Tuesday, 9 April 2019
Saincheisteanna Tráthúla - Topical Issue Debate
I am pleased that the Minister is here with us. The issue I raise concerns the criteria applied in the deployment of members of the Garda emergency response units or any other specialist entity within the force and the operational guidelines that apply once they are deployed. The matter has been prompted by an experience in my community two weeks ago. Before I left for Leinster House this day two weeks ago, Tuesday, 26 March, my home town and the wider community were awash with speculation about what had happened in Monaghan town that morning. The speculation had built by the weekend when I returned and had been fuelled by the absence of any explanation for what had actually taken place.
What is known is that a significant number of heavily armed members, clad in black, of some section of An Garda Síochána had been deployed in the town. There were reports of raids on buildings in the town centre and at least one domestic dwelling in a housing estate off a main approach road to the town. A man was reported as having jumped or fallen from a second floor window onto the street below and sustained at least one broken leg and possibly other injuries. Was he the subject of interest or one of a number of subjects of interest for An Garda Síochána? We do not know. What type of operation would give rise to such a deployment? Why was there such a show of heavily armed and presumably highly trained armed gardaí on the streets? We still do not know the reason for it.
In response to an inquiry from the local newspaper, the Northern Standard, the Garda press office issued the following:
Gardaí executed a search warrant at premises on Dublin Street in Monaghan at about 11 am on 26th March. During the course of the search a man was injured. The man was later treated for leg injuries in hospital. No arrests were made. The matter has been referred to the Garda Síochána Ombudsman Commission. There were no shots fired or anyone stabbed and no search took place at a named facility within the wider community.
That is the end of the statement and it is the only information that has been released to date of which I am aware. The statement is not wholly accurate. It says much less than what people already knew. Why is that? It refers to 11 a.m. but much of what took place happened at least two hours earlier that morning. It states that a search warrant was executed on premises in the town's Dublin Street. What were the members of the Garda expecting in the execution of this and other searches in Monaghan that morning? The deployment of a significant number of heavily-armed members of An Garda Síochána suggests they expected to be met by a level of serious resistance or, perhaps, firepower. Why else would they present such a show in such strength?
At a time when transparency and accountability are expected to be normal elements in the relationship between those who are entrusted to carry out the function of policing and those on whose behalf they act, the people of Ireland and its component communities, an explanation, a context or some level of openness should apply. No such explanation, context or openness has been given or displayed in this instance. Within whatever restrictions may apply, and I can understand this might be the case with regard to certain aspects, will the Minister offer my community an explanation or context for what took place?
Deputy Ó Caoláin will appreciate that the deployment of Garda resources, including personnel, and the deployment of specialist units such as the emergency response unit, ERU, are solely the responsibility of the Garda Commissioner and his management team. The emergency response unit is a highly-trained and well-equipped special intervention capability that is supported by a number of regional armed support units and a range of other resources across the Garda organisation.
I am advised that the detail of the number of gardaí and resources allocated to the ERU is deemed to be operationally sensitive and cannot be disclosed for security reasons but I can say that the Garda Commissioner has established an armed support unit, ASU, in each of the six Garda regions to provide an armed response capacity and capability to support and supplement the national emergency response unit. As the Deputy will understand, it is generally not the practice nor would it be prudent to disclose the detail of the security arrangements in place for the deployment of the ERU. To do so would plainly provide an advantage to those with ill intent and, of course, Ireland still faces many threats, chief among them the threat from dissident republicans.
The Garda Commissioner established the special tactics and operations command, STOC, in August 2017 following a number of recommendations in the November 2015 Garda Síochána Inspectorate report, "Changing Policing in Ireland". The objective of the STOC is to make policing safer by providing specialist firearms and less lethal services, including for spontaneous incidents such as emergency 999 calls and for pre-planned operations. The STOC has a number of specialist teams under its command including the ERU, the national negotiator and, within Dublin, the armed support unit. The STOC also has a governance role for the ASUs located outside Dublin as these are managed locally as regional resources.
The Garda Commissioner has provided the following information. On 26 March 2019, an incident occurred in Monaghan in which an individual was injured and was subsequently brought to hospital where the person received treatment. The matter was then referred to the Garda Síochána Ombudsman Commission, GSOC, by An Garda Síochána in accordance with section 102 of the Garda Síochána Act 2005. The Deputy will appreciate that given the independent role of the Garda Síochána Ombudsman Commission in investigating the incidents referred to it, it would be inappropriate for me to comment any further at this time.
The Minister has shed no light on what took place or what it was about. He referred to armed response capacity. To what is it a response? I am told the estimates for the number involved was in the order of 20 to 30. They were heavily-armed and disguised members of An Garda Síochána. What was their purpose? What was it all about? It certainly created significant disruption that morning. Children going to school were subjected to the spectacle of a significant disturbance in their housing scheme and in one of the principal streets at the heart of our town.
The Minister has just stated that an incident occurred in which an individual was injured. Unless we are told to the contrary, the individual who was injured was obviously reacting to what would have been a very frightening presentation. I do not know whether he was a person of interest or whether anybody associated with him was. I know nothing of that but it would be a terrible travesty if he was an innocent party who was frightened into an action that resulted in serious injury and his hospitalisation. What was it about? It is important that the House is advised on what the criteria are for the deployment of such a number of heavily-armed and disguised members of An Garda Síochána. It should not be part of normal policing behaviour or activity. It should only be a response where significant threat or the prospect of same presents.
Once again, can the Minister shed any further light on the mystery of the events in Monaghan town of 26 March? Otherwise, the mystery continues.
As I said, it is not the practice, nor would it be desirable, to disclose the details of the security arrangements in place for the deployment of the emergency response unit or the armed support unit. However, I impress upon the Deputy the independence and importance of the Garda Síochána Ombudsman Commission. It is an independent body which was established to receive complaints made by members of the public concerning the conduct of members of An Garda Síochána. While the funding of the commission is provided through the Department, the commission is independent in the operation of its functions.
Deputy Ó Caoláin has put certain matters before the House regarding the disposition of the individual and the circumstances. The House would be rightly critical of me, as Deputy Ó Caoláin would be, if I sought to interfere in any way with the investigation of an incident by GSOC. The House passed legislation by a substantial majority to establish the Garda Síochána Ombudsman Commission. It behoves us, therefore, to comply with the provisions of that legislation with regard to the independence of that body. Like Deputy Ó Caoláin, I await the result of the investigation, which is undoubtedly taking place as we debate this issue.