Dáil debates

Wednesday, 24 September 2014

Ceisteanna - Questions - Priority Questions

Garda Misconduct Allegations

9:30 am

Photo of Niall CollinsNiall Collins (Limerick, Fianna Fail)
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1. To ask the Minister for Justice and Equality if she will provide an update on the independent review by counsel of allegations concerning the conduct of members of the Garda Síochána; if she will detail their terms of reference and the way counsel will interact with each complainant; the procedures in place to ensure that no conflict of interest arises in the independent review; the number of cases that have been completed to date; the actions that have arisen out of those cases completed; and if she will make a statement on the matter. [35437/14]

Photo of Niall CollinsNiall Collins (Limerick, Fianna Fail)
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I ask the Minister for an update on the 220 allegations against certain members of the Garda Síochána, which are being reviewed by counsel. In particular, can the Minister outline the detailed terms of reference and how the panel of counsel will interact with each of the complainants? It is becoming a bone of contention. Can the Minister address some perceived conflicts of interest that have been raised, of which she is aware because we have written to her? What will flow from the job of work of the counsel?

Photo of Frances FitzgeraldFrances Fitzgerald (Minister, Department of Justice and Equality; Dublin Mid West, Fine Gael)
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The Deputy is referring to the independent review mechanism, which was established to review allegations of Garda misconduct or perhaps inadequacies in the investigation of certain allegations, which had been made to me as Minister for Justice and Equality, to the Department or to the Taoiseach or other Deputies, including Deputy Niall Collins, with a view to determining to what extent and in what manner further action might be taken in each case. This was one of the actions agreed as a result of the Guerin report. A panel, consisting of two senior counsel and five junior counsel, was set up and its members were selected on the basis of their experience of the criminal justice system.

The review is under way and is examining 282 cases that have been referred. This is a significant number of cases and somewhat higher than originally estimated but it was important to refer to the panel all of the allegations on hand, with minimal filtering, to ensure every appropriate case got the benefit of an independent review. The review of each allegation consists of an examination of the papers by a counsel from the panel and does not involve interviews or interaction with complainants or any other form of investigation, although counsel may recommend that I seek further information to assist in coming to an appropriate recommendation in any particular case.

The Deputy asked about terms of reference. I have asked counsel to make a recommendation on what action, if any, might be appropriate in each case. In this regard, without in any way prejudging the outcome in any individual case, it is important to be realistic and to acknowledge that in some cases, and perhaps in a majority, a decision may be taken that no further action is recommended. This might be in cases where all court efforts have been exhausted or there has been a full examination by relevant bodies.

The Deputy asked about a conflict of interest and every step has been taken to ensure that nothing arises that creates a conflict of interest and in any way detracts from the integrity of the process. Just as in court, where there may be a potential for a conflict of interest, we are making absolutely sure that there is no conflict of interest.

Photo of Niall CollinsNiall Collins (Limerick, Fianna Fail)
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I accept what the Minister says about a conflict of interest. With regard to how the panel will interact with the complainants, some of the complainants felt they would, at a minimum, be interviewed face to face by the relevant barrister reviewing the paperwork and the complaint. That should be incorporated into the terms of reference. As was correctly pointed out, I have referred some cases to the Minister.

In some of the cases that I have referred the paperwork is fairly scant. People simply do not have it, but they have a story to tell and they have issues that they need to explore. I have asked some of them to put these down on paper and forward it on. In the interests of completeness and upholding the integrity of what we are trying to achieve, all complainants should, at a minimum, be afforded an opportunity to interact on a face-to-face basis with the counsel reviewing their allegations.

9:35 am

Photo of Frances FitzgeraldFrances Fitzgerald (Minister, Department of Justice and Equality; Dublin Mid West, Fine Gael)
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That was not in the terms of reference. Deputy Collins will appreciate how it would be giving a very wide remit to counsel. Essentially, this is an opportunity to go through the detailed information on cases and we have asked everyone to submit material in writing. In many cases there is a considerable amount of correspondence. If there is nothing in writing I call on Deputy Collins to encourage people to put as much in writing as they can. We have put no limitation on the material that can be submitted and indeed extra material has been submitted in several cases.

There is a wide variety of circumstances and allegations and counsel have a wide variety of options. It is not a question of findings of fact but a recommendation. The work is similar to what the barrister Seán Guerin did in respect of Guerin cases in that he took the cases, examined them and decided that a portion of them warranted further action.

Photo of Niall CollinsNiall Collins (Limerick, Fianna Fail)
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Under the terms of reference will the counsel test the allegations being made by the complainants by referencing back to An Garda Síochána? Will there be a back channel from counsel to An Garda Síochána to check the veracity of what has been stated in the complaints?

Will there be an opportunity to amend the terms of reference as the process evolves? Who knows what we will find out or what the senior counsel and junior counsel on the panel of barristers will find as the process unfolds?

The Minister mentioned that the figure has increased from 220 to 282 and we have taken note of that. Two cases were raised previously in the House, the cases of Cynthia Owen and Sarah Bland. Can the Minister indicate whether they have been included among the 282 cases?

Photo of Frances FitzgeraldFrances Fitzgerald (Minister, Department of Justice and Equality; Dublin Mid West, Fine Gael)
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It would not be appropriate for me to put on the floor of the Dáil the particular names of individual cases that have been referred. However, there has been correspondence with every case. There has also been correspondence to Deputy Collins or whichever Deputy raised cases. This has indicated to Deputies and Senators if their case has been referred to the review mechanism.

Deputy Collins asked if there would be a back channel to the Garda. There will not be. Depending on the review of the case, one of the options that will be open to counsel, for example, will be to refer a matter back to the Garda Commissioner for criminal or disciplinary investigation. It could be recommended to carry out a statutory inquiry. Deputy Collins will be aware that this is linked to my decision in respect of the follow-up to the Guerin inquiry. I am not keen on continually amending a commission of inquiry based on the outcome of this review. I am not reviewing the terms of reference for this mechanism. I will bring together the findings and ask for an overview of the cases that I will make available. I am keen to ensure that depending on the findings some of those cases may indeed be referred to a commission.