Dáil debates

Tuesday, 12 June 2018

Garda Síochána Ombudsman Commission: Motion

 

7:10 pm

Photo of Charles FlanaganCharles Flanagan (Laois, Fine Gael)
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I move:

That Dáil Éireann, noting that the Government on 8th May, 2018, nominated Mr. Patrick Sullivan for appointment by the President, as a member of the Garda Síochána Ombudsman Commission, recommends, pursuant to section 65(1)(b) of the Garda Síochána Act 2005, that Mr. Patrick Sullivan be appointed by the President to be a member of the Commission.

The appointment of members of the Garda Síochána Ombudsman Commission, GSOC, is governed by the provisions of the Garda Síochána Act 2005, which requires the Government to satisfy itself that a person to be nominated for appointment has the appropriate experience, qualifications, training or expertise for appointment. The Act also provides that a member of GSOC is appointed by the President following the nomination by the Government and the passage of resolutions by both Houses of the Oireachtas recommending the appointment. In this regard the Government nominated Mr. Patrick Sullivan at its meeting on 8 May and I am pleased to formally recommend to the House that Members approve Mr. Patrick Sullivan for appointment by the President to be a member of the Garda Síochána Ombudsman Commission. Mr. Sullivan was recommended by the Public Appointments Service as the best qualified candidate for the position. This followed an independent, international competition organised by the Public Appointments Service.

I can assure the House that Mr. Sullivan brings with him a wealth of experience from his work with various federal agencies in the United States. The expertise he has gained in a career which spans over 40 years in federal law enforcement will bring a different perspective to the excellent work of the Garda Síochána Ombudsman Commission. The House will agree that it is vital that the public has strong confidence in the Garda Síochána and its system of oversight. I believe that Mr. Sullivan’s vast experience in oversight within federal agencies in the US will only serve to enhance the existing confidence in GSOC’s role of investigating complaints against members of our police service.

His most recent position as assistant inspector general for investigations in the Environmental Protection Agency's Office of Inspector General, which required the supervision of both criminal and administrative investigative cases, equips him very well for the position. The role also required Mr. Sullivan’s appearance before both congressional and Senate committees to provide testimony into the actions taken by Environmental Protection Agency staff. I know that the Joint Committee on Justice and Equality had hoped to have the opportunity to hear from Mr. Sullivan prior to his appointment. However, I understand that he was unavailable due to commitments to his current employers in the US. Nevertheless, I hope that the committee will have an opportunity to hear from Mr. Sullivan in due course. Prior to holding this role, Mr. Sullivan was deputy assistant director of the Transportation Security Administration's Federal Air Marshal Service under the Department of Homeland Security and assistant director of the Government Accountability Office's office of special investigations.

In his 23 years as a special agent in the Secret Service, Mr. Sullivan had a variety of high-profile assignments, which included assignments in the counterfeit division, presidential protection division, anti-smuggling unit and organised crime strike force. These are, I am sure the House will agree, impressive credentials, and I have every confidence that the work of GSOC will be strengthened by Mr. Sullivan's presence.

The background to his nomination as a member of GSOC arises from the resignation of Mr. Mark Toland last October to take up the position of chief inspector with the Garda Síochána Inspectorate. Mr. Toland's term of office with GSOC was due to last until 11 December 2020. Under the provisions of the Garda Síochána Act 2005, a person appointed to replace a member of the commission holds office for the remainder of the term of the person being replaced. Mr. Sullivan's term of office, therefore, will expire in December 2020. I acknowledge the contribution that Mr. Toland made as commissioner to GSOC during his time there. He brought more than 30 years' experience gained with the UK Metropolitan Police Service. This extensive knowledge of policing served him well while sitting on GSOC. His policing expertise and experience in GSOC can only serve to benefit the Garda Síochána Inspectorate.

The Government nominated Mr. Sullivan at its meeting on 8 May. The appointment arose following Mr. Toland's resignation last October. Following this, I informed the Government on 5 December of my decision to fill the vacancy by way of an open competition conducted by the Public Appointments Service. This preference was taken with a view to ensuring the best candidate would be identified from an international field of suitably qualified candidates.

It is important to recognise the contribution that GSOC makes to policing in the State. The commission has been operating now for more than ten years and has grown in stature during that time as has its reputation for independence and fairness. This is in no small part due to the dedication and drive of the current commission under its chairperson, Ms Justice Mary Ellen Ring, and commissioner Kieran Fitzgerald. Their vision for GSOC's policing oversight reaches into the future, seeking to extend its remit and, accordingly, its size. The dedication and commitment of its staff are unquestionable. In the ten years of its existence, the commission's role has been expanded somewhat, for example, by bringing complaints against the Garda Commissioner within its remit. In addition, GSOC is now a designated body to which members of the police service can make protected disclosures. At the same time, significant changes have been made to legislation governing the Garda. In particular, the establishment of the Policing Authority has created a public forum where the Garda Commissioner can be asked about matters related to policing services.

These are welcome developments. No one would suggest that a service such as the Garda Síochána, which can invoke extensive powers, should not be fully and openly accountable for how it uses these powers. The Commission on the Future of Policing in Ireland is another example of the commitment the Government has undertaken to review the functioning of An Garda Síochána. With regard to its remit and purpose, the commission has been tasked with reshaping the legislative landscape in which An Garda Síochána operates. The commission members bring a wealth of experience and dedication to their task and they are undertaking an ambitious work programme with alacrity. Their report, which will be of huge significance, is due in September. This major publication should provide a framework for a modern, professional policing service, which will protect and defend the community and be subject to appropriate and robust accountability.

GSOC recently made proposals for legislative changes to enable it to function more effectively and efficiently. These are being considered by my officials but I am conscious that any changes to the commission should align with the recommendations of the Commission on the Future of Policing. GSOC has been engaging with the commission and I will take care to ensure appropriate alignment

GSOC has also sought additional staffing resources and has submitted a business proposal to my Department. My officials are liaising with the agency to ensure a clear business case can be put to the Department of Public Expenditure and Reform. The proposal contains a focus on medium and long-term planning and demonstrates the commitment of the current commission to ensure it is properly equipped now and into the future. I assure the House that I am supportive of the broad thrust of the business case and supportive of the valuable work undertaken by the commission.

This Government and I have given serious consideration to providing GSOC with the resources it needs to maintain high standards of policing oversight. I would like to take this opportunity to restate that commitment. GSOC will be fully supported in its role, and will be given all the tools needed to continue to perform at the high level it has continuously striven to maintain over the years.

GSOC has a critical role to play in the architecture of policing in the State. Its independence is the guarantee to the public that complaints against members of the Garda will be investigated "without fear or favour". My predecessors and I have made the point many times in the House that there will be no interference with GSOC investigations, despite occasional calls for some form of ministerial or governmental intervention.

Public confidence in GSOC will be bolstered with Mr. Sullivan's appointment. Oversight in public administration is nothing new to him, and the administration of law enforcement is also not unfamiliar territory to him. That is what marked him out as the preferred choice to be a member of the commission. The international nature of his knowledge and experience can only serve to benefit GSOC in policing oversight.

I hope the House will join me in welcoming Mr. Sullivan and wishing him success in his new role as a commissioner. On behalf of the Government, I am pleased to commend the motion to the House.

7:20 pm

Photo of Jim O'CallaghanJim O'Callaghan (Dublin Bay South, Fianna Fail)
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Section 65 of the Garda Síochána Act sets out that there should be three commissioners in GSOC. It also sets out how those commissioners should be appointed. They should be appointed by the President but, before he or she appoints them, two hurdles have to be overcome. First, the individuals have to be nominated by the Government. As the Minister indicated, there is also a requirement that the Government shall satisfy itself that the person has the appropriate experience, qualifications, training or expertise for appointment to GSOC. The second obstacle is that each House of the Oireachtas has to pass resolutions recommending the appointment. That is what we are doing through the motion.

Prior to hearing the Minister's recitation of Mr. O'Sullivan's qualifications, I knew little about the man other than that he had worked in the US Environmental Protection Agency. For the House to fulfil its statutory obligation to make a recommendation that a person is suitable, Members should be given some information in advance as to the qualifications of the individual and his or her suitability, otherwise, the function of the Houses of the Oireachtas in passing resolutions could become meaningless. However, I have had the benefit of listening to the Minister describe Mr. O'Sullivan's qualifications. It appears from what he said that Mr. O'Sullivan is qualified for the position. I note that he applied through the Public Appointments Service. I presume there was a competition. The Minister has indicated Mr. O'Sullivan's experience working for 23 years as a special agent in the Secret Service in the United States.

One of the requirements of section 65 is that a person who has been appointed as a commissioner cannot be, or have been, a member of An Garda Síochána. Mr. O'Sullivan was never a member of An Garda Síochána but he was involved in law enforcement. On one level, that means he can provide expertise that may be of assistance to GSOC but, on another, we need to be careful that we do not allow the body that adjudicates on complaints against members of An Garda Síochána to become too populated by individuals who have worked in what can loosely be referred to as the law enforcement sphere. We will, however, support the motion. Based on the Minister's contribution and the content of the document I have been given, it appears Mr. O'Sullivan is a person whom Fianna Fáil and I are prepared to recommend.

I would like to make some points in respect of the process that the Minister should reflect on. The first is that we have known since 7 November 2017 that there was a vacancy in GSOC.

We were informed on 7 November 2017 that Mr. Toland would be resigning as a commissioner on the basis that he was going to fill a position in the Garda Inspectorate. It is important that in the future we do not leave vacancies on the Garda Síochána Ombudsman Commission for a period of nearly five to six months. I am conscious that a process has to be gone through where individuals are identified but it is incumbent on whoever is in the Department of Justice and Equality to ensure that that process can be expedited. I note in this instance the Government decided that it would use the Public Appointments Service for the purpose of identifying a suitable individual. Nowhere in the legislation is that required, unlike in other legislation in respect of appointments to senior offices in An Garda Síochána. If we are going to use the process of the Public Appointments Service and if there is knowledge that people will be resigning as commissioner, it is incumbent upon us to ensure that the position is filled as expeditiously as possible.

Since this is a motion dealing with the functions and responsibilities of the commissioners in the Garda Síochána Ombudsman Commission, it is appropriate to say a few words in respect of the commission itself. The Minister stated in his contribution that he is aware that the commission is looking for further resources. I welcome that the Minister and the Government have stated that they have given a commitment to provide GSOC with the resources it needs to maintain the very highest standards of policing oversight. However, I heard the Minister say that approximately three months ago. It is incumbent on the Government to ensure that GSOC is provided now with the resources it needs to carry out its statutory function.

As mentioned in the Minister's contribution and as is apparent from recent legislative changes in this area, GSOC is not just responsible for hearing complaints made by members of the public against An Garda Síochána. It also has to adjudicate on protected disclosures made by members of An Garda Síochána. That is a significant body of work. For the public to have confidence in the work being carried out by GSOC, it is imperative that it is properly and adequately resourced. I am concerned, notwithstanding the Minister's commitment, that those resources do not appear to have been provided to GSOC as of yet.

It is relevant that later this evening, in Fianna Fáil's Private Members' time, we will debate a motion seeking the establishment of a commission of investigation in respect of the Garda investigation into the death of a young man called Shane O'Farrell. GSOC produced a report in March 2018 in respect of an investigation by GSOC that went on for a period of six years. We need to reflect seriously on a statutory body such as GSOC which has had to devote six years to the production of a report in respect of complaints made by members of the family of the late Shane O'Farrell.

We will be ignoring an elephant in the room if we do not comment upon the fact that many Members of the Oireachtas, arising from the report into the Shane O'Farrell investigation and other issues, have had their confidence in GSOC dented in recent times. That may be as a result of GSOC's lack of resourcing but when the Commission on the Future of Policing in Ireland reports and when the Government, and Opposition parties, come to reflect on that we will need to ensure that we can re-establish some of the confidence lost in respect of GSOC. We need to ensure also that when members of the public make a complaint against An Garda Síochána, they can be satisfied that the complaint will be investigated thoroughly and quickly and that a report will be produced which provides them with satisfaction. I am not suggesting longer reports are always better than shorter ones but sometimes, reports into very serious issues GSOC is investigating, such as the matters in respect of Shane O'Farrell, do not convey the impression or the meaning that the investigation was carried out thoroughly. That may be unfair to the investigators within GSOC but we would be doing them a disservice if we did not indicate that that is a concern I and other Members of the Oireachtas have in respect of some investigations carried out by GSOC.

We will be supporting the motion. I wish Mr. Sullivan well. I have never met the man but from what the Minister has said about him he seems to have had an interesting life working in the counterfeit division of the Secret Service and also in the presidential protection division. I am sure he could tell us some interesting stories about his functions in those jobs over a period of 23 years. It is an important job. I am not suggesting he applied for it on this basis but it is not a job for somebody who was looking for an easy life or something to retire into. It is a very important job indicated by the fact that one is appointed by the President. We have to ensure that full confidence is re-instilled not just in An Garda Síochána but in the body that investigates An Garda Síochána. I hope Mr. Sullivan will recognise that he, as part of that troika of commissioners, has a responsibility in that regard and I wish him well in seeking to achieve that.

7:30 pm

Photo of Donnchadh Ó LaoghaireDonnchadh Ó Laoghaire (Cork South Central, Sinn Fein)
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Gabhaim buíochas leis an Aire as an moladh seo a thabhairt os ár gcomhair. This vacancy arises out of the departure of Mr. Mark Toland from GSOC who gave a number of years of service to GSOC and is now serving with the Garda Inspectorate. I take this opportunity to commend Mr. Toland on his work in that regard.

It is right and proper that there is a procedure of this kind and that this matter comes before both Houses of the Oireachtas before proceeding for appointment by the President, but I echo what Deputy O'Callaghan has said. Greater detail could have been provided in advance of this debate. My office contacted the Minister's office seeking additional detail and some was forthcoming but, nonetheless, it should have been provided as a matter of course. As the Minister said, ideally, we should have had the opportunity to invite Mr. Sullivan to appear before the Oireachtas committee. Notwithstanding that, Sinn Féin will not oppose the motion. It appears that Mr. Sullivan, on the basis of the qualifications and criteria outlined, is very capable. He has considerable experience with various federal agencies across a wide range of areas relating to the law and law enforcement. The most recent position was as an assistant inspector general for investigations in the US Environmental Protection Agency's Office of Inspector General, which required the supervision of criminal and administrative investigative cases. Obviously, he is very senior and experienced and I hope he will be able to bring that to bear with GSOC and add to it.

I ask the Minister to clarify a point. I understand that, presuming he is duly appointed, Mr. Sullivan will commence his role with GSOC on 1 July. After that date, will he retain commitments to any other organisations and if so, what will be the extent of those commitments? It would be in the interest of the House to have that information provided if that is possible.

I echo some of the points made by Deputy O'Callaghan. I count myself among the Members who have had their confidence in GSOC somewhat undermined in recent times. The example has been given, which I will return to, of the report produced in regard to Lucia O'Farrell, the killing of her son Shane and the failures related to that. I have said previously that more appropriate approaches to that could have been taken, given that the failures extended beyond An Garda Síochána, but I will deal with that later. It is not good enough to say that the report took six years to produce. Even if it was produced in a shorter period, it would not be of an acceptable standard. There are numerous examples of that. The assertions of gardaí in the report are not tested but simply accepted. I do not believe that properly constitutes an investigation.

I believe there are wider issues in GSOC. I have put down a series of questions to the Minister. He has answered some of them but not all of those have been answered to my satisfaction. It is clear there are issues with resources and I hope the Minister can address that business case as soon as possible but I believe there is more to it than that.

I am not of the view that cases are being handled or managed in an efficient way. In addition, I am not convinced that GSOC's offices are being managed efficiently. My understanding is that often, even after they are investigated, cases remain with the directorate for far longer than they should before they are escalated to the commission. Obviously, that has implications for the conclusion and publication of reports and for the ability of GSOC to operate effectively.

GSOC has been in existence for more than ten years. Sinn Féin believed it was badly needed long before that. We were anxious to see an ombudsman established in the North and it was an important aspect of the Patten reforms. However, it is in the interests of the Garda and of the public that there is proper oversight. The Garda performs better when there is proper oversight. If GSOC is not functioning to the best of its abilities or to satisfy its duties, that creates problems for the Garda. The Garda will not reach the standards it should if GSOC is not holding it properly to account. I am concerned that GSOC is not doing that currently and is not in a position to do it. There is a role in that regard for the Minister and the chairperson of GSOC, Ms Justice Mary Ellen Ring. I hope Mr. Sullivan will be able to contribute to that.

We believe there is a need for greater independence for GSOC and the strengthening of its powers. The Garda Commissioner should be fully within the remit of GSOC for investigative purposes. There should be powers to secure co-operation from gardaí. They must be clarified and bolstered because there are serious blockages to GSOC investigations at present. It is an issue GSOC has identified and it has sought legislative changes. There is also an issue in terms of its independence and serving officers of An Garda Síochána being seconded to GSOC. I understand there are still such instances, such as with regard to the Templemore investigation. It is not right and proper that serving gardaí should be seconded. It is probably not ideal that there would even be former members of An Garda Síochána with GSOC but serving gardaí should certainly not be seconded, particularly to an investigation of that nature. Gardaí should not be investigating fellow gardaí, to allow for a freer and fairer course of justice and to dispel any sense of bias or prejudice.

In a similar vein, a duty of impartiality and independence must be included in GSOC's objectives, along with a statutory obligation to report at regular intervals to the justice committee. Where a garda retires or resigns any complaint against the departing officer should still be potentially investigated by GSOC where there is a public interest in doing so, and the time limit for the making of complaints to GSOC should be extended from six months to at least a year or perhaps longer, with the period running from the date of knowledge of the supposed wrongdoing.

Another issue relates to protected disclosures and the business case in that regard. GSOC was seeking 12 additional staff but has only received five. While I made my point about administration and its management of resources, there is also the reality that the resources it needs for protected disclosures do not exist. The sum involved in this regard is relatively small, approximately €900,000 in that specific case. Given the potential costs of commissions of investigation or tribunals and in light of what GSOC can prevent if a protected disclosure is properly addressed, that is very little. GSOC must also have a broad right to make unannounced visits and inspections. Its access to PULSE should be put on a statutory footing in order to give it access to all the materials it requires, by its own definition, for investigating cases to ensure it investigates them properly and assertively.

There is also a need for a statutory framework to be created for GSOC to provide An Garda Síochána with observations on systemic issues arising from complaints in order that these complaints might be addressed and remedied in an agreed and relatively short timeframe depending on the nature of the issues. There were examples of these failings recently, such as the issues relating to road traffic incidents highlighted in on RTÉ's "Prime Time". In addition to dealing with individual complaints against gardaí, there is a need for GSOC to be able to provide a commentary and analysis of systemic issues that are emerging repeatedly. The commission must have that role. It also must have the scope and ability to engage in joint investigations with other relevant State organisations, where required, because there are organisations that will have expertise where procuring specialist skills for that via the private market would be expensive and inappropriate. GSOC must have that capacity.

GSOC has a long road to travel to be able to carry out its functions properly. It must manage itself better and use its resources better. It also requires additional resources in particular areas and additional powers. It is not in the interest of the public, the Garda or the victims of crime if the Garda is not properly held to account. That will only happen if we have a strong, well organised and well-resourced GSOC.

7:40 pm

Photo of Seán SherlockSeán Sherlock (Cork East, Labour)
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I have no desire to hold up the appointment of a new member of GSOC. We wish Mr. Sullivan well but we have questions about the process. My understanding is that the Dáil previously approved a previous appointment without debate on the basis of a widespread agreement on the appointee. We have some concerns about the process employed here, specifically as it relates to the Houses of the Oireachtas. I only learned this evening that this went through the Public Appointments Service, PAS. This is the first time Members have had a sense of the CV of the proposed appointee.

One could argue that we found ourselves in an invidious position where we had no view on the appointee because we did not have an opportunity to form one until this evening, when the Minister gave us an outline of the credentials of the person to be appointed. What is the point of asking us to approve a person to be appointed by the President if there has not been any formal or iterative process with regard to that person's credentials? The process this evening is effectively a set-piece event, without questions and answers or a chance to interrogate further the person's credentials. We do not doubt the person's bona fides and we wish him well. He went through the PAS but we believe it might have been more appropriate if, for example, the justice committee could have had a process for an engagement with the Minister on the appointment.

The legislation provides that GSOC is to consist of three members, all of whom are to be appointed by the President on the nomination of the Government and the passing of resolutions by Dáil Éireann and Seanad Éireann recommending their appointment.

PAS has interviewed the person and Cabinet has given the formal nod. Now we find ourselves in the position tonight where at the last minute the Oireachtas is expected to ratify this on the basis of the Minister's say so.

I do not want to doubt the bona fides of the person, who has been through a process, but the Government needs to change the procedure to ensure that this House, through one of its committees - the most appropriate being the Joint Committee on Justice and Equality - would have an opportunity to have some sort of interaction as opposed to going through this set piece. It should be an iterative process involving some interrogation of the process and of the person's bona fides. I find myself very curious about the bona fides of the person in question. It is genuine human curiosity given his background. I have further questions which I will not articulate tonight. I believe the process needs to be more robust and needs to have better regard to the Houses of the Oireachtas. That might involve a slight amendment to the 2005 Act.

In his speech the Minister made specific reference to the Commission on the Future of Policing in Ireland. We all look forward to getting that report in September. We all made submissions to the Commission on the Future of Policing in Ireland. If we are to look at GSOC specifically, we endorse last December's publication in its proposals for legislative change and we accept the thrust of its 2016 report on Garda oversight and accountability.

We stated that the commission should have regard to the legal advice to the previous Government that under the Constitution, policing belongs inherently to the Executive branch of Government. We were told that the powers of any independent policing authority would have to be delimited. With respect, the argument that the Constitution requires the Government to directly control policing needs careful consideration. We are hopeful that the report will address that concern. The Constitution makes no reference, even in passing, to policing. How the system in other states operates is well articulated. Even in those states with a common law tradition there is a view that policing could be more devolved and under more democratic control.

I share in the endorsement, if only to go through a formal process. It is a bit strange to be standing here supporting the Government in ratifying somebody for appointment to GSOC on the basis of a recommendation made by the Public Appointments Service when we have only just learnt about the bona fides of the person in question. I ask that we review the process for the future so that Oireachtas Members can have more of an interaction with the Government on the basis of the recommendation made to it.

7:50 pm

Photo of Clare DalyClare Daly (Dublin Fingal, Independent)
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Deputy Sherlock said that this is a set-piece event with no opportunity for questions and answers. There is. He said he has questions but is not going to put them. If somebody has questions about this appointment, I would like to hear them. This is a public forum and I am sure the Minister would answer any questions that people have on the specific nature of the individual. It may be the case that there are problems with the process; I have not given that much consideration. However, each group has been given ten minutes to raise whatever concerns we have and if people have concerns about the process or the individual, albeit through lack of knowledge or whatever, they should raise them and vote against the motion; that is the responsible thing to do. Those of us on the Business Committee set the scheduling of this against the backdrop of the legislation as we have it now. That is what we are working with. If any group had a problem with that, they could have tabled it before now.

That said, we obviously know that Mr. Sullivan is being proposed as replacement on GSOC for Mr. Mark Toland who departed to take up his role as head of the Garda Inspectorate last October. I wish to acknowledge the role Mr. Toland played. The Garda Inspectorate, itself, has played an incredibly important role in the detailed work it has carried out over years and the work it continues to do under Mr. Toland should be recognised. As far as I am concerned, it is the key oversight body. Other people have said they welcome the pontifications of the Commission on the Future of Policing in Ireland, but I do not because I can already tell them what its report will state. It will state exactly what the Garda Inspectorate outlined years ago. Had the inspectorate been listened to over the years and the recommendations that it repeatedly made implemented, An Garda Síochána would not have found itself battered by scandal after scandal. However, there we have it.

Like other Deputies, I have no personal or prior knowledge of Mr. Sullivan. In some ways I give a guarded welcome to his appointment. The position certainly needs to be filled. We know that he was the US EPA's inspector general and that during that time he was forthright in his criticism of the Office of Homeland Security within that agency and what he described as it blocking his investigative work on the grounds of so-called national security. It sounds like the sort of good attitude that someone who is being appointed as a member of GSOC should have. I understand he worked as a US federal air marshal in that service; I will try not to hold that bit against him.

The key thing for GSOC is not who is appointed, but whether the organisation as a whole has the resources and powers it needs to allow him to do his job. Irrespective of how good somebody is, without the resources and the powers, the job will not get done. That is the real debate we should be having here. For years we have been making the point that GSOC really is a paper tiger. I welcome that of late GSOC has repeatedly stated that it does not have the powers under the legislation to do its job of holding the Garda to account properly. It does not have the resources to do it either. In the words of many of its members, which we have quoted previously, it is almost appears as if the organisation was set up to fail. It could not possibly do what it was supposed to do given how it is set up now.

Those of us on the Joint Committee on Justice and Equality who drew up the 2016 report on Garda oversight and accountability made a list of recommendations on amending Part 4 of the Garda Síochána Act 2005 in order to give more powers to GSOC, including things like GSOC being empowered to investigate retired members, a statutory means of redress for GSOC where there is a failure to comply with requests for documentation or evidence; and enhanced powers to GSOC to review investigations and so on. These are issues that have been highlighted in the House on many different occasions.

During the debate on that report in February 2017, the former Tánaiste and Minister for Justice and Equality told us that she would shortly go to Cabinet to secure approval to prepare heads of Bill to amend Part 4 of the Garda Síochána Act 2005. She also said that the Government needed to be absolutely sure that the committee's recommendations for changes were implemented. However, when members of GSOC appeared before the committee in February, they were asked if any of the recommendations had been implemented and if anything had been changed. They told us that nothing had changed, months on. The legislation has not even been published 18 months after the former Minister promised it was on the way. GSOC members may be getting frustrated with the slow progress. Proposals were submitted in December 2017 for changes to the current Act and we have had nothing yet.

We keep hearing about the Commission on the Future of Policing in Ireland; it has been bandied about as a panacea to every Garda ill.

It is not good enough that changes which could have been made now - changes that have been called for over many years and were committed to neither today nor yesterday - are being delayed until the commission reports. Whatever about sitting on changes to the legislation until such time as the commission reports, it is difficult to understand the excuse for not giving GSOC the resources it needs. GSOC has been very vocal in terms of its needs and what has been provided to it to date. It has been totally categoric in this regard, including in its remarks in February to the effect that the decision not to increase its staffing resources at that crucial time would undoubtedly result in its failure to meets its obligations to the public and its staff. GSOC predicted the future in that it has not been able to meet the expectations of the public or the obligations to its staff because the Government has not given it sufficient resources. That is a fact. GSOC currently has over 1,000 open investigations, which equates to approximately 30 per investigator. It is also investigating at least 25 whistleblower cases and has had to issue an apology for the slow pace in which they are being dealt with. In 2017, it asked for 12 additional staff to deal with the protected disclosures, in respect of which it was given five. Two of its investigators have been seconded to the Charleton tribunal. Ms Justice Mary Ellen Ring has described it as half a protected disclosures unit. There is currently a tribunal under way in respect of protected disclosures. Do we need more? Would it not be better that GSOC be empowered to do its job and deal with those protected disclosures? The Minister will be aware, because we have raised this with him many times, that some of those protected disclosure cases have been with GSOC for almost four years because of a lack of co-operation on the part of the Garda in providing files. When the Garda Síochána indicates an intention to discipline some of its members and GSOC asks to sit in on that process, it is told to back off.

This time last year GSOC was given a commitment by the former Tánaiste and Minister for Justice and Equality, Deputy Fitzgerald, that it would get the resources it needed. In February, however, Ms Justice Mary Ellen Ring told us that it still does not have those resources. GSOC submitted a business case for additional resources in respect of which it is still awaiting a decision. In this regard, GSOC sought 37 additional staff at a cost of €1.7 million, which is a small amount of money in light of the fact that An Garda Síochána, in 2017, provided €7.7 million to Accenture for 49 staff, which is €7 million more for 12 additional staff. I find the latter incredible. If some of that money could be diverted, GSOC might get the powers it needs. It is an indication of the esteem, or not, in which up the Department has held GSOC up to now that, unlike the Policing Authority and the Irish Human Rights and Equality Commission, IHREC, it does not have its own budget or Accounting Officer. If we want to avoid having to establish more commissions of investigation or tribunals of inquiry we need to give GSOC what it needs to do its job properly.

This person may be the best thing since sliced bread. Regardless of whether he is, however, if GSOC does have the staff and powers it needs, then all we are doing is making the beds while the house is on fire. Sadly, this is what has got us into the situation in which we find ourselves regarding An Garda Síochána.

8:00 pm

Photo of Michael Healy-RaeMichael Healy-Rae (Kerry, Independent)
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I wish Mr. Patrick Sullivan every success in his appointment, which I support. I, too, have questions with regard to the effectiveness and workings of GSOC. I am sure the Minister and members of An Garda Síochána are sick to death of the chipping away on the part of certain people regarding the role they perform. When it comes to An Garda Síochána, we should nail our colours to the mast. Our gardaí are the people on whom we rely to protect the State and to uphold law and order. They are the people on whom we call to put themselves in harm's way. I do not propose to name individuals because everyone here will be aware of the many fine people who have lost their lives in the course of performing their duties. Not every person, in terms of his or her work, has to put himself or herself in such danger.

As the elected representative of the people of County Kerry and a legislator in this Dáil, it is important that every so often I reiterate my support for law and order, for the people who enforce the rules and, in particular, for the legislation that this House enacts. I compliment the Garda Síochána. I do not believe this is the time to raise my concerns regarding GSOC. I wish Mr. Patrick Sullivan good luck in his appointment. Taking into consideration his vast experience and the many important roles he has performed for and on behalf of this State, I have no doubt he is the right person to carry out this important job. I wish him good luck in doing so. I reiterate my support for the rank and file gardaí, their management, including the superintendent, chief superintendents and sergeants, in the performance of their day-to-day duties on behalf of all of us. It is only right and proper to say that.

Photo of Mattie McGrathMattie McGrath (Tipperary, Independent)
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I, too, welcome the opportunity to comment briefly on the appointment of a member to GSOC. The current arrangement, in terms of the relationship between An Garda Síochána and GSOC, is not as effective as might be the case. There remain many areas of contention between both organisations. I do not think anybody would dispute that.

In April, Niall O'Connor reported that the president of the Association of Garda Sergeants and Inspectors, AGSI, said that he was concerned that GSOC is inadequately resourced to conduct fair and robust investigations into members of the Garda Síochána. There is nothing worse than a half-baked system of investigation or a half-baked management of a team. GSOC must have the resources and the wherewithal to conduct proper, fair and prudent investigations. I find incredible and somewhat disturbing the findings of the most recent public attitudes research poll commissioned by GSOC which indicate that only eight in ten Irish adults have heard of GSOC and that fewer than half of the members of the population are confident of the ability of the commission to resolve problems. This indicates how much work needs to be done in terms of improving not only the public's understanding of the role of GSOC but also its faith in the mechanism we have established to hold those in positions of authority to account.

For decades, there was no oversight in this area. There was a forerunner to GSOC - the name of it eludes me - which was based in Dublin and to which I made a complaint.

I had no sense of confidence that it had the interest, wherewithal or motivation to carry out proper investigations, and this was ten years ago.

When the chair of the Policing Authority, Ms Josephine Feehily, was before the Joint Committee on Justice and Equality a fortnight ago she referenced some of the challenges facing GSOC in terms of its effectiveness - one might more accurately say its lack of effectiveness. It is worrying that she should say this in this House. She noted that the regulatory architecture governing how GSOC operates was unnecessarily complex and crowded with much duplication. What has gone wrong with our system? I am not saying this is done deliberately but I see it in many areas of governance, where it is so complicated and unwieldy that it is just not effective. Is it lethargy on the part of the people who put institutions together or is it downright carelessness? I would like to think it is downright carelessness but it could be something more sinister. I do not know why the Minister is ag gáire because it is not funny. There seems to be a desire for confusion and muddying the waters instead of clear-cut policies and demarcation lines. This system has developed in the 100 years of our autonomy and independence.

Ms Feehily went on to say "The Garda believes there is too much oversight and accountability but we do not agree." She also said "Our report noted that one of the significant barriers to the effectiveness of the Policing Authority was the challenge of overseeing the performance of an organisation while the head of that organisation is accountable to somebody else, in this case, the Minister for Justice and Equality and the Secretary General of the Department." One cannot serve two masters, in business or any walk of life. We need clear boundary lines for people operating in these areas. She also said:

This has been a barrier to our effectiveness and has created serious confusion in the public mind. In the context of being a regulator, allowing the regulated body to have two places to go leads to a risk of gaps in oversight.

This is true. If we come to a crossroads and take the wrong way, we might still get home but it could be a very scenic route.

This is a good example of the blame game. Members of the Garda are the villains according to this, and the ones who resist oversight and accountability. I am not sure this is how the ordinary rank and file gardaí would see it and I do not accept it. Like Deputy Michael Healy-Rae, I salute An Garda Síochána of all ranks, including the new recruits in Templemore, whom we need but whom we need to arm with the tools of the trade and to support. We cannot have cases such as that of the young boy in Monaghan. He was slaughtered but there was no proper investigation. In another case in Dungarvan, two young men's lives were taken at sea without a proper investigation. I have a meeting with the chief superintendent in Waterford next Monday morning but it is like trying to get a meeting with the Pope. There are always barriers in front of people who seek justice.

No police force can police a country without the support of the public. I give them that support and I have been involved in the community alert scheme since 1998. I salute the ordinary rank and file but we need accountability up the line. I salute the gardaí in Sligo over the weekend, where we had a lot of guests. They did an excellent job and could not have been more courteous and pleasant. Every day and night they put their heads on the line so they need proper lines of communication if they have issues such as with discrimination or bullying. A lot of tidying up is to be done and I do not think changing one board member will do that.

8:10 pm

Photo of Róisín ShortallRóisín Shortall (Dublin North West, Social Democrats)
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I join with other Members in endorsing this proposed appointment of Mr. Sullivan as a commissioner to GSOC. He seems a very fine person. He seems to be very well qualified and has a long history of involvement in federal agencies and in law enforcement. He has very extensive investigative experience and has served as a deputy special agent with the US Secret Service. His curriculum vitae reads very well and he has a lot of relevant experience, as well as a reputation of being fearless and not afraid to stand up and speak out when necessary.

I am sure he will make a good commissioner and I wish him well. However, I have to express some concern about the process which is under way. While it is strictly in keeping with the legislation providing for the appointment of commissioners to GSOC, it is not really very satisfactory. Apart from Government, Members of this House do not know anything further about Mr. Sullivan than what we read on paper and what has been provided to us by the Department. It is no reflection on Mr. Sullivan himself but it would be far better - and would give him a stronger mandate - if an arrangement had been made for him to come in and meet with the justice committee and to have an opportunity to exchange views and be questioned on his background and his attitude to things in order that Members of this House could assess his suitability for this very significant post. In the interest of openness and transparency, and to enable Members of this House to do their job properly, it would have been much preferable if that opportunity had been allowed to members of the justice committee. As things stand, we have no choice but to take the Government's word on this. How could we go off and research somebody? It would be much better to meet candidates face to face and interact with them to get a sense of what they are like, and of their suitability or otherwise for a job.

This has been presented to us as a fait accompli. I accept that Mr. Sullivan is well qualified on paper and I am certainly not going to object to his appointment. However, it would be better to have had proper engagement with this prospective candidate. Having said that, I wish him well. He is entering into an organisation which is very important as the oversight body and watchdog for An Garda Síochána, though I do not know how familiar he is with the issues affecting GSOC at the moment. The organisation is extremely poorly resourced in terms of funding and there are issues around appropriate senior staff. There are issues around its powers and there is an undoubted need of substantial reform. There is not much of a point in having a watchdog unless it has teeth and we know that GSOC lacks teeth at the moment, not as a result of shortcomings on the part of people at the top of the organisation but as a result of its under-resourcing and the fact that it does not have adequate staff to carry out its important remit, which is to take complaints from the public about the performance by members of the Garda of their duties and to address issues raised by members of the Garda themselves.

It is important that the public has a high level of confidence in its police force but, for various reasons, public confidence in the Garda has taken quite a battering over recent years. There is an issue relating to the low morale of members of the Garda as a result of all the trials and tribulations they have had over many years. If the issues relating to whistleblowers had been dealt with properly at an early stage, we would have avoided a lot of the damage that has been done to public confidence and to morale within the force, and we would have avoided the procedures we are going through now in respect of investigations and the tribunal.

We are very good in this country at setting up oversight and watchdog bodies but we are very poor at resourcing them properly so they are hamstrung in doing the job. Unless those bodies are equipped to do the job properly, we will inevitably end up with situations where there has not been and there cannot be an adequate response to complaints made. They can then fester and become serious issues. That is what we have with the whistleblowing issue in the Garda at the moment and all of the damage that has been allowed to do. I refer also to the damage that was allowed to happen to individuals. It is important, from that point of view, if any public body is to function properly, that there is a well resourced and empowered oversight body to ensure that organisation works to the best effect for its own members and for the public.

GSOC acknowledged it is an organisation with serious issues. It has stated that it does not believe that complainants' issues are best addressed by the current system. That is a shocking admission for the organisation itself to make. For some time now, GSOC has raised these concerns. It has said that it needs to become an independent body and that it also needs proper resources to employ the kind of necessary and senior investigative staff required to carry out its duties adequately. Greater powers are also needed. GSOC has not, by any means, been silent about this. It has been rasing these concerns about its inability to respond adequately to complaints for a number of years. It has been doing that with consecutive Ministers. It started by doing it in one-to-one meetings with Ministers and by raising concerns confidentially. Then it had to become more public because Ministers made promises that GSOC's concerns would be addressed but they were not. They went unheard for a long time.

It was not until last January that GSOC felt that it had no choice but to go public about its concerns. Increasingly, it was being criticised for its failure to deal expeditiously with complaints coming before it. We are dealing with one of those issues later on tonight - I refer to the late Mr. Shane O'Farrell. There are many other scandalous cases like that as well that have not been addressed in a timely manner. We know that justice delayed is justice denied. That is what is happening because of the Government's failure to resource GSOC properly.

After ten years in operation and having handled more than 23,000 complaints from the public, GSOC is in a very strong position and understands what its own shortcomings are. It has called for radical changes. Its proposals include allowing GSOC to become a fully independent agency, that it would be constituted as such and that it would operate similarly to how the Committee of Public Accounts operates. It is an extremely unhealthy situation where the funding Department has oversight and responsibility for GSOC and at the same time has oversight and, as we know, an unhealthy relationship with the Garda. How can GSOC operate independently and with full confidence that it is going to be listened to while it is under the wing of the Department of Justice and Equality? It just does not work. It means we have a watchdog that does not really have teeth. That issue needs to be addressed.

We continue to tie the hands of GSOC because of the Government's failure to tackle this. There are endless delays giving it the necessary powers and resources and we are paying a big price for that. I refer to ongoing concerns among the public about lack of confidence in the Garda and its ability to police because of a lack of oversight. We cannot allow that to continue.

8:20 pm

Photo of David StantonDavid Stanton (Cork East, Fine Gael)
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I thank the Deputies for their contributions to this important debate. From the Minister's contribution earlier, I hope that it is clear to the House that the skills and experience that Mr. Sullivan has gained in both investigative and oversight roles demonstrates why he is a most suitable candidate for appointment as a member of GSOC. It cannot be stated enough that the work GSOC does every day benefits the society we live in by instilling a public belief that accountability extends to all public services and to the police service of the State in particular. All too often, words such as accountability are used without any due regard for the organisation's charter ensuring that accountability. Organisations such as GSOC are called upon when situations demand a strong, robust and unquestionable response.

When the organisation in question is An Garda Síochána, the Minister believes that we have to be particularly strong in our response. GSOC fulfils that role admirably. The public demands a police service that is independent in the exercise of its obligations and functions yet is accountable for those actions. Those bodies charged with oversight of our national police service must also be independent. It is incumbent on all of us to support those bodies and respect the outcomes reached by them. As the House is aware, the Garda Síochána Act stipulates that GSOC is independent in the exercise of its functions. The Minister has no role in the processing of individual complaints referred for investigation nor does he have any legal authority to intervene or interfere in any investigations undertaken. Indeed, this guarantee of independence is the hallmark of effective oversight.

I recognise the point made by Deputy O'Callaghan. As the Minister has stated, it was hoped that Mr. Sullivan could meet the Joint Committee on Justice and Equality before this resolution was taken in the House. However, as Mr. Sullivan still had commitments to his employers in the United States, that did not prove possible. I thank Deputy O'Callaghan for his and his party's expression of support for the nomination of Mr. Sullivan and, indeed, other Deputies and parties as well. I thank Deputies Ó Laoghaire and Deputy Sherlock for their support too.

I assure Deputy O'Callaghan there were no undue delays in moving to have the vacancy filled. Furthermore, to ensure full transparency, the services of the Public Appointments Service were utilised. This should reassure the House that the process was independent. On the question of whether Mr. Sullivan would have any commitments to any other organisation following his appointment to GSOC, the answer is he will not. His commitment is 100% to GSOC. There may, however, be a requirement that Mr. Sullivan give evidence in a case in the United States arising from his current work but that is something he will have to agree with the chair of GSOC.

It is important there is general consensus in the House on the nomination of Mr. Sullivan and I thank the Deputies for that. References were made to the independence of GSOC and the fact that it engages gardaí on occasion. These matters are being examined in light of GSOC's submission on legislative change and I have no doubt they will be addressed in the report of the Commission on the Future of Policing in Ireland That report is due to be presented in September. The Minister has dealt with the issue of resources in his speech. Mr. Sullivan is joining GSOC at a time of great transition within the field of policing. It is timely that we should welcome him as the newest member of GSOC and wish him every success during this time of transition.

Question put and agreed to.