Thursday, 7 April 2011
Question 9: To ask the Minister for Justice and Equality his plans to make changes to the operation of joint policing committees including giving consideration to granting greater powers to such bodies; and if he will make a statement on the matter. [7048/11]
The functions and powers of joint policing committees, JPCs, are set out in the Garda Síochána Act 2005, which provides for a committee in each local authority area. The committees provide the framework for a partnership process involving the Garda Síochána and elected members and officials of the local authority - the two organisations that make the most significant contribution to preventing crime in an area - with the participation of Members of the Oireachtas and of the community and voluntary sector. The Act provides that JPCs will operate under guidelines issued by the Minister for Justice and Equality after consultation with the Minister for the Environment, Heritage and Local Government. The Garda Síochána has established a Garda national JPC monitoring office as a focal point for its involvement in the work of the committees.
The guidelines under which the JPCs currently operate were issued by the former Minister for Justice, Equality and Law Reform in September 2008, following a two year pilot phase involving 29 committees. The new programme for Government makes a commitment to build on existing community policing partnerships and forums to enhance trust between local communities and the Garda. Accordingly, I believe it is appropriate to commence a review of the operation of the committees in conjunction with the Garda Síochána, the Department of the Environment, Heritage and Local Government and the local authorities. The review will take place in the context of the commitments in the programme for Government to reform local government. In that regard, my colleague, the Minister for the Environment, Heritage and Local Government, Deputy Phil Hogan, stated he intends to publish at an early date a policy statement on local government, outlining government policy for an action programme to renew and develop the local government system. The joint policing committees will be relevant in that regard.
As I must continually remind Deputies, the Government has only been in place for four weeks. Rome was not built in a day, we cannot address every issue in the programme for Government immediately but the work on that is under way and work was done on the issue prior to the general election. As soon as he can, the Minister for the Environment, Heritage and Local Government will bring forward the review.
Is there a timeframe for the committees that have been established? We see such pilot schemes going on for years.
The Minister spoke about the local authority policing committees. There is also a substructure with pilot schemes in particular areas. Is there any flexibility? Who decides what areas are chosen? I am on two committees in south Dublin and one of them covers Fettercairn and Brookeview but not the adjoining estates. There does not seem to be any structure to the area covered and it is not clear how decisions are made to choose two or three estates. Who makes these decisions, the local authority, the policing board or the Garda authorities?
The pilot phase is essentially over. Once they were completed, general guidelines were introduced and each local authority can now operate a joint policing committee. The legislation prescribes a minimum number of meetings but no maximum for the committees. I was briefly a member of the Dún Laoghaire-Rathdown committee and I know it is up to the members of the policing committees to control the agendas, the numbers of meetings held and the issues to be discussed. There is no reason some part of the south Dublin committee area should be excluded from consideration.
Some local authorities are attaching more importance to the committees than others, with some seeing them as an important part of the local architecture while others see them as a nuisance and hold the minimum number of meetings. If the joint policing committee in any area is not operating satisfactorily, it is within the competence of the members of that committee to set an agenda and to determine the number of meetings to be held. The Garda authorities are more than happy to co-operate with them.
Question 10: To ask the Minister for Justice and Equality if his attention has been drawn to the fact that a company (details supplied) has established check-points and roadblocks in the Rossport area of north west County Mayo; and if he will make a statement on the matter. [7060/11]
I take it that the Deputy is referring in his question to public roads as it is generally open to companies to take whatever security measures are appropriate in relation to their own property.
The permission of the local authority is required before any person or company may lawfully set up a checkpoint or roadblock on a public road. As far as I have been able to ascertain, no such application was made to Mayo County Council and consequently no such permission was granted.
Furthermore, I am informed by the Garda authorities that they are not aware of any checkpoints or road-blocks being performed by non-Garda personnel in the Rossport area. In addition, as the Deputy is no doubt aware the gardaí regularly patrol the area and they have not observed any such checkpoints or roadblocks.
The Garda authorities also state that no complaints relating to any such activities have been reported to them. If anyone has information or evidence of checkpoints or roadblocks being established on public roads which have not been authorised, I urge them to report that to the gardaí.
It may be helpful to reiterate that the aim of the gardaí is to ensure that, on the one hand, Shell E&P and its contractors can go about their lawful business and, on the other, that the right to peaceful protest of those who may be opposed to the development can be facilitated while maintaining public peace and order. I support that aim against the background of the importance to the national gas network and to the economy more generally of having the pipeline completed.
The additional cost in overtime and allowances of the policing operation to date is €14.245 million. These figures do not include the basic salaries of the members who performed duty at the Corrib gas project. The majority of this cost is accounted for by overtime, allowance and travel and subsistence payments. It is disproportionate that it has proved necessary to incur such expenditure which is a consequence of the behaviour of some protestors. It would be preferable if such Garda resources could be utilised in the fight against drug gangs and in community policing initiatives. Given the numbers and the actions of the protesters, a significant number of gardaí have had to be deployed on the policing operation.
There is something very wrong with how the gardaí are behaving in the Rossport area and with how they are allowing private security companies that are working for Shell Oil to treat protestors. When I submitted this question it was on the basis of reports that IRMS, a private security company working for Shell, was putting up checkpoints on main roads and vetting traffic that was going past in the interests of Shell. Since then we have had the shocking episode where two young protestors were arrested and subjected to obscene language by two gardaí, who talked about the possibility of raping young women in their custody. This comes on top of years of similar reports to the Garda Ombudsman, most of which have been dismissed, of physical assaults of protestors and reports of attacks on those involved in the protests by masked men.
This is a serious situation. Human rights organisations from all over the world that have gone to Mayo have expressed extreme concern about the behaviour of gardaí and private security companies in the area. While we cannot judge from this point the exact rights and wrongs of the case, I ask the Minister to accede to the requests of people in the Erris and Rossport area for an international, independent inquiry to look at policing and the activities of private security companies employed by Shell in the area and how they are treating peaceful protestors campaigning against the attempt to force a pipeline through their land and the taking of gas resources off the west coast. Is it not time for an independent, international investigation?
I have no information about private security companies vetting traffic on main roads. On the matter raised by the Deputy about the allegations in respect of Garda conduct towards two young women, it is incorrect to say they were directly subjected, as the Deputy put it, to obscene language, but there are allegations of an event occurring in the context of gardaí travelling in a car in which those arrested were not present and which was recorded on a video device.
This matter was brought to the attention of the Garda Commissioner last Monday. A superintendent was appointed to conduct inquiries and the Commissioner sent me a report on the matter this morning, in accordance with his responsibilities under section 41(1)(b) of the Garda Síochána Act 2005. A copy of that report has also been forwarded to the Garda Síochána Ombudsman Commission, which is carrying out its own inquiry into the matter. It is the appropriate independent body to carry out such an inquiry.
Without prejudice to the investigation of the Ombudsman Commission, the Garda Commissioner has informed me that he has arranged for four of the five members of the Garda Síochána identified in the superintendent's report to be transferred from their current stations to Castlebar station and confined to indoor duties in the interests of the service. The fifth garda is being confined to indoor duties in Castlebar station, which is his current station.
As the Garda Síochána Ombudsman inquiry is continuing, it would not be appropriate for me to comment further on the detail of the specific incident as Minister for Justice and Equality. However, I acknowledge that the Garda Commissioner has acted swiftly in dealing with the issue. Remarks of the kind reported are completely unacceptable when made by any group of people, whether made publicly or privately, and, in particular, are not acceptable when made by a member of the Garda Síochána.
It is a matter of regret to me, but not surprise, that some people have used this most regrettable and unfortunate incident to bolster a campaign of vilification against the Garda Síochána in which they have engaged since the start of the Corrib protests. The strategy appears to be simple: to harass the Garda as much as possible to impair its capacity to do its job in the hope this will frustrate the building of the pipeline. While not minimising the nature of the incident involved, nor condoning it, it is in the public interest that I state clearly my belief that the vast majority of the members of the Garda Síochána have behaved in an exemplary manner in policing the protests in Corrib and they will continue to do so.
The members of the Garda are not there through choice. They are there in the public interest to uphold the law. Their presence is, unfortunately, necessary because of the nature of the protests taking place. They are in a difficult and confrontational setting which is not of their own making and, as I mentioned earlier, the Garda operation in this location has so far cost the taxpayers in excess of €14 million.
Given that the issues about the behaviour of the Garda are disputed and there are many complaints against the behaviour of the Garda, specifically in this area, is it not reasonable that some independent body would come in or that independent, international observers come in and make an objective judgment on this? Is that not a reasonable request given that the matter is now disputed and the allegations about the activities of those involved are so serious? Why will the Minister not accede to an independent, international inquiry?
This House enacted legislation to establish the Garda Síochána Ombudsman Commission. That body is independent and is appointed to conduct independent investigation and to address issues of alleged Garda misconduct. That body is engaged in this investigation at the moment. I have confidence in the capacity of the Garda Síochána Ombudsman Commission to address the issue that has arisen. It is the appropriate body to so deal with that matter.