Tuesday, 21 October 2014
Garda Síochána (Amendment) (No. 3) Bill 2014: Second Stage
I move: "That the Bill be now read a Second Time."
The 2013 Garda annual report which I recently laid before the Oireachtas is a document worth reflecting on and bringing to the attention of every Member of this House. It highlights, for example, how Operation Fiacla has led to a 7% reduction in burglaries; that the reduction in road deaths between 2005 and 2013 still remains more than 50%; with Garda targets for compliance with speed limits, wearing of seat belts and drink driving enforcement all met in 2013; in 2013 also, 260 organised crime gangs were targeted; 157 grow houses were detected; and there were 21,000 referrals to youth diversion programmes.
I recently visited gardaí in Limerick, as Deputy Niall Collins will be well aware, who reported to me on the exceptionally high rate of detection of murders, leading to successful prosecutions in recent years, which I believe is well acknowledged by the people of Limerick. I refer to these successes of policing because I believe it vitally important that we, and in particular us as Members of Dáil Éireann, should not forget the ongoing and valued contribution the Garda Síochána and its members have made for over 90 years in terms of keeping our communities safe and preserving the security of our State when it was threatened, a contribution delivered in the face of ever-present threats and a contribution delivered, tragically, at the cost of the lives of some members of the force.
I want to express my thanks to the men and women of An Garda Síochána for all of that, which is neither to minimise nor ignore the serious failures on penalty points, in crime investigation, which we saw outlined in the Guerin report, for example, and in responding to whistleblowers. In some cases what we have learned about the behaviour of members of An Garda Síochána has struck at the heart of our shared understanding of what justice itself is. For we live in a Republic of laws where there is not, and never can be, one law for some but not others, where all citizens are, and should always be, treated equally. That is what we expect, and I am sure every Member here will agree with me that is what we are entitled to expect.
We have had too much controversy as of late. We have seen confidence in policing eroded as a result of these controversies. The vast majority of men and women joined An Garda Síochána with the sincerest of aspirations to provide the highest levels of service to the public. I have no doubt about that. They are disappointed at the failures that have been uncovered and the controversies that have raged.
A commonly-shared determination and desire within an Garda Síochána and among communities across this country is to see reform happen, to see a break from the past, and to move on from these controversies to a new period of confidence. I want to see confidence trumping controversy. I want to see confidence restored in the work of An Garda Síochána. I want to see the organisation, structures, practices and systems put in place to support the men and women of An Garda Síochána to effectively deliver the best possible policing and security services for our communities and our country.
As I said when I took office, I want to see a sea change in the performance, administration and oversight of justice and policing in this State. I accept, and I believe, that this will involve confronting deficiencies and failures. It will involve examining, openly, transparently and vigorously, where there are operational practices that are simply not up to standard. This will be done because, ultimately, I want to move from the concept of a police force to delivery of a police service that is fit and ready to meet the realities, the requirements and the expectations of 21st century policing.
Achieving this requires acknowledgement of the real situation, reforms and resources.
The budget announced last week began to address the question of resources with funding for new Garda vehicles; the 300 gardaí who have recently entered or will shortly enter Garda College in Templemore; the civilianisation of the immigration functions which will free up 150 gardaí for frontline policing duties. We are undertaking a process of reform. As a member of the Cabinet Committee on Justice Reform, chaired by An Taoiseach and more particularly as the responsible line Minister, I am leading the implementation of a comprehensive programme of justice reform. The Bill marks an important element of these reforms.
Before turning to deal specifically with the Bill, I wish to update Deputies briefly on the other important elements of the justice reform programme. The preparation of the scheme of a Bill to provide for the establishment of the independent new policing authority is being progressed and will be submitted to Government as quickly as possible. That is A list legislation. The only reason it was not on the A list was that the heads of the Bill had not gone through Cabinet. The Taoiseach and Government had given a commitment that the Bill for the establishment of the policing authority would come through this term and that is still the intention. The Public Appointments Service has sought expressions of interest for the position of chairperson of the policing authority who, when appointed, will assist in the appointment of the Garda Commissioner as well as in preparations for the establishment of the authority. The Public Appointments Service is also managing the first open competition to appoint a new Garda Commissioner. I expect the new Commissioner to be appointed as soon as possible. The independent review mechanism, consisting of a panel of counsel, is examining a range of complaints, some alleging Garda misconduct or problems with investigating misconduct or problems with investigations throughout the criminal justice system. As soon as I have the analysis of the independent review mechanism I will of course put that in the public domain.
The publication of the Garda Síochána Inspectorate’s crime inspection report is expected in the near future. The report will deal with crime recording and investigation, and will also deal with the concerns which I referred to the inspectorate. After submission of the report by Mr. Seán Guerin SC, I asked the Garda Inspectorate to examine that report, considering the operational issues raised there. Work is being finalised on the establishment of a commission of investigation into matters identified in the Guerin report. I have already said in the House that this was delayed in order to see the outcome of the independent review mechanism and if further cases were going to be referred for a commission. The Fennelly Commission of Investigation is working. We have received the report of Mr. Justice Cooke’s inquiry and the Haddington Road review will come through in mid-November. The Protected Disclosures Act 2014 has amended the Garda legislation to allow Garda members to make “protected disclosures” to the Garda Síochána Ombudsman Commission, GSOC, in confidence in respect of alleged Garda misconduct. The recently enacted Freedom of Information Act 2014 extends to the Garda Síochána.
In presenting the justice reform programme, I have also stressed my priority objective of strengthening the role and remit of GSOC. This Bill seeks to deliver on this commitment. The primary functions of GSOC are concerned with dealing with complaints against Garda members and examining Garda practices and procedures. However, since its establishment in the Garda Síochána Act 2005 - I acknowledge that was a reforming Act - certain restrictions have existed on the extent to which the GSOC functions can be exercised. The preparation of the Bill has been informed by a public consultation process completed earlier this year, the Farmleigh consultation seminar, which was attended by some 100 participants, representing key stakeholders, and direct contacts with GSOC. Representatives of the Deputies opposite attended in Farmleigh and had an input to it.
The preparation of the Bill has also been informed by the valuable work carried out by the Oireachtas Joint Committee on Justice, Defence and Equality, of which Deputies present, the justice spokespersons, are members. The joint committee has recently produced a report containing extensive recommendations following its comprehensive review of the current Garda Síochána legislation. This followed a series of hearings and visits to other jurisdictions. I am grateful to the committee for the report and I am happy to say that this Bill addresses some of its recommendations. As I have stated in this House, very careful consideration is being given to the report with reference to the preparation of the scheme for the policing authority.
For the most part, the Bill amends the Garda Síochána Act 2005 which is the primary statute governing the Garda Síochána. Some of the amendments involved are technical in nature and I will deal with them more specifically as the Bill progresses. Amendments are also being made to the Interception of Postal Packets and Telecommunications Messages (Regulation) Act 1993 and the Criminal Justice (Surveillance) Act 2009 to permit GSOC to exercise certain additional police powers.
I now turn to the specific content of the Bill. Sections 1 to 3 are standard provisions containing definitions and technical amendments arising from later provisions in the Bill. Section 4 extends the general time limit at section 84(1) of the Garda Síochána Act 2005 for making a complaint to GSOC from six to 12 months. This does not alter the current position under which it is open to GSOC to extend the time limit if it considers that there are good reasons for doing so. Deputies will be aware that the issue of time limits was covered in the report of the Oireachtas joint committee.
Section 5 has to be read in conjunction with sections 12 and 13. It substitutes a new definition of ‘‘enactment’’ in section 98(5) of the 2005 Act, as amended, to remove the current prohibitions on GSOC exercising police powers under the Interception of Postal Packets and Telecommunications Messages (Regulation) Act 1993 and the Criminal Justice (Surveillance) Act 2009. In that context, section 12 amends the Interception of Postal Packets and Telecommunications Messages (Regulation) Act 1993 to enable GSOC to undertake the interception of communications for the purposes of a criminal investigation by GSOC under the Garda Síochána Act 2005. The approach adopted is that a GSOC investigating officer will have the powers that would be available to the Garda Síochána in the same circumstances. In addition, the conditions and safeguards contained in the 1993 Act will operate where interception is sought by GSOC. Similarly, section 13 provides for amendments to the Criminal Justice (Surveillance) Act 2009 to enable GSOC to carry out surveillance where it is necessary in connection with a criminal investigation concerning an arrestable offence. In this context, GSOC will be in the same position as the Garda Síochána for the purposes of conducting such an investigation.
Section 6 amends section 102 of the 2005 Act to broaden the scope for the Minister to refer a matter to GSOC and to allow GSOC to investigate that matter even if the identity of the member of the Garda Síochána is not known at the time of the investigation or where the investigation may also involve a person who is not a member of the Garda Síochána. These are issues which were identified in the report of Judge Cooke as ones which could usefully be clarified and I have undertaken that this would be done.
Section 7 inserts a new section 102B into the 2005 Act which brings the Garda Commissioner within the scope of GSOC investigations for the first time. This is also an area that was addressed in the report of the Oireachtas joint committee. The preparation of the new section was the subject of particular attention, and in particular the question of whether the consent of the Minister should be required where GSOC proposes to undertake an investigation on its own initiative into alleged misconduct on the part of the Garda Commissioner.
After careful consideration I am satisfied that, taking account of the key position of the Commissioner, especially in security matters, it would be appropriate that the prior agreement of the Minister should be obtained. However, I emphasise that refusals to give such a consent should only be for very good reasons, which should be communicated to GSOC. No doubt we will tease out the detail of this on Committee Stage. In those circumstances I believe that it would only be in exceptional cases that the Minister would not consent to a proposed investigation. Accordingly, subsection (1) of the proposed section 102B enables GSOC to investigate, in the public interest and subject to the consent of the Minister, any matter that gives rise to a concern that the Garda Commissioner may have committed an offence or behaved in a manner that would constitute serious misconduct. If the Minister refuses to consent to such an investigation, he or she will be required, under subsection (3), to provide reasons to GSOC for that refusal.
Subsection (2) allows the Minister, in the public interest, to request GSOC to investigate any matter that gives rise to a concern that the Garda Commissioner may have done anything referred to in subsection (1), and GSOC is required to investigate that matter.
Subsections (4) and (5) are provisions necessary to facilitate the operation of the section. In particular, adaptations are being made to the 2005 Act to ensure GSOC will have the necessary powers to undertake an investigation involving the Commissioner.
Section 8 is consequential on the insertion of the new section 102B under section 7 and it amends section 103 of the 2005 Act which deals with keeping certain people informed about GSOC investigations. Section 9 inserts a new section 103A into the 2005 Act. It is intended to improve the flow of information from the Garda Síochána to GSOC, particularly under the protocol arrangements in place under section 108. Specifically, it imposes a statutory duty on the Garda Commissioner to ensure information to be provided by the Garda Síochána to GSOC for the purposes of an investigation will be supplied as soon as practicable. The section will give effect to this provision in a statutory way. I note that GSOC has clarified this week that information is now being supplied to it in almost 80% of cases and within a much better timeframe than was previously the case. Therefore, even in the absence of legislation, we have already seen improvements in this area.
Section 10, which replaces section 106 of the 2005 Act, will allow GSOC for the first time to carry out an examination on its own initiative of practices, policies or procedures of the Garda Síochána for the purpose of preventing or reducing complaints. I think that is quite an interesting power with a great deal of potential in it. Currently, GSOC can undertake such an examination only when it is requested by the Minister to do so. I believe the change being proposed, which was recommended by the joint committee, is a very good one. It should make a difference to the relationship between GSOC and the Garda Síochána. Some interesting work could be done under this section of the Bill. The reports will be laid before both Houses of the Oireachtas, subject to the possible exclusion of certain matters, for example relating to national security or where the commission of an offence may be facilitated.
Just as GSOC is being given the power to initiate examinations into Garda practices independently, I believe it should be open to the Garda Síochána Inspectorate to do this in line with a further recommendation of the joint committee. Accordingly, section 11 amends section 117(2) of the 2005 Act to enable the inspectorate to conduct, on its own initiative or at the request of the Minister, inspections or inquiries in relation to any particular aspects of the operation and administration of the Garda Síochána. At present, the inspectorate can only conduct such an inspection or inquiry with the prior consent of the Minister. I think Deputies will agree that this measure will give GSOC and the Garda Inspectorate greater flexibility and more authority to initiate inquiries independently of what the Minister might consider to be appropriate for investigation. I dealt with sections 12 and 13 earlier in connection with section 5. Section 14 is procedural.
I am conscious that the changes proposed in the Bill will give rise to additional demands on the resources of GSOC and the Garda Inspectorate. I referred briefly earlier to the budget 2015 in so far as it relates to An Garda Síochána. I can confirm to the House that the budget provides for an increase of €1 million in the allocation to GSOC and an increase of €250,000 in the allocation to the inspectorate. I have consistently made it clear throughout the recent public debate on justice reform that reform must not simply be about change for its own sake. Our reforms are about providing this country with the police force it needs, operating to the highest professional standards and ready to meet existing and emerging challenges. Of course that includes oversight.
Our reforms are about ensuring the men and women of the Garda Síochána throughout the country will be fully supported by good organisational structures, practices and systems so they can deliver the best possible policing and security services for our communities and our people. The reforms are about the broader systematic failures which have been identified. I believe these failures have called into question the capacity of the Garda organisation to function properly and carry out its core tasks. Our reforms, and the work of this House in relation to them, have to be about restoring the confidence of the public in the Garda Síochána and giving organisations like GSOC and the Garda Inspectorate the tools and the independence they need to carry out their tasks so that the public can have confidence in the oversight we have in this country with regard to policing. I commend the Bill to the House.
Fianna Fáil welcomes this Bill as a first step in expanding the remit and powers of the Garda Síochána Ombudsman Commission. In our opinion, however, the Bill falls far short of the recommendations of the Joint Committee on Justice, Defence and Equality. This indicates that the Government's initial commitment to the necessary reform is waning. This Bill does not go far enough in securing the independence and impartiality of the GSOC from An Garda Síochána or the Minister for Justice and Equality. Fianna Fáil proposed the Garda Síochána (Amendment) Bill 2014, which was discussed in this House less than three weeks ago. Our Bill would create a stronger ombudsman's office, which would be unfettered by political interference in its investigations while guarding against the possible undermining of our national security.
The shocking revelations of the Guerin report into Sergeant Maurice McCabe's claims, which were raised by the leader of the Fianna Fáil Party with the Taoiseach, served as the impetus for the Government's decision to strengthen the powers of GSOC. The Guerin report suggested that the deficiencies identified in the investigations considered in this review, if they were widely replicated, would be a challenge to public confidence in the criminal justice system itself. The Minister, Deputy Fitzgerald, who was charged with rebuilding that public confidence when she was appointed to this portfolio in May of this year, said in response to the report that if root and branch reform is what is needed, root and branch reform is what will happen, and must happen. In that sense, we welcome the Bill brought to the House by the Minister as a first step towards a more accountable justice system.
We acknowledge that the legislative restrictions contained in the Garda Síochána Act 2005, as well as the mistrust between the Garda, GSOC and the Department of Justice and Equality, have undermined GSOC's ability to carry out unfettered investigations and hold the Garda to account. This has resulted in widespread investigative failures and an acceptance of seriously questionable practices by certain members of the force. The GSOC bugging controversy further undermined public confidence in the operation of a professional and competent criminal justice system. As a result, Fianna Fáil published legislation in February, the aim of which was to reform GSOC. A couple of days ago, the Joint Committee on Justice, Defence and Equality published a report on the review of An Garda Síochána Act 2005 and outlined some significant suggestions for reform. While the Minister appears to have ignored much of the committee's report in this Bill, I want to make it clear that Fianna Fáil fully endorses the report.
The Garda Síochána (Amendment) (No. 3) Bill 2014 introduces a number of welcome reforms. It extends the general time limit for making a complaint to GSOC from six to 12 months. It gives GSOC more investigative power to use surveillance and the same power as the Garda in criminal investigations. It brings the Garda Commissioner under the oversight of GSOC, even if the consent of the Minister is required. It allows the Minister to ask GSOC to carry out an investigation in the public interest. It ensures information requested by GSOC is provided by the Garda "as soon as practicable". It allows GSOC to carry out an investigation on its own initiative and to investigate the operation and administration of An Garda Síochána. However, the legislation does not create a single Garda ombudsman, as recommended by the joint committee. It does not put GSOC's access to PULSE on a statutory basis and it does not give GSOC independence from ministerial oversight when investigating the Garda Commissioner.
Neither does it put a Garda authority on a statutory footing, give responsibility for the recruitment and appointment of senior Garda officers to the Public Appointments Service or the proposed new Garda authority, establish a new officer rank within An Garda Síochána similar to that within the London Metropolitan Police, or expand freedom of information provisions to the Garda. This is a lost opportunity following the excellent work done by the Oireachtas joint committee in researching best practice in how to build an accountability structure within the justice sector.
The report published by the committee made comprehensive suggestions on how to reform the Garda Síochána Act 2005. Many of its recommendations have been ignored. In particular, the proposals on the reform of the Garda Síochána Ombudsman Commission should have been taken into account when drafting the Bill. I will propose a number of amendments that seek to strengthen this Bill further and which I hope the Government will consider favourably on Committee Stage.
It is important to note that a key recommendation in the committee's report called for the three GSOC commissioners to be replaced by a single Garda Síochána ombudsman. The report's recommendations were made with the aim of reforming the complaints process and expanding and improving the inspection mechanisms in place. They also relate to the formation of the proposed Garda authority, training gardaí and addressing circumstances that may lead to complaints. The report recommends a Garda authority where the candidates are selected by the PAS and approved by way of formal appointment or otherwise by the Minister. The committee also suggested a similar system for the Garda, with senior officers selected by the PAS and appointments made by the authority, which may be ratified by the Minister.
The authority would operate as the head, with the ombudsman and the Garda Inspectorate operating as the arms. The authority would be concerned with appointing senior gardaí; adding input to policy, strategy and planning, including budgets; managing the effectiveness of the complaints procedures through operating a helpline and referring matters to the ombudsman; and overseeing inspections of the administration, presentation and efficiency of the Garda. The ombudsman should be primarily concerned with serious complaints and systemic problems, supported by the inspectorate in cases where there is no specific complaint against a named or identifiable individual.
The committee recommended an expanded role for both the ombudsman and the inspectorate under the auspices of the Garda authority. Importantly, the committee's report stated that all gardaí up to and including the Commissioner should be accountable to the ombudsman. The ombudsman should be empowered to investigate any section of the Garda. It is the committee's view that the role of the Garda Inspectorate should be expanded, resulting in a body similar to the one that operates in Northern Ireland. The committee suggested that the Garda Inspectorate be transformed into a criminal justice inspectorate, tasked with a wider scope to inspect other aspects of the criminal justice system apart from the Garda, including the Director of Public Prosecutions, DPP, the Courts Service, the Prison Service, the Probation Service and the Chief State Solicitor's office. The Minister must outline to the House a response to these recommendations and state why she has decided to include so few in this legislation.
As I outlined during the debate on Fianna Fáil's Bill, the past year has seen a significant undermining of public confidence in the administration of justice as a result of mismanagement at Government and senior garda level. We witnessed some of the most severe cutbacks in the provision of services, such as the reduction in the size of the force by approximately 1,600 gardaí, the closure of more than 139 Garda stations and 30 courthouses, and more than 16% of the prison population on temporary release at any one time. We also witnessed a stream of revelations and investigations that damaged the public perception of the Garda, the Department of Justice and Equality and GSOC. While we welcome the recommencement of Garda recruitment and the extra allocation of 200 gardaí in the budget, this level of recruitment is insufficient to ensure the numbers in the force remain at or above the 13,000 figure. We are also still waiting on the establishment of the commission of investigation following the publication of the Guerin report.
This week, we again read of further difficulties arising with Garda rosters. It has been reported that Garda management is concerned that the rosters are causing a chronic personnel shortage that is disrupting the investigation of crime and terrorism. This is worrying, especially after we were promised that these rosters would result in a 25% increase in the number of gardaí working at certain times of the day. If we are getting basic issues like rosters wrong, how do we expect people to believe that we will get the systemic issues right? It has been stated that the rosters have resulted in squads such as the Garda national drug unit, the organised crime unit and the national bureau of criminal investigation being without adequate numbers of personnel at crucial times to make arrests or question suspects. Now we hear that further changes to the rosters are being sought, but that representatives of rank and file gardaí are resisting. Overall, it seems that the situation is deteriorating at a cost to the ordinary citizen, who simply wants an effective, professional and courteous police service. These problems must not be ignored by the Minister.
The problems that manifested in the Garda and GSOC and were reported to the former Minister for Justice and Equality were ignored, dismissed or glossed over to save the embarrassment of those in senior positions who decided that not taking responsibility was a key management skill. We would like to restate the fact that this approach was a massive disservice to the ordinary members of the Garda Síochána and the citizens of Ireland. The Department of Justice and Equality under Fine Gael has been dysfunctional and disastrous. The resignations of the Garda confidential recipient, the Garda Commissioner, the former Minister for Justice and Equality and the Secretary General of the Department indicate that something is wrong in the Government's policy approach. We have also witnessed the establishment of an unprecedented number of commissions of investigation surrounding the Department, with still more to be established. One hopes that lessons will be learned about how to deal with issues arising in the Garda and the Department from this date onward.
Fianna Fáil has been calling for a strengthening of the ombudsman's powers since the maladministration of justice outlined by Sergeant McCabe was revealed. Central to these problems not being addressed has been the lack of own-initiative investigations and actions that can be taken by GSOC as a result of the legislation that sets out its powers. That GSOC is restricted in its actions by the Minister or the former Garda Commissioner or by the fact that only a limited number of people can make complaints to GSOC fundamentally undermines its ability to carry out its statutory functions. The legislation I tabled in the House would have significantly increased the powers and independence of GSOC and gone a long way towards ensuring future difficulties were addressed well in advance of their becoming major institutional challenges.
The Guerin report pointed out that Sergeant Maurice McCabe was correct in his actions to highlight the failure to administrate justice in the Bailieborough Garda district. These failings should have been detected well in advance of when they actually were. I hope this Bill will ensure such failings will never again be allowed to continue for so long a time without the intervention of GSOC. We need to understand their root cause. When reading the Guerin report, what is striking is the lack of accountability between ranks when failings arise. It is also clear that resources and the lack of management of same were issues. To understand fully why these failings occurred, the recommendation in the Guerin report that a commission of inquiry must be established has to be followed through.
Fianna Fáil fully supports the call for a commission of investigation, as recommended by the Guerin report, and believes this commission should be kept separate from any other commission that already has been established by the Government to investigate matters relating to An Garda Síochána. I have stated previously that the alleged malpractice in Bailieborough undermines the foundations of the criminal justice system. It also undermines the morale of all members of An Garda Síochána. In order to restore public confidence in An Garda Síochána, it is necessary to establish fully and frankly how the situation surrounding the malpractice in County Cavan was allowed to occur, continue and be covered up for such a long time. I welcome the provision in this Bill to empower and enable the Garda Síochána Ombudsman Commission, GSOC, to inquire into policies, procedures and practices adopted by An Garda Síochána and allow it to review and comment on them and to recommend changes to improve policies and procedures and to try to prevent complaints from arising in the first instance. It is important that in future cases, GSOC will not be inhibited from examining the entire picture when failings of An Garda Síochána are exposed. Such examinations hopefully would prevent a situation like that in Bailieborough from arising again.
I acknowledge that the Minister, Deputy Fitzgerald, has published this Bill, which reflects much of what was agreed by all parties following the McCabe revelations. However, I believe that events have moved on and that the report published by the Oireachtas Joint Committee on Justice, Defence and Equality could be incorporated into this Bill and therefore have a greater impact. I suggest to the Minister that she could support or amend the Bill by including the recommendations of the Oireachtas committee to speed up the process of reform. After all, the reform of GSOC and the restoration of public confidence in that institution, as well as in An Garda Síochána, is an issue that is above party politics when much of what is proposed has been agreed to by all sides, whether in debate or in legislation published.
There is much agreement throughout the House, as reflected in the committee report, that comprehensive change is necessary. Members should process this legislation as quickly as possible to be seen to support the work of GSOC and An Garda Síochána. I have stated previously that part of the public concern since the controversy surrounding GSOC arose is the perception that the commission is not being supported by the Government. I also have stated previously that this concern appears to be backed up by the reduction by more than €1 million in the budget allocation to GSOC and by the cut in its staff numbers in recent years. In that context, the Minister is to be congratulated on increasing the allocation to GSOC for next year by €1 million. I hope this allocation will go some way in helping GSOC deal with the most pressing issue in An Garda Síochána in the coming year.
As for the criminal justice inspectorate, I will take this opportunity to urge the Minister to introduce a new criminal justice inspectorate, as outlined by the Oireachtas joint committee. I do not believe the criminal justice system is fit for purpose at present. An inspectorate would be able to direct policymakers as to how best to allocate resources and deliver better results. If one considers the prison system, one will see that re-offending rates are extremely high. A report by the Irish Prison Service and the Central Statistics Office in 2013 showed that criminals in Ireland have a re-offending rate of 62.3% within three years. More than 80% of those who re-offended did so within 12 months of release. This is an extremely depressing figure and shows how much the criminal justice system is crying out for reform. Not only is the justice system ineffective in reforming offenders' actions, it also is very costly, as the average cost of imprisonment per prisoner was €65,000 in 2012. New ideas and a new approach is needed to reform the penal system and a criminal justice inspectorate might help in some way to create the space and the impetus to bring about such a debate and these new ideas.
Another area that must be addressed is the high cost of legal services, which continues to pose problems for the country in the context of competitiveness and access to the justice systems. The European Commission has raised concerns about these costs restricting economic growth, especially for small to medium-sized enterprises. The cost of legal services remains 12.1% above 2006 levels and according to the Commission, this contrasts markedly with the post-crisis development of other services. I still believe the Legal Services Regulation Bill will not, in its current form, result in a dramatic reduction in legal costs. The Government has been slow to further the passage of this Bill beyond Committee Stage and the Minister might outline to Members when she believes it will be passed by the House.
The central need for reform in the area of justice is to ensure the accountability and professionalism of An Garda Síochána and the establishment of an independent policing authority. This is vital to improve morale in the Garda force and in the citizens' confidence in their police service. The Garda Síochána Ombudsman Commission also needs this Bill, which will give it more investigative powers independent of individual complaints made and which should create more effective investigations overall. I have stated previously that the Minister's time in the Department of Justice and Equality will be judged as a success or failure on the restoration of the public's confidence in the justice system. I believe this Bill to be a first step in this process. Fianna Fáil will support this Bill as a tentative first step but certainly not the end of this process.
I wish to make a number of other brief points to the Minister in the time remaining to me. As I mentioned earlier in my contribution, there recently has been a recruitment campaign into An Garda Síochána. The Public Appointments Service was charged with running the campaign for recruitment into the Garda and was charged with running the competition for the recruitment of a new Garda Commissioner and to a point, people are happy to see that. When the Minister gets an opportunity to respond, she should address the question as to what will happen with regard to the current vacancies at deputy commissioner, assistant commissioner and chief superintendent levels. Will those competitions be run by the Public Appointments Service, the new Commissioner or the chairperson-designate? I believe it will be important to have a degree of consistency in recruitment across all levels within An Garda Síochána.
I also have referred previously to the position regarding members of the Garda Reserve, who have been playing a huge role in society, and have commented in this Chamber on how their role has been undervalued. As part of the recruitment campaign into the Garda, I note that of the initial intake of 100 recruits into Templemore, the complement of those who came from the Garda Reserve was very low. As I have time, I will read out an e-mail, which is one of a number I have received from members of the Garda Reserve. I will not mention anyone's name. The person concerned gave her name, stated she was 30 years of age, was in full-time employment and has been a member of the Garda Reserve in Dublin for three years. She stated:
In my time in my station ... I have pulled a woman from the Liffey. I have saved a drug addict's life that had a syringe imbedded in his scrotum and [was] overdosing. I have been told by a 6' 4 drug addict that he is HIV positive and will rub his blood in my face. I have been subjected to abuse at protests. I have [had] objects thrown at me on more than one occasion. I have seen colleagues assaulted, both Garda and Garda Reserve. I have held people's hands when they are hopeless and waiting on an ambulance. I have comforted the family of a lady who tried to commit suicide. I have seen a drug dealer use her own child as a drugs mule. I have had gangs threaten me and my family. I have dealt with rapists and paedophiles. I have stood in the middle of Dublin at a crime scene for 7 hours with no break.
Why do I do it? It's my calling and I have a great love for the job and ALL it involves. I cannot understand why the government and the Minister for Justice would not want the hardest-working and most dedicated people working for them?
We have proven our dedication for the job and all it involves. Why take someone on that has never tried the job and may turn around when he/she sees his first rape victim or body and decides it is not for them? Financially we are a dead cert [and] we will not walk away from the job we will work in fact harder than ever before.
To most people being a guard is a job but to me and many reserves it is way more than that, most reserves work full time, I personally have given up family occasions and parties.
Joining the reserves was a stepping stone ... to joining the guards full time, I have never once backed out of a situation and at times have put my life on the line for the public's safety.
I have chatted to my sergeant about my value as a reserve and if I really contribute to my unit, his answer was frank and honest - 'I wouldn't do what you do, I'm sure you have plenty other things to do with your weekend but be in no doubt that you are very much needed and without you a guard would be uptown on his/her own'.
I am aware that the Metropolitan Police Force will only recruit from ... [other] 'specials', this shows me how much value and respect they have over there for there volunteer Police Force.
That is a flavour of a number of e-mails I have received from Garda reservists, which I am sure other Members also get. This matter may not be part of this legislation but when we come to set up the independent police authority we have to give serious consideration to the situation of Garda reservists. They play a huge part in the provision of the policing function in this State. They are hugely undervalued. They are not paid. Many of them feel that the recruitment campaign undertaken did not go any way towards recognising the fact that they are playing a huge part in our police service. We will have to return to this issue in time.
When responding to this debate, will the Minister advise the status of the Government's approach to the court challenge that has been taken by the former Minister for Justice and Equality to seek to have the findings of the Guerin report quashed or annulled? I understand that case is in courts system. Will the State contest that or what is its strategy or approach to that?
I am pleased to take part in the Second Stage debate on this Bill. We have been waiting a long time for these extra powers to be given to the Garda Síochána Ombudsman Commission. It is has been a very disturbing period in terms of the whole area of the administration and application of justice in this State. Public confidence has been fundamentally undermined by the incompetence, and sometimes arrogance, that this Government has shown in overseeing all the episodes that have emerged in the recent months and, indeed, years. In the months the Minister has held her current office, I acknowledge that she has sought to move in a very different direction from that taken by her predecessor, Deputy Shatter. However, I noted, with interest, her comments reported in today's Irish Independent. She has a large number of dossiers from families all over Ireland seeking justice. Some of those cases are of the most serious and profound level, including murder and accusations of cover up of murder. They are very serious. I note she has not commented on those.
A number of the families - quite distressed families - who have written to her today have contacted me to say and note that they have not been offered a meeting by the Minister or by the Taoiseach. The Minister has not agreed or offered to meet them. These are cases where they are alleging that their loved ones were murdered and there was a cover-up of the murders. The Minister has refused to comment on these very serious cases, even though they are on her desk and she has seen the full extent of the allegations. She has refused to comment on them because she said a review is under way. I point out to her that the allegations to which she has referred in today's Irish Independent have been referred by the person making the allegations, Maíria Cahill to the police ombudsman in the North and today there is an independent review of the role of Director of Public Prosecutions in all of that, and that is right and proper. There is a process under way, yet the Minister chose to comment on those matters, which is entirely inappropriate as the Minister for Justice and Equality, as she must know. Let me be clear, this is the precedent that she has now established. I will be expecting her to openly comment on any cases I bring to her attention as we move forward. She need not use the excuse of a review or a panel or anything like that. I want her to look at the facts that will be presented to her and give a comment in the public domain because if she does not, she will be seen to be inconsistent and politically opportunistic. I look forward to her responses to these various cases I will bring to her attention in the time ahead.
The Taoiseach spoke today about referring these allegations to the justice committee. He said he would speak to the Chairman of that committee, Deputy Stanton, who is present. Let us be very clear that again this is a very interesting precedent because the Oireachtas justice committee, as a matter of policy, has not been dealing with individual justice cases because the process has not been completed. That has been our approach and I think it is a fair one. However, if the Taoiseach refers this matter to the justice committee and we deal with it, I want to be clear in pointing out that I will be insisting on all of these families who have made allegations to also come before that committee. In every single case where a family has alleged that there has been a cover-up of murder by An Garda Síochána, I will be insisting that those families also come before our committee. I will be insisting on that in the interests of fairness because the families have contacted me today.
The Minister has no idea of the outrage she the Taoiseach has caused these families. They have said that they cannot get a meeting with the Minister, they cannot get her to comment on the cases of their loved ones and now she has taken immediate action in this area. They are very clear as to the reasons for that. Let me be clear, the precedent the Minister set in this case will be the measure of every other case I bring to her attention in the time ahead.
Our party has repeatedly called for an independent policing authority. As recently as February this year, I asked the former Minister for Justice and Equality about establishing it and he robustly rejected the notion. An independent policing authority was not included in the programme for Government because it was not considered important enough. Unfortunately it has not been included here either, however, I am assured that it will be established in other new legislation in the coming weeks. I, and my party, will be continuing to push for this as we believe that it is integral to the reform of policing in this State. For example, the Garda Síochána Ombudsman Commission, GSOC, did not have the ability to oversee the Garda Commissioner. I am happy that this Bill will rectify that in section 7. For the first time the Garda Commissioner will be brought within the scope of GSOC investigations. This is a great improvement.
In recent times, we witnessed the limitations of the powers of GSOC when it could not access the PULSE system directly. Unfortunately, it appears that this too is not addressed in the legislation. The inclusion of this was one of the recommendations of the Oireachtas justice committee in its submission to the Department on the reform of policing. Our committee called for the statutory provision of GSOC access to the PULSE system to better equip GSOC staff in their investigations. In May 2013 a GSOC report to the then Minister for Justice, Equality and Defence clearly stated that there were issues regarding its ability to exercise its oversight function due to a lack of independent access to Garda computerised systems, such as PULSE. The adherence to agreed protocols between the gardaí and GSOC should be made compulsory in legislation. We should legislate to grant direct access to PULSE for GSOC. I will seek to submit amendments on this as I believe it is crucial to the work of GSOC.
Another concern I have with the Bill, which I would like to raise at this Stage, concerns section 9. I note with interest the language used here. It states that the Garda Commissioner is to provide necessary information for investigations by the Ombudsman Commission "as soon as practicable". There is vagueness to this language that worries me. A former GSOC commissioner, Conor Brady, is on the record as stating that an obstacle to GSOC's work when he was a member was how Garda management had an ability to slow things down. The Minister will recall the report from GSOC about the length of time it took to deal with the Kieran Boylan affair - a special investigation took four years to deal with very serious matters. We do not want to see this continuing. I ask the Minister for reassurance that this will not happen. I am also considering an amendment to strengthen the language here.
I also want to make reference to further comments made by Conor Brady more recently at an event both the Minister and I attended with the Irish Human Rights and Equality Commission and the Law Society. He spoke about how often GSOC would be stopped in its tracks with an investigation by being told certain information was not available to it or would be very delayed on the basis that it was a national security issue.
We need to ensure this is supervised to ensure it is not used as a mechanism to hamper GSOC investigations. I may seek to amend the legislation to reflect this, perhaps with the introduction of an independent adjudicator, as suggested by Mr. Brady, or perhaps a judge, who could decide whether such information should be given out on these grounds. That is important and I believe the Minister and I are in agreement on it. Independent oversight is necessary here.
Consider the issue of accountability concerning questions. It has been brought to my attention by journalist Gemma O’Doherty in recent days that she has reported that former Garda Commissioner Mr. Martin Callinan had penalty points for speeding terminated. He confirmed this in an article in the Irish Independent. Ms O’Doherty asserts she was fired a number of weeks after that story was published, and she is taking a number of legal cases in regard to that. She has advised me she has come into possession of new information. On that basis, she submitted a number of questions to the Acting Garda Commissioner, which the latter has refused to answer, as is evident from the e-mail. The questions, which Ms O'Doherty sent to the Minister also, are as follows. What was the basis for the termination of Mr. Callinan’s speeding fine? There was no indication of the reason on the PULSE printout. Why was Mr. Callinan not using an official Garda car on the day he was caught speeding given that he was on official Garda business? Did he drive to work on the day he incurred his speeding ticket? What time did he start work that day? Was the meeting he was speeding to pre-planned? Was this meeting recorded in his diary? Was he aware of this meeting? Was anyone with Mr. Callanan in his car when he was caught speeding? Was a written report made of his meeting? At what time did the meeting begin and end? What was the location of the meeting? Did Mr. Callanan return to Garda headquarters after the meeting? Did he claim mileage or subsistence allowance for the day in question? Were there any other occasions on which Mr. Callanan used his private car for Garda business? All of these questions are now on the record of the Dáil. Since the Acting Garda Commissioner has not provided the information, I ask that the Minister provide it. It is a very serious matter and there is considerable public interest in it. I hope the Minister can obtain the answers to the questions that the Acting Garda Commissioner has refused to give.
While some of the recent submissions to the Oireachtas committee recommended the abolition of the inspectorate and the effective merging of its role and that of GSOC, Sinn Féin believes a different approach would be more effective. We advocate the broadening of the role of the inspectorate to that of a criminal justice inspectorate. In a similar fashion to the way in which the Health Information and Quality Authority, HIQA, conducts inspections of various institutions within the health sector, we believe the criminal justice inspectorate should have a similar role within the justice sector. It would be primarily responsible for the effectiveness and efficiency of the workings of organisations within the criminal justice sector. That would include both inspection and reporting of its examination of policies, operational practices and procedures across the sectoral organisations specified in any new legislation and work to ensure public confidence is maintained. It should also have responsibility for laying its reports before the Houses of the Oireachtas.
The bodies we want to see under the remit of the proposed criminal justice inspectorate include An Garda Síochána, GSOC, the Director of Public Prosecutions, the Probation Service, the Courts Service and the Irish Youth Justice Service. The Oireachtas justice committee made the same call. The model in the North is working very well and I am sure the Minister can establish that with her ministerial colleague, Mr. David Ford, MLA.
I want to move on to the membership of the commission. Section 13 sets out that "'member of the Ombudsman Commission' means a member of the Ombudsman Commission appointed under section 65 of the Garda Síochána Act 2005". This legislation sets out that the commission is to consist of three members. I do not agree with this. I firmly believe there should be only one ombudsman. Again, the Oireachtas justice committee recommended changing the structure of GSOC so as to have one ombudsman rather than three commissioners, stating a single ombudsman would ensure greater accountability and no possibility of dissenting opinions or divergence in the ombudsman's findings. Consequent to the committee’s initiative, we went to the North and Scotland to look at the models there. We were impressed with the approach in those jurisdictions.
I will seek to submit an amendment regarding section 65(1) of the 2005 Act to change the structure of the commission so that, instead of having three commissioners, there will be a single Garda ombudsman. Earlier this year, my party launched its contribution based on its experiences of all the submissions made in this State and the experiences of our team who negotiated the changes to policing in the North. We do not have all the wisdom and I do not contend the former RUC is in any way comparable to An Garda Síochána but there are lessons in the North to be learnt in the context of the new beginning there, the policing board, the police ombudsman and the criminal justice inspectorate that could comprise a useful contribution to reforms in this State. Our document was circulated to all Oireachtas Members, and I invite those who have not had an opportunity to take a look through it. It is our considered contribution but it is not definitive.
We in Sinn Féin believe in a new beginning to policing similar to what happened in the Six Counties. The Morris tribunal happened owing to the failure and abuse of the power of some police officers in my county at the time in question. That was to be the new beginning. We had the Garda Síochána Act and GSOC was established, in addition to the Garda Inspectorate, etc. These matters are in evolution. We now have an opportunity to consider best practice internationally and ensure we really give the ombudsman the teeth and powers it requires. One of the big criticisms of the ombudsman is the demoralising length of time it takes to deal with a complaint. While the Minister has allocated some additional resources, she will probably need to allocate more in terms of the new powers and responsibilities it will have, and of course the existing investigations with which the office is already being asked to deal.
I feel very strongly about and ask the Minister to consider seriously the formation of a criminal justice inspectorate that would examine the overall picture within the justice system. There is the recommendation from the Oireachtas justice committee and a model in the North. While I commend Mr. Bob Olson, Chief Inspector of the Garda Inspectorate, and his predecessors, I believe they need more teeth. We need bigger-picture analysis and to consider the full picture of what is happening in the justice system. The Minister has received the submission on that. We want to see a new dispensation in order to achieve more strengthened and sustainable reform that can deliver a modern 21st-century policing service now and in the future. We need to see freedom from partisan political control or influence, operational independence and policing with the community to develop maximum confidence in the policing service and maximise co-operation between citizens and An Garda Síochána.
As I said at the outset, I welcome this Bill and am happy with the majority of its content. However, as I have outlined, there are a number of ways in which it can be strengthened, and I will seek to do this on Committee Stage. I look forward to working with the Minister in this regard.
The Minister should not underestimate the anger of some of the families who contacted me today and whom I am sure have been in contact with the Minister also. They have made profound allegations, substantiated by considerable documentation, and submitted them to the Minister’s office. They have been referred to the independent panel of senior counsel and may end up being subject to independent inquiries. The families believe the Minister has not commented on their cases. She has made no comment whatsoever. She has not agreed to meet the families, nor has the Taoiseach. The Minister should be very clear that the precedent she has set today is the one that will have to be honoured in terms of consistency. She will be held to account on her approach to all cases because the one she referred to today is subject to considerable review by the ombudsman and to an independent review of the DPP. There is a very clear process under way, as the Minister knows. She has chosen to comment on it, as is her absolute right, but I will hold her to account to ensure consistency. If the Minister decides to refer this matter to the Oireachtas justice committee, I will ensure all the families who are waiting to be heard get the same treatment.
No. Today she chose to be politically opportunistic but the difficulty is that she is the Minister responsible for justice and must apply the same standard to families in this jurisdiction who await justice and afford them the courtesy of a meeting in which to outline their case face to face with her. They cannot have one with her or the Taoiseach.
The Minister dived in today and the Taoiseach is to dive in tomorrow. That is the Minister’s right but the families have told me about inconsistency. She should be very clear this is the standard she will be measured by in the remainder of her term of office. I look forward to her response.
I am sorry, I am not finished. To be clear, is the Minister, Deputy Fitzgerald, suggesting that these allegations given to her are subject to independent review and the case in the North is not? Is that what she is saying?
I thank the Leas-Cheann Comhairle for the opportunity of speaking on this new piece of legislation, the Garda Síochána (Amendment) (No. 3) Bill 2014. I welcome the Bill and the debate. More importantly, I acknowledge the urgent need for reform and radical change in the justice system. This is part of a boarder jigsaw, but we need action and an end to all of the talk that has gone on over the past six or seven months.
In recent months, we have seen the former Minister for Justice and Equality go, we have seen the Garda Commissioner go and we have seen the Secretary General move sideways. This all went on while people were being attacked and slaughtered and shot on the streets in a wave of violent gun crime and at times, I felt that the Members in here were distracted from a lot of the real issues in the communities. We have seen trust damaged and the people suffer and live with the consequences. The people of the poor areas suffer more than the rest of society and the rest of society and the establishment merely looks the other way. It is important that we deal with these important issues in this legislation.
Tonight I want to be a different voice. I want to be a voice for radical change, a voice for reform, a voice for good-quality policing and, above all, a voice for a new Garda policing service. That is the way forward, that is the future and that is the direction that we have to go.
We also need a bit of good old-fashioned community policing where the garda knows the person and the person knows him or her. Some will mock that view in the Ireland of 2014, but it is still relevant today, and the Minister and the Government need to wake up to that fact. A good garda does not deserve the respect of the community; he or she will earn it. Good old-fashioned public service is the way forward. When we look at this legislation, that is what we must think of constantly.
The Bill seeks to expand the powers of the Garda Síochána Ombudsman Commission, GSOC. This includes surveillance powers for criminal investigations and allowing GSOC to investigate the Garda Commissioner - with the consent of the Minister for Justice and Equality. The Bill also provides for GSOC to instigate examinations of Garda practices and procedures and the Garda Inspectorate to initiate inspections without the prior approval of the Minister of Justice and Equality. That is the detail of the Bill and that is why I am supporting it.
When dealing with this legislation, it is important to look at broader issues as well. At times, within the Bill it is also important to look at other options and go a little further.
It has been argued that moves in democratic countries towards greater civilian oversight of the police can be attributed to beliefs that internal mechanisms may be biased. Public demand for civilian oversight has acquired an edge because of the widely held perception that police superiors tend to protect their subordinates. The United Nations Office for Drugs and Crime has identified the key features of successful police oversight police systems. These include powers such as those provided for in the Bill. I emphasise that we need oversight, accountability and good-quality policing, and any democratic society will look seriously at this.
We can learn from commissions of the pasts. In recent years, there was the Patten Commission report on policing in Northern Ireland. It identified two aspects of police accountability – "subordinate or obedient" and "explanatory and cooperative" – which were explained as follows. In a democracy, policing, in order to be effective, must be based on consent across the community. The community recognises the legitimacy of the policing task, confers authority on police personnel in carrying out their role in policing and actively supports them. Consent is not unconditional, but depends on proper accountability, and the police should be accountable in two senses – the "subordinate or obedient" sense and the "explanatory and cooperative" sense. In the subordinate sense, police are employed by the community to provide a service and the community should have the means to ensure that it gets the service it needs and that its money is spent wisely. Police are also subordinate to the law, just as other citizens are subordinate to the law, and there should be robust arrangements to ensure that this is so, and seen to be so. In the explanatory and co-operative sense, public and police must communicate with each other and work in partnership, both to maintain trust between them and to ensure effective policing, because policing is not a task for the police alone. These relevant points arose in the Patten report. In the broader debate, it is important that we highlight these issues as well.
I also speak as a member of the Oireachtas Joint Committee on Justice, Defence and Equality. The committee conducted a review of effectiveness of the 2005 Act and considered submissions on the potential reform of the present oversight mechanisms. A lot of hard work was done. I welcome the fact that the Chairman of the committee, Deputy Stanton, is here tonight to listen and participate in the debate because the oversight of the Garda Síochána is an important issue and the measure is an important legislative measure.
During the committee's hearings, there were many excellent oral submissions from human rights groups, Travellers' groups, the Garda Síochána, the Bar Council, members of the public and journalists. They all made a significant contribution. It is important that we heard the voices of those who are directly affected by this piece of legislation. I would mention Ms Brigid Quilligan and Mr. Damien Walshe from the Irish Traveller Movement who made an excellent submission on policing and dealing with minority communities. It is important to highlight that the poorer and marginalised sections of society must be listened to when one is drafting legislation. In this debate, I want to represent their views tonight as well.
An Garda Síochána has been the police force in Ireland since the foundation of the State. The force has enjoyed good levels of support and public confidence. It was set up without any external scrutiny beyond the Department. That has been the case, but recently that trust has been damaged. We need to win back that trust and the community needs to see that we act on these issues.
The lack of oversight continued up to 1984 when a complaints board was established. The board was termed "independent", although it comprised the Garda Commissioner, or his nominee and Government appointed members.