Wednesday, 4 April 2007
I am not in favour of establishing a separate Garda authority as I believe we have a fully independent and democratically accountable Garda authority already, in the form of the Oireachtas.
The perceived advantage of a separate authority is that it interposes an additional layer of independent accountability between the political process and the management of the Garda Síochána. The idea of such an authority makes perfectly good sense in the context of the UK regional police structure where there is no corresponding regional democratic unit, and in Northern Ireland, where there were and still continue to be unique requirements associated with the need for confidence building in a cross-community environment.
One important point about the Northern Ireland policing board which is often overlooked by persons who suggest a similar authority for the Garda Síochána is that the Patten Commission recommended a majority of members of the board be elected politicians in Northern Ireland. It is not an independent policing authority in any conventional sense, but is, in its majority, a representative, political group with a minority of non-political people on it. Therefore, when people here suggest we get rid of ministerial accountability and do what was done in Northern Ireland, nobody is suggesting that Deputies should constitute a majority on an independent policing authority. I do not think it would be appropriate they should.
Second, we do not have an example anywhere in the world of a national police service being subject to an independent authority. This just does not happen in the common law world. For example, the Met in London is directly responsible to the Home Secretary and to Parliament and the same applies to the RCMP.
The Garda Síochána is our intelligence service. It would be unspeakable and an error of monumental proportions to put that away from Government. I appeal to the two parties opposite to consider my final point very carefully, namely that our Constitution requires the executive powers of the State to be answerable in the House to the public representatives here.
That is a very good point. The executive powers of the State are required by our Constitution to be the subject of accountability in the House. That is the reason Ministers for Justice have statutory functions with regard to the Garda Síochána and are called to book here in the House when something goes wrong. The Deputies opposite cannot have it both ways. They cannot say I am not doing my job and at the same time say somebody else should make all the day-to-day decisions separately and independently from me. They cannot have it both ways.
There is a profound constitutional question with regard to a proposal that the executive function of policing the State should be hived off from Government and given to something like the RTE authority or the Health Service Executive. That is a profoundly erroneous proposition. It is one put forward by the Labour Party about 20 years ago on two separate occasions in Government, but it was never progressed because it is a fundamentally suspect, unprecedented and unwise proposition.
I have the authority of the Government to establish——
I said nothing of the sort about an ombudsman commission. I have the authority of the Government to establish an all-party policing and security committee. That is the appropriate way for the House to act. Members of that committee and the members of the Northern Ireland policing executive should form an all-Ireland policing forum. That is the way forward. I have established, in the legislation we will debate later this afternoon, an executive advisory board to bring in outside executive schools to assist the Garda Commissioner in the governance of the Garda Síochána. That is the right way forward and I emphatically reject the notion that it would be in any way an advance for democracy, civil liberties or anything else if the Minister in my position in a future Dáil was to stand here and say he or she could not respond to the question as to why the Garda did A, B, or C because the decision was made by a group of people independent of the Minister and over whom he or she had no control.
Does the Minister accept the current system does not work properly and we must, therefore, look for a new system? Furthermore, does he accept that the suggestion that ultimate authority lies with the Oireachtas may be fine in theory, but does not work in practice? Does he not recollect that only last week the Select Committee on Justice, Equality, Defence and Women's Rights, which represents the Oireachtas, dealt with a series of Votes dealing with justice worth €2.5 billion? For a variety of reasons, mainly due to the time available to the committee, these Votes were dealt with over a period of only one and a half hours. This is not effective accountability. Does the Minister accept it is possible to have an independent Garda authority, which could do good work, and still have a Minister accountable to the House? Does he accept that this does not preclude the establishment of an all-party Oireachtas security committee, something for which I have been calling for years? These are not mutually exclusive.
We should start from the position that the current system does not work properly and look for a new and better way to work. I have listened to the Minister in the past and raised issues such as no anti-stab vests for gardaí, no proper training procedures or indoor ranges for training on firearms. His normal response is that the Garda Commissioner has all the resources he needs and that he will get whatever he asks for. We know this is complete baloney. We also know the Commissioner cannot stand up openly and say it is baloney and that it is not possible.
We should, therefore, create an interposing body, the composition of which can be open to discussion. I do not see it as one that should be overloaded with politicians, but they should not be automatically excluded nor be in the majority. I am not sure there should be any politicians on it.
It would have civilians who would, ultimately, be nominated by the Minister, subject to scrutiny by an Oireachtas committee. Does the Minister not accept that in those circumstances, setting his face against it as being "not a satisfactory system" is the wrong way to go about it? He should join with those parties currently in Opposition in seeking a new and fresh approach that will bring about a better result for everybody, the Garda, taxpayers and the general public.
No, I emphatically do not — that is the short answer. I am amazed to hear Deputy Jim O'Keeffe say, having espoused the notion of an independent Garda authority, that he does not yet know whether elected public representatives would be part of such an authority or in what numbers. This is astonishing. The Deputy has obviously not even consulted with those in the Labour Party who were the real ones to draw up this policy to discover what they have in mind.
I make this point strongly. The transformation taking place in the Garda Síochána is a major revolution in accountability.
For somebody who was in a party that 20 years ago was going to establish an independent authority, I do not think the Deputy can say that what I have done in five years is wrong.
The other point is that we are part of a Dáil that is entitled to accountability from the Garda Commissioner, who is now the Accounting Officer for the Garda Síochána. There is and will be provision in the about-to-be-formed policing committee for him to be directly amenable to questioning on the performance of the Garda Síochána by a dedicated committee of the House. That is a major step forward.
On accountability, it has been suggested by Deputy Jim O'Keeffe that it is illusory for me to say I am making resources available. I want it on the record that I have never refused a Garda Síochána application for expenditure for investment in resources.
I have made tranches of money available to the Garda, and asked if it can use it. The Commissioner is a fine man who would stand up to me and say I was letting him down financially if he thought that was the case. Neither the Department nor its Accounting Officer has ever stinted the Commissioner on money. The opposite is the case. We resource the Garda and emphasise in various ways that the resources it needs are available.
The Commissioner has loyally served the Garda and he does not think up ways to throw money around. He is careful as the Accounting Officer and I appreciate the care he shows in custody of the resources he has. It would be wrong for the House to draw the impression that I veto projects. I must tolerate the impression that anti-stab vests are not there because I say we cannot afford them.
If the Deputy sits down I will answer him. For the past four years I have been pushing the Garda radio project with vigour and determination. I have had to negotiate several public procurement hurdles and roundabouts——
The record shows that I have been pushing that project forward as the Deputies can find out for themselves if they make a freedom of information inquiry.
It was a procurement issue in respect of a contract for all the blue light services for Ireland which will be fully interoperable with the UK and Northern Ireland systems.