Thursday, 27 April 2006
Question 3: To ask the Minister for Justice, Equality and Law Reform if he intends to formally consult all interested groups and stakeholders before proceeding further with his plans for a volunteer Garda reserve force including concerned non-governmental organisations, community sector representatives, youth workers and so on from working class communities in particular; and if he will give a commitment to engage in these consultations. [15842/06]
In giving effect to the will of the Oireachtas, I am committed to real and substantial consultation.
I have met each of the garda representative associations to discuss the Garda reserve. I have also invited them in for more detailed discussions on the Garda Commissioner's proposals on the recruitment, training, powers, duties and deployment of reserve members. The chief superintendents have already come in for one such discussion and, as the House will be aware, the superintendents' association has backed the proposal but has stated that it wants to be consulted as well, and it will be. I am grateful for the very helpful comment it made. I expect to discuss the matter with the superintendents next week.
I commend these associations for their positive attitude to the proposals, and I hope that both the GRA and the AGSI will see the value in now engaging in consultations. My door is open. I have made clear that, subject only to respecting the will of the Oireachtas on the establishment of a reserve, I am genuinely open to any constructive proposals on the recruitment, training, powers, duties and deployment of reserve members and I want to hear the views of the associations on those matters rather than simply a sterile argument on points of principle. I reiterate they have the opportunity to help shape the role of the reserve and I urge them to seize that opportunity.
It was a pleasure to go to the AGSI conference recently and to be allowed to address it. I noted that the rank and file members present were divided, approximately 50-50, in support for the position which was so strongly articulated by their executive. It was the executive's vote that swung the day.
Although I may not get the same opportunity with the GRA, I will keep my door open and I intend to publish the regulations in draft form——
——to bring them before the Joint Committee on Justice, Equality, Defence and Women's Rights and have a good discussion with all Members of the House who are interesting in discussing their substance at that venue.
Additional information not given on the floor of the House.
There is no obligation under the Garda Síochána Act to do so, as the regulations simply require the approval of Government, but I thought it right to undertake the widest possible process of consultation before finalising the proposals for the reserve. I look forward to engaging with the committee, and the committee may well take the opportunity to hear a variety of different views on the proposals.
I recently commissioned research into the public's attitude to crime and law enforcement, and I was particularly pleased, but not at all surprised, at the strong level of public support this indicated for a Garda reserve, with 73% of respondents in favour.
The Oireachtas has decided that there should be a Garda reserve and the public strongly support this. The Garda Commissioner's proposals envisage a thoroughly-trained reserve, with carefully selected powers and duties, working under the supervision of members of the Garda Síochána. I am engaged in a process of comprehensive consultation on these proposals, including consultation with a joint committee of these Houses.
At least the Minister acknowledged that my party opposed the reserve from day one. We recognise that we were out-voted on that.
At this stage, I want to minimise the damage the Minister intends to do. With that in mind, I recognise that the Minister is engaged, in his view, with the stakeholders in consultation. The problem is that the Garda representative associations are not the only stakeholders in this. One of the main stakeholders is obviously the community. Would the Minister agree that the community is the ultimate stakeholder in all of this? Why has the Minister not engaged in formal and meaningful consultation with NGOs and community sector representatives such as the Irish Council for Civil Liberties and the likes of Fr. McVerry and people who have raised concerns about the reserve force, the police force and its class basis in general? If he intends to do so, will he immediately initiate consultation with those bodies and not proceed any further until the outcome of those consultations?
Deputy Ó Snodaigh spoke of NGOs representing the community. As far as I am concerned, I suppose the Government parties are GOs — governmental organisations — for the time being but the Opposition parties are NGOs. The Opposition parties are non-governmental organisations which have a mandate from the people to speak on these matters. They have spoken with considerable clarity on the issue, and I have consulted and will consult with them.
I will talk to anybody who wants to make a submission to me on the issue or who wants to make an input, and I am sure the Joint Committee on Justice, Equality, Defence and Women's Rights of these Houses will take into account all of those points of view.
On the other question of finding out what the people think, it is noteworthy that the Deputies opposite were selective in quoting for their purposes questions about attitudes to crime in a Department of Justice, Equality and Law Reform sponsored opinion survey, which was published in March last. I remind Deputy Ó Snodaigh, in particular, that the overwhelming majority of people who were questioned in that survey, on which reliance was placed for every other purpose in the House, backed the concept of a reserve, while the overwhelming majority of public representatives back it as well. It is not a question of principle on which the public is badly divided. The question now is implementation and consultation. I will consult the Opposition and the Garda representative associations and I will encourage the Oireachtas Joint Committee on Justice, Equality, Defence and Women's Rights to take the opportunity to seek external views, as it so wishes. However, I do not accept the proposition that the community is represented in these matters by the views of the Irish Council for Civil Liberties or the esteemed Fr. McVerry. The public is clear and I must rely on my judgment as well in regard to people approaching me on the street to outline their views on the issue. It runs eight or nine to one in favour of establishing a reserve.