Wednesday, 25 September 2013
Ceisteanna - Questions - Priority Questions
Garda Síochána Ombudsman Commission Issues
2. To ask the Minister for Justice and Equality his plans for the Garda Síochána Ombudsman Commission and the Garda Commissioner to meet with him to discuss GSOC's publicly aired serious concerns. [40057/13]
The Garda Síochána Ombudsman Commission was established under the Garda Síochána Act 2005 to provide independent oversight of complaints made against members of the Garda Síochána. It has a hugely important role in ensuring public confidence in the Garda Síochána is safeguarded.
The 2005 Act also provides for protocols on the sharing of information between the Garda Síochána and the Garda Síochána Ombudsman Commission. Protocols were agreed in 2007 and set down time limits for the provision of information by the Garda Síochána to the ombudsman commission. The ombudsman commission, however, raised concerns regarding delays in concluding its investigations, in particular delays in receiving requested information from the Garda Síochána.
In response to these concerns, I convened a meeting with the Garda Commissioner and the chairperson of the ombudsman commission on 23 July. The aim of the meeting was to explore how best to ensure the highest level of practical co-operation between the Garda Síochána and the ombudsman commission in what can be complex and difficult investigations into alleged Garda misconduct. I am very pleased, therefore, to see that the Garda Commissioner and the chairperson of the ombudsman commission have signed new protocols providing for enhanced co-operation between the two organisations. The protocols are available on the website of the ombudsman commission. These new protocols will support the ombudsman commission in carrying out investigations in the most effective and timely manner possible, to the benefit of both complainants and members of the Garda Síochána alike. They also reflect the commitment of the Garda Commissioner to the full co-operation of the Garda Síochána in these investigations.
To facilitate early engagement for any emerging issues, I have established a committee chaired by a senior official in my Department, with senior representatives from the ombudsman commission and the Garda Síochána, to act as a forum where any such issues can be identified and appropriately addressed. I hope this will ensure there will be no further difficulties and that any previous issues that arose should not distract from the substantive work of the Garda Síochána and its successes. In this context, I refer to the latest official recorded crime figures from the CSO which cover the 12 month period to the end of the second quarter in 2013 and which show reductions in 12 out of the 14 categories. The total reduction is in excess of 20,000 offences, or 8% overall, and this builds on reductions recorded in the previous figures from the CSO. The overall picture presented in the latest CSO statistics show that, despite the budgetary constraints with which we are dealing, the Garda Síochána continues to deliver a first class policing service to the people of this country.
There are some welcome developments in the Minister's reply. Whenever the Garda Síochána Ombudsman Commissioners came before the Joint Committee on Public Service Oversight and Petitions, not only did they talk about a protocol and exchanging information, but the gardaí were actually querying why the information sought was relevant. That was absolutely shocking. Can we imagine a garda investigating a crime being asked by the person being investigated why his questions were relevant? Would the force be happy about that? It is good that we have had some progress and I commend the Minister on pulling that together. Public confidence had to be restored in the ability of the Garda Síochána Ombudsman Commission to investigate quickly and efficiently complaints that had been brought to it.
There is a wider issue. At that time, the Garda Síochána Ombudsman Commission published a series of recommendations following its special investigation and a report was sent to the Minister about five months ago. I would like to know what has happened to the recommendations in respect of the process for handling informants and the retention of contemporaneous notes, which are issues we should have learned from following the Morris tribunal.
The Deputy is asking a completely separate question. Of course it is important that the recommendations made by the ombudsman commission are implemented. In advance of the meeting that took place between the Garda Síochána Ombudsman Commission and Garda Síochána, I wrote to the Garda Commissioner to respond to me about areas of concern, and he did that. Work began on this before the meeting on 23 July. Very substantial engagements were undertaken between the Garda side and the ombudsman commission side to resolve once and for all the difficulties that existed. It is crucial that when an issue arises for investigation by the ombudsman commission, it is able to perform its statutory duties in that respect and that the Garda Síochána complies with its statutory obligations.
I thought it was important also that there would be transparency to the new protocols put in place. I welcome that the Garda Síochána Ombudsman Commission has put them on its website, and I believe it is the intention of the Garda Síochána to do the same. These protocols were finally signed off last Monday. I cannot refer to them in detail in reply to the question, but I can tell the Deputy that the protocols are substantial and address all the areas of difficulty that had been detailed in both the annual report of the ombudsman commission and in some of its more specific reports it published in recent months.
With respect to the Minister, it is not a separate question. I asked whether the two sides met to address the concerns that were raised. The concerns raised also relate to the recommendations that have been made arising from that special report. I commend the Minister on taking the initiative as it was essential. Do the protocols which he mentioned deal with the recommendations made in respect of the handling of informants and the retention of contemporaneous notes?
It is my understanding that all of the issues raised by the Garda Síochána Ombudsman Commission in respect of dealing with informants and the retention of contemporaneous notes are addressed. Indeed, they were addressed some time ago. The reports of the Garda Síochána Ombudsman Commission on some of these matters deal with events which took place a number of years ago. I am advised that the issues relating to informants are fully addressed. The recent particular issue that arose was in respect of the ongoing difficulties, as alleged by the Commission, with regard to the receipt of information and co-operation from the Garda side in dealing with inquiries that were made. I hope the very comprehensive new protocols that have been put in place will put that issue to bed. There is now in place a very clear roadmap that has been agreed between both sides to ensure no confusion or difficulty can arise in the future. The arrangement I put in place seeks to ensure that if any difficulty emerges unexpectedly, it is dealt with immediately. There is a basis for it being resolved in order that it does not prove to be a continuous source of concern.