of Report Stage amendments of the Garda Síochána Bill.
I wish to state two things at the outset. First, there is an impression abroad that there was a reluctance on the part of the Government to have an inquiry into the McBrearty affair and that there was internal pressure from within the Government not to have such an inquiry. That is not true. The then Minister for Justice, Equality and Law Reform, Deputy O'Donoghue, who is beside me, behaved impeccably and at all times to the highest possible standards in the way in which he addressed his duties.
When I was made Attorney General in July 1999 the McBrearty affair had been in the public domain for upwards of two years. It had first surfaced in 1997 in a series of complaints and the institution of legal proceedings during the life of the rainbow coalition. In that regard, Nora Owen, a person I admire greatly and for whom I have not merely a fondness but a great respect, was recently under the impression that I was trying by remarks I made to dump on her or to say that in some respect she had acted in a way which was not appropriate in the circumstances. I have never implied that. What I said, and I reiterate, is that the underlying features in regard to Garda management, chains of accountability, discipline and the breakdown of discipline, and the attitude in the Garda Síochána, recently characterised by Gordon Holmes as the blue wall, were a long time developing under various and successive administrations, and that nobody who looks to the underlying context in which the activities in Donegal took place and in which it was apparently in the minds of the people who were perpetuating these wrongs that they might get away with them, should think that these are the responsibility of the Administration that took office in 1997 or since then. They are a shared responsibility which go back over a long period. I wish to make that very clear.
The second point I wish to make clear is that in 1999 when I was made Attorney General there were already in existence allegations and civil proceedings.
My job as Attorney General was to advise the Government and the Minister for Justice, Equality and Law Reform and also to conduct the defence of those proceedings. In that context it was necessary for me to assess as best I could all the information that should have been available to me as the legal adviser to the Government and should have been available to the legal team, for which I was responsible, conducting the civil proceedings on behalf of the State.
Repeatedly during the year 2000 and into 2001, the Office of the Attorney General sought from the Garda Síochána a clear statement of the facts, as they were known to the Garda Síochána, to enable it to conduct the defence of the civil proceedings. Even after the Carty report had been furnished to the Office of the Director of Public Prosecutions, the Office of the Attorney General repeatedly sought sight of that report from the Garda Síochána. Unfortunately, it was the case at the time, doubtless in good faith, that there was a doctrine that the Garda Síochána was in privity with the Director of Public Prosecutions and that it was open to senior gardaí in consultation with the Office of the Director of Public Prosecutions to decide what the then Minister, Deputy O'Donoghue and myself could see in respect of the investigations being carried out in Donegal.
As I pointed out later, that view was profoundly legally mistaken.
I think it has its origin in a development of a relationship between Government and the Garda Síochána and the emergence of the operation of an independent prosecutorial office in 1974 under the Prosecution of Offences Act 1974. As a result, the pendulum swung away from direct accountability to the Government of the day and to the law officer in charge of advising the Government and conducting civil proceedings and swung towards the point where what was termed operational accountability of the Garda Síochána had in fact got to the point where the Garda believed — and I believe it was in good faith — that it was in a position to withhold information or to decide what information could be supplied to members of the Executive and to the Executive's legal adviser, the Attorney General at the time.
As the House will appreciate and I ask Members to bear this in mind, in the early years of the formation of the State and perhaps for the first 40 or 50 years of the life of the Garda Síochána, the Commissioner was appointed from within the Department of Justice and the relationship with the Department of Justice was formed on that basis——
One need only go back to the period of Peter Berry's tenure of office and the records within the Department of Justice to appreciate that a culture of micro management of the Garda Síochána existed at that time. The Commissioner's role as a departmental official symbolised that situation.
From the 1960s onwards, a different arrangement took place in which serving members of the Garda Síochána were made Commissioner. In 1974, as is now known, an apolitical and completely independent system of a Director of Public Prosecutions was put in place. At that stage the pendulum swung from micro management to one which Mr. Justice Frederick Morris has criticised as one in which the Executive effectively became isolated from day to day control of the Garda Síochána. It is important that people should know that this is the case.
The result was that the doctrine of operational independence of the Garda Síochána, of which we all stand completely shoulder to shoulder in support, which states there should not be political direction of the day to day operations of the Garda Síochána, became conflated with a different and I think a slightly pernicious doctrine that the Garda Síochána was not accountable for its day to day operations in the manner which control and scrutiny by both Parliament and the Minister would be properly vindicated.
I explain this to put in context what I now propose to say. The lawyers conducting the civil proceedings on my behalf repeatedly sought from me the full, factual matrix of the situation that was emerging in County Donegal. For reasons of the implementation of the doctrine that I have explained to the House, they were repeatedly kept away from it at that time. I have no doubt this was done in total good faith on the part of senior Garda management who believed themselves to be in privity with the Director of Public Prosecutions but it had the wholly unacceptable effect that the Carty report was not delivered in its entirety either to me or to the then Minister, Deputy O'Donoghue, at a time when its full contents would have been definitely of interest to us and would have enabled us to make earlier judgments on some of the issues involved.
Throughout his period in office, in so far as that coincided with my position as Attorney General, the then Minister, Deputy O'Donoghue, was most anxious at every hand's turn to have the truth of the McBreartys' allegations established by whatever means were available. In May 2001, he wrote to me in my capacity as Attorney General and asked me to advise him of his options in respect of establishing the facts by some process. He asked me to consider the possibility of a full tribunal of inquiry, a parliamentary committee or some other method. I replied to his letter and said I had not yet seen the Carty report and that I was labouring at a disadvantage on that account.
It was in June 2001. My letter stated that in the context of the law as it then stood — which was that all tribunals of inquiry had to conduct all of their proceedings in public and receive evidence in public and not otherwise — it was my opinion that at that time the pending criminal prosecutions would tend to be seriously prejudiced and compromised and that it was better in those circumstances to let them proceed, but if they proceeded and were inconclusive, or if the civil proceedings which had been launched, were brought to a conclusion or settled without the full truth emerging, a tribunal of inquiry would then be the appropriate way to deal with the issue.
People have been labouring under the false impression that first, the then Minister, Deputy O'Donoghue, was in some sense not anxious to have an inquiry and this is the diametric opposite of the truth and second, it has been stated that I, as Attorney General, was not keen on having an inquiry and that is the diametric opposite of the truth.
I wish it to be clear that in December or during the late autumn of that year, the Minister for Justice, Equality and Law Reform, at that stage requested the chairman of the Bar Council to nominate a senior barrister who would have access to all the papers — some of which I had not seen — and who would make a report to him on the appropriate course of conduct. That report was received in January 2002. On foot of the report and on seeing the material Mr. Shane Murphy had exposed, the Minister and I immediately agreed there was an unanswerable case for an immediate tribunal of inquiry and that we would amend the law to facilitate the holding of a tribunal of inquiry by having private sessions where necessary to protect pending criminal litigation and that we would do so in those circumstances as quickly as possible. Legislation was pushed through this House in rapid order——
——and the tribunal was established in May 2002. Some people have argued that in those circumstances there was reluctance on our part to take action. This is not the case. In January 2002, the appendices to the Carty report were finally delivered to me as Attorney General as requested by the Minister for Justice, Equality and Law Reform from the Garda Síochána. It was only at that point that the legal advisers advising me on the civil matters came to the conclusion that there was a very serious series of conspiracies to pervert the course of justice.
The fundamental fact is that at all times Deputy O'Donoghue as Minister for Justice, Equality and Law Reform wanted to have the truth emerge. At all times I was supportive of that aim subject to the legal difficulty under which I laboured, which was that to have a tribunal of inquiry could pull the plug on the criminal prosecutions then pending. Ultimately it became essential to amend the Tribunals of Inquiry (Evidence) Acts to facilitate the holding of such an inquiry to allow the public to get at the truth without at the same time pulling the rug from under the criminal prosecutions taking place. In this respect both the former Minister for Justice, Equality and Law Reform, Deputy O'Donoghue, and the former Minister for Justice, Mrs. Nora Owen, in every respect behaved to the highest standards and did not depart from any standard of political accountability at any point. That is my honest view.
The second report of the Morris tribunal states, at paragraph 9.06:
The Tribunal is much concerned by the lack of any independent body to receive legitimate concerns about Garda behaviour. The provisions of the Garda Bill need to be reviewed by the Oireachtas, so as to satisfy the legitimate disquiet that arises from the Tribunal's study of the documents in this case.
I agree with the tribunal that we need an independent body to examine legitimate concerns about Garda behaviour, and the Bill provides for such a body, the independent ombudsman commission, with strong powers of investigation. I agree also with the tribunal that it is clearly right for this House and Seanad Éireann to review the provisions of the Bill to ensure that they meet the requirements which we all recognise. A process of continuing review has been carried out as the Bill has passed through its parliamentary stages, first in Seanad Éireann and now in this House. Significant amendments have been made to the Bill drawing on ideas from all sides of the House and the Bill is the better for it. We are today engaged in a major debate on the reports of the tribunal and their implications for the Bill. The Report Stage of the Bill will be taken next week when many further amendments will be considered by this House.
Let me therefore directly address the question as to how the Bill responds to the findings and recommendations of the Morris tribunal. As the House knows, the Bill provides for an independent Garda Síochána ombudsman commission. The ombudsman commission will be empowered to investigate directly and independently complaints against members of the Garda Síochána. It will also be empowered to investigate any matter, even where no complaint has been made, where it appears that a garda may have committed an offence or behaved in a manner that would justify disciplinary proceedings. It will also be empowered to investigate any practice, policy or procedure of the Garda Síochána with a view to reducing the incidence of related complaints, a power that does not vest in the Police Ombudsman for Northern Ireland.
In carrying out a criminal investigation, designated officers of the ombudsman commission will have Garda powers, immunities and privileges. They will be empowered to obtain search warrants, arrest members of the force, detain and question them and take forensic samples, and bring charges against them. Such investigations will therefore be full criminal investigations carried out independently by the commission. Where a criminal offence is not at issue or a prosecution has been ruled out, the commission will be empowered to conduct a civil investigation, as part of which it may require persons to provide documents or other information to it or may require persons — not necessarily gardaí— to appear before it and answer fully and truthfully any questions put to them by the ombudsman commission. If any person fails to comply with these requirements, the ombudsman commission may seek an order of the Circuit Court requiring him or her to comply, and failure to comply with such an order will be a criminal offence. This applies to gardaí and civilians alike.
The tribunal's clear view is that gardaí should be required to account for their actions on duty without delay and without the need for applications to court. Once again, I agree with the tribunal. In the light of the findings of the Morris tribunal and its recommendations, it is essential that every garda should have a duty to account without delay, procrastination or prevarication for his or her actions on duty. While it was always my intention to provide for such a duty in the disciplinary regulations to be made under the Bill, as I have recently made clear I will now be placing such a duty on an express statutory footing in view of the remarks in the tribunal's report. I share the view of the tribunal that such a duty, vigorously implemented, should in many cases obviate the necessity for more involved investigations. This new duty should greatly assist not only the internal management of the Garda but also the commission in its investigations.
However, it is important that the Circuit Court procedure should remain available to the ombudsman commission in its civil investigations as it is an appropriate power for the commission to have. It is a particularly strong power backed up by the potential for a criminal conviction as distinct from disciplinary action. This was the power applied in the case of former Deputy Liam Lawlor and his non-co-operation with the Mahon tribunal. It would be needed to enforce co-operation from civilians, whether civilian employees in the Garda Síochána or members of the public, who appear before the ombudsman commission and for whom Garda disciplinary regulations have no relevance.
I believe, therefore, that the functions and powers of the independent ombudsman commission fully measure up to those of the Police Ombudsman for Northern Ireland. While some differences exist, none of these detracts from the equivalence of the two bodies. Let me directly address the two differences which have been recently highlighted in public debate. One difference is that the ombudsman commission will be made up of three persons whereas in Northern Ireland it is a single individual. It is predictable that the argument is made that we should simply copy what has been done in Northern Ireland. However, it is valid to contend, as I do, that there are advantages in having a commission composed of three persons, from the point of view of continuity for holidays, illness etc. let alone other reasons. In this regard, I note the chairman of the Garda Síochána Complaints Board, Mr. Gordon Holmes, who is an independently minded man, favours a three-person commission rather than a single ombudsman.
In his introduction to the board's annual report for 2004, which I launched on Tuesday, Mr. Holmes stated:
There has been much debate as to whether the new Body should be run by a single Ombudsman or by a commission of three people. In my view, a three-person commission lessens the likelihood of a personality based conflict arising between it and Garda management.
In considering the model in operation in Northern Ireland, it should be remembered that the PSNI is a regional constabulary covering a relatively small geographical area with a police force of 7,500 officers. On the other hand the Garda Síochána is the police force of a sovereign State with the additional responsibility for protecting the security of the State, covering a much larger territory, and which will shortly have a force strength of more than 14,000 members. I also point out to the Deputies that the equivalent Independent Police Complaints Commission operating in England and Wales has 17 members.
As a practical response to all the views which have been expressed, I have indicated that I am preparing to bring forward an amendment on Report Stage providing that one of the members of the ombudsman commission should be its chairperson. This amendment will retain all the advantages of the collective leadership of a three-person commission but will provide the commission with the agreed "visible leadership" advantages associated with an individual, for which argument has been made in recent days.
The other difference between the powers of the Police Ombudsman for Northern Ireland and the proposed ombudsman commission relates to the power to search police stations. The Police Ombudsman for Northern Ireland may search any police station, whereas the search of some Garda stations by the ombudsman commission, as outlined in the Bill, may be subject to a direction by the Minister of the day. The difference in the Garda Bill is simply a reflection of a fundamental difference between the two police forces. The PSNI is a police force, whereas the Garda Síochána is both a police force and a security and intelligence service. That is not to say that the PSNI does not deal with intelligence matters, but simply to make the point that alongside the PSNI are quite separate security and intelligence services to which the Police Ombudsman for Northern Ireland has no access.
The Garda Bill deals with this difference in function by empowering the ombudsman commission to search any Garda station. By way of a potential exception, it also enables the Minister to designate, with the approval of the Government, Garda stations where information relating to the security of the State is held and which may only be searched to an extent specified in a ministerial direction, and the Bill sets out the factors to be considered by the Minister in that regard. The default position in the Bill is that every Garda station is liable to search by the ombudsman commission and it is only if the Minister of the day designates any stations or any document repositories within them on security grounds that a search is subject to ministerial direction.
In addition, the Bill provides for a judge of the High Court to be appointed to keep under review this provision and to report to the Taoiseach from time to time on its operation. As part of this, the judge may investigate any case where the Minister gives a direction and must be given access to any designated Garda station and allowed to inspect any documents there. Reports to the Taoiseach by the judge will also be laid before both Houses. Bearing in mind the distinct difference in function between the Garda Síochána and the PSNI, the provisions of the Bill on the potential restriction on the search of some Garda stations are reasonable. I know of no security force in the world which would allow perfect strangers to walk in to its premises and examine its files. I am examining further safeguards to prevent the security exemption from being abused. If it was broadly interpreted, it would mean that virtually any special branch material could fall within its rubric and that is not what I intend.
Another key provision in the Garda Bill is the establishment of a Garda Síochána inspectorate. This was not included in the Bill as published, but was included by way of an amendment which I brought forward in direct response to the first report of the Morris tribunal. The purpose of the inspectorate will be to seek to ensure that the resources of the Garda Síochána are used to achieve the highest levels of efficiency and effectiveness compared to best police standards. To that end, the inspectorate will inspect the operation and administration of the force and report to the Minister of the day with advice on best policing practice. The inspectorate will therefore not only assist the Garda Síochána itself to achieve the highest standards, but will make available to the Minister an independent and objective assessment of the performance of the force. This will be a crucial response to the concern of the Morris tribunal that too much distance has opened between the Garda Síochána and the Department of Justice, Equality and Law Reform. This is particularly important in the context of the tribunal stating in its first report that the Department has a role in ensuring oversight in respect of the recommendations of the tribunal, and that the Department must, in consultation with the Garda Commissioner, address the structural defects and deficiencies that were identified in the report to ensure it is empowered by knowledge. The reports of the inspectorate will be laid before both Houses and the chief inspector will, when requested, attend before any Oireachtas committee in connection with any such report. In addition to the new duty on gardaí to account for their action, I will be bringing forward a number of other significant amendments to the Garda Bill in response to the findings of the Morris tribunal, dealing with such issues as enhanced accountability, discipline and the provision of information to the Minister of the day. I look forward to a detailed discussion on these and other issues on Report Stage next week.
Following the first report of the Morris tribunal, the Garda Commissioner established a number of high level working groups to examine the findings and recommendations of the tribunal and to make proposals for change. The Garda Commissioner reinstated the obligation on Garda officers to keep an official journal, as the lack of such documentation was a serious cause for concern by the tribunal, and adversely affected its search for the truth.
In the first report of the Morris tribunal, there was a clear direction by Mr. Justice Morris that it would be wrong that persons dismissed from the force for disciplinary reasons, "even as a result of evil actions on their part" as the report states, should lose their pension entitlements. There is a view out there that the report of the tribunal and the sanctions put in place have been devalued because some members of the Garda Síochána who departed the force voluntarily or by dismissal have still retained their pensions. Mr. Justice Morris specifically stated that it was in the interests of the force that pensions in those circumstances should not be forfeited. It is important to state that because so much commentary recently has proceeded on the basis that this is some kind of sweetheart deal between the Minister or the Commissioner and those who are departing or being dismissed from the force. Nothing could be further from the truth. I am living up to the clear advice given by the report that not to do so would damage the force and would be wrong in principle.
There are disciplinary issues arising within the Garda Síochána. I concur with the view expressed by the tribunal that it is wholly incompatible with discipline that people who fail to account for the manner in which they carried out their duties absent themselves on sick leave, or only make statements to their superiors on legal advice, or with the advice of their representative associations. The Garda Commissioner has taken steps to ensure that such a culture is emphatically ended. One of the amendments to be tabled on Committee Stage will permit the removal of any member from the force outside of the disciplinary process, where in the opinion of the Commissioner and with the consent of the Government, it is necessary for the purpose of maintaining confidence in the force. This new power will be necessary to employ in circumstances where in the past, due process in the disciplinary procedures has led to lengthy delays and a public perception that nothing was being done on a disciplinary level.
It is fair to say that the Minister's speech was very defensive and narrow in its scope, bearing in mind the issues of national interest at stake. The country is reeling from the revelations made by Mr. Justice Frederick Morris. He and his team have done a signal service to the State and we are all grateful for that. His tribunal has unearthed a murky side to the activities of some in the Garda Síochána — a side that many if not most of us did not believe could have existed. We were made aware of gross incompetence, corruption, personal vendettas, the destruction of lives and livelihoods and somewhere amongst all that, the great disrespect shown to the late Richie Barron and the search for the real truth surrounding his untimely and undignified death.
We have been lucky in this country to have a police force in which we felt we could take pride and in which we felt we could have full confidence. However, the unedifying sight of senior gardaí, a law unto themselves, scrambling around County Donegal like it was their own private fiefdom and subsequently scrambling around our system of justice in order to avoid their punishment has gone a long way to eroding that pride and confidence. It gives me no pleasure as a public representative who shared that pride and confidence to read some of the report's conclusions and recommendations into the record of the House. I do so on the basis of the obvious need to ensure they are acted upon. This does not make easy reading.
On the role of Garda headquarters, Mr. Justice Morris states that "there was a lack of proper management at senior level, corruption at middle level, and a lack of review throughout the force." He also states that it has been all too easy for the highest structure of an Garda Síochána to be hoodwinked and misled. He goes on to state, astoundingly, that "the Minister's Department is now far too isolated from Garda Headquarters." It is obvious that the events in Donegal were not just a little local difficulty. The report clearly states that greater accountability to Garda headquarters is needed, and that "the system for reporting major incidents through Garda headquarters and the Department of Justice, Equality and Law Reform is obviously unsatisfactory."
It is incredible to think that such a breakdown in communication has been allowed to occur. Worse still is the culture of unaccountability that has evolved, which is buttressed by a regime of obfuscation and deceit that was writ large and obvious to everyone in the behaviour of certain gardaí in their attitude to the tribunal. It is necessary to record that Mr. Justice Morris found that "it had been lied to repeatedly by former and serving Garda officers" and that:
It is obvious that where a situation reaches a point where wrongdoing has become hardened into a habit in certain sections of An Garda Síochána, that people are not only unlikely to own up to it, they are positively likely to lie about it.
In the face of such stinging criticism, a catalogue of lies, the assertion of communications breakdown and a condemnation of a lack of accountability, significant action is clearly necessary. The Garda Bill continues to be the vehicle through which to take it. We must first tackle the wall of silence behind which the unsavoury activities took place. As Donegal highlighted, the wall of silence was as impregnable as the Berlin Wall. Like the Berlin Wall, it must be torn down. The findings of Mr. Justice Morris scream out for a mechanism whereby wrongdoing is pinpointed, tackled and eliminated. One of the ways to ensure that happens is to provide protection to honest and upstanding members of the Garda Síochána who alert those with the power to act such as the proposed Garda ombudsman or ombudsman commission. I shall return to the debate surrounding the nature of the commission later and focus first on the empowerment and protection of whistleblowers, which must be given priority.
As drafted, the Garda Bill goes out of its way to make it difficult for gardaí to complain of corruption and other misdemeanours in their ranks. Under section 75, a member of the Garda Síochána is excluded from making a complaint to the ombudsman commission or proposed ombudsman. There is no reason this should be the case. Circumstances may well arise in which gardaí have crucial information about bad practices and abuses they have witnessed. While it might be argued that a garda with such evidence can go to his or her superior officer, Donegal demonstrated that in some instances the superior officer in question might be party to the misbehaviour reported. The perception among those gardaí to whom I have spoken about the provision is that they are excluded from the process. I raised the point with the Minister on Committee Stage on 1 June and received the following interesting reply:
Under section 94(4), it is possible for the ombudsman commission to institute its own investigation in the case of a situation of which it has become aware. A member of the Garda Síochána who is the only witness to a serious matter and who believes, for whatever reason, that internal disciplinary procedures or reporting to a superior will be insufficient to deal with it, or having reported to a superior has received an inadequate response, can bring this to the attention of the ombudsman commission. In those circumstances, the commission could investigate the matter if it deemed it appropriate to do so.
Where is the transparency in that? Mr. Justice Morris set to work because the lines of accountability were blurred and the activities of certain members of the Garda Síochána were not impeccable. I cannot understand why the Minister proposes a back-door approach which, on the one hand, specifically prevents honest gardaí from reporting wrongdoing, while, on the other hand, offers them a wink-and-nod option to make the commission aware.
The Minister for Finance informed Deputy Rabbitte only yesterday that section 4 of the Protections for Persons Reporting Child Abuse Act and section 50 of the Competition Act contain clauses to provide for the protection of whistleblowers. If specific whistleblower protection is appropriate in the cases of child abuse and competition, why is it inappropriate for the Garda? Is it not a worthy case? Has the Minister forgotten it was a whistleblower in AIB which allowed its customers to get back what was rightly theirs? At worst, section 75 of the Bill will dissuade a wavering member of the Garda, unsure of how to act or answer the Morris question, "To whom should I turn?", raised time and again, from reporting the wrongdoing of others. I urge the Minister strongly to reconsider.
While he is at it, he must also think again about the absurd proposal that the Bill should pass into law within 14 days. Given all that has happened and that we are where we are due to a lack of scrutiny, transparency and accountability, the two-week timeframe is a recipe for disaster. While I want to see the Garda Bill enacted and avoid unnecessary delay, the House, the public and the force must be able to have full confidence that the legislation in its final shape reflects fully the findings and recommendations of the Morris tribunal. We cannot ignore the Morris recommendation issued two weeks ago for the Oireachtas to review the provisions of the Garda Bill to satisfy the legitimate disquiet which has arisen from the tribunal's study of the documents in this case. The Minister said he made special arrangements to allow today's exchange of views before Report Stage, but statements do not satisfy the Morris recommendation. At issue is the broad picture of the tribunal.
My party leader, Deputy Kenny, has already called on the Government to suspend Report Stage to invite an independent and respected panel, including someone with international expertise, to review the Bill during the obvious period of the recess over the next three months. The panel would report to the House in the autumn its assessment of whether the Bill addresses fully all recommendations made by Mr. Justice Morris and ensures the structures proposed to handle complaints against gardaí accord with best international practice. Everyone knows it takes two weeks to read a typical report yet this is the entire period allowed by the Minister to process the Bill. The Fine Gael proposal is reasonable. Its adoption would not unduly delay the legislation, but would have the effect of providing for the Bill to be Morris proofed.
As the findings set out in the report of Mr. Justice Morris show, the Bill is lacking in other areas. The management structure of the Garda must be scrutinised. Neither the current nor proposed structures provide for outside civilian recruitment to Garda managerial ranks. The only way to take a leadership role in the management of the Garda will continue to be to sign up at Templemore and work one's way up the ranks. The Minister will be aware that a former press officer from his Department, a lady from my constituency, was recruited by the Police Service of Northern Ireland and is now an officer of the organisation.
Better again. She was a special lady from west Cork. She obviously had great talent and was recruited by the PSNI and is now an officer of the force. If the PSNI can do it, what is stopping us? Should we not be making such appointments? I would like to see such issues highlighted and explored.
Perhaps the Minister will question the management approach in the Garda if I quote an example of it which arose in July 2001 in the context of the McBrearty saga. The then Commissioner, Mr. Pat Byrne, gave a newspaper interview which I quote with a degree of incredulity. He said:
The perception of what went on in Donegal is, I think, more serious than the actuality of what happened but at the same time, it does not mean I am happy. I am not at all happy. I made a decision to transfer senior officers, some of them very close friends of mine. I didn't do that lightly.
The Commissioner continued:
Quite honestly, I would love to have the Donegal saga finalised before I leave this position because things have been made out to be far worse than the reality. Can you imagine how many of the gardaí in Donegal feel?
I find it somewhat incredible that a Commissioner would take these actions let alone talk about them. I was not surprised by the response of Mr. McBrearty who wrote to the Commissioner to ask how he thought the McBrearty family felt. Mr. McBrearty wrote that they felt let down by the Commissioner who was, as he stated himself, the leader of a very large organisation. I raise the matter in the context of the need to strengthen the management of the Garda and to argue that we must not close the door to civilian intake.
The issue of promotion, which was dealt with by Mr. Justice Morris, has not been touched on so far. Mr. Justice Morris noted "the unimpressive performance by members of An Garda Síochána of Superintendent and Chief Superintendent rank during the relevant period in Co. Donegal". He stated:
All of these men were recruited from ranks serving both in Donegal and in other parts of the country. The Tribunal cannot come to the conclusion that the Donegal division is a 'statistical blip'. Whereas Donegal may not have been a representative sample as to serving members of An Garda Síochána of Superintendent rank and above, it is equally possible that it may have been.
He further states:
Systems, however, cannot substitute for personnel. The Tribunal is unable to make a recommendation as to how promotions should be looked at in the future. The Tribunal is able to say, however, that the system of promotion, in its experience, too often produces people who do not bring to the task the requisite level of enthusiasm, commitment and ability.
Do we ignore that?
His remarks and approach must be fully debated and a mechanism put in place to absolutely ensure that, in theory and practice, we open up that door. I want to hear a great deal more about how that will be done.
A third issue that has not been touched on in the Morris report but to which I will refer nevertheless is that of outside interests by members of the Garda Síochána and whether there should be accountability for that. I do not deny the right of members of the Garda Síochána to be involved in interests outside the force but I would be somewhat concerned if such interests were to interfere with their duties. In my days practising as a solicitor in west Cork, I recollect a member of the force who had the reputation of being far better at chasing bullocks than chasing criminals. Everybody, including me, thought this situation was being kept under control by the superintendent and that his major activities were devoted to his Garda duties. In light of the comments and criticisms of Mr. Justice Morris, I wonder if that was so. This is another issue we should look at and whether it may have to be dealt with by way of a declaration of interests in a register, as is provided for Members of the Oireachtas.
The main point is that we have to give more detailed consideration to the Morris tribunal's worthy recommendations. From the point of view of the Garda Síochána, absolute accountability is the key to the effectiveness and efficiency of the force and to the restoration of full confidence in its operation. It is obvious to me and to the Fine Gael Party that a mechanism must be established to oversee the rapid implementation of the recommendations in the report from Mr. Justice Morris and the redevelopment of the force under the structures and within the system provided for in the new legislation when finalised and in operation.
One option which deserves serious consideration is the establishment of an Oireachtas security committee to which the Minister for Justice, Equality and Law Reform, his officials and the Garda Commissioner would regularly report. This committee could also call on international expertise to ensure that international best practice is identified and applied by the force. The committee should also have the power to summon individual members of the Garda for questioning. If such a committee had been in place in the past, we might not have had the need to call on Mr. Justice Morris in the first place.
Anyone can see that the Minister who is promoting this Bill and the senior gardaí who are advising him are intrinsically linked with the issues dealt with by the Morris tribunal. I say that in a neutral rather than an adversarial way. There is a linkage. That is why I call for external oversight of the force, and who better than the representatives of the people elected to this House?
The decision of the Commissioner to transfer five gardaí on full salary to Dublin, which was criticised in the report, has done nothing to bolster confidence that the lessons from Mr. Justice Morris have been learnt. He may have a justified reason but it has not emerged. An Oireachtas security committee would provide a mechanism by which such actions could be called into account, clarified and explained. The Fine Gael Party envisages that such a committee would be a powerful one, akin to the Committee of Public Accounts, with the necessary independence and resources that would be fortified by following the PAC example of having an Opposition chairman.
Consideration should be given to inserting in the Bill a further provision for review. A security committee would provide oversight of its provisions. The coming months should be used to "Morris-proof" the Bill. At some point in the future we should appoint a commission of review for the Garda Síochána. I do not insist that it should be set up immediately but I believe that in principle it must be put in place, and it is only a question of when this will be done. One way of dealing with it is to provide in the Bill for a statutory review of its provisions and their success or otherwise after a period of time, perhaps two years. I would envisage a major review along the lines of the Patten inquiry which would be led by an international figure. It would be essential to have this in the Bill if we are not to set up a review at this juncture.
The Minister has stated with confidence that the Bill will succeed and that it provides a framework for a modern, efficient and clean Garda Síochána. He may be right, but it would keep everyone up to the mark in the knowledge that a full independent commission of review was around the corner.
I have some serious remarks to make in regard to the Minister's attempt to draw the rainbow Government into his Government's inept handling of the McBrearty case. I considered it a sign of desperation from a Minister who is clearly beginning to feel the pressure. He is aware, and his remarks this morning clarified this to some extent——
——through his apology to Nora Owen. I am not authorised to accept it on her behalf but I am sure she will have something to say on that. He knew that it was a complete red herring to bring the rainbow Government into this matter. The issue is well documented. It is clear that at certain times it is entirely inappropriate for people to interfere in Garda investigations. That has been the way in the past and I am sure it is the way now. I do not intend to dignify the matter with further comment other than to say that it may be of some significance for a member of this Fianna Fáil-Progressive Democrats Government that when the Minister delved into the past he did not mention that the issues dealt with in the first Morris report preceded the time of the rainbow Government. It is not a matter on which I intend to deal with further. I wish to make it clear——
I do not question the absolute integrity and bona fides of the then Minister for Justice, Máire Geoghegan-Quinn. What is of significant importance, however, is the element of historical revisionism regarding the efforts made to bring this issue to the fore. I am not as well versed as Deputy Howlin, who was one of the main proponents in trying to bring this matter to public attention with my colleague, Senator Higgins. It is clear that significant efforts were made at the time to try to get the Government to face up to its responsibilities, but they were brushed aside. It is also a matter of fact that the motion tabled by the Opposition was voted down by hustling everybody into the lobbies, including Independent Deputies from Donegal, to prevent the setting up of a tribunal at that time.
The Minister has given a long and convoluted explanation as to his conduct both as Attorney General and as Minister, but I do not intend to go into that. I will leave it to others who are better able to deal with the detail. I believed the Minister was to address broad, serious issues of national interest rather than defending his own position. To echo the words of Shakespeare, methinks he doth protest too much.
The Minister continues to oppose any changes to his proposals for the Garda ombudsman commission. He stated having a single Garda ombudsman would pose a problem were that individual to go on holiday. We have a single ombudsman in Emily O'Reilly. Does she not go on holidays? We have a single Ombudsman for Children, Emily Logan. We have a single Information Commissioner, a single Insurance Ombudsman of Ireland, a single Data Protection Commissioner and a single Director of Corporate Enforcement. We also have one Minister for Justice, Equality and Law Reform.
I am not sure whether he goes on holidays. However, we are told having a single Garda ombudsman would be unworkable and unacceptable.
Fine Gael also has grave difficulty with the suggestion that what is good for Northern Ireland is not good for the Republic. In Northern Ireland, one of the strongest driving forces to ensure acceptance of the PSNI in all communities has been the character and determination of Nuala O'Loan. One should have no doubt about this. She, empowered by the legislation that set up her office, has had a tremendous impact in a number of areas, not least in the reinvestigation into the Omagh bombing. She deemed the original investigation to be absolutely inadequate. Her report resulted in a reappraisal of the search for justice, the fruits of which we are now witnessing. This would not have happened without that single ombudsman and the strength and power of her character and personality in driving the investigation forward. Is it that we do not want this in the South?
With an exemplary public servant such as Nuala O'Loan working just 100 miles from us, who are we to suggest we should not have anything other than a framework that would allow a similar exemplary person, unfettered and free, to act in the public interest? The Minister should think about this again. Whatever about the mechanics of the process and what happens in the United Kingdom or elsewhere, the public must have full confidence in the office being established. It has no confidence in the existing body. It has confidence in the operation driven by Nuala O'Loan. This is the precedent we should be following.
Let me refer to some of the individuals involved and affected by the carry-on in Donegal. Despite all the political and legal wrangling that the events in Donegal have led to, we should never forget we are discussing serious human suffering. On the night of 13 October 1996, Richie Barron was knocked down and left for dead. Frank McBrearty Jr. had been playing football with his son and then went to work in his father's nightclub. Mark McConnell had been socialising in Raphoe. Michael Peoples was to become the victim of a blackmailer who believed him to be part of the murder effort. Frank McBrearty was to become the victim of a witch-hunt in pursuit of a murderer who did not exist. Mark McConnell was assumed to have been guilty because, as Mr. Justice Morris states, "members of the incident room team were emotionally consumed by the presumption of his guilt". That Michael Peoples considered paying his blackmailer was proof enough in the eyes of Donegal gardaí to seal his fate.
Last Wednesday, the Taoiseach informed us that there are a further 120 cases pending against the State and the gardaí in Donegal. The one-bad-apple excuse will clearly not wash. It is time to take a step back and ensure our response to the Morris investigation is of sufficient strength. We must ensure the end of this sorry saga and the beginning of a new chapter in the record of a force that has rendered such proud service to the State since its foundation.
Let us ensure, for the future, that when we think of the Garda force we do so by recalling the heroic sacrifice of members such as Garda Jerry McCabe rather than the nasty, mean and unedifying conduct of those who besmirched the name of the force in Donegal. From now on, let us ensure that we put in place structures, practices and procedures to prevent another set of circumstances such as those that obtained in Donegal. If we do so, the country will gain, as will the Garda Síochána. The badge of the force will once again be looked at and worn with complete pride and confidence.
I half-heartedly welcome the statements today. I would have much preferred a proper debate. This is the first opportunity we have had in the House to examine the findings of the Morris tribunal. An interim report was issued which was not discussed in the House at all. The proper way to deal with this issue would be by way of debate rather than statements. In this manner we could have a motion to endorse the report and its referral to the appropriate forum for further consideration. The Minister has allowed for a debate in a vacuum. I have reservations about this.
Having listened to the Minister's unscripted account of his stewardship, I noted it was an extraordinarily weak defence of his time as Attorney General in the crucial period in question. It is unbelievable that he was unable to get a copy of the Carty report for two years and that he took no steps to ensure he got it. How can a Minister for Justice, Equality and Law Reform operate if a report into an investigation that takes place is considered to be a privy report? The Minister is expected to advise the Attorney General on matters that have been brought to his attention in abundant fashion, both verbally and in written submissions from very responsible and respectable sources. It is absolutely unbelievable that the Minister allowed circumstances to continue to obtain as outlined without taking any remedial action.
The Minister's statement that he did not want to have an inquiry because criminal prosecutions were taking place is questionable. There have been criminal prosecutions regarding this matter for the past eight years and there are still criminal prosecutions pending. Moreover, the tribunal has been making its investigations. Therefore, the Minister's excuse is invalid. I will leave it to my colleague, Deputy Howlin, to go into further detail on this matter.
In February 2002, a month before the tribunal was established, I elicited from the then Minister for Justice, Equality and Law Reform that the entry on the Richie Barron killing on the PULSE computer system was changed such that it no longer referred to suspected murder but to a hit and run. This knowledge was available to the Garda, including the Garda Commissioner and, I presume, the Department of Justice, Equality and Law Reform prior to the Minister for Justice, Equality and Law Reform speaking in this House in March 2002 as if the investigation were still a murder investigation. Either he knew about the change on the PULSE system or he did not. This also applies to the Garda Commissioner. The lame-duck response of the Minister for Justice, Equality and Law Reform to the effect that this would not have mattered in respect of the proceedings that took place in March 2002 to establish the tribunal and its terms of reference is poppycock. It was a very significant matter. Does anybody know what is being entered on and removed from the PULSE system? These are serious questions that must be answered.
I express my condolences to the family of Richie Barron, who is very often forgotten in all these matters, and acknowledge their grief on his untimely demise and the trauma associated with the botched "murder" investigation culminating in the exhumation of his remains and the determination that no murder had occurred at all.
I salute the McBreartys, the McConnells, the Peoples', the Gallaghers, the Brollys, the Quinns, the Crossans and all the families involved on their battle and campaign for eight years to clear their good names and vindicate themselves against the odds and against the agents of the State, who should, in a democratic society, have been protecting them but who were in fact engaged in a criminal conspiracy against them.
I congratulate Mr. Justice Frederick Morris, chairman of the tribunal set up in March 2002 to investigate certain Garda activities in Donegal, on producing two comprehensive reports in the space of two years in which strong, clear, robust findings and recommendations were made.
I criticise in the strongest possible manner the failure and neglect of two coalition Governments since 1997 to act on foot of abundant information and evidence that was made freely available to them over the years from respectable and responsible sources. Such dereliction of duty for four and a half years between 1997 and 2002, made the establishment of the Morris tribunal inevitable, when action by the current Minister, Deputy McDowell, then Attorney General and the then Minister, Deputy O'Donoghue, would have made the inquiry unnecessary.
I criticise further in the strongest possible terms the total failure of the Garda complaints body to investigate and act on the information and evidence of Garda wrongdoing and criminality that was brought to its attention in the same period. Finally, I criticise Deputy McDowell as Minister for Justice, Equality and Law Reform, for arrogantly refusing to make any concession to the McBrearty or McConnell families as regards representation, cruelly asserting again and again that the victims of a criminal conspiracy by agents of the State must await the outcome of the findings of the modules before any payments could be made. At the same time there was the nonsense of the Minister having his own legal team representing him at the tribunal — a team that does not attend or contribute. His legal team is on a retainer of substantial brief and daily fees for reading the transcripts at home or in the Dáil Library. This farce has been going on for two years while the victims of the miscarriage of justice are being lectured to continuously on the reasons why they cannot have legal representation.
Indeed, on the one occasion when I arranged a meeting between the McBrearty family and the Minister, last month, on the issue of costs, Deputy McDowell cancelled it at the last minute on the spurious grounds that Mr. Mark McConnell was attending and that the lawyers were not, although no such condition was made prior to the meeting. The following week, in stark contrast, the Taoiseach found time to have an impromptu meeting without forewarning, with the McBrearty family and without their lawyers being present.
The Minister has acted like a bully boy throughout. He has been impervious to the traumatic experiences and grief of so many victims in Donegal. A Minister for justice in a democratic society should not be allowed to behave in such a fashion towards the innocent citizens of the country. The Taoiseach should give the Minister his marching orders.
All the families in the public Gallery today have suffered at the hands of Deputy McDowell in the last two Governments. He tendered a general apology recently through the media, but did not apologise directly to the families who have now been vindicated and who have been innocent all along. He did not send a letter or apologise in any personal manner. Is he man enough now to stand up in the House before the end of the proceedings and make an apology to all those who are in the public Gallery and to follow that up with individual letters of apology to each and everyone of them?
I will now refer to the tribunal's findings and recommendations. On page 41 Mr. Justice Morris says:
The Tribunal was fed lie after lie. The spirit wearies at the lies, obfuscation, concealments and conspiracies to destroy the truth.
Despite the obstruction by certain gardaí, which Morris found to be despicable, the tribunal determined that the investigation into the death of Mr. Richie Barron was "prejudiced, tendentious and utterly negligent" and that there was a "cover-up". The Garda were "consumed" with the belief that Mr. Frank McBrearty and Mr. Mark McConnell were the culprits in an investigation where no murder had actually occurred.
Hoax telephone calls by Garda John O'Dowd and his informant were made to the home of Michael and Charlotte Peoples, seeking to blackmail Mr. Peoples to extort money. Even more bizarrely, some of the calls were made from the garda's home and a "prejudiced investigation team" made Mr. Peoples a suspect in the murder investigation as well. In Donegal, truth is stranger than fiction.
The second tribunal report dovetails into the first, which had equally bizarre findings. In that report the Garda, together with its pet informer, were found to have traversed the country and even ventured into Northern Ireland planting home-made bombs, contacting the Garda authorities and the RUC as to whereabouts of these devices and then taking credit for good detective work in finding them. At one time, indeed, the Secretary of State for Northern Ireland was moved to congratulate the Minister for Justice, Equality and Law Reform for the valuable work of the Donegal Garda in thwarting IRA bombers. If he only knew what was going on.
The tribunal has identified the perpetrators on the ground in Donegal. Superintendents Shelley and McGinley have now taken early retirement after being asked to respond to the tribunal's findings. Now, despite the finding of "gross negligence" by the tribunal, both have sought through the Garda Commissioner, and been granted, legal representation at the next module. This means the State, having already paid their full legal costs in the previous module, will pay their full legal costs in the forthcoming "silver bullet" module. This is strange indeed.
Moreover, five gardaí, heavily criticised by the tribunal for breach of duty, are now being transferred to Dublin by the Garda Commissioner, without explanation or justification. This again is a perverse response to the tribunal's findings. What is so conspicuous by its absence in all of this is the lack of independent machinery to deal with gardaí who have been found to be in breach of their duties. Morris, in both reports, points strongly to the failure by the authorities to put such machinery in place. In his first report, Mr. Justice Morris severely criticised the Minister's proposals for the ombudsman commission in the Garda Síochána Bill 2004 as being too cumbersome and convoluted and not likely to be effective or adequate.
In the present report, a year later, once again he deplores the absence of an independent complaints structure and in this context requests that the Garda Síochána Bill be reviewed and revisited on this subject. Senator Maurice Hayes, whom the Minister has appointed to oversee the rollout and implementation of the Garda Síochána Bill, has severely criticised the powers of the ombudsman commission and the structure of the body as proposed. A commission of three people without a chairman or a leader and that also lacks decision making procedures, which restricts independent access to Garda stations and has some gardaí conducting investigations into Garda wrongdoing, will only have a fraction of the resources available to the one-person Ombudsman in Northern Ireland. Cocooned in a massive confusing and convoluted 50 sections of the Garda Síochána Bill, it is little more than the old Garda complaints body, with a coat of paint. It will not work and it will not have credibility.
Morris has also recommended that there should be a specific obligation on members of the Garda Síochána to account for actions taken in the course of duty. The Minister has agreed to this recommendation but it is the only one of the tribunal's recommendations that he is willing to take on board before the Garda Síochána Bill is voted on, finally, next week. This is not good enough. The Morris tribunal findings and recommendations are profound. They relate to the culture, operations and management of the Garda. Morris said that what happened in Donegal could, in certain circumstances, be replicated anywhere in the country and that it was not a case, simply, of a few bad apples. The Garda Síochána needs a root and branch overhaul.
This report should now be referred to the Joint Committee on Justice, Equality, Defence and Women's Rights, which is considering the Garda Síochána Bill. It should be treated by that committee in the same way as the two reports by Mr. Justice Barron into the Dublin and Monaghan bombings in the 1970s. The committee should hold oral hearings and invite written submissions. It should be in a position to invite in all the people whom Morris was unable to interview because of the restrictions to the tribunal's terms of reference. Chief of these should be the Minister for Justice, Equality and Law Reform, Deputy McDowell, his predecessor, Deputy O'Donoghue, who is beside him in the House today, the current Garda Commissioner and his predecessor and the Director of Public Prosecutions. The DPP was referred to by the Minister today and we need to know a good deal more about what happened there. Other relevant witnesses who were not called by the Morris tribunal should be included also. Deputy Commissioner Fitzgerald, whom the Minister has told the House conducted a major review of the findings of the first Morris report and its implications for the Garda, would be a valuable witness to come before the committee as well, so that it can hear what is being proposed.
The Garda Síochána Bill should be put on hold for six months to enable the committee to fully digest the impact and import of the two reports of the Morris tribunal, to receive submissions, to hold the hearings and to make recommendations.
The €14 million already spent on the Morris tribunal cannot be written off with a four-hour period for statements in a vacuum in the House on a day on which Oireachtas Report is not broadcast and the Dáil never sits. We must learn lessons and apply them.
As Mr. Justice Morris stated, gardaí are the main losers in the entire business and their good name and reputation has been tarnished to a large degree. Any attempt to cover up and paint over the cracks is counter-productive. We must grasp the nettle and produce a Garda Bill that will contain proper, world-class standards and regulations that will ensure the Garda Síochána moves into the 21st century with the same sense of service to the citizens as it had when it was established in the early 20th century.
This day has been a long time coming. From the first priority parliamentary question tabled to the then Minister for Justice, Equality and Law Reform, Deputy O'Donoghue, by Deputy Jim Higgins on 5 May 1999 to today, more than six years of deep distress and unimaginable anguish for many individual citizens let down by the State have elapsed. More than that, their own State and its agent, the Garda Síochána grossly abused them.
The scale of the abuse of power outlined in the two Morris reports to date beggars belief. That it could have continued over such a period and involved so many individual gardaí of all ranks is both shocking and frightening. Much of the reaction of the House today will be to look forward, rather than back, to determine what we can do as the representative assembly of the people to ensure such abuse cannot happen again. I, too, want to address that critical issue but first, we, in Dáil Éireann, owe it to all those good and decent people of Donegal caught up in this horror story to listen carefully and respectfully to their story and ordeal.
Few will read the 667 pages of the second Morris report or remember the names of all the individuals and families involved, whose lives have been torn apart. A handful of the principals will be recalled — Frank McBrearty and perhaps his nephew Mark McConnell — while others, the extended McBrearty family, Michael and Charlotte Peoples, the Shortt and Gallagher families and all the others listed by my colleague, Deputy Costello, will quickly slip the mind. It cannot simply be a case of next business. Their story must now be listened to and this House, which for so long let them down, can do no less.
This matter is far from over. Not only are there many more modules of the tribunal to be heard but the victims believe that even the thorough job being done by Mr. Justice Frederick Morris — we owe him and his team a debt of gratitude — has left gaps. We must now listen to these victims. Let me cite just one case, that of the Gallaghers whose farm was raided by gardaí in March 1997. The search, which lasted five days, turned their world upside down. Mr. Justice Morris states in his report:
Mr. James 'Lofty' Gallagher is a highly respected person in the St. Johnstown locality. He and his family occupy a farmhouse and farm in that area. They have never been suspected of any association with subversives. They are decent people.
He comes to the conclusion "that the search of the Gallagher lands was yet another vehicle which was intended by Garda O'Dowd and Superintendent Lennon to enhance their reputation but which, in fact, went wrong." He also came to the conclusion that the evidence, in this instance, of William Doherty, was true. Mr. Doherty's evidence was that he was asked by Superintendent Lennon to plant explosives on the Gallagher lands so that they could be found.
In a statement this week Jim Gallagher stated:
Thank God this part wasn't successful as I would have no doubt been convicted of subversive activities on the word of the Garda. From my point of view, things have gotten no better. We got into the Morris tribunal by the skin of our teeth. I was the last on a "miscellaneous" list of witnesses in the first module. We believe that a fraction of the truth has been uncovered and we should have had a module in our own right. Judge Morris used some strong words to damn some of the gardaí involved and completely exonerated me and my family, but there are still so many questions to be answered. We have since discovered our phones were tapped. We have since heard that the Garda continued to believe that I was affiliated with the IRA.
We have commenced civil proceedings in order to get some answers, but our treatment by the Department of Justice has been appalling. They are deliberately wasting time and avoiding taking any responsibility. They forget who the real victims are in this case and it is a further slap in the face to be treated this way by the State.
The role in all of this of the Department and the current and former Ministers for Justice, Equality and Law Reform, Deputies McDowell and O'Donoghue, has been shameful. The pathetic effort by the Minister to spread the blame last week adds insult to deep injury. The editorial in the Irish Examiner of 9 June under the heading, "McDowell bid to spread blame cynical", got it exactly right. It states: "his attempt to spread the blame for what went wrong in Donegal is contemptuous, transparent, opportunistic and demeaning." I believe the Irish people agree with that view.
The sworn evidence of the distinguished Secretary General of the Department of Justice, Equality and Law Reform to the tribunal was that it was not until the end of April 1999, a full two years after the Fianna Fáil-Progressive Democrats Government came into office, that "for the first time a detailed submission on the Donegal issue was made to senior management and the Minister." Does the Minister accept his Secretary General's evidence as true and accurate? The plain facts are that it was on the watch of the former Minister, Deputy O'Donoghue, while the current Minister, Mr. McDowell SC was Attorney General, that clear knowledge of wrongdoing in County Donegal became evident. Whatever doubts or confusion may have existed up to that point, once the then Minister, Deputy O'Donoghue, received the report of Assistant Commissioner Carty in July 2000, the Government had compelling and convincing knowledge of the scale of the abuse of power.
In this debate, I will deal with the Minister's comments, which I find shocking. He stated that neither he nor the then Minister, Deputy O'Donoghue, received the Carty report in July 2000. In that case, he told me untruths when I tabled the following parliamentary question on 7 February 2001:
Mr. Howlin asked the Minister for Justice, Equality and Law Reform the steps that have been taken since he received the report of a senior Garda official (details supplied) in July 2000 into allegations of corruption and malpractice involving members of the Garda Síochána in County Donegal; if he will bring the report before the Oireachtas Committee on Justice, Equality, Defence and Women's Rights; if he will establish a sworn inquiry into the allegations; the steps he will take to re-establish public confidence in the Garda in the area having regard to the serious public concern at the allegations; and if he will make a statement on the matter.
He went on to answer the question, saying: "The Deputy asked what steps had been taken since I received the report of a senior Garda into allegations of corruption and malpractice involving members of the Garda", but he did not tell me he did not get it. In fact, he said, "The Deputy asked if I will bring the report before the Oireachtas committee . . . I want to see the truth determined." In further supplementaries I remarked, "The Carty report was with the Garda Commissioner for a number of days before being sent to the Minister and to the DPP, who received it on the same day." He did not say that was not a fact. He led me to believe right through the questioning that day that he had the Carty report.
The Minister and his colleagues came into the Dáil when this side of the House tabled a motion to establish an independent inquiry on 20 November 2001. That was voted down by the Minister on the advice of the Attorney General. He said:
I sought the advice of the Attorney General as to what options are open to me . . . The Attorney General's advice in particular pointed out the serious difficulties that would arise when civil and criminal proceedings are still pending.
Not once did he say the real analysis of this by an Assistant Commissioner was unknown to him. How could he respond to a motion from this side of the House in ignorance? It is just unbelievable.
Either the full details of the Carty report were known to him when he obfuscated and obstructed a sworn inquiry or he is so incompetent that he allowed the Garda authorities to conceal that from him and he came in here to face down the facts in the Dáil in ignorance.
He is either incompetent or completely untrustworthy in terms of the information he has presented to this House. Those are the facts of it.
The current Minister for Justice, Equality and Law Reform told us this morning that he had no knowledge as Attorney General of the details of the Carty report until January or February 2002.
The complete report was not available to him. I presume the complete report was presented to the eminent person Shane Murphy once it was established at the end of 2001. Is it not quite unbelievable that volume of knowledge, the entire picture, was given to an independent person appointed by the Government but concealed from the law officer of the Government? That beggars belief.
This is an unmitigated litany of failure. This Minister as Attorney General was negligent in the extreme in not demanding the report, telling us that he screamed for it but did not get it and so gave advice with cloaked evidence and advised the Government to vote down a motion on the basis of partial evidence. It is a disgrace.
For the Minister for Justice, Equality and Law Reform at the time to pretend to me that he had the report that he now says he did not have at all is unbelievable. He either misled the House or he is incompetent. Those are the plain facts on the points now being put to this House.
There is now patently a scramble to divide responsibility between the former Attorney General, now Minister for Justice, Equality and Law Reform, and his immediate predecessor. We must know the truth, the facts and their sequencing. Either we give that task to Mr. Justice Morris or we set up a special committee of inquiry in this House and see if we are up to it.
I have digressed from what I wanted to say but I think I have earned some additional time. I want to go back to the heart of this matter. There are people who have suffered, who continued to suffer and who still feel we are exposing the truth like an onion, layer by layer. They feel there is now a rush to say there is an awfulness "out there" and we will close that chapter and move on. That will not wash now. It will not wash to have partial solutions railroaded through this House next week. This House watched with horror miscarriages of justice elsewhere in the world. We have our own scandal here and now, our Birmingham Six and Guilford Four and much more. Few issues matter more to the well-being of our citizens than good policing. For once, let this House be strong enough to do all that is required.
At the outset, I compliment the McBrearty family for their strength and determination, despite all the odds, to pursue their struggle for justice. Shamefully, the same cannot be said about the Minister or the Government in their attempts to prevent the McBreartys from achieving justice, so much so that they were even denied the basic right of the representation of their choice.
What is the sanction against those who have perpetrated this injustice against the McBrearty family? We have seen recently senior Garda officers being transferred from the Donegal area. It reminds me of priests who abuse young children and the compliant bishop who, in the knowledge of what they had done, transferred them from the diocese where the brutal attacks took place. In this instance the Minister is the compliant bishop transferring these people for what they have done.
For many years I have been trying to raise another injustice, that perpetrated against James Sheehan on 17 August 1989 when he was arrested and taken to Tralee Garda barracks. A gun was discovered four hours later in his car. There was no gun in James Sheehan's car when he was arrested. There was an open pocket book cover, from where the gun was taken by Detective Kevin Dillon and removed from the car in James Sheehan's presence without any attempt to protect the forensics or fingerprints on the weapon. It was removed by the naked hand of a detective. I say categorically that gun was planted in James Sheehan's car. It was not in his car when he was arrested so it must have been planted there by the gardaí.
I have been trying to raise this issue since 2002 in this House but the Minister has refused to meet Deputy Ó Snodaigh, Deputy Ó Caoláin or me on this matter. He is preventing justice for James Sheehan and supporting an injustice against him and his family. I challenge the Minister to open an investigation into this issue, to initiate an independent inquiry and to explore if there was a link between the gun that was found in James Sheehan's car and what subsequently happened in Donegal. Many people believe there is. This must be investigated.
For several decades, there is a record of a culture of impunity for gardaí who have done wrong. In the 1970s there was the heavy gang. Osgur Breatnach, Nicky Kelly and three others were taken into Portlaoise Prison. I, along with 140 others, witnessed these men being helped up the stairs. Does the Minister know why? Because the heavy gang had done so much damage to their privates, they were unable to lift their legs up the stairs.
The Minister knows the heavy gang, such as Thomas Dunne, Godkin, Egan, Courtney, McKenna, because he represented them in a civil case against Osgur Breatnach. These people did enormous damage, and set in stone the culture of impunity that rogue gardaí have enjoyed right up to the situation in Donegal. The Minister of Arts, Sport and Tourism, Deputy O'Donoghue, knows of the Kerry babies case where an enormous injustice was done. Everyone associated with the heavy gang and those associated with the terrible injustice against the Hayes family were all promoted. This has set in stone what happened in Donegal.
The lack of action by successive Governments has allowed certain gardaí to get away with what they have done. We must compliment all those who exposed what happened in Donegal. However, it is not an isolated incident. I challenge the Minister for Justice, Equality and Law Reform to investigate all injustices perpetrated against people. He must not turn his back on Sinn Féin Deputies because we raise these matters. Senator Jim Higgins previously raised the case to which I referred. No one is sacrosanct in this. The Minister has a responsibility. If he does not want to do it, he should step aside and let someone who will and give justice across the board.
The Minister should look up to the Visitors Gallery at Eddie Fullerton's family. That man was murdered and nothing was done to give his family justice. Instead the Minister has turned his back on them. It is time the Minister faced up to his responsibility and gives justice to those who deserve it.
The two Morris tribunal reports were shocking to many people. However, to republicans, they were not because we have been living with Garda abuse for decades in all parts of the State and not just in Donegal. Mr. Justice Morris and his team are to be commended for their role in bringing the truth to light even though it represents the mere tip of a large iceberg. I do not accept the Minister's contention that this was limited to a handful of corrupt gardaí. In Donegal alone, it is several handfuls. The level of corruption identified in Donegal reflects corruption in other Garda divisions throughout the State.
We need only look at who stands as corrupt, obstructive or at the very least incompetent and negligent in Donegal. A chief superintendent, four superintendents and members of all other Garda ranks, 34 in all. All serving members implicated in the McBrearty affair should be suspended immediately, pending a decision by the Director of Public Prosecutions and not rewarded by early retirement. Everyone in this scandal must be held to full account. This means senior Garda management, those responsible in the crime and security branch and the Garda Commissioners. The Attorney Generals, who advised successive Governments, and the three Ministers, who presided over this state of affairs, also need to be held to account.
Retirements and transfers stink of a continuing cover-up. There is no other logic for the Garda Commissioner accepting resignation letters from gardaí in this case, other than to prevent others from spilling the beans on further corruption in the Garda. Fairness necessitates the meeting of the McBrearty family's demands. All the costs of the State parties have been met, while the McBreartys, who have been ruined by this injustice, are forced to pay for their justice. The Sinn Féin Party supports them in their demand that their tribunal costs be fully met.
Justice also requires truth for the Fullerton family. The Minister for Justice, Equality and Law Reform rejected their application to extend the tribunal's terms of reference to include the investigation into the 1991 assassination of Donegal councillor Eddie Fullerton by a loyalist death squad. This was despite the involvement of the gardaí implicated in the Morris report. The Fullerton family yesterday met Deputies and Senators from all parties, bar one. They have an equal right to the truth and have our full backing for their demand for a full, independent public inquiry with an international dimension.
The Morris tribunal will not bring us the whole truth even with the remaining eight modules. Many questions remain about serious Garda misconduct in all parts of the State. It is documented that gardaí have been involved in every sort of crime in the State. For example, I randomly pulled out of my files a case of a north Dublin garda attached to Malahide Garda station, due next month in the courts on a drugs charge. In 2003, I asked the Minister for Justice, Equality and Law Reform how many gardaí have been convicted for criminal offences. He informed me that it was too costly and would take up too much time to get these figures. Yesterday, he informed me that he could not tell me where else in the State the corrupt gardaí implicated in the Morris tribunal served. What other divisions have they tainted and corrupted?
The special branch needs scrutiny because it has been involved in systematic abuses. Everyone knows this happens but no one will discuss it for fear of appearing soft on republicans. Our democratic society deserves a full investigation of the Garda special branch. There are question marks over the Garda Commissioner, Noel Conroy who, only three weeks ago, claimed that the original Garda inquiry into the McBrearty matter was thorough and efficient. How can such a person be allowed to continue in a top Garda post?
There are question marks over the Minister for Justice, Equality and Law Reform, Deputy McDowell, who opposed a public inquiry into the McBrearty matter in 1997 when Attorney General. He has also blocked a public inquiry into the James Sheehan case. He has failed to respond to the Taoiseach's and Gerry Adams's request for the Morris tribunal's terms of reference to include the assassination of Eddie Fullerton by saying it is not relevant. The Minister has questions to answer. There are many other cases of Garda brutality and misconduct, including in this week's Village that states it took the Minister seven months to respond to queries about the death of 14 year old Brian Rossiter in Garda custody. There was the case of John Moloney from the Dublin South-Central constituency who died shortly after his release from custody. The Minister is aware of the details of the Gunning family who are being tortured by the Garda because they made an allegation that a senior garda attempted to abduct their daughter. Where are the honest gardaí? None of this information came from gardaí spilling the beans on their colleagues. Gardaí who know of details of misconduct must be encouraged to come forward.
I listened carefully to the statement of the Minister for Justice, Equality and Law Reform. However, nothing he said convinced me that he is responding properly or adequately to the key statements in the Morris report. The report states:
The Tribunal is much concerned by the lack of any independent body to receive legitimate concerns about Garda behaviour. The provisions of the Garda Bill need to be reviewed by the Oireachtas, so as to satisfy the legitimate disquiet that arises from the Tribunal'sstudy . . . .
Whatever measures are put in place must ensure that there is, indeed, a body to whom people with legitimate concerns are able to turn.
The provisions of the Garda Síochána Bill are seen as inadequate to meet those legitimate concerns.
Rushing through a patchwork of half-hearted amendments, which the Minister outlined sketchily this morning, will not address that issue. If the Minister were serious about the Morris tribunal findings, he would withdraw his Bill, give time for a measured response and radically change it. In so doing, he would do what he claims to be doing, by introducing genuine and radical reform. However, the Minister is simply not prepared to confront what the Morris report calls the combination of corruption and negligence in sections of the Garda. It is only under pressure from the findings of the Morris report that the Minister is belatedly attempting to give the impression that he wants real and radical reform of the Garda Síochána.
The House must remember that the Morris report states that the same corruption and negligence could occur again under different circumstances, in a different way, elsewhere in this State. The Morris report also states that while Donegal may not have been a representative sample of senior ranks of the Garda Síochána, it is also equally possible that it was. This report imposes an obligation on the Minister to ensure that the most effective necessary steps are taken to reform the Garda, so that the culture of cover up does not repeat itself with other miscarriages of justice. Equally, it imposes an obligation on the Minister that any other apparent miscarriages of justices, whether involving corruption or negligence or both, which are brought to his attention are properly and independently investigated.
For example, I support the call by the family of Eddie Fullerton for the publication of the second Garda investigation into his murder and for a full inquiry into that case and into the case of James Sheehan, referred to by Deputy Ferris. I attempted to raise that case in this House in March 1992 only to receive a direction that the then Minister for Justice had no official responsibility to the Dáil on the matter and that it was a matter for the Garda complaints board. We know what happened there. The important point is that ignoring cases like James Sheehan was part of the culture which produced the miscarriage of justice and which allowed it to happen to the McBreartys. This is my considered view.
I was interested to hear the Minister's statement refer to and reject any impression of reluctance to have an inquiry into the McBrearty affair on the part of the Government, because I wish to refer to another miscarriage of justice where he has displayed a marked reluctance to have any inquiry and quite definitely has not been seen to be, "most anxious at every hand's turn to have the truth of the [case] established". As the Minister has probably guessed, I refer to the case of Dean Lyons. It is a case which has been raised with the Minister since he took office and about which, so far, he has done nothing. I raise it again now because of its relevance to this debate. Dean Lyons was charged with a murder he did not commit, fitted with a statement of admission or confession which he simply could not have made and left in prison for many months, even after a second person had admitted the crime to gardaí.
All the evidence overwhelmingly points in the direction of a deliberate miscarriage of justice, with possibly corrupt practices used to set Dean Lyons up with a contrived confession. Even as Attorney General, the Minister was fully aware of the details of this case. It has been raised with him since he took office over the past three years and still nothing has been done. Reluctantly, he will appoint a senior counsel at some stage to examine the Garda papers pertaining to the case — if they still exist by then. This will not be done to see if a full inquiry is justified, but to see "what lessons might be learned".
The examination of Garda papers by a senior counsel led to the establishment of the Morris tribunal. It may well lead to a full inquiry into the Dean Lyons case, but why has it taken three years for the Minister to take this step? Why did he do nothing until he was pressurised by public concern, raised inside and outside the House, about this case? As I have stated, the Minister was well aware of the critical issues in the Dean Lyons case, even as Attorney General. However, Dean Lyons was a destitute heroin addict, with no one to campaign for him. Perhaps that is the reason why the Minister has not shown himself to be so anxious to establish the truth in this case.
The record of this Minister on other miscarriages of justice does not match the statements he made this morning about the McBrearty case. He has not shown himself to be one who wishes to get at the truth at every hand's turn. He has not even shown himself to be willing to inquire into what must be the most blatant miscarriage of justice in the history of the State.
I wish to state three things. The Garda Commissioner must resign, the Garda Síochána Bill should be withdrawn and Mr. Justice Morris must be commended on his trojan work. Commissioner Noel Conroy must resign. The reputation of the force has been tarnished and it happened on his watch. Five years ago, he was deputy commissioner but also acting Garda Commissioner and bears significant responsibility for what occurred. The culture of complacency and cover-up must stop. The code of omerta or silence must be broken and there is a role for both the Commissioner and the Minister for Justice, Equality and Law Reform to address this.
Commissioner Conroy must resign for four reasons. By the year 2000, although the dogs on the street knew that Frank McBrearty was innocent, Mr. Conroy kept him under suspicion. In a report to the Secretary General of the Department of Justice, Equality and Law Reform in August 2000, he stated "the facts and suspicions established in the initial investigation in relation to the death of Richie Barron and detailed in the initial investigation report are largely accurate and have not been rebutted by the current investigation". That response was not good enough. Mr. Conroy continued to target the McBreartys. In his report to the Secretary General in August 2000, he also stated that:
Frank McBrearty Sn. is a forceful individual who likes to have his own way ... He is a manipulative person who has tried to manipulate the initial investigation with Billy Flynn and it is also believed that he tried to manipulate the conduct and direction of the present investigation by other means.
It was not good enough to use those words, knowing what he did at that time.
However, more crucially and importantly, he took insufficient action against the rogue officers. His solution to incompetence and collusion within the ranks was simply to transfer the relevant officers. That was not good enough and he must resign to allow the force to continue to have our respect. Mr. Conroy stated that it was uppermost in his mind to ensure that the unique interaction that exists between the members of the Garda Síochána and the community was maintained and enhanced. However, his solution was to transfer the gardaí to either Dublin or the traffic division. It was not good enough simply to transfer gardaí sideways when he knew that there had been incompetence.
Later, in July 2002, in an update to the report submitted to the Department of Justice, Equality and Law Reform, he ended the report by stating that:
A number of matters remain unresolved and these remain under active investigation. However, it is anticipated that all outstanding inquiries will be completed in the near future.
Commissioner Conroy did not do enough when he knew what he knew and he must resign to restore respect in the force.
The Garda Síochána Bill must be withdrawn. We need a Bill which makes radical changes in the recruitment, training, conduct and discipline of the force. I am not convinced the Bill the Minister has presented does that and he must withdraw it. I repeat for the nth time that we need a single ombudsman whose staff should not be drawn from the ranks of the gardaí. The ombudsman must be given the power of inspection, without notice, of any Garda station. We already give that power to the Council of Europe's anti-torture committee and it must be given to the ombudsman because that person must be given sufficient powers to investigate the force. I am very concerned that if we simply staff the office of the ombudsman with rank and file gardaí and if we do not give that person the power to walk into any Garda station, we will undermine his or her confidence.
Mr. Justice Morris must be thanked for his work to date. We all owe him an enormous debt of gratitude for the strength and courage of what he has put down in writing. The Minister is fond of criticising the Fourth Estate but in this instance, I thank journalists in The Sunday Business Post and in other media outlets who have brought facts into the public domain long before they were available from the Government or the Department of Justice, Equality and Law Reform.
Cracks are appearing in one of the most sacred institutions of the State and it is insufficient for the Minister to consider applying wallpaper to them. He must radically reform the Garda Síochána and we must have the resignation of the Garda Commissioner if we are to restore confidence and faith in the force.
The Garda Síochána has served this country exceptionally well since the foundation of the State and the majority of members, including those based in Donegal, have done so in a professional way and with the greatest of integrity. This State owes a great deal to the Garda Síochána which has stood as a bulwark of democracy, often in the most difficult of circumstances. Members of the Garda Síochána have been called upon to make the ultimate sacrifice in the service of the public.
However, it was a matter of great concern to me as Minister for Justice, Equality and Law Reform that individual members of the Garda Síochána might be implicated in wrongdoing. I consistently stated that it was essential for the reputation of the force that any alleged wrongdoing by members was investigated thoroughly and, if well-founded, appropriate disciplinary or criminal proceedings should be initiated. I was determined to see public confidence in the gardaí, in so far as it has been adversely affected by the events in Donegal, restored. I wanted to see the facts of the matter established, justice done and those who had engaged in criminal activities made accountable for their actions.
I always had an open door when it came to this issue. I met the Opposition spokespersons on justice, former Deputies Blaney and Gildea from Donegal, and at all times answered questions as fully and completely as possible. I also consistently pointed out that individuals had a constitutional right to the protection of their good name and a fair trial, that integral parts of our justice system are the presumption of innocence and the right to due process, and that I would not be party to any attempt to breach those rights by arbitrarily condemning individuals or trying to prejudge the outcome of proceedings.
I want also to refute in the strongest possible terms the politically motivated and mischievous suggestions made that I in any way was opposed to or hindered the establishment of a tribunal of inquiry in this case. The facts speak for themselves and belie these malevolent suggestions.
I was never against the principle of a public inquiry but clearly establishing a tribunal of inquiry was not something to be undertaken lightly. As far back as February 2001, I made it clear to Dáil Éireann that I had an open mind as regards the setting up of a tribunal. I stressed that I wanted to see the truth of this matter determined. I said that I wanted to see public confidence in the Garda restored. However, the question I posed then went to the heart of the problem. How do we do this in an open and transparent way without interfering with potential civil and criminal proceedings? This was a complex matter. I stated that the law, which provides for due process, cannot be shaped or moulded to fit the mood of the time. Rights must be respected. Due process must be protected. In the hierarchy of rights, the right to due process is a superior right. These are the fundamental principles which are the foundation of our legal system. I made it clear that I had not ruled out the option of holding a public inquiry but I was not convinced at that time that it would necessarily be the best way of dealing with the matter.
In the early hours of 10 October 1996, the body of Mr. Richard Barron was found on a roadside in Raphoe, County Donegal. Once again, I express my sympathy to the family of the late Mr. Barron. During the period 1997 and 1998, neither my officials nor the Garda Síochána drew my attention to any particular problem involving the Garda Síochána in Donegal. The first indication that I received from the Department or Garda Síochána that there might be a serious problem in Donegal was in April 1999. I satisfied myself that the various allegations were being taken seriously and investigated by the Garda at a high level, that the Garda Síochána Complaints Board was also investigating some aspects of the matter and that no further action on my part was appropriate until the investigation had progressed further. I was also aware that six persons had initiated civil actions arising from their questioning by gardaí. I was also aware that concerns about the handling of the investigation into the death of Mr. Barron had previously been raised with my predecessor, Nora Owen, in February 1997 by a Member of Seanad Éireann. I was kept aware, in a broad manner, during 1999 of developments. I was aware that the investigation was complex, that there seemed to be substance to some of the allegations and that the question of criminal prosecutions was likely to arise.
By early 2000 there were concerns that the Garda investigation had not yet been finalised. As early as March 2000, I considered the possibility of a public inquiry but did not pursue the matter as I was concerned that a public inquiry might delay resolution of the matter and pre-empt criminal proceedings. The indications were at that stage that a report being prepared by Assistant Commissioner Carty would be submitted to the Director of Public Prosecutions.
In August 2000, my Department received a report from the Garda Síochána that, arising from the investigations in Donegal, a number of criminal prosecutions were likely. In the circumstances, I took the view that we should await the decision of the Director of Public Prosecutions and not do anything that might prejudice possible criminal proceedings and allow any members of the Garda Síochána who had engaged in criminal behaviour to escape from the sanctions of the criminal law. That report of August 2000 was from Deputy Commissioner Noel Conroy and constituted a synopsis of the Carty investigation file which has been sent to the Director of Public Prosecutions.
The general issue of Garda misconduct in Donegal continued to be raised in the Dáil and elsewhere during the latter half of 2000 and in the first half of 2001. I was concerned that the matter had yet to be resolved and that public confidence was being affected. However, there remained the concern that an inquiry might prejudice criminal proceedings. In May 2001, I wrote to the then Attorney General, Mr. McDowell SC, indicating that I was of the view that the nature of the Donegal situation was such that it required a comprehensive review that would examine and report on all aspects without interfering with potential civil and criminal proceedings and sought the Attorney General's advice as to whether I could proceed with an examination, be it a sworn inquiry or otherwise, while civil and criminal proceedings were pending.
The Attorney General replied on 25 June 2001 advising that the civil proceedings and criminal prosecutions should be allowed to run their full course before a tribunal could be considered. He made clear that he was advising on the matter without the benefit of seeing the full investigation report which was necessary for him to advise and brief counsel on pending civil actions against the State. I directed my officials to get copies of the report and pass it to the Attorney General. The Minister, Deputy McDowell, confirmed this account of the sequence of events in the House this morning.
He also described how his requests, as Attorney General, for this information and my efforts to secure this information for him were repeatedly frustrated by a then prevalent view, doubtless held in good faith, that the Garda and the Director of Public Prosecution's office would be the sole arbiters of what information in their possession in regard to criminal investigations would or should be made available to the Minister and the Attorney General——
——to enable the Minister to exercise his accountability function and the Attorney General to exercise his advisory function.
I remained very concerned about the lack of resolution to the situation in Donegal and the erosion of public confidence in policing. I decided in November 2001 that it was desirable that there should be some independent assessment of the situation. I decided to ask an eminent legal person to examine all the relevant papers and the progress on these investigations generally with a view to receiving expert independent advice as to whether there were measures that might now be taken to bring matters to finality sooner rather than latter.
I appointed Mr. Shane Murphy, Senior Counsel, on the nomination of the chairman of the Bar Council to carry out the review.
A Private Members' motion establishing a tribunal of inquiry was moved on 20 November 2001.
This was opposed by the Government. During the Dáil debate, I gave a comprehensive account of my position emphasising that I was not opposed in principle to a public inquiry but did not wish to jeopardise criminal and civil proceedings. I had appointed Mr. Shane Murphy, Senior Counsel, to look at the matter and wished to await his report.
In January 2002, Mr. Murphy submitted his report. While recognising the need to ensure that civil and criminal proceedings were not compromised, he expressed the view that a tribunal of inquiry represented the only comprehensive method of inquiry to resolve outstanding issues of fundamental public importance.
It is noteworthy that despite lengthy protestations from members of the Opposition, they came up with nothing constructive that would enable us to hold a tribunal without prejudicing proceedings then in train.
New legislation was required to enable a tribunal to hold part of its proceedings in private so as to avoid possible prejudice to criminal proceedings. I brought forward the necessary legislation to facilitate this — the Tribunals of Inquiry (Evidence) (Amendment) Act 2002.
The tribunal was established by the Oireachtas in April 2002. The terms of reference were both definite, as required by the legislation, and comprehensive. These included the making of extortion and hoax telephone calls, the investigations in regard to the death of Mr. Barron, allegations of harassment of the McBrearty family, complaints that some gardaí in Donegal may have been involved in hoax explosives and bomb-making equipment finds, the circumstances surrounding the arrest and detention of Frank McBrearty Jr., allegations relating to the Garda investigation of an arson attack on property situated on the site of the telecommunications mast at Ardara, County Donegal, allegations that two senior members of the Garda Síochána may have acted with impropriety and the effectiveness of the Garda Síochána complaints inquiry process vis-À-vis the complaints made by Frank McBrearty Sn. and his family between 1997 and 2001.
The terms of reference were specific and were carefully drafted to ensure the tribunal of inquiry was not restricted in any way in the scope of its inquiries. Furthermore, while the primary purpose of establishing the tribunal was to get at the truth, we also looked to the future and the tribunal was given wide-ranging powers to make recommendations as it saw fit.
I said, on the establishment of the tribunal, that the allegations that had given rise to the tribunal were matters of great public concern and that we needed to establish once and for all what happened in Donegal. I said I believed the tribunal, as established, would be able to effectively discharge its obligation without prejudicing various criminal proceedings which had been instituted in regard to the alleged misconduct. It is clear the tribunal has successfully achieved this objective.
In all of this it is also clear that I acted with the care required to respect the legal and constitutional rights of all parties.
Let it be recalled that I amended the Tribunal of Inquiry (Evidence) Act to facilitate a public inquiry. Let it also be recalled that it was I who established the inquiry.
——and fairness. It is an extraordinary allegation for any Member of this House to make with any degree of seriousness that an Attorney General who has been and is one of the leading criminal lawyers of his generation would conspire with a then Minister for Justice, Equality and Law Reform to deny people justice.
As an Oireachtas representative for Donegal, I will approach this matter from a slightly different perspective being familiar with many of the main characters involved in this saga that has been going on since 1996.
The tragic death of Richie Barron on the side of a road outside Raphoe in the early hours of 14 October 1996 triggered a chain of events that has reverberated not only throughout County Donegal but throughout the entire country and has rocked our confidence in one of the institutions of our State.
The immediate and often forgotten victim of that night's tragedy was Richie Barron, an honest, hardworking industrious man, whose life was abruptly cut short at the age of 54. If Richie Barron were alive today he would still be a relatively young man of 63 years, not even pension age.
In the ensuing welter of reports, inquiries and tribunals, the fate of Mr. Barron and his immediate family is often overlooked and forgotten. Let us never forget that a man, a husband, a father, a grandfather has been taken from the bosom of his family, and to this day we cannot say, despite all the investigations, exactly how it happened. We do not yet know who was responsible for the death of Richie Barron.
It is only right that I, as a County Donegal representative in the Oireachtas, put on the record of this House the trauma and suffering of the Barron family. Many other Donegal families were drawn into this unbelievable vortex of mismanagement and sheer ineptitude. First among them are the McBrearty and McConnell families who were subjected to a degree of harassment, intimidation and victimisation that one would only expect to occur in some of the most undemocratic regimes in the world. These families, the McBreartys and their cousins the McConnells, were subjected to wrongful arrests, trumped up murder charges, false confessions and mental torture over a prolonged period. Only for the tenacity, courage and perseverance of Frank McBrearty Sn., his son Frank Jr. and Mark McConnell could today be languishing in Mountjoy jail serving a life sentence on a trumped up murder charge.
Today it is right and proper that we should salute the sheer determination of Frank McBrearty and acknowledge his contribution in ripping open the tissue of lies and deceit that permeated almost every aspect of the investigation of Richie Barron's death in Donegal. His courage and steadfastness has contributed immensely in bringing us somewhere nearer the truth as to what happened in Raphoe that night. We now know that there was no murder in Raphoe that night, just a sordid attempt at framing two innocent family men.
To indicate the official thinking in Raphoe and elsewhere in Donegal at that time, I wish to quote from a letter that is in the public domain that was sent to all Garda units in Donegal almost two years after Richie Barron's death. It states:
Re: Campaign to discredit Gardaí in Donegal Division.
I refer to the attempts to discredit Gardaí from this Division and other Members involved in the Barron investigation.
There is information to hand which suggest that Frank McBrearty (Senior) from Raphoe is financing a campaign to discredit Members of the Force. The campaign is being operated mostly by Mr. Billy Flynn, and sometimes trading as Zimmermann & Co from Enfield, Co. Meath.
Members of your District Force, and Gardaí who assisted in the investigation into the Richard Barron death should be notified of this matter, and directed to report any incidents or unusual contact that may occur either with Mr. McBrearty and his extended family or Mr. Flynn and his employees.
This document is for Garda use only and is Confidential.
That letter is signed by the chief superintendent in Donegal at that time. Almost two years after that tragic death that was the official attitude at a very senior level in Donegal
Other families in Donegal, such as the Peoples, Quinns, Gallaghers, and anyone who listened to Vincent Browne's programme last night or the night before would understand what they went through, including the Crossans, all of whom were innocent and were dragged into this investigation based on rumours, lies and innuendo. The above incidents eventually led, after a protracted period of five years, to the establishment of the Morris tribunal investigating the activities of some members of the Donegal Garda force.
We now have the second Morris report. It would be an understatement to say that our confidence in those who conducted the Garda investigation in Donegal has been diminished. It would be more accurate to state that the findings have been shocking, frightening and unbelievable. It would tax the imagination and the writing ability of the most talented crime writer in the world to come up with such a bizarre story. What has come out in this report and its predecessor is certainly stranger than fiction. A small number — a minority — of gardaí did an injustice to the hard work and dedication of the majority of their colleagues in Donegal. Accountability was seriously deficient. The normal checks and balances were absent and the driving force seems to have been the prospect of promotional opportunities. At this stage the most pertinent question must be how to reform the system that allowed this to happen on our doorstep. Inevitably we begin to focus in on the people whose leadership was found by Mr. Justice Morris to be "prejudiced, tendentious and utterly negligent".
Public criticism of the Garda Síochána has never been part of my agenda and I have looked upon it as society's bulwark against anarchy. Gardaí serving in Donegal during the past 30 years have had to endure situations and face dangers not experienced by members in other parts of the country. The Troubles in Northern Ireland were more keenly felt in Donegal than possibly any other southern county and the gardaí in Donegal were always available to protect us and our democratic institutions. For that service and commitment we are grateful.
However, the activities engaged in by a small number were shocking and frightening and possibly criminal. They have done a great disservice not alone to themselves and their families but also to the majority of their colleagues who are as shocked at the findings of the Morris tribunal as the rest of us. How can we ensure we do not have a repeat of what Mr. Justice Morris found in Donegal? How can we be sure that similar activities are not being perpetrated in other parts of the country? That is our challenge.
There are a number of people whose views and opinions should be considered when contemplating changes and establishing proper accountability in the operations of the Garda Síochána. First, the views and recommendations of Mr. Justice Morris must be considered. It is difficult to believe that his proposals on reforming the force, first published a year ago and pointedly repeated in the second report, have not yet been acted upon fully. I am glad the Minister is contemplating incorporating some of these into the Garda Bill. Second, the views of Senator Maurice Hayes, who more than anyone else except possibly Patten was responsible for the complete transformation of the police in Northern Ireland, on recruitment, training, the inspectorate, an independent police authority, the powers of the ombudsman and rights of access to police stations must not be dismissed. He speaks from vast experience. He has a proven track record and his opinions should not be discarded lightly. I hope the Minister will bear that in mind.
It is generally accepted that the Police Service of Northern Ireland is unique. It is the only jurisdiction in the world, so far as I know, where all complaints against the police are examined by an independent body. Previously all complaints against police in Northern Ireland were investigated by the police themselves, as is the position here. The Office of the Police Ombudsman is staffed by its own team of trained investigators, many from other jurisdictions, and is entirely independent of the police. The openness, transparency and accountability of the Police Service of Northern Ireland is the template for modern police services throughout the world and not only in Northern Ireland or here. and is an example for the rest of the world of what civilised societies should have to deal with their police.
Nuala O'Loan, the Police Ombudsman for Northern Ireland, has written and spoken on the efficiency and effectiveness of the operation and her views should be considered. I read an interesting article last Sunday or the previous Sunday in The Sunday Business Post and I hope the Minister is familiar with her opinions. While this is the end of the second chapter of this long book, there are quite a few chapters to come. Not everything has been revealed. There are families who have been mistreated by the institutions of the State and they will have to be compensated, particularly the families I mentioned at the beginning — the Barrons who lost their father, the head of their family, the McBreartys and the others. I hope we will not lose sight of what they have suffered when discussing this sad saga in our history.
I welcome the opportunity to speak on the Morris tribunal and associated matters. Before doing so, I wish to address the statements that have been made publicly on national and local media in Donegal. It has been stated that no help was received from Donegal politicians apart from a few in regard to victims of the Morris tribunal. Two of the politicians mentioned were my predecessor, the former Deputy, Mr. Harry Blaney, and the other was the former Deputy, Mr. Tom Gildea. I want to paint the true picture in regard to their involvement from 1998 onwards. Mr. Harry Blaney, the then Deputy for Donegal North-East, met Frank McBrearty Sn. who was in a traumatised state to say the least in 1998. Frank McBrearty handed over a large file containing documents obtained by himself and his private detective. On receipt of this file, Mr. Harry Blaney handed over the documentation to then Minister for Justice, Equality and Law Reform, Deputy O'Donoghue, who in turn relayed back to my father and Mr. Tom Gildea. This was the first he had heard of the case.
What else would any politician do other than hand the file over to the Minister in charge to have it investigated? They subsequently voted against a motion tabled by the Opposition which would have sought an inquiry into the wrongdoings in Donegal. Some people found this strange. The facts of the matter were that if an inquiry had been set up at that time, the legal system would not have allowed for criminal prosecutions to have taken place.
An inquiry into the corruption in Donegal with no prosecutions at the end of the day is useless to all concerned considering some of the underhand work by some members of the Garda. If I were to come across a case of this magnitude today, I would not handle it any differently. I met Mr. Frank McBrearty Jr. approximately 18 months ago when I agreed to vote with a Private Members' motion and I honoured that agreement. Too much politics has been made out of this case. The Opposition parties that would now claim so much credit for recent findings knew about the case when they were in power in 1997 and did nothing about it.
They should leave the situation well enough alone to Mr. Justice Morris and stop the nonsense. The inquiry may have taken some time but the truth is beginning to surface. I question whether as much would have been uncovered had the inquiry taken place any sooner.
To try to put some perspective on the tribunal in the short time available to me, I would be the first to praise the courage of the McBrearty family and the extended family. Certainly they have proved their innocence. While they may be seen as the victims of the tribunal, there are other victims in this case. To my mind the real victims are the Barron family and let us spare a thought for them. The family has lost a father, brother and friend. They have received no apology from the Garda Commissioner or the Garda Síochána. The question of who murdered Richie Barron has still to be established.
The Barrons are not an outspoken family and I hope they are not forgotten as a result. I hope a result is obtained in this regard.
I ask the House to spare a thought for Sheenagh McMahon, wife of Noel McMahon. This woman uncovered the hoax bomb findings in Donegal and has been to hell and back since.
I would go so far as to say that collusion took place between the health board and the Garda Síochána in an effort to break her down. Her children were taken from her and she was wrongly imprisoned. She was brutalised, held at gunpoint and with a knife to her throat and was victimised by members of the Garda Síochána. She has lost two homes and her marriage and had a real battle on her hands to overturn the efforts of the health board and the Garda to win back her two children. These people and others referred to by other Members this morning are the forgotten victims of the Morris tribunal. I implore the Minister to ensure these victims are not forgotten.
I wish to draw the Minister's attention to a case touched on by Mr. Justice Morris, the murder of Councillor Eddie Fullerton. He was a man of the highest integrity who had friends in all political parties, such was the character of this gentle giant. I have no doubt that Garda collusion took place in his murder. As two jurisdictions are involved, I call for a separate inquiry with an international dimension and I call on the Minister to put in train such an inquiry.
While the Morris tribunal has been a cloud over Donegal, all this must be brought into the open and dealt with in an appropriate manner in order for all the victims to return to a normal life. I ask the House to spare a thought for the upstanding members of the Garda Síochána in Donegal, of which there are many. Every garda in Donegal is under extreme pressure while carrying out their everyday duties. They are faced with being tarred with the same brush. Efforts will be required to restore the confidence of members of the force when the tribunal has concluded and to restore the confidence of the public in the Garda so that they know they have a force which can be trusted to protect communities from all harm. This is the least they deserve.
Many of the contributions have clouded the issue by moving away from discussion of the Morris tribunal. While I appreciate there may be other incidences of wrongdoing by the Garda, as referred to by Sinn Féin and others, it is important to state that many members of the Garda Síochána have been murdered by organisations. As what is good for the goose is good for the gander, I suggest we should not be selective by using the Morris tribunal to have a go at the Garda countrywide.
The public wants to have confidence in the Garda. This desire often clouds our view of the many wrongdoings which have been carried out by the force. I note that the Minister stated in his contribution that the former Ministers, Deputy O'Donoghue and Nora Owen, were not culpable and I welcome that statement. However his attitude over the past few weeks was a little unbecoming of him and his office——
There is a desire in this country to protect our institutions but very often that desire makes us put our institutions before the welfare of citizens. It is often the case that a Magdalen laundry mindset has been adopted, of not washing the family linen in public. The day is gone when the bad family secrets can be brushed under the carpet. Everything now must be in the open. It means an acknowledgement that corruption exists across all levels of society, which I firmly believe is the case. After all, we are dealing with human beings and not with a unique species that commits no wrong. We should be judged on how we deal with this, not on the fact that corruption exists.
What happened in Donegal is truly shocking, it is stranger than fiction. This phrase was also used by Deputy McGinley in his contribution. Many nights I listened to the radio as I drove home from the House and heard the excerpts from the tribunal. It became difficult to distinguish the truth from the fiction, but it all happened. The tribunal has exposed much wrongdoing but injustices still happen. It is very difficult for the public or the McBrearty family to stand back and observe how some gardaí have been facilitated with a transfer, some have been allowed to retire on full pension and some will not have to worry about their legal costs, even though it is very clear they lied at the tribunal and did everything but co-operate.
I have not read the Minister's speech but I heard him refer to a systems failure. No matter what system is in place, it is operated by individuals. No matter how good it is, it is very difficult to cope with individuals who are wrongdoers. I find it incomprehensible that the report of a small explosives find was not investigated by Dublin. People all along the line simply did not do their job and this could not be regarded as a systems failure.
I served in the Army and I was fortunate enough to serve in Donegal for a short time. Donegal is regarded as being isolated. I know of an old Army saying which referred to "Finner for dinner and Fort Dunree for tea" for any misdemeanour. If one happened to end up in Rockhill, which is outside Letterkenny, it was because Fort Dunree was closed. Many gardaí married and settled down in Donegal.
The area north of the Barnsmore gap was an independent republic to a certain degree. The fact that Donegal was isolated from the rest of the country geographically, psychologically, economically and in every other way had a bearing, but it does not necessarily mean that what happened was unique to Donegal or to any profession.
I have listened to many commentaries on this affair over recent years. I listened to a certain member of the media commenting and I am aware that person has the same regard for the truth as many of the people who appeared before the tribunal. I am not having a go at the media because they have a very important role to play, but I look forward to the day when our national broadcaster throws the public out a few lines on how a certain level of corruption is present in every section of society and in organisations. People with a disregard for the truth exist everywhere.
I spoke at some meetings organised by Fine Gael on the subject of anti-social behaviour. There was a rush to criticise the Garda for its failure to act. It appears a small intervention could have solved many of the problems. A woman approached me after one of the meetings and praised the Garda. She told me she did not have the courage to speak at the meeting because of the criticism being expressed.
Politicians are regarded by the public as being all the same and as being corrupt. Some politicians are corrupt and they are voted in by the public even though it is known they are corrupt. It is important to bear those points in mind.
I am confident that not a day goes by without the Minister for Justice, Equality and Law Reformreceiving letters containing accusations. It is important commentators are aware of this. I received such a letter this week. Some time ago I wrote an article about establishing an ombudsman for solicitors. I was sorry I ever wrote it because I was flooded with cases for many weeks afterwards. I tried to follow up on those cases but I ran into a brick wall. I am afraid to think that one of those letters might have been from Mr. McBrearty. It is reported that he wrote to Deputy Timmins in 1999 and received a standard reply in return. It is a case of trying to separate the wheat from the chaff to decide which is the real case of corruption. I am sure wrongdoing has been committed in many cases and it is difficult in investigations to get to the truth. I would like to see the Minister introduce legislation similar to the Criminal Assets Bureau Act. Without being able to go examine people's bank accounts it is very difficult to find monetary evidence of political or official corruption. As we have seen in the past with the Carty investigation and the various investigations into corruption in the planning process, without real powers of intervention we will never get to the truth. I ask the Minister to consider the concept of an amnesty for people who gave money to politicians or officials for corrupt practice. If they come forward in good faith and without vexatious intent they should be given some form of immunity or anonymity. Unless we do so we will not root out those who have been corrupt.
Neither the Minister for Justice, Equality and Law Reform nor the Government as a whole will be judged on the findings of the tribunal but on how they respond to them.
It is like wanting to change the side of the road on which we drive — these matters are slow to change. It is better to get them right than to get them done quickly. Having reviewed the Garda Síochána Bill I have grave reservations about too many people doing the one job. The Minister may give direction and we also have the ombudsman commission and the Garda Commissioner. I am concerned that the Garda will become an introverted body. The Commissioner will see it as "us against them". He will have too many layers over him. I ask the Minister to reconsider this matter. Ultimately we need to give certain autonomy to the Garda Commissioner. We cannot have everybody checking everybody. We do not need that many checks. We certainly need to check on every system. If we are to have too many groups looking over the shoulder of the Garda Commissioner he and his force will become introverted.
I welcome the opportunity to comment on the second report of the Morris tribunal, which, since its publication on 1 June, has sparked shock, outrage and concern among our citizens and in this House. Incidentally, hard copies only arrived on Deputies' desks this morning. While reaction to the report's content has been diverse, one unanimous element has been the praise for its thoroughness. I join in commending Mr. Justice Morris and his team for their public service in this regard. At a time of understandable "tribunal fatigue" it's important to say that.
I also commend the courage, tenacity and professionalism of parliamentary colleagues, Senator Higgins and Deputy Howlin, in this affair. As a former justice spokesperson in Opposition from 1992 to 1997, I was that soldier. I know that of all the areas in which to hold the Government to account, justice is by far the most challenging brief. Allegations against the Garda are particularly delicate to handle. The criminal justice system, by its nature can throw up paranoid, vengeful, enmeshed and even bizarre circumstances and allegations. For a Deputy to make claims on the basis of information supplied by members of the public can be fraught with risk and responsibility. As an ordinary Deputy one has no way of establishing the veracity of the claims. They may be false, vexatious or politically motivated. Reputations are at stake. Our Dáil privilege is a precious commodity, which must be used with prudence. Claims of corruption against the Garda rank high in the risk stakes for Deputies. The term "appalling vista" comes to mind from the Birmingham six debacle.
The Deputies took the right course. They raised the claims with the then Minister for Justice, Equality and Law Reform initially and ultimately tabled a motion in the House, and continued to challenge when stonewalled by inadequate responses from the Executive. The tribunal was set up to establish facts and, as Deputy Howlin bemoaned this morning, after six years the Deputies and those who made the original claims have been vindicated. In this regard, while our democratic system has worked, great damage has been done both to the McBrearty family and others and to our justice system. In my role as an Opposition spokesperson, I recall with trepidation, but with resolve, and in the face of considerable official and political pressure, posing questions, which challenged the official version of events relating to the seizure of drugs at Urlingford, for example. I recall tabling parliamentary questions about the inexplicable non-processing of extradition warrants for Brendan Smyth a matter, which ultimately brought down a Government. I recall the questions being transferred and the truth being evaded. I recall tabling parliamentary questions about serious malpractice in Limerick prison.
Who can forget the tortuous route to the truth over the hepatitis C scandal or the way Deputies like former Deputy Pat O'Malley and Deputy Rabbitte were accused of "national sabotage" when they raised allegations of fraud in the beef industry, in which the State was complicit. In these matters the messenger is frequently shot and wounded. It is not for the fainthearted. Of all the functions we have as Deputies, perhaps this inquiring and accountability role is the most valuable of all. While people often applaud the freedom of information system, I feel the parliamentary question is the original and the best vehicle for accountability in our system.
Ministers also need to be more robust and courageous with their own Departments when parliamentary questions are tabled. As a Minister of State I was always careful when replying to parliamentary questions. We must remember that as Ministers and Ministers of State we represent the people and not the Department. The State is not always virtuous. It has at times, through its agencies, acted against the rights of citizens as it has on this occasion, through the actions and criminal conspiracy of gardaí and in its delay in bringing these matters into the open. Such a conspiracy is so grave that it constitutes a subversion of the State and is a crime against the people.
The very first Commissioner of the Garda, Michael Staines, in 1922, said: "The Garda Síochána will succeed, not by force of arms or numbers, but by their moral authority as servants of the people." The Garda Síochána was founded not on force, but on moral authority. The revelations at the tribunal have undoubtedly shaken those foundations. It is vital now that we restore the trust that is held to a huge degree in our society. The clarity and forthrightness of the report is a start to that process.
Much has been said about the detailed findings relating to investigation into the death of the late Mr. Richard Barron — a tragedy that ought not be overlooked as we deal with the wider political context. A family and a community lost a person close to them — and have suffered in the course of recent years arising from these bizarre events. We set up the tribunal because it was perceived that the Garda had made an appalling mistake, which was compounded by the arrest, framing and targeting of innocent citizens. Those innocent citizens, Mr. Frank McBrearty Jr. and his cousin Mr. Mark McConnell, were arrested for Mr. Barron's murder. That mistake, the framing and the targeting were all the work of members of the Garda Síochána.
It is important to remember that the findings of the report apply to some gardaí, not all and specifically to certain gardaí in the Donegal division. The findings have been as much of a shock to gardaí across the country as they have been to the general public. However, based on the Minister's unscripted and important contribution this morning, where he revealed that he, as Attorney General advising the then Minister, was denied full access to the Carty report into these matters, one has a feeling that something more systemic, dangerous and sinister was going on at higher levels.
The Minister has indicated that he was very unhappy with this and we have more to hear about this aspect of the case. The depressing fact is that all the honourable values we normally associate with the Garda Síochána have been besmirched by these events. A huge volume of evidence was heard by Mr. Justice Morris and the report contains detailed analysis, conclusions and recommendations.
It has been outlined what the gardaí did and did not do. They did not preserve the body or the clothing of Mr. Barron at the hospital and did not make inquiries locally immediately after the accident. They did not ensure a forensic post mortem was carried out. These were all terrible mistakes, but worse was to follow. The tribunal finds that the gardaí were consumed by the notion that Frank McBrearty Jr. and Mark McConnell were guilty. There had been no murder and the two men were completely innocent. Most shockingly, evidence to the contrary was rejected.
This is a total abuse of power by the Garda Síochána. We entrust the Garda with unique and immense power that is central to the functioning of democracy because it separates the State from every other actor in society. We confer the monopoly of the use of coercive force on the State, the power to arrest, detain and even use force. The State, in turn, exercises this power via the Garda Síochána and the Prison Service. That the Garda became so consumed by an untruth that it rejected contrary evidence and pursued innocent citizens was a fundamental abuse of power as well as a crime against the people.
Those members of the force most directly implicated in grave misconduct or grossly negligent management have been dismissed or have retired. Worryingly, serving members of the Garda are also severely criticised in the report. This places a burden of responsibility on the Garda Commissioner as well as on the Government in respect of senior officers. There are disciplinary implications and the report has been sent to the Director of Public Prosecutions. Given the gravity of these matters, meaningful sanctions are appropriate.
The Garda Bill is before the House next week and I share the concerns of Deputies that there may not be enough time to go into the appropriate reviews that have been recommended by Mr. Justice Morris. The issue of accountability of the Garda via the Minister for Justice, Equality and Law Reform has always been problematical — the Minister referred to that this morning. Independence and accountability can be mutually exclusive, but we can have both. One can be independent and accountable. In my experience problems regularly present regarding operational matters. There has been a deliberate resistance to develop a satisfactory level of accountability for operational matters by successive Garda Commissioners. I have always found this unsatisfactory. Given the powers vested, which we have seen are open to abuse, we need real accountability for operational matters, not just for policy.
I find it somewhat bizarre that the tribunal is pursuing the case against the Deputies, on appeal to the Supreme Court, in regard to the attempt by the tribunal to access phone and other records of those Deputies who were carrying out their constitutional duty to hold the Government to account. I believe that they have an absolute entitlement to protect their sources. All Deputies must be able to protect our sources when carrying out our constitutional functions. This privilege is a cornerstone in our weaponry as Deputies and is correctly being defended by the Houses of the Oireachtas. Whatever about the pressures that come on Deputies who pose unpalatable parliamentary questions in the public interest, it would be unconscionable to remove the protection of anonymity and privilege on those citizens who come to Deputies asking us to raise these questions. We enjoy parliamentary privilege for good reason and our papers, records and sources must be protected.
The headlights of the vehicle that brutally and tragically ended the life of Mr. Richie Barron seem to have been metaphorically present in this sorry saga ever since. Every agency of the State has chosen not to use that light to illuminate, to discover or to reveal, but instead stare blankly into that light to induce a type of blindness with which we are still dealing. It seems that what happened in Donegal is sadly all too prevalent in many agencies of this State. There is an attitude at governmental and ministerial level and, as we learned in both reports of the tribunal, within the Garda Síochána itself, that allow circumstances in which truth is already predetermined to have existed and in which facts must be made to fit that truth. If lessons are to be learned from these reports, it must be that we cannot pretend to have an open, fair and democratic society and allow such behaviour to continue.
What I find most dispiriting about this whole affair is that in the second report of the Morris tribunal, the first dozen recommendations are a reiteration of recommendations made in the original report. If anything is to give us confidence that real action is being taken on foot of this controversy, it must be that Mr. Justice Morris feels the need to keep repeating recommendations that the Minister has chosen to ignore.
The report reveals the type of society that exists throughout Ireland. As someone with connections in County Donegal on my father's side, I know that it is a place apart. However, I do not believe that the circumstances that existed there have not been repeated elsewhere. There still seems to be a reluctance, even in this debate, to accept that many of the people involved in this drama came to Donegal from other places. Due to the limitations in the terms of reference of the Morris tribunal, we have not been able to ask questions as to whether such people have practised in a corrupt way in other parts of this country, whether they learned to practise corruption in other parts of the country and whether a web of corruption has been established through their careers and the careers of others they have touched.
That is why the subsequent action of the Minister for Justice, Equality and Law Reform has been so inept. It is why many on this side of the Chamber have criticised what was proposed in the original Garda Síochána Bill and what the Minister has subsequently added on Second and Committee Stages. Many of us feel that Report Stage should not even come before the House next week.
It is more than a case of trying to fiddle around the edges of a system where too many questions continue to be asked. If the Minister is honest with himself, he is not honest with this House. He should accept that there is a need for an independent ombudsman structure, which is not proposed in the Bill and which will not be put in place if he uses the Government majority to establish the ombudsman commission. At the end of the day, we will leave this Chamber with public confidence in the Garda as low as it has ever been due to the efforts of the Minister and his predecessors in dealing with this issue.
It is like Alice in Wonderland where words mean what the Minister wants them to mean and it has now got to a stage where history means what the Minister wants it to mean. In the Minister's opening contribution, we were given an impression that he has been actively responding to the issues involved in this report. This House and the nation know that it has taken the reluctant establishment of the Morris tribunal to bring these issues into the open. A Minister overseeing the justice portfolio on the Government's behalf would not, if he were performing his duties properly, have had to go through this process. Such a Minister should not now have the gall, temerity, audaciousness and arrogance to pretend at the end of the process that he is somehow at the head of the pack.
As the process progresses and Members on this side of the House demand another one to continue in parallel to the next module of the Morris tribunal, we must establish proper means of examination. Motions must be put before the House and Members must have confidence that the measures we put in place restore necessary public confidence in the Garda. Unfortunately, the public does not have confidence in the Government in general or the Minister for Justice, Equality and Law Reform in particular.
As I read the Morris report, I wondered when the screenplay would emerge. It read like a work of fiction. One had to remind oneself that real people were the subjects of investigation and miscarriages of justice. Examples of the very frank language used in the report include "scandalous conduct of certain gardaí", "it is clear the abuse of Garda power can take many forms" and "there was appalling management coupled with manipulation of the facts". It is very different from any other report I have read and, given the importance of the police force in any civil society, it is more than serious.
While it would be bad enough if the problems identified were confined to Donegal, it is difficult to view the county as some sort of independent republic. According to the report, difficulties in the force are more widespread. On page 613, the report sets out revealingly the attitudes of some gardaí to senior management in the force. The report states:
However, in evidence and when submissions were made on behalf of some bodies representing sections of the Gardaí, it became apparent that this was not the case. Assuming that these submissions represent the attitude of members of the force at those ranks, then it would appear that there does not remain within the force any proper sense of loyalty or support for higher-ranking officers.
While it is impossible to judge from outside just how far the attitude in question permeates the force, the recommendations in the report suggest ways in which it could be addressed. Some individuals are identified in the report as culpable parties while others are highlighted as having operated to the highest standards. It is important to avoid tarring the entire police force with the same brush. The greatest gesture we can make to Mr. Justice Morris and to build confidence is to implement fully the recommendations his report sets out.
As a new Deputy, I have sat in the Chamber and listened to Members speak about promised legislation, the schedules for the debate and finalisation in the Dáil and Seanad of which are measured in years. It would be disgraceful in that context to fail to take the opportunity presented by the Garda Síochána Bill. The Minister himself has said he intends to introduce new sections on Committee Stage, bypassing Second Stage himself. It would be unfair if he were to fail to accept the adoption of the same approach by the Opposition. I favour the Fine Gael suggestion that the House should revisit the Bill in the autumn having had a thorough look at its provisions. While it is for the Director of Public Prosecutions to decide whether to proceed with prosecutions, public confidence will be damaged if there are none on foot of the Morris report.
In his extended address at the opening of these statements, the Minister for Justice, Equality and Law Reform spent one half of his time defending his role in the McBrearty affair and the other defending his Garda Síochána Bill. He ignored entirely the most significant recommendation of the second Morris report directed at Government that the Oireachtas should review that same Bill. Nothing highlights better the extent to which a self-proclaimed radical Minister has become a captive of his Department.
As alluded to by Deputy O'Donnell, it emerged this morning that the previous Minister at the Department, Deputy O'Donoghue, opposed an inquiry into the events in Donegal on the misleading basis that he had read the Carty report and taken legal advice from the then Attorney General, Deputy McDowell. In fact, neither gentlemen had the full Carty report in his possession. Surely, we are not to conclude the then Attorney General, Deputy McDowell, and Minister, Deputy O'Donoghue, colluded deliberately to mislead Deputy Howlin. The Minister, Deputy O'Donoghue, however, scurried from the Chamber without availing of the opportunity to respond to a charge by Deputy Howlin so grave in character that in any other jurisdiction, a Minister would have immediately apologised, corrected the record or, alternatively, resigned his office.
The Minister and I are agreed on one thing. A Garda authority would radically alter the structures of policing and accountability for it in the State. It is for those reasons I propose it and for the same reasons the Minister so vehemently opposes it. It is as plain as a pikestaff that both Morris reports contend there is a chronic, systemic malaise within the Garda Síochána. Events have also shown a chronic, systemic incapacity on the part of those in charge even to diagnose let alone treat that illness.
When it comes to allocating responsibility for this state of affairs, the Government is right in one respect. Successive Administrations have regarded Garda competence, integrity and independence as shibboleths. Successive Ministers have been content to repeat well-worn references to dedication and sacrifice as if those statements, which deserve to be made and repeated because they are true, told the whole story. Successive Administrations have shied away from peering into what Lord Denning infamously described as the "appalling vista". They have refused even to contemplate in public the possibility that all was not well within the force. When illegal activities, malpractice or even corruption were exposed, reference was made repeatedly to the "rotten apple" while the warning in the phrase coined by Benjamin Franklin was ignored. Just one rotten apple will spoil its companion and, eventually, the whole barrel. The difference between the Minister and me is that he still clings to his shibboleths.
The Minister, as Ministers always do, endorses the concept of ministerial accountability to Dáil Éireann. It is beyond me how he can do that with a straight face after what I witnessed from the Minister, Deputy O'Donoghue, on screen just a few minutes ago. That Minister told the House he faced, in effect, a mutiny from the Phoenix Park and threw in the towel.
He had no ministerial accountability. The Minister, Deputy McDowell, has argued that the alternative, a Garda authority, would be a quango which would eliminate accountability. Ministers support the idea of ministerial accountability to the House because it has become a worthless, devalued joke. The Minister does not answer questions on Garda operations and is not accountable for the actions of the Garda Commissioner or his force. Under the provisions of the Minister's Bill, the Commissioner will account on financial matters to the Committee of Public Accounts but will not otherwise account to any other committee of the Oireachtas. The Commissioner will become an unaccountable, one-man quango.
If anyone wants to know what ministerial accountability means in practice, he or she should look around the Chamber. It means Friday statements without questions, motions, amendments, voting or resolutions.
There are more Members on the roads home than there are in the precincts of the House in which nothing of significance is happening to detain them.
This is a considered Government response to two reports that undermine the trustworthiness of a body in which every right-minded citizen is expected and entitled to repose confidence.
The reality is that the Minister supports ministerial accountability for fear that an alternative might actually work, that questions would not only be asked but answered, that stewardship would be examined and that an account would be demanded and given.
The second great shibboleth trotted out by the Minister, Deputy McDowell, is that no change can be made that might undermine the security of the State. He and his Department represent the thin grey line that stands between our freedom and lawless anarchy. He has access to State secrets and information the release of which would threaten lives and freedom. No other person or body, outside the existing institutional architecture, can be entrusted with that information.
I have two points to make in response to that. The first is to repeat what I said earlier in this House in statements on the Nally report, copies of which were given to Deputy Kenny and me but which was not publicly released or summarised, even for the benefit of the families and victims of the Omagh bombing. I said then and I repeat now that I have no reason to believe any of the allegations forwarded to the Minister by the Northern Ireland Police Ombudsman as to information in the possession of the Garda Síochána that might have prevented that appalling and savage attack. Neither have I any reason to accept the picture that this disaffected Garda detective sought to paint about the handling of Garda informants in general. However, I was struck by the consistent and apparently congenital inability of that committee to query the official Garda version of events in any case where it differed from that of detective sergeant White, even where the official version contained contradictions or was unsupported by any documentary or other evidence, whereas every hole was picked in the case put forward against them.
The report was from a committee of insiders, about insiders, to be read by insiders. It came from within a hermetically sealed environment. The possibility that even some of the allegations it was investigating might be even partially true would represent a collective corporate failure of massive proportions and with devastating consequences. This reminds me of the contribution I heard from Deputy Ferris. The House knows that I agree with him on very little. I do not know who James Sheehan is, or whether he is a member of his Sinn Féin Party — although he probably is — but I fail to see what that has to do with anything. The claim made by Deputy Ferris about the planting of a gun in a car four hours later by members of the Garda Síochána deserves to be investigated. Merely because Deputy Ferris has the provenance he has, does not in any way undermine his right to have it investigated.
The second point is that, in any arrangement for safeguarding the security of the State, the Minister for Justice, Equality and Law Reform will be pivotal. I refer to the Minister's argument about the security of the State as to why he cannot change the Bill. Let us look at the Minister's predecessors. They include an individual who, by reason of chronic alcoholism, was disabled from functioning in any public office, let alone that of Minister for Justice. They also include an individual who was the subject of a Garda fraud squad inquiry, who has since been convicted in the courts. Also among their number was an individual who was dismissed from office for conspiring to import arms into this State and whose prosecution case was amassed by his own former departmental secretary. Another Minister for Justice borrowed bugging equipment from an assistant Garda Commissioner, so as to enable covert surveillance of conversations of Cabinet colleagues, and who personally directed the tapping of phonecalls of political correspondents with other Cabinet colleagues. Does the Minister seriously argue that there cannot be found outside the confines of his bunker on St. Stephen's Green a dozen men and women who would match those persons for competence and integrity who could be trusted with oversight and to demand adequate accountability?
In his speech on the launch of the heads of the Garda Síochána Bill, the Minister quoted the line from Juvenal: "Sed quis custodiet ipsos custodes?" Who will guard the guards themselves? His answer, effectively, is that he will, because no one else can be trusted. Just the Minister, his Department and his senior Garda officers.
This is the same Minister who famously urged his party that it must be "radical or redundant". He has made his choice. He has rejected the radical option. Instead of providing solutions, he has become the quintessential insider, a captive of his Department. More significantly in the context of this particular debate, he has refused to take on board the only major recommendation of Mr. Justice Morris directed at Government. After all of the painstaking, conscientious work that Mr. Justice Morris put into investigating the extraordinary, bizarre, disturbing events in Donegal, he made one recommendation and the Minister, Deputy McDowell, did not even refer to it.
There are so many disturbing facts in that report. I was struck by the notion of a woman dialling the Garda because a man was dying or dead on the side of the road and they did not respond because they were contemplating going on a tea break. When they did respond they did not preserve the scene, examine the area or the body, but they decided to drive to Letterkenny for his suit — all three of them — to get in out of the rain. They drove to Letterkenny for his suit, and as the judge stated, in the event they did not collect it. The report is riddled with this type of anecdote about the reality of what went on in Donegal. Meanwhile two men, Frank McBrearty Jr. and his cousin Mark McConnell, were framed for a murder that never happened. They could be languishing in prison for that crime.
It is shocking beyond description yet one gets the impression both from what the Taoiseach and the Minister for Justice, Equality and Law Reform have said, that we are going on as before. The previous Minister for Justice, Equality and Law Reform made no effort to present any plausible explanation for his reaction. He told us that like a pussycat he simply accepted the word from the park that he was not going to get the relevant parts of the Carty report and that he was quite happy to come to the House and mislead my colleague, Deputy Howlin. This was not an everyday, routine occurrence such as giving someone a fine for breaking the speed limit. He was prepared to mislead my colleague in the fashion set out today by Deputy Howlin, with which the Minister, Deputy O'Donoghue, did not disagree.
I am pleased to make a small contribution on the Morris report. I am sorry we are not having a sufficiently long debate to enable every Member of the House who wished to contribute to do so. Harry S. Truman coined the phrase, "The buck stops here". If that were to apply to the Department of Justice, Equality and Law Reform, the Minister would change it to read, "The buck stops everywhere but here". That would also apply to his immediate predecessor. It is clear that at every hand's turn since this issue first emerged, every time an attempt was made to obtain information everybody was responsible but nobody was responsible. I do not wish to lecture the Minister but we have listened to many lectures from him over the years. There is such a thing as ministerial responsibility. That does not necessarily mean political interference. It means the Minister must be in a position to say to the staff in the Department and whoever else is involved, that he wants to know what is going on, if things are being progressed in accordance with the law, if due process is taking place and if everybody is being treated in an even-handed fashion. That did not happen in this case.
I and other Members have brought to the Minister's attention issues I believed were not proceeding in accordance with due process. He knows this quite well. I am concerned we are beginning to see the emergence of a new culture in which it is decided the House does not need to know certain matters because it is deemed that they do not concern it. There is a view that that which the House does not know will not concern anybody else.
As a result of this developing culture, when a Member tables a question in the House, the first response is that the Minister has no responsibility to the House. If we are lucky enough to get by that particular hurdle, the relevant Minister uses the phrase "I am advised by ...". This applies not only to the Minister for Justice, Equality and Law reform but also to other Ministers. I do not want to be seen to be lecturing the Minister on how to do his job but my point applies to him and all the officials in his Department and every other Department. When a question is tabled, it should be answered in its entirety. The failure to do so represents a system failure on the part of each person involved. The Minister once informed me he would answer no more questions on this subject. That is slightly off the wall and can never be allowed to prevail in this House or any democracy.
I compliment people such as Deputy Howlin and Jim Higgins MEP who put their necks on the block by raising this issue with the relevant authorities. It is a pity that when they conveyed this information, suspicion fell on them in that it was questioned why and by whom they were given it. It was asked whether malice could be proven in the case of those who gave the information. We know how this process works. It was very disingenuous of the Minister and his immediate predecessor to attempt to spread the mire on a previous Minister in the rainbow coalition, the former Deputy Nora Owen. It was dishonest, churlish and chauvinistic. If she had been a male Minister, there would not have been such alacrity to dump on her so quickly. I once stated in the House that a former Member of the House did something similar in respect of the former Deputy Owen just before the last general election. Had she been male in that case, would people have taken such liberties so quickly?
I pay tribute to the gardaí who have discharged their duties honestly on behalf of the people of this State down through the years. In doing so, many paid the ultimate price in that they gave their lives. The sad result of the activities described in the Morris report is that they sully the entire force and the memory of those who discharged their duties honourably, lived up to the high standard which they were supposed to live up to, raised the flag on every occasion and did their job.
It is sad that we are dealing with the misbehaviour of gardaí. We have no way of exerting an influence in this regard other than by raising the matter with the Minister for Justice, Equality and Law Reform or another Minister. It is the duty of the Minister to take on board the matters raised. This also applies when talking to members of the public. A member of the public with a grievance, such as a member of the McBrearty or Barron families, is entitled to have his or her case heard. It does not matter where such people come from or the political organisation or party to which they affiliate themselves. This should be borne in mind at all times. Their cases should be investigated forensically in the same way as every other case.
I could continue for a long time in this vein because I have been concerned about these issues for some considerable time, as the Minister knows. Deputy Blaney mentioned Tina Fowley who gave evidence in the initial stages of the case that blew it wide open. In my time in public life, I have come to know countless instances where the institutions of the State were used to bolster civil cases, even family law cases. This is quite typical. It is wrong that this is allowed to happen. Anything else can be done but this should not be done. It is corrupt and nobody should stand over it.
Every day of the week, there are cases in which the institutions of the State are sought by various people to substantiate their cases. This should never be tolerated or allowed. An example is the use of gardaí to carry out illegal evictions in circumstances where there has been no court case, court order or public hearing. This cannot be allowed. However, I pay tribute to the many people who do their jobs honestly and honourably.
In light of my reference to the former Deputy Nora Owen, I believe we should also pay tribute to people such as Veronica Guerin who wrote a great deal about certain activities when it was not popular to do so and who therefore did not always receive the accolades for her work. She paid the ultimate price. I pay tribute to other journalists who from time to time write about matters when it is unpopular to do so, as opposed to those who scramble for the crumbs from ministerial tables and run off and reinvent them in a very glorious light when it suits them. There is none better at this than the Minister's Department. I will provide him with countless illustrations if he wants them.
A Deputy mentioned "Tonight with Vincent Browne", which programme nightly pursued all the machinations of the case, detailing every road, boreen, traffic light, wet night, lunch break and everything else. Vincent Browne should be given credit for staying with the case, writing about it and doing so fearlessly.
I would prefer not to apportion blame because this is a matter for another day. However, I want to refer to a statement made by the Minister at the beginning of his contribution. He began with what was like an apology for his previous churlishness in respect of blaming others. The first Morris report refers to the effects of dismissal.
The Tribunal notes that early dismissal can lead to the loss of pension. In the majority of instances, this is an unnecessary and unfair consequence. A member of An Garda Síochána may work for years, legitimately building up credits on his or her pension fund, and then require to be dismissed by reason of a single, or a series, of evil actions. It is conceivable that a person who has been commended, even for bravery, might fall to the degree that requires their dismissal. It does not seem logical that the consequence of a short period of bad service should result in the removal of the benefits legitimately gained, perhaps through years of hard work and application.
Mr. Justice Morris said "the majority of instances" and not "in every instance". He does not say "in all circumstances". He leaves it out very deliberately and specifically. I agree entirely. I have always held this view when everybody howls for dismissals and pension withdrawals. However, Mr. Justice Morris is saying something different from what the Minister said to the House. He is clearly indicating what remains to be done, depending on the severity of what he regards to be the crime or evil. This will become more obvious in subsequent reports.
There was a considerable systems failure and also ministerial failure. Instead of having run around in circles like an excited turkey cock a fortnight before Christmas, the Minister and his immediate predecessor should have called for information. It is the Minister's right to ask for information on the functionality of his Department. If he does not do so, he becomes vulnerable himself. Every Minister should seek information because it helps. In this regard, some of us have had a short period in which to learn how the system works.
Normally in circumstances such as these a report is required, after the issuing of which questions must be asked. If a Minister is not satisfied with the information being made available or, more importantly, detects a reluctance to give information, he or she must take action. If he or she does not do so, he or she will pay the price. That is the sad part.
I am sorry we do not have more time to discuss this issue. Mr. Justice Morris is to be complimented on the honesty and clarity of his report. He apologises to nobody and does not stand away from anybody. He is not too concerned about what people might think about his report; he is only concerned about ensuring that the office and Department function properly.
I do not accept the Minister's fixation on the need for extra legislation. Whenever I hear there is a need for new legislation, it usually means somebody has not been doing his or her job. I can point to countless instances in which this is the case. As we move forward the point made by Deputy Jim O'Keeffe about the reconstitution of the Garda force to cover all avenues is apposite. It must be made abundantly clear to the public that everybody will be treated fairly in the future. This requires a reconstitution of the force and the setting up of an ombudsman along the lines of the office administered by Ms Nuala O'Loan in Northern Ireland. In fact, if she could be borrowed with agreement from the Northern Ireland authorities, I would strongly recommend such a course.
I strongly agree with another point that has already been made, namely, that a declaration of interests should apply to all members of the Garda Síochána and all public office holders and senior officials. The same application of rules should apply as apply to public representatives generally.
I thank the Leas-Cheann Comhairle for the opportunity to speak in this very important debate. I am delighted the Minister is present to listen to all the views from the different parties, particularly from the Members of the Independent group. When we read the Morris report, we were shocked, horrified and dismayed at the way the McBrearty family and Mr. Mark McConnell were treated. It is just not acceptable. It is an absolute disgrace that families were treated by senior members of the Garda Síochána in a most unprofessional manner. It is important that the Minister for Justice, Equality and Law Reform faces this reality.
I want to put on record my full support for the McBrearty family, Mr. Mark McConnell and the Barron family as well. This is important when we are demanding apologies from the Minister and the rest of the Government. I hope we see this soon because I am getting sick to the teeth waiting for it. People should put up their hands and accept responsibility. This is a sad day for the State, its citizens and the taxpayers of this country when they see in the Morris report what has taken place in their name. This report shows that what happened in Donegal was riddled with corruption, shame and sleaze and this is not acceptable.
The Minister must take responsibility for his actions. I say to him now there must be radical change. We need to look closely at the idea of quality policing. Members of this House have been saying this for many years. It is important in today's debate that we do not forget the victims, which happens too often. The McBrearty and McConnell families as well as the late Mr. Richie Barron's family must be given maximum support by the State and everyone who has responsibility.
There is another agenda to be addressed, however. People now ask us as parliamentarians and Members of the Oireachtas who they can trust. Can they trust senior gardaí, politicians, banks or the churches? These are the questions being asked in broader society. Everything is on the table. I call today for a massive cleanout on these issues.
This is a wake-up call for democracy in this State. Some 35% of the electorate do not vote. If asked why, they will cite these as some of the reasons they do not vote. There is a question here for democracy and responsibility. I do not blame just one Government. I blame successive Governments for letting this continue. People have been badly let down. In this House, and in other forums as well, independent voices are needed to voice these concerns. As regards the broad policing issue, an ombudsman is needed and that is a reality. We regularly comment on and debate the Patten proposals and the work of Ms Nuala O'Loan. In recent months there has been historic support for the position of an ombudsman and in particular the excellent job done by the office of Ms O'Loan. It is time to ask the Minister why he is stalling, fudging the issue and holding back.
We must face up to reality as well. The McBreartys were very brave. They worked hard, had to spend their own money, remortgage their houses and take on enormous debts to push their case. I commend them on and support them for this. There are also the other stories, for example, the Dean Lyons case raised by Deputy Gregory. These are the men and women of no property in this State who are being set up without anyone opening his or her mouth. At least the McBreartys had the potential and ability to defend their good name. It cost them a long hard number of years, but they did it and we are supporting them in the House today. However, many other people did not have the courage to continue the fight and just walked off the pitch.
I also question seriously the Minister's support for the Garda Commissioner. Did he know the true scale of the scandal? This is a question we must ask ourselves. I do not accept some of the statements made by the Minister recently to the effect that he did not know. As Deputy Rabbitte said, I do not find it acceptable that some member of the Garda Síochána can plant a gun in somebody's car. That is not professional policing. That is a disgraceful scenario. Equally, I find it disgraceful that the Minister refused to meet the Deputy that raised this question. When this comes out in a few months' time, the Minister's head will be on the block. It should be on the block already. This is about responsibility and accountability and the Minister does not accept it.
I read this morning on my fax Mr. Frank McBrearty Sn.'s comments on the Minister's appearance on "Questions and Answers". He said:
I find it absolutely astonishing that Minister McDowell had the downright criminal cheek to sit on "Questions and Answers" and wave a letter from a private investigator to the rainbow Government, when the same private investigator wrote to Mr. Justice Morris on 24 November 2004. In the third paragraph of that letter he describes how he had over 20 phone calls with Mr. McDowell while he was Attorney General, outlining the facts of our case. An acknowledgement was received from the Attorney General's private secretary, Paul Gibney, dated 21 May 2002, stating that my letter and enclosures on 29 May 2002 would be brought to the Attorney General's notice. On 11 June 2002 I received an acknowledgement from the Tánaiste, Mary Harney, stating that she had forwarded my correspondence to her colleague, the new Minister for Justice, Michael McDowell.
These are the questions and this is the evidence that I am putting to the Minister in the House today.
I am also raising the question of the Garda Commissioner, Noel Conroy. Why has the Minster for Justice, Equality and Law Reform not demanded the removal of Commissioner Conroy from office after his submission to the tribunal and on receipt of the Morris report? He then disagreed with his nominated counsel and tried to blame them for issuing a submission in his name. These are questions for which the McBreartys want answers.
We have a major problem with accountability, leadership and integrity and the Minister must accept responsibility. It happened on his watch. He is responsible as Minister for Justice, Equality and Law Reform. He must accept this responsibility. There can be no more sitting on the fence and acting like the café bar kid when it comes to taking on the smaller sections of society. The Minister is being challenged now, especially in this debate, and the evidence has been put before him in the House. The McBreartys, Mr. Mark McConnell and the Barron family deserve justice, the truth, equality and respect. They deserve full compensation for the torture, suffering and nightmare they have had to endure over the years.
On behalf of the ten Independent Members of the House, who work very closely together, I affirm our support for these families. We urge the Minister and the public to look seriously at the Morris recommendations and some of the sections on anti-corruption initiatives and the proposed whistleblower's charter for internal reporting of corruption and malpractice. I hope the Minister introduces that. There is another recommendation about the Garda internal audit section which says the staff should be increased from five to 22 and the budget, from €430,000 to €1.5 million. Will the Minister implement that? There is also the management structure. The recommendation is that the Garda Síochána be divided into 196 area command units which would be audited every two years. "Audited" is the key word. It also recommends that all members promoted to and above the rank of sergeant be briefly seconded to the internal audit section.
I welcome the recommendation that each assistant commissioner be held to account for his or her managerial performance in terms of the progression of each priority strategic initiative by the deputy commissioner who approved such initiatives.
I have made some very constructive proposals regarding the Morris tribunal. I urge people to support the families in their quest for justice, truth and compensation and urge Deputies to be more proactive on this issue.
I thank all the Deputies who contributed to the debate, which I have found interesting and stimulating. In particular, I thank those Deputies who took a reflective approach to today's proceedings and in that regard I instance Deputies McGinley, Timmins and O'Donnell who took a non-partisan, objective approach.
When I came into office as Minister for Justice, Equality and Law Reform, the events about which I spoke — the difficulties in having direct accountability — were fresh in my mind. When the Department's agenda was to put forward legislation dealing with the ombudsman-inspectorate issue, as it then was, I said we must go one stage further and recast in statute form the entire relationship between the Executive, the Minister, the Oireachtas and the Garda Síochána, as well as the force's relationship with local government. On that day, I decided I would not bring in a half measure but would re-establish direct civilian accountability and control over the Garda Síochána in a clear and unambiguous manner, one which provides for operational independence, on the one hand, and direct parliamentary accountability, on the other. That was my aim and that is what I am achieving.
Those who put forward the proposition that there should be an independent police authority should ask themselves of whom it should be independent. I come into the House and answer questions on behalf of the Garda Síochána and account for my stewardship as a Minister. If there were an independent police authority of the kind suggested, how would I be in a position to answer for its activities if it were genuinely independent of me? How would I come into the House and say that its judgment in one case was right or wrong?
——and the Parliament and the Minister is a matter of constitutional importance. Those Deputies — they are in a minority — who believe there should be an independent police authority ignore completely the consequence of establishing such a body, the greatest of which would be that there would be virtually no parliamentary accountability. A Minister could and would easily stand up and say to his colleagues in the House that it was their decision, not his, and that they, rather than he, should be asked why they did it.
As I emphasised from the beginning, the whole point of our system is that, since the foundation of State, successive Ministers for Justice have represented the Garda Síochána in the House and taken political accountability for the national police force. Kevin O'Higgins did it, James Geoghegan did it, Gerry Boland did it and it is the right way to do it, not the wrong way.
I do not shy away from my responsibility in this matter for one minute.
Sometimes I wonder if many people have studied the Bill I have put before the House. I have restated in great detail the relationship that will exist between the Garda Commissioner, the force, the Minister, the committees of this House and local government when this Bill becomes law. I have restated it in a new charter of accountability and responsibility.
The mechanisms for accountability are set out in this Bill. I have crafted it to bring about a re-installation of proper civilian authority over the Garda Síochána because the circumstance to which I referred in my earlier speech in which the Minister and Attorney General of the day were denied access on the basis of a constitutional theory——
When I came into this House as Minister for Justice, Equality and Law Reform, I told the House I would bring forward this legislation and I intend to do it.
I want to make the point made by Senator Maurice Hayes, in whose judgment I have great faith. He has agreed to supervise the implementation process of the preparation to make this Bill effective.
Deputy Jim O'Keeffe asked me if I would consider the question of a security committee and I have said I will. I intend to act on his suggestions. I also intend to change the Bill on the internal audit unit and to establish a professional standards unit within the Garda Síochána. I will make it possible to second into the Garda Síochána people from police forces other than the Police Service of Northern Ireland in response to points made on Committee Stage. Section 114 provides for independent external members constituting a majority of every promotions board at every level in the Garda Síochána. These are the reforms I will introduce.
On the points made about access to security records in Garda stations by the ombudsman commission, I will bring forward further amendments to ensure it is not abused in the way in which Senator Maurice Hayes pointed out, where, if a liberal view was taken, every Special Branch record could be viewed as a State security record. I will deal with those issues.
I have listened carefully to the debate in both Houses of this Parliament. I have listened carefully to the submissions made on Committee Stage. I listened to Deputy Rabbitte's point even when the Bill was in gestation about the need to introduce local authority accountability. I told him I would do it and I have done it. I intend to reform the Garda Síochána and to give it the leadership it needs now.
Lest there be any misunderstanding, I also intend to implement all of the areas of reform Mr. Justice Morris mentioned in his first report and on which Deputy Commissioner Fitzgerald has provided working papers on reform. Most of them do not require statutory reform but regulatory reform.
I have realised, and I ask every Member of the House to realise, that the revolution in culture in the Garda Síochána will not be contained simply in an Act of Parliament. It requires new management methods, new methods of accountability, intensification of civilisation at some levels and the like.
All of those things must happen.
It has taken three years to get to where the Bill is now. I was appointed in June 2002. I went through a public consultation process and I brought the Bill through the Seanad because this House was busy with other things. I brought it through one of the longest debates on its principles on Second Stage that this House has ever seen. I brought it through hours and hours of hearings on Committee Stage, offering to sit until dawn to have the Bill passed.
The time has come now for us to screw our courage to the point where we get on with reform rather than walk away from it.
There have been harsh words in this House today but I have spoken the truth in this House because I have a respect for it and the House is entitled to know that Deputy O'Donoghue, when he was Minister for Justice, Equality and Law Reform, behaved impeccably and at all times wanted a public inquiry.
Those in this House who have spent so much time praising Mr. Justice Morris, and I join them in doing that, should also remember that it was the tenacity of Deputy O'Donoghue as Minister for Justice, Equality and Law Reform that led to the tribunal being set up.
He pushed through this House the reforming legislation that was necessary to ensure that the DPP or parties to the criminal litigation would not have injuncted the tribunal from undertaking any hearings until there cases were over.
He is a man who is now being criticised by those who should think better of it. As his Attorney General at the time, I know that he was more than anxious to get to the truth because he said it to me on many occasions.
The fact that people thought they could get away with it, and the fact that they got away with it for so long, shows that there was a collapse of morale and, as Mr. Justice Morris says, a collapse of discipline and accountability structures in the area. It shows that management at local and national levels were not getting their act together and things had gone seriously wrong.
——that the fundamental background circumstances that led to Donegal, the lack of accountability and discipline and the attitude to accounting to one's superiors did not arise in a fortnight in Donegal. They were a long time coming.
I intend to do more than simply apologise or simply offer to deal with the litigation. I intend out of all of this that the Garda Síochána will be reconstituted as a force based on a proper written constitution for the first time in 80 years. This is a challenging agenda that I will fulfil. No Member on the opposite side of the House came forward with a garda Bill——