Thursday, 11 July 2019
Criminal Justice (International Co-operation) Bill 2019: Committee Stage (Resumed) and Remaining Stages
On moving the amendment last night, Deputy Maureen O'Sullivan made a number of valid points about the lack of co-operation Ireland has received from the United Kingdom, UK, in respect of the public investigations the State has carried out into the Dublin and Monaghan bombings. In particular, the inquiry conducted by Mr. Justice Barron and, to a lesser extent, the investigation conducted by Mr. Patrick McEntee SC, did not get the information sought from the authorities in the United Kingdom. It is a legitimate criticism we can make in the House that the UK has not provided relevant information which goes to serious allegations, namely that there was collusion in the bombings on the part of British authorities. While I accept fully the validity of the points Deputy O'Sullivan made, we should not agree to make ourselves uncooperative simply because the British state has been uncooperative.
The Minister for Justice and Equality stated yesterday that the immediate purpose of the legislation related to the ongoing inquest into the Kingsmill massacre. I do not know whether An Garda Síochána has any information that may facilitate the historical investigation into that outrage but if it does, we should provide it irrespective of whether there is reciprocity in the investigation and inquiries in respect of documentation and information held by the United Kingdom. I understand the point Deputy O'Sullivan sought to make. She wishes to include in the Bill an arrangement that would generally exist in regard to extradition whereby there would have to be reciprocity between two countries. However, the fact that the United Kingdom has failed in its duty to provide information and documentation to Ireland in respect of the heinous bombings in Dublin and Monaghan should not make the State adopt those same low standards. We should provide co-operation in respect of outrages irrespective of whether there is reciprocity. Nevertheless, the Government should continue its campaign and urging of the British Government to provide us with relevant documentation and information in respect of the Dublin and Monaghan bombings. As such, while I recognise the validity of the point Deputy O'Sullivan makes, I will not support the amendment.
While I concur with Deputy O'Callaghan, I was struck by Deputy Maureen O'Sullivan's contribution last night. Deputies O'Sullivan, Crowe and I worked with the Minister, Deputy Flanagan, when he was Minister for Foreign Affairs and Trade on the terrible atrocities committed in May 1974, including the heinous murders of 34 people between Dublin and Monaghan. Of course, there have been other tragedies for which justice has never been attained and in respect of which families have never got the truth.
When the Minister, Deputy Flanagan, served as Minister for Foreign Affairs and Trade, he continually pursued with the British Government the need for it to respond positively to the request that has been made unanimously by the Oireachtas on three occasions - in 2008, 2011 and 2016 - for an eminent international legal expert to be given access to all the papers pertaining to the Dublin and Monaghan bombings. It is absolutely deplorable that the British Government has continued to ignore the request of this sovereign Parliament. Its behaviour in responding to this sovereign Parliament in such a manner is completely intolerable and unacceptable.
The Minister will be familiar with the bombing in Belturbet in December 1972. Two teenagers - young Paddy Stanley from Clara, County Offaly, which is in the Minister's constituency, and Geraldine O'Reilly from Belturbet - were killed that night. Even though people can speculate about who carried out that heinous crime, nobody has ever been brought to justice for it. These cases need to be pursued as vigorously and strongly as possible. Some family members have pointed out to me that as they get older, they are keen to find out the truth about what happened on these occasions. They are worried that they will never get justice and closure. They are continuing to grieve for their family members who died.
Deputy Maureen O'Sullivan mentioned that, last week, a number of us met members of Protestant and Catholic families from Northern Ireland who believe they are not getting a hearing as they seek to highlight their terrible suffering as a result of the murder of their loved ones. As the Minister will be aware, the Joint Committee on the Implementation of the Good Friday Agreement has devoted a considerable amount of time to legacy issues. Many of the families and individuals concerned often think nobody is listening or pushing hard enough to deal with these issues. We have to send a message that every possible avenue will be pursued to try to lessen the terrible grief that these people are going through on a daily basis.
There is another issue with which we need to deal. I have tabled questions on the need to reappoint a victims' commissioner in this State. The former Tánaiste, the late John P. Wilson, who was my constituency colleague and friend, was appointed as the first victims' commissioner in 1998 following the signing of the Good Friday Agreement. As I recall, the equivalent position in Northern Ireland was held by Mr. Bloomfield at that time. The position previously held by Mr. Wilson is currently vacant. Families need to be able to go to a person or office and be confident that the appointee will pursue their interests and work with statutory agencies and the Governments to try to find some way of establishing the truth about all of these tragedies. As time goes by, siblings, parents, children and other family members are getting older without getting closer to the truth. We must continue to highlight this issue. We have to work as assiduously as possible to try to achieve some progress in this area. Overall, I welcome this important legislation.
I want to make it clear that I am not saying we should not be providing information to the other jurisdiction. I am very much supportive of the provision of information. It has to be acknowledged that efforts in this jurisdiction to get information about atrocities that happened here are not succeeding. Over 45 years have passed since the Dublin and Monaghan bombings. Some of the other incidents we are trying to get information on happened slightly more recently. Are we going to allow the British authorities to continue to be uncooperative?
Perhaps the Minister can come up with a solution because the British authorities are continuing to stonewall us every time we raise this matter and urge them to consider our perspective. I am aware that the Minister, the Tánaiste and the Taoiseach have been pursuing this matter. Many of us have attended meeting after meeting to try to get truth and justice for the victims. Can the Minister outline how he intends to resolve this impasse if information is not forthcoming? What can we do if the British authorities continue to refuse to provide the information for which people have been waiting? That is the kernel of what I am at. The families of those who died in the Kingsmill massacre deserve an investigation and the truth. They have also been waiting. The other groups, families and individuals who have been waiting also deserve the truth.
I mentioned Dr. Thomas Leahy's research last night. It would be useful to have a look at what the Irish Government can do, based on his research. For example, there are outstanding recommendations from the Barron reports that have never been implemented. Will there be a commitment on the Government's part to implement those recommendations? A number of files in the Department of Justice and Equality have not been made available to the National Archives of Ireland. Will the Minister consider the appointment of an independent committee of academics to advise on this matter? We know about the dreadful way in which the Ludlow family has been treated. Nothing is happening in all of these cases because the British authorities will not co-operate. The Government is going to do all the co-operating. It just does not add up for me.
I am not going to engage in tit-for-tat. However, I must point out that for more than 45 years our experience has been that information has not been forthcoming from the other side. Deputy Brendan Smith mentioned the victims' commissioner. Last night, I mentioned the possibility of establishing a victims' forum. The Government could do many other things, including the establishment of a day of remembrance. I ask the Minister to respond to the question I asked last night about the Garda liaison officer. What are the terms of reference? What sort of exchange of information will there be? It is a cliche to say that justice delayed is justice denied, but in this instance it is true. It is heartbreaking to met people, whose family members have died, who are still waiting. I do not doubt that the Minister is pursuing and raising these matters and using all the words that need to be used, but he is just not getting anywhere with the British authorities.
I thank Deputy Maureen O'Sullivan for tabling this amendment and initiating the discussion we are having now and had late last night. I am not in a position to accept her amendment. I understand and appreciate the level of frustration that has been identified and amplified here regarding the lack of response to or significant engagement with the Dáil motions on the matter of the Dublin and Monaghan bombings, which have been mentioned by Deputy Brendan Smith. However, I do not believe the proposal in the amendment before the House represents anything like a solution.
First, the amendment suggests that the Garda Commissioner may refuse to provide assistance because of the possibility that a request concerning a Troubles-related crime in this jurisdiction will not be met with appropriate assistance. The House will be aware that the only person who has the authority to investigate a specific incident is a coroner. He or she is not a repository for all information on criminal activities relating to the conflict in Northern Ireland. It is unfair to expect a coroner to accept responsibility, in any form, for the action or inaction of other agencies. I do not believe that is what Deputy Maureen O'Sullivan intends.
Second, the amendment, as worded, requires that the decision to refuse assistance be made by the Garda Commissioner. The three reasons for refusal, as outlined in section 3(4), are all based on the functions of An Garda Síochána as outlined in the Garda Síochána Act 2005. The Garda Commissioner has an obligation to fulfil these functions. The effect of the amendment would be to require the Commissioner to make a political value judgment on whether the coroner will assist in unrelated cases in this jurisdiction.
Third, and perhaps most important, I want to reiterate what is the purpose of the Bill. The Government is seeking to help the families of the victims of the conflict in Northern Ireland to access information to the maximum extent that is legally possible. As Deputy O'Callaghan stated on Second Stage, in doing that it would be unwise to give any vent to the possibility that there may be a hierarchy of victims. We cannot escalate the withholding of information from families and victims as something of a negotiating tool. I know this is not Deputy Maureen O'Sullivan's intention but it would be the consequence, effect or impact of her amendment.
I agree with Deputies when they say that the level of progress, particularly around the specific incident mentioned by Deputies Brendan Smith, Maureen O'Sullivan, Ó Laoghaire and O'Callaghan, namely, the Dublin-Monaghan bombings, has been particularly slow. I would go further and say that it has been non-existent in recent years. I assure Deputies Brendan Smith and Maureen O'Sullivan, who raised this issue, particularly Deputy Brendan Smith who raises it on a regular basis in the House with me and the Tánaiste and Minister for Foreign Affairs and Trade and in other fora, that the Tánaiste, the Taoiseach and I will continue to raise this issue at the highest level - Head of Government level, as far as the Taoiseach is concerned. At a most recent meeting of the British–Irish Intergovernmental Conference, I raised the lack of progress and my frustration and that of my colleagues on this matter. The UK Secretary of State for Northern Ireland undertook to check matters out with a view towards the provision of a progress report. I must say that with the passage of this legislation, hopefully by tomorrow, I anticipate that there would be a greater level of urgency on the part of everybody involved to ensure these issues can be addressed in a way that meets the needs of the victims. In that regard, I believe it is time for all of us in this House - I again acknowledge the cross-party support in this House - Westminster and, of course, Belfast to demonstrate a level of progress. I believe that if we do so here, which we will, and I know there is an expectation of the part of people, particularly in Northern Ireland that this Bill will be enacted prior to our summer vacation, and show genuine progress, I expect that others will follow.
As fewer than ten Members have risen I declare the amendment lost. In accordance with Standing Order 72, the names of the Deputies dissenting will be recorded in the Journal of the Proceedings of the Dáil.
I move amendment No. 2:
In page 5, between lines 2 and 3, to insert the following:“(6) (a) Where a decision is made by the Garda Commissioner to refuse in full or in part the request for assistance, the Coroner who made the request may seek a review of this decision by a Judge of the High Court.
(b) The request for a review shall be made in writing to the President of the High Court, who shall nominate a Judge of that Court to conduct the hearing.
(c) The Judge nominated under paragraph (b), shall hold a hearing in camera with the Garda Commissioner, who shall outline the basis of his refusal.
(d) The Judge nominated under paragraph (b)may direct the Commissioner to accept the request for assistance, or to accept parts of the request for assistance previously refused, if they are satisfied that it is in the interests of justice to do so, and if they are satisfied that to do so would not—(i) be likely to prejudice the sovereignty, security or other essential interests of the State,
(ii) be likely to prejudice a criminal investigation, or criminal proceedings, in the State, or
(iii) otherwise be inconsistent with the functions of the Garda Síochána under section 7 of the Act of 2005.”.
Section 3 relates to the Bill’s most substantive provision regarding the procedures which will exist for the Garda, as an institution, to co-operate and to provide testimony through a coroner’s inquest. It deals with how it would accede to a request from an inquest which would involve a garda of a rank not lower than chief superintendent being questioned by a judge in the High Court and then it being witnessed by the coroner, or his or her representative, who has requested the information.
The procedure is that the request comes into the Garda Commissioner. The Garda Commissioner consults the Minister. The Garda Commissioner then makes the decision to accept the request for assistance, refuse it or accept it in part. In doing so, having consulted the Minister, the Garda Commissioner must be satisfied that doing so may likely prejudice the sovereignty, security or other essential interests of the State, may likely prejudice a criminal investigation or criminal proceedings in the State, or otherwise be inconsistent with the functions of the Garda Síochána under section 7 of the Act of 2005.
The procedure is all well and good. However, the reality is the decision is ultimately that of the Garda Commissioner. There is no scope for review or for oversight of that. It gives the Garda Commissioner a considerable amount of power. Given the weight and importance of these inquiries for families and survivors who are seeking the truth about Troubles-related deaths or incidents, I believe the coroner should be entitled not to agree with what he or she may consider an unfair decision.
This amendment, through a careful mechanism, provides for a coroner who had his or her request refused to seek a review of this decision by a judge of the High Court. This judge, who would be nominated by the President of the High Court, would hold an in camerahearing with the Garda Commissioner who would outline the basis for his or her refusal. The same judge would have to have regard to the same three considerations, namely, it may likely prejudice the sovereignty, security or other essential interests of the State, may likely prejudice a criminal investigation or criminal proceedings in the State, or otherwise be inconsistent with the functions of the Garda Síochána under section 7 of the Act of 2005.
Therefore, the judge would then have to make a decision as to whether to accept the argument of the Garda Commissioner and whether he or she believes the Garda Commissioner should co-operate with the request from the coroner or whatever organisation is seeking that request. In the context of what we are talking about, namely, the weight of the situation and the sensitivity involved, it is right for the coroner to have the opportunity, in a careful way, to have this decision reviewed and reconsidered. Such judge-led oversight is not unusual for legislation such as this, whether in this jurisdiction or elsewhere. It is a proportionate and carefully weighted amendment but one that is important to ensure every opportunity is given to the coroners to have maximum co-operation from An Garda Síochána in an inquest.
I thank the Deputy for tabling the amendment and for his comments thereon. I must disappoint him by saying I have three fundamental problems with it. First, from a drafting point of view, it is unclear. Second, from a practical point of view, I see difficulties in the outworking of the amendment. Third, and most importantly, it seems to go against the grain of the main objectives of the Bill.
On the drafting, the amendment is not consistent with the mechanism outlined in section 3. The amendment, as stated by the Deputy, provides for a High Court judge, following a review of the decision, to direct the Garda Commissioner to accept the coroner's request for assistance that he or she had previously refused. However, there is no other amendment to any other part of section 3 to either set aside the Garda Commissioner's original decision or to require the examining judge in subsection (9) to take account of the outcome of the High Court judge's review. Again, it is not clear how a review of an appeal by a judge of the High Court, as proposed in this amendment, may be binding, for example, on the other High Court judge who is conducting the examination of the Garda witness. Again, there are legal problems with this that do not add up from a practical perspective.
Even if the amendment was consistently reflected in the section, and this is the most important reason I have a problem with it, it is contrary to the overall objectives of the section. Section 3 is designed to foster a further spirit of co-operation between the Northern Ireland coroner and the Garda authorities to allow the coroner in Northern Ireland access to Garda testimony in a form that will be admissible in the inquest in Northern Ireland. The practical outworking of this is that the Garda and the coroner would work closely on the request for assistance. The application of the mechanism to take Garda testimony would always be preceded by a significant measure of co-operation, with the exchange of information under a formal co-operation agreement concluded under section 5. A conflict between the Garda Commissioner and the coroner would not arise at the stage of the application of the mechanism in section 3. I invite the Deputy to check the reasons listed in section 3(4) for the Garda Commissioner to not accede to a request for specific information. To my mind, these reasons are fundamental to the functions of An Garda Síochána, namely, the protection of life, the vindication of human rights, the pursuit of justice and the preservation of peace and security in this State for all its residents and citizens. Section 3(4) protects the integrity of these Garda functions.
The amendment, as proposed, would be unprecedented in cross-Border assistance in criminal justice matters. I point out that participating states and agencies enter into co-operation arrangements in a spirit of trust and confidence but at all times they remain in a spirit of accommodation and co-operation. While some restrictions are necessary, such as in section 3 of the original Criminal Justice (Mutual Assistance) Act 2008, this would be in order to ensure the integrity of national sovereignty and the criminal justice process but these are rarely invoked because of the high level of engagement and trust that has been cultivated by the participants.
In this regard, I acknowledge the high degree of trust between the PSNI in Northern Ireland and An Garda Síochána here. That is a level of trust that is likely to be maintained in the context of the relationship with the coroner. I say that because the Garda is much accustomed to operating within these accepted frameworks. Again, I invite Deputies to agree with me that the level of co-operation, trust and confidence in terms of engagement between An Garda Síochána and the PSNI has never been so positive and good. That trust and engagement is never undermined by the threat of a judicial process or a challenge to the integrity of the decision maker. For those reasons, I am not in a position to accept the amendment.
Before I call Deputy O'Callaghan, I remind Members that the order of today's business gives us only 40 minutes to deal with all of this. Members might take that into consideration when speaking to the amendments.
Section 3 deals with Northern Ireland Troubles-related inquests and also what is referred to as "a designated United Kingdom inquest." The legislation is relatively simple in how it will operate. A coroner in Northern Ireland or in a designated inquest in Britain will make a request to the Garda Commissioner and will provide the Garda Commissioner with a list of questions he or she wants answered and the Garda Commissioner then makes a decision whether to comply with the request or to refuse the request. One of the grounds on which a Garda Commissioner could refuse a request is if he or she thought the questions were outside the knowledge of An Garda Síochána or were inappropriate. However, I would have thought that in the vast majority of scenarios, the Garda Commissioner would accede to the request. If he or she refuses, he or she shall refuse on specified grounds, which are set out in section 3(4). For instance, I know Deputy Ó Laoghaire is concerned about a refusal of a Garda Commissioner to provide a member of the force to answer questions but say a Garda Commissioner makes such a refusal, he must do so on the basis of the three examples set forward in subsection (4), namely, that if he or she were to do so it would: prejudice the security of the State; prejudice a criminal investigation; or otherwise be inconsistent with the functions of An Garda Síochána under the Act. If the Garda Commissioner decides to refuse that, it is open to the coroner to judicially review that decision. For that reason, the amendment is unnecessary, and even if it was necessary, I would have concerns about the amendment because under this process, a judge is to be nominated by the President of the High Court, and this judge is to have an in camera hearing with the Garda Commissioner. That sounds like a meeting between the Garda Commissioner and the High Court judge in camera where no one gets to hear what is said. That is not consistent with the principles of justice. It would also expressly exclude the coroner from being present at that hearing so that he or she could argues his or her side of the case.
On balance, it is an unnecessary amendment and if it was inserted into the legislation it would open up all sorts of issues in respect of section 6(c) of the proposed amendment, which talks about there being "a hearing in camera with the Garda Commissioner" and the judge with no one else there. That is a recipe for problems.
The Minister said my amendment would be contributing to a hierarchy of victims. There has always been a hierarchy of victims because victims in the North are treated differently from those in the South. The victims in the North will have a historical investigations unit, whereas the victims in the South will not. The atrocities in the South are considered as crimes. We are told the Garda is waiting on new evidence but we know the Garda has not acted on the evidence it has got.
The amendment is also heavily weighted in favour of one set of victims over another. The Minister spoke about trust, confidence and co-operation. Where has that been for the past 40 years for victims in the South?
To a large extent I agree with what Deputy Maureen O'Sullivan said about inadequate procedures for victims in the South. Having said that, I do not believe this amendment is heavily weighted in one direction or another. It simply is to ensure the potential for oversight. I hope that any legislation that would exist in the North - we would argue for it likewise - and the British legislation would have the potential for oversight.
I do not accept what the Minister said. He is incorrect in his comments on drafting of the amendment. It is a mistaken understanding of the sequencing. The Minister spoke about referring back to the High Court judge who will undertake the questioning or testimony, but, of course, that testimony will not happen if the request has been refused. This happens at the stage that it has been refused or refused in part. Therefore it would actually be happening before the procedure the Minister is talking about. From a drafting point of view there is no difficulty there and it clearly stands on its own. It does not have to refer back to the other procedures because what would happen if the judge was not satisfied that the Garda Commissioner was applying the section correctly. That is quite clear and is there in black and white. From a drafting point of view, I am very confident that it is properly worded.
From a policy point of view on the rights and wrongs of this, the comments of both the Minister and Deputy O'Callaghan assume that everything works as it should. We would not have legislation like this if everything worked as it should. Clearly one would hope and I would expect that the Garda Commissioner - and anyone holding that office in years to come - and the gardaí will co-operate properly in a spirit of trust, co-operation and desire to assist the victims of the conflict. I hope they would apply the section correctly and that they weigh up the three considerations they have been asked to weigh up here.
When the request comes in, there are two potential refusals: the Garda Commissioner could refuse to facilitate the testimony by correctly applying these tests or the Garda Commissioner might not apply them correctly and refuse to co-operate for reasons that do not fit within the three categories outlined.
Deputy O'Callaghan spoke about a judicial review. I am not sure the coroner could seek a judicial review of the decision of the Garda Commissioner as outlined in section 3. Even if he or she could, I am sure it would be a very difficult situation for the coroner of another jurisdiction to seek a judicial review against the Garda Commissioner in this jurisdiction.
Deputy O'Callaghan also talked about proceedings in camera. Much of this procedure needs to be carefully managed. It has to be careful in terms of it being tight and all the rest of it. Therefore I think that is appropriate. It would be difficult to have a review of the grounds given considerations such as security, prejudice and criminal investigations. I am not sure it would be possible to have an examination by the High Court judge of the Garda Commissioner's grounds unless the Garda Commissioner was in a position to be perfectly frank and I am not sure that could possibly happen in a public hearing.
The same High Court judge could potentially conduct a judicial review or could potentially conduct the testimony as provided for in section 3. It is important that the High Court judge would have the opportunity to hear what the Garda Commissioner is saying and accept or not accept that he or she had applied the section correctly.
We all expect and hope, and I am quite optimistic, that all requests for co-operation will be facilitated as best as possible and that this section would be applied correctly, as I believe it will be. However, in this legislation, as in other legislation, there must be provision for cases where the procedures do not work as they are meant to because they do not always. We would not be dealing with legislation of this kind if public authorities always acted as they should. Therefore it is a perfectly proportionate, carefully weighted opportunity for the coroner to seek a review in a manner that is very much in the spirit of the rest of the legislation. It keeps it very carefully protected where that is necessary but also ensures that people have every opportunity to have co-operation regarding inquests into what happened to their families and to them.
Deputy Maureen O'Sullivan referred back to her earlier amendment. In recent times the Tánaiste and I have made the importance of this quite clear to the British Government. On a number of occasions Dáil Éireann has passed motions unanimously that an independent international judicial review take place in respect of all the documents in order to establish the full facts of the Dublin and Monaghan bombings, and other attacks in this jurisdiction as evidenced by the contributions of Deputy Brendan Smith. We have made it clear that in the absence of a response from the British Government the matter remains of deep concern to the Government here. We will continue to engage at the highest level, including at Head of Government level through the Taoiseach.
I say to Deputy Ó Laoghaire that the precedent of the mechanism that was employed in respect of the Kingsmill killings is that to which we are referring in this legislation. No conflict between a Garda Commissioner and a coroner should arise nor would it arise at the stage of the section 3 mechanism. That is one reason for not accepting the amendment. In addition it is incomplete in its drafting and could be unworkable. I ask the Deputy to withdraw it.
John Brady, Tommy Broughan, Pat Buckley, Joan Burton, David Cullinane, Dessie Ellis, Martin Ferris, Michael Fitzmaurice, Kathleen Funchion, Brendan Howlin, Martin Kenny, Denise Mitchell, Imelda Munster, Paul Murphy, Louise O'Reilly, Jan O'Sullivan, Eoin Ó Broin, Caoimhghín Ó Caoláin, Donnchadh Ó Laoghaire, Aengus Ó Snodaigh, Maurice Quinlivan, Eamon Ryan, Róisín Shortall, Peadar Tóibín.
Richard Bruton, Peter Burke, Catherine Byrne, Dara Calleary, Ciarán Cannon, Joe Carey, Shane Cassells, Lisa Chambers, Joan Collins, Marcella Corcoran Kennedy, Michael Creed, John Curran, Michael D'Arcy, John Deasy, Pat Deering, Regina Doherty, Timmy Dooley, Bernard Durkan, Alan Farrell, Charles Flanagan, Brendan Griffin, Simon Harris, Seán Haughey, Martin Heydon, Heather Humphreys, Paul Kehoe, Seán Kyne, John Lahart, Josepha Madigan, Helen McEntee, Finian McGrath, Tony McLoughlin, Mary Mitchell O'Connor, Michael Moynihan, Margaret Murphy O'Mahony, Dara Murphy, Eoghan Murphy, Eugene Murphy, Denis Naughten, Hildegarde Naughton, Tom Neville, Jim O'Callaghan, Kate O'Connell, Patrick O'Donovan, Fergus O'Dowd, Kevin O'Keeffe, Fiona O'Loughlin, Frank O'Rourke, Maureen O'Sullivan, Éamon Ó Cuív, John Paul Phelan, Thomas Pringle, Michael Ring, Noel Rock, Shane Ross, Brendan Smith, Niamh Smyth, David Stanton, Robert Troy, Katherine Zappone.
I move amendment No. 3:
In page 7, between lines 31 and 32, to insert the following: “(4) Within three months of the Commissioner coming to such an agreement as outlined in this section, the Minister shall require from the Commissioner a report outlining the nature, purpose and value of this agreement to the objectives in subsection (1), and the Minister shall cause a copy of this report to be laid before both Houses of the Oireachtas.”.
As discussed, there are already powers in the Garda Síochána Act for the Garda to enter into agreements with police in other jurisdictions. The legislation before us will provide for the Garda to enter into agreements with agencies that are not police but rather those that are comparable to the Policing Authority, the Garda Inspectorate, the Garda Síochána Ombudsman Commission, GSOC, coroners' inquiries or historical related units such as the anticipated historical investigations unit or the independent commission for information retrieval. Similarly, it will allow GSOC to enter into agreements with comparable organisations. The purpose of the amendments is to provide that the Garda Commissioner or GSOC will lay a report before the Houses of the Oireachtas, via the Minister, outlining the purpose, nature and value of the agreement. Entering into such agreements is valuable and useful and, in the context of the legislation, will facilitate people's ability to have truth and justice for their individual cases. In general, it will be of value if the Houses are kept informed of any such agreements through a report being laid before them.
The amendments are problematic insofar as it is not clear how a report could outline the nature, purpose or value of the agreements. By nature and purpose, they are co-operation agreements on the exchange of information and it is unclear how the value of agreements, in general, can be assessed within an arbitrary period of three months. I am concerned the amendments have the capacity to undermine the purpose of the agreements being provided for and could also act as a disincentive to concluding the agreements. Moreover, the amendments apply only to co-operation agreements for which I am providing in the Bill, namely, a co-operation agreement with the Garda Síochána and a non-law enforcement agency in another jurisdiction, and a co-operation agreement between GSOC and a law enforcement agency or police ombudsman in another jurisdiction. I cannot accept the amendments as drafted.
Ultimately, it would be just a report and I do not accept it would be problematic. The value would be partially subjective. It would be for the Garda Commissioner or Garda Síochána Ombudsman Commission to provide an evaluation that states what either considers to be the value of the agreement, either for the Garda or GSOC or for the corresponding jurisdiction. That is the purpose of the amendments. Provisions in a range of legislation ensure that the Houses have oversight of significant decisions taken by certain public bodies, including the Garda Síochána or GSOC. The amendments are relatively modest and make sense. I ask that the Minister consider them or, if not, that he consider them in the Seanad.
For example, a case could involve an asset recovery agency in another jurisdiction. It could be problematic or even damaging to compel the Garda Commissioner to produce a report on the value of co-operation between the Garda authorities and such an agency. I see problems with having to commit such a report to writing and to make it available within three months.
I move amendment No. 4:
In page 9, between lines 13 and 14, to insert the following:“(4) Within three months of the Commissioner coming to such an agreement as outlined in this section, the Minister shall require from the Ombudsman a report outlining the nature, purpose and value of this agreement to the objectives in subsection (1), and the Minister shall cause a copy of this report to be laid before both Houses of the Oireachtas.".
I move amendment No. 7:
In page 3, lines 7 to 10, to delete all words from and including "and" in line 7 down to and including "purposes" in line 10 and substitute the following:"to enter into agreements for co-operation with certain persons or bodies outside the State; to permit the Garda Síochána Ombudsman Commission to enter into agreements for co-operation with law enforcement agencies or certain other persons or bodies outside the State; and for those purposes and other purposes".
Pursuant to Standing Order 154(3), I must report to the Dáil that the Committee has amended the Title to the Bill as follows:
An Act to provide for the taking of evidence in the State from a member of the Garda Síochána for the purposes of certain inquests and inquiries held in the United Kingdom of Great Britain and Northern Ireland; to permit the Garda Síochána to enter into agreements for co-operation with certain persons or bodies outside the State; to permit the Garda Síochána Ombudsman Commission to enter into agreements for co-operation with law enforcement agencies or certain other persons or bodies outside the State; and for those purposes and other purposes, to amend the Garda Síochána Act 2005; to amend the European Arrest Warrant Act 2003; to amend the Criminal Justice (Mutual Assistance) Act 2008; and to provide for related matters.