Thursday, 6 April 2017
Garda Síochána (Amendment) Bill 2017: First Stage
That leave be granted to introduce a Bill entitled an Act to amend the Garda Síochána Acts 2005 to 2015 to provide for enhanced powers to be granted to the Policing Authority for the purpose of overseeing the performance of the Garda Commissioner and the Garda Síochána of its functions relating to policing services; to amend the provisions of the Acts relating to the Garda Síochána Inspectorate; and to provide for related matters.
Some two weeks ago today, senior members of An Garda Síochána made an extraordinary announcement at a press conference. They informed the people of Ireland that between 2012 and 2016, 937,000 breath tests were falsely recorded on the Garda PULSE system. They also informed the people of Ireland that between 2006 and 2016, 14,700 wrongful convictions took place in our District Courts because of errors made by An Garda Síochána.
I find it extraordinary that, to date, no member of An Garda Síochána has been able to explain the reasons for these extraordinary discrepancies. The reality is that they need to be described by the correct term, which is that they were caused, in large part, by wrongdoing. There are many examples of how this process is being investigated. The Garda is conducting its own inquiries and the Government has established inquiries, but answers need to be received in respect of those questions.
Nonetheless, we as a House of the Oireachtas must recognise that we need to use our primary function in order to deal with this particular crisis. Our primary function is the making of law and, for that reason, we need to ensure senior management within An Garda Síochána are thoroughly supervised so that issues like this cannot be put into the public domain at the time and choosing of An Garda Síochána.
I say that in particular because of the fact that the Garda knew of discrepancies in respect of breath tests as far back as 2014. We know the Garda, Minister and Government were aware of wrongful convictions as far back as July 2016. Notwithstanding that, nothing has been done to date in respect of those wrongful convictions and the people who have suffered a miscarriage of justice.
I wish to introduce a Bill that would give greater powers to the Policing Authority. The Bill seeks to amend the 2015 legislation that amended the Garda Síochána Act in order to give greater powers to the Policing Authority. In particular, it wishes to give powers to the Policing Authority so that it can supervise the functioning of the Office of the Garda Commissioner and supervise the discharge of functions by the Commissioner. That is not just a proposal we are putting forward; rather, it is also a proposal contained in the report of the Joint Committee on Justice and Equality published late last year.
The Bill also seeks to establish policies and procedures for An Garda Síochána which shall be binding on all members of An Garda Síochána. Furthermore, it seeks to cause to be published and made accessible to the public all sections of the Garda code and operational policies and procedures, save where such publication would undermine national security or crime prevention and detection, as decided by the authority in consultation with An Garda Síochána.
It also seeks to review the adequacy and appropriateness of the policies and procedures which underpin the operation of An Garda Síochána. We think, as a policy response to this issue, that there should be a transfer of functions to the Policing Authority. It may be the case that, following the review of policing in Ireland going into the 21st century, further decisions are made. In the future legislation may be introduced that will take away many of the current powers of the Department of Justice and Equality in respect of An Garda Síochána and hand them to the Policing Authority. That is something we are prepared to consider in detail.
The legislation also seeks to amend section 62 of the legislation by putting in place further powers to allow the Policing Authority if it is of the opinion that a member's conduct or continued membership of An Garda Síochána is undermining public confidence to remove that member of An Garda Síochána. That would have to be approved by the Government and take into account the entitlement of any member of An Garda Síochána who is accused of such wrongdoing and whose removal is proposed to be able to defend himself or herself in accordance with the principles of natural justice.
We seek to introduce this Bill because we can express outrage in respect of crises, but the only way to deal with a crisis is to work through it.
Our primary function in this House is to draft laws to improve the country. Let us look at how we can change the law to ensure the events which were disclosed two weeks ago do not happen again, or if there are such issues in the pipeline that the relevant authorities would be made aware of them promptly.