Dáil debates

Thursday, 3 October 2019

Defence Forces (Evidence) Bill 2019: Second Stage (Resumed)

 

Question again proposed: "That the Bill be now read a Second Time."

3:05 pm

Photo of Paul KehoePaul Kehoe (Wexford, Fine Gael)
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I concluded the last day by saying that an item of evidence obtained under Part 6 of this Bill in connection with an offence or alleged offence against military law may be used in any court martial proceedings concerning the alleged offence. It is important to note that Part 6 also has detailed provisions for the destruction, after specified time periods, of evidence obtained under section 34. This will occur when proceedings concerning an offence against military law have not been instituted within a 12-month period of the taking of the item of forensic evidence, or in cases where proceedings have been instituted but the person in question have been acquitted, charges have been dismissed or the proceedings have been discontinued. In addition, the item of forensic evidence will be destroyed where the person's conviction is quashed or the conviction is declared to be a miscarriage of justice under section 2 of the Criminal Procedure Act 1993. Part 6 also includes some necessary provisions concerning the analysis of fingerprints taken from persons in service custody.

Part 7 deals with the destruction, after specified time periods, of samples taken tor the purposes of the DNA database system and the removal from that database system of DNA profiles generated from such samples. This Part sets out the circumstances in which samples and profiles may be destroyed or removed from the DNA database. It also provides for the extension, in certain circumstances and for specified time periods, of the retention period of such samples and associated DNA profiles. This will occur where the provost marshal determines that it is necessary to retain any such evidence to assist in an investigation. However, as a safeguard, the Bill provides that an affected person may submit an appeal to a summary court martial against any such decision taken by the provost marshal. Again, the procedures for the retention and destruction of forensic evidence under this part are similar to those contained in the Criminal Justice (Forensic Evidence and DNA Database System) Act 2014 and also in Part 6 of this Bill.

Part 8 sets out the offences and arising under this Bill and the penalties that may be imposed for such offences. Part 9 provides that the Minister for Defence shall, not later than six years after commencement of this Bill, review the operation of certain aspects of Parts 6 and 7 of the Bill and thereafter conduct similar reviews at such times as the Minister considers appropriate. Following any review under this Part, the Minister may, by ministerial order, reduce the periods set out in Parts 6 and 7 for the retention of evidence obtained under these Parts. A similar review provision is included in the 2014 Act. Before making any order under this Part of the Bill, the Minister for Defence shall have regard to any order made by the Minister for Justice and Equality under the equivalent section of the 2014 Act. This is to ensure that there is consistency between the provisions of this Bill and the 2014 Act.

Part 10 includes miscellaneous provisions such as the delegation by the provost marshal of the functions assigned to him or her under this Bill to members of the military police, the making of regulations by the Minister regarding the taking of samples and procedures for the transmission of samples for forensic testing. These provisions are technical but are important to ensure the effective operation of the legislation.

Part 11 sets out some minor amendments to the Criminal Justice (Forensic Evidence and DNA Database System) Act 2014 which are required on foot of this Bill. The amendments have two principal purposes. First, the functions of the DNA database system oversight committee established under Part 9 of the 2014 Act will be extended to cover the DNA military police database system. Second, amendments are being made to Part 12 of the 2014 Act which implement, among other matters, the DNA and fingerprint data aspects of EU Council Decision 008/615/JHA

in Irish law. As Deputies will be aware, the Prüm Council Decision contains provisions concerned with the stepping up of cross-border co-operation, particularly in combating terrorism, cross-border crime and illegal migration. These amendments to the 2014 Act are necessary to apply the provisions contained in that Act regarding the reciprocal searching of DNA databases and automated fingerprint identification systems maintained by states for criminal investigation purposes to any DNA or fingerprint data obtained by military police in the course of their investigations.

Part 12 includes some miscellaneous technical amendments to the Defence Act 1954 and the Courts-Martial Appeals Act 1983 which arise from this Bill. The primary purpose of these amendments is to provide that a summary court martial may deal with applications concerning various matters arising under this Bill.

I am very pleased to submit this legislation for the consideration of the House. I commend the Bill to the House.

Photo of Jack ChambersJack Chambers (Dublin West, Fianna Fail)
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Fianna Fáil will support this Bill, which was published several years ago. I hope that some of the recently announced measures progress at a faster rate. The heads of this Bill were approved in 2015. They were published almost five years ago but we are only seeing the Bill and debating it for the first time now. It shows that there must be a more active attempt within the Department of Defence to update much of the legislation contained in the legislative programme. The programme lists a defence Bill, the heads of which were approved in 2018. Is there a five-year timeline for the implementation of legislation? Can the Minister of State clarify why we have had to wait nearly five years for this legislation to be brought before the Dáil? This is the first defence Bill to be brought before the Oireachtas since 2013. It is incumbent on the Minister of State and his Department to provide more active implementation of various reforms.

Many in the defence community would like to see an update of legislation concerning the working time directive, which the Department of Defence and the Department of Employment Affairs and Social Protection have been working on. I note with some disappointment that this legislation has been listed as "Other" legislation, the lowest priority which could be attached to it in the legislative programme. As such, it is unlikely that we will see any progress on it in this Dáil. That is very unfortunate. It will be a blow to the Defence Forces' representative associations that this Bill is not getting the degree of priority it should.

It is wrong when Bills to ensure that our serving men and women receive a fair and correct rate of pay are relegated to the list of other legislation. The Minister of State needs to move on the working time directive. Numerous other items of legislation have been promised and proposed in recent years but this is the first defence Bill introduced in years and the first in the lifetime of this Dáil. This is regrettable and requires further explanation.

I welcome and will support this modernising Bill, which mirrors what is already in place in the criminal justice system with regard to DNA samples being taken and used by An Garda Síochána. While we support the proposals, it should be noted that this is lengthy and complex legislation which needs to be examined. From my engagement with the members of the Defence Forces, there was an expectation that the Bill would include measures to professionalise the military police corps and codify who could serve in particular roles. Perhaps the Minister of State will outline whether he will propose amendments in respect of the military police in order that the Bill will not simply deal with evidence but will update other matters. There was an expectation in the defence community that the Minister of State was going to expand the legislative remit of the military police corps, such as in the context of overseas missions. I seek further information on this and perhaps the Minister of State will update the House on whether there was ever a proposal to update the legislation in this regard.

Generally, there is a feeling that the military police corps is below strength and under-resourced. The provisions of this Bill will not change that. In recent days, I heard that a number of people have left the military police to join a multinational that is paying them multiples of what their former colleagues are paid. The exodus from this part of the Defence Forces is ongoing and the Bill will do little to address it. The Minister of State could have broadened the Bill to include modernising the corps.

In the main, the changes proposed will ultimately allow the military police to better carry out their work. The military police already have close working ties with a range of agencies involved in crime detection, including the Office of the State Pathologist, the Garda National Technical Bureau and the Forensic Science Ireland. The Bill will ensure even greater co-operation between these agencies and the Defence Forces, which is to be welcomed.

The Bill will also enable the creation of a DNA database system to hold samples taken and this will be managed by Forensic Science Ireland. This is a modern and useful tool in crime detection used in investigating serious crime in a broad range of areas. Fianna Fáil published legislation in 2010 to set up a DNA database. The database has helped in more than 750 cases since its establishment, and so should be welcomed. It is also extremely useful in exonerating innocent individuals and for the purposes of identifying missing or unknown persons. When the legislation to set up the existing database was being debated, Fianna Fáil pointed out the need for similar provisions to apply to the military police. That was many years ago.

Fianna Fáil is studying in detail the process of taking samples in order to ensure this is done in a proper and safe manner. The Bill states that nothing in it authorises the taking of a sample in a cruel, inhuman or degrading manner. There are also references to non-intimate samples being extracted using reasonable force. Perhaps the Minister of State will provide more information on what this means and the legislative effect of what is proposed in this regard. The legislation states that samples can only be authorised where there are reasonable grounds for suspecting involvement in an offence. This is an important safeguard and it is appropriate that it is in the Bill.

As per the existing DNA database, I note the strict rules governing the destruction of samples where proceedings have not been initiated against an individual or where a person is acquitted of an offence or has his or her conviction quashed. As already stated, the Bill has been promised for the past half decade. A great deal has changed in the past five years but one thing that is unchanged is the need for more activity regarding the pace of reform in the Department under the leadership of the Minister of State. Why have we waited so long for the Bill after the heads were published? The Minister of State clearly does not have an active legislative role because no other Bills relating to his area of responsibility have been forthcoming. If we are to progress reform in the Defence Forces, a Bill such as this should have been passed in the previous Dáil or, if not, early in the term of this Dáil. Had this been done, we would now be discussing the working time directive and the defence (amendment) Bill, the purpose of which would be to improve matters for our service personnel overseas. There is also legislation to update the legal framework of the Red Cross. This is on the list of other legislation and probably will not be dealt with in the lifetime of this Dáil. These are matters on which the Minister of State can comment.

For people in the defence community, the fact we are now discussing the first item of defence legislation introduced in the lifetime of this Dáil does not give much hope for an implementation plan in other areas of the Defence Forces, such as in the context of the findings of the pay commission. Much import has been attached to the work of the high-level working group involving the Department and the Department of the Taoiseach in that regard. If the pace of change is the same as that relating to the legislative programme, it will not give much hope to those who badly need improvements in pay and allowances.

We support the legislation but we would like to see the Minister of State in the House more with other Bills relating to his portfolio. Perhaps he will inform us when he intends to bring the next such Bill before the Dáil.

3:15 pm

Photo of Seán CroweSeán Crowe (Dublin South West, Sinn Fein)
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I will begin by thanking the Oireachtas Library and Research Service for the work it has done on the Bill. Its digest is very useful for Opposition Deputies. It is a resource and facility we tend not to talk up but it is very useful.

There is a danger that many of the concerns I intend to express will lead to repetition because they are similar to those raised by Deputy Jack Chambers. I refer, for example, to the fact that the Minister of State, in his wisdom, has decided to prioritise this Bill over others that we believe are more important because of the crisis in the Defence Forces, particularly as it relates to the retention of personnel. If I were in the position of the Minister of State, this Bill might not necessarily have been my priority.

The Bill makes provision for members of the military police to take and use DNA samples. It also provides for the establishment, management and oversight of a DNA military police DNA database system operated by Forensic Science Ireland. It largely mirrors the Criminal Justice (Forensic Evidence and DNA Database System) Act 2014, with necessary adjustments to accommodate the specific military context. That Act provided for the establishment of a DNA database for use by An Garda Síochána and replaced the arrangements for the taking of samples for forensic testing.

As Sinn Féin did with the Criminal Justice (Forensic Evidence and DNA Database System) Act 2014, we support the spirt of the Defence Forces (Evidence) Bill 2019. We will not oppose it on Second Stage but, like all legislation, it needs detailed and robust examination on Committee Stage. It is possible that we will table amendments to strengthen the Bill. I will be interested to hear what the Minister of State has to say at the end of Second Stage.

The Bill also provides for: the collection of intimate and non-intimate samples; the establishment and content of a military police DNA database; and the retention of data. A central issue in the establishment of a DNA database involves the challenge of striking a balance between the rights of the individual to privacy, bodily integrity and the privilege against self-incrimination with wider societal interests in preventing disorder and crime. The use of DNA evidence also raises concerns about the laws of evidence, particularly the admissibility of such evidence and the value or weight that may be attached to it once admitted. There is also concern about the chain of evidence and where the evidence is taken abroad.

Sinn Féin believes the lawful and effective collection and use of forensic evidence from crime scenes, victims and suspects can be crucial for obtaining sound convictions that are not based on confession evidence alone, a practice that has led to widespread abuse of the right to due process.

In some cases, forensic evidence also can be crucial to avoiding wrongful conviction while the true culprit evades justice. We hear of this all the time in other jurisdictions but it could also apply in this jurisdiction. The use of forensic science to solve criminal cases is growing globally.

Sinn Féin therefore acknowledges the need for collection and analysis of forensic evidence. However, my party is also aware that forensic science is constantly evolving and the degree of its accuracy is a continual matter of debate among experts. For example, in 2009 a debate emerged among forensic scientists on whether a certain type of internal bleeding seen in infant deaths can only be caused by the shaking of a baby, which finding generally results in a murder conviction.

These are many more situations in which the use of forensic evidence is at the very least uncertain and potentially could lead to perversion of justice.

Sinn Féin therefore believes that ongoing research is needed in a variety of areas where forensic methods and definitions, both newly emerging and established, are being used for the prosecution of persons.

Notwithstanding what I have said, most methods of forensic evidence gathering are accepted by Sinn Féin as being generally relevant and necessary methods of criminal investigation where applied to the appropriate standard by trained personnel and under appropriate supervision and monitoring.

Part 5 of the Bill provides for the establishment of the military police DNA database system. The database will be established by the director of Forensic Science Ireland.

We have had a DNA database since November 2015, following the enactment of the Criminal Justice (Forensic Evidence and DNA Database System) Act 2014. By the end of 2018 a total of 26,649 DNA profiles had been uploaded to the DNA database, which is a significant number. Is the Minister of State satisfied that the forensic science laboratory has the necessary equipment, resources and staff to meet the demands of this Bill? This is a concern that will no doubt be echoed by other Opposition spokespersons. There is no point in passing this legislation only to be faced with poor resources.

The overall purpose of the database is set out in section 26 of the Bill, which states the database "shall be used only for the purpose of the investigation and prosecution of an offence against military law, whether committed [inside] or outside the State." Function creep is an issue of concern with this Bill. Sinn Féin does not want to see a gradual widening of the database beyond the purposes for which it was originally intended. Many people with a civil liberties background would have a concern about the retention of information such as this.

Section 72 of the Bill sets out a number of general principles related to the taking of DNA samples. Samples must be taken in a way which affords reasonable privacy to the person. They need to be human rights complaint. Samples must not be taken from a person in the presence or view of another person whose presence is not necessary. That is a practical suggestion. Nothing in the Act authorises the taking of a sample in a cruel, inhumane or degrading manner. That is a reasonable approach and part of the safeguards in the Bill. A sample being taken from a person in custody must not be taken while they are being questioned. If questioning has not been completed before the sample is taken, it must be suspended while the sample is being taken. Again it should not be something oppressive that is used to pressurise into making a statement or whatever. Again this is welcome.

Section 10 of the Bill sets out the procedure for the taking of intimate samples from persons in the custody of the military police. Such samples may only be taken if a member of the military police not below the rank of captain authorises it. Consent must also be given by the person from whom the sample is to be taken. That mirrors the evidence the practice in the Garda Síochána where an officer of a senior rank is required.

The authorisation can only be given where there are reasonable grounds from suspecting the involvement of the person in the relevant offence and for believing that taking the sample will tend to confirm or disprove that suspicion. The person may withdraw their consent before or during the taking of a sample. That is important because for those who feel oppressed by it or uncomfortable with it, it should be one of the safeguards, particularly with intimate samples. Intimate samples may only be taken by a registered medical practitioner, a registered nurse or a registered dentist, as appropriate.

Section 11 of the Bill sets out the procedure for the taking of non-intimate samples from persons in custody. As with intimate samples, the taking of a non-intimate sample must be authorised by a member of the military police not below the rank of captain. The authorisation can only be given where there are reasonable grounds from suspecting the involvement of the person in the relevant offence and for believing that taking the sample will tend to confirm or disprove that suspicion. This seems fair and reasonable.

I have some concerns regarding the collection of DNA samples for the purpose of the investigation and prosecution of an offence against military law committed outside the State and how that would work. I ask the Minister of State to elaborate on that. We may be able to discuss it on Committee Stage. We have concerns over how the samples are held and the chain of command.

The retention of DNA samples and profiles is an important part of this legislation. Under section 47, both intimate and non-intimate samples must be destroyed under certain circumstances. However, section 48 provides that these periods may be extended by the provost marshal in certain specified circumstances that seem justifiable and reasonable. It might be no harm for the Minister of State to elaborate on that. He may already have done so in his speech.

Sections 51 to 54, inclusive, of the Bill deal with the issue of retention and removal of DNA profiles on the military police DNA database system. DNA profiles must be removed immediately from the database in certain exceptional circumstances outlined in section 53. The provisions as outlined seems reasonable and proportionate but I look forward to a more detailed discussion on Committee Stage,

Like others, I am concerned about resources. The Defence Forces have a designated strength of 9,500 but now have only 8,653 personnel. There is a full-blown recruitment and retention crisis. Morale is on the floor. Recruitment and retention have been all but impossible due to poor pay and cut after cut to allowances that Defence Forces members rely on to make a living. Every official representative body for the Defence Forces along with some unofficial groups have been shouting in public and in private about this crisis but it is deepening rather than being resolved. The simple question is as follows. Is the Minister of State providing the military police with enough resources to carry out these new measures? Is the Defence Forces' strength adequate to carry out these new measures? Has the Minister of State had discussions with representative organisations of Defence Force members about this Bill, which proposes serious changes?

The Minister of State needs to have everyone on board. If members of the Defence Forces have concerns, those concerns will need to be addressed. Defence Forces members are on the front line and the proposed changes will affect them. The Minister of State needs to engage fully with them about their concerns. Perhaps he can answer these questions in his summary. We will support this Bill but it would be useful to go into more detail on Committee Stage to strengthen it and address concerns about its impact on civil liberties and personal freedom.

3:35 pm

Photo of Mattie McGrathMattie McGrath (Tipperary, Independent)
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The Defence Forces (Evidence) Bill 2019 seeks to provide for members of the military police to take and use DNA samples, primarily from members of the Defence Forces. It also provides for the establishment, management and oversight of a DNA military police database system operated by Forensic Science Ireland.

Ar an gcéad dul síos, ba mhaith liom mo bhuíochas a ghabháil leis na military police a bhíonn anseo go déanach gach oíche agus go luath gach maidin. They look after us here always with decorum and dignity and have a proud record of doing that in the many decades since the inception of the State. I salute them and thank them for that and the many other duties they perform.

As I understand it, the Military Police Corps is responsible for the prevention and investigation of offences, the enforcement of discipline and the general policing of the Defence Forces. It has additional wartime roles, including the control of prisoners of war and refugees. We face Brexit and many other imponderables and unknowns, including talk of creating a border, which I have been mentioning for three years. I travel once a year to Bosnia-Herzegovina although I have not yet gone this year. Massive border posts have been constructed in the past ten years on a motorway in that country, not by the Bosnians or Croatians but by the European Union. I put that to Michel Barnier in this House when he came to talk about this and he played blind man's bluff saying that if we were to have a hard Brexit, we would not have a border. The devil and his mother, the queen and the cats and dogs on the street knew we would have to have a border. It is as simple as that but all we got was bluff and bluster. Maybe the military police will be called on much more often. Like others, I wonder if it is well enough resourced.

Traditionally, the military police also has considerable involvement in State and ceremonial occasions. We saw them in the wonderful 100th anniversary of the first Dáil organised by the Ceann Comhairle and his officials. It works closely with An Garda Síochána which also assists in providing specialist training to the military police in the area of crime investigation, which is to be welcomed.

The Bills digest, prepared by the Oireachtas Library and Research Service, provides an interesting outline of the uses of DNA which the military police will be allowed to collect under this Bill. The digest notes that DNA evidence as a forensic tool has been described as "the single greatest advance in the search for truth since the advent of cross-examination". That is a fair statement.

The Law Reform Commission, in its comprehensive report on the subject, identified the purpose of a DNA database as assisting in three areas. The first is in "identifying links between crimes, such as in the case of stains left at the scene of the crime by serial offenders", and we know the havoc serial offenders can cause. The second is in the "rapid exclusion from the ambit of the investigation of suspects who are already on a database and whose profiles do not match". This has to be a good thing and a welcome advance in modern technology. The third is in the making of "cold hits", which is "where a stain is matched with a profile of a person on the database who was not a suspect". That is also a major breakthrough which could save a lot of time, energy and effort and could speed up many investigations. A DNA database is, therefore, capable of being used in a number of stages of the criminal justice process.

It is for these obvious benefits that I see no overwhelming reason to oppose the Bill before us. Any concerns I may have had with respect to data collection and privacy seem to be have been comprehensively addressed in the Bill. For example, I note that DNA profiles must ordinarily be removed from the database within three months of the occurrence of specified circumstances set out in the Bill, such as where the person has been acquitted or a conviction was quashed, or where no proceedings have been instituted within 12 months of the taking of the sample from which the profile was generated. However, the Provost Marshal may, in certain circumstances, authorise an extension of the retention period by 12 months to assist in the investigation of an offence. The maximum time a profile can be retained on the basis of such extensions is six years and the person from whom the original sample was taken can appeal the extension. These provisions all appear to be adequate in terms of the protections we would expect. I hope that in the Committee Stage debate we will be able to get more assurance on that area.

I could not let the occasion go without drawing attention to the shameful neglect of our Army, military police and Garda Síochána and the downright blaggarding that the Ministers give them, especially the Defence Forces. The Minister of State has been in his job for six years and this is his first Bill. I may be corrected but that says a lot about the order of importance the Government gives to the Defence Forces, which have served us so well. That includes the many members who have a proud record of service in Kickham Barracks in Clonmel, which the Government has ravaged and devastated. We could keep Cromwell out of Clonmel but we could not save our barracks from the Fine Gael Government. It has taken away every vestige of pride we have in Tipperary but it will pay for it very soon.

Photo of Seán Ó FearghaílSeán Ó Fearghaíl (Ceann Comhairle; Kildare South, Ceann Comhairle)
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The Deputy should try to stick to the provisions of the Bill.

Photo of Mattie McGrathMattie McGrath (Tipperary, Independent)
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I am making my comments on the Bill but it would be remiss of me not to support our good soldiers and the military police. I have acknowledged the work they do here but the Defence Forces do not have the numbers. We heard only last week of the crisis in the Air Corps which does gallant work. It will not have pilots to fly the military helicopters. Twice in the past 12 months the Defence Forces on peacekeeping duty have been abandoned and could not get home to their families and loved ones after their six-month stint, with cock-ups here and there. This should not happen. With military precision these things would not and should not happen, if the Minister of State had his eye on the ball and he cared enough about the Defence Forces. I know constituents who were looking forward to coming home for first communions, confirmations and weddings but were held up as they were doing their tour of duty, leaving their loved ones waiting for them. We got glib answers when we asked the question as much as to say we should not be asking it. I will always stand up for members of the Defence Forces because I know what they do. The Government is giving them paltry pay, below the minimum wage and the family income supplement hardly keeps them going. An army cannot march on an empty belly in a time of war. The members of the Army have to have the wherewithal and the tools of the trade to provide for their families and to put a roof over their heads, which is a noble gesture.

It is the same for the Garda Síochána. We heard blunder and bluster this morning from the Minister for Justice and Equality about all the new policies. I met a garda outside this building today. She told me she was sent up here to mind us but her duty today was in Temple Bar, as a community garda. There was only one squad car and two gardaí along with her and she was sent up here. That is shocking in the capital city. That is going on in every corner of Ireland and the Government thinks it can wipe it away. That was told to me today at approximately 11.45 a.m. after I had questioned the Minister for Justice and Equality.

Photo of Seán Ó FearghaílSeán Ó Fearghaíl (Ceann Comhairle; Kildare South, Ceann Comhairle)
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The Deputy is wandering again.

Photo of Mattie McGrathMattie McGrath (Tipperary, Independent)
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I admit I am wandering but I am just putting that on the record. I am nearly finished. That is what the Government is standing over and this is the first Bill the Minister of State could be interested in bringing forward for the Defence Forces. All we get is disdain when we raise the issues. The Minister of State and the Government are neglecting the Army, military police and all the other officers of the State and taking them for granted because they cannot strike. That is disdain. They are noble and proud people who do noble service and I am proud of them. The Minister of State should respect them.

3:45 pm

Photo of Paul KehoePaul Kehoe (Wexford, Fine Gael)
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I thank the Deputies who spoke for their constructive contributions and comments during the debate. As I stated in my opening remarks, this technical legislation will be of major assistance to the military police in their investigations. Deputies commented on how long the Bill has taken to be progressed. While its general scheme was approved in 2015, the Bill was technically complex to prepare and there was a requirement to seek legal advice on a number of issues, which I hope Deputies will accept. Careful consideration had to be given to the intersection of military and criminal law. People will understand we had to ensure we got it right. It is no use bringing a Bill into the House if it is not done right and that is discovered only later. I thank my officials for their preparation of this technical legislation.

Deputies may be aware the military police are responsible for carrying out investigations of alleged offences against military law. Such investigations can occur either within the State or outside it. Deputy Crowe asked whether if something happened overseas, whether with UNIFIL or wherever, the military police would have the powers to investigate the situation. The principal purpose of the Bill is to enable members of the military police to take and use DNA samples and other evidence for the purposes of their investigation. The Bill will provide the military police with a clear statutory basis for the taking of evidentiary samples from military personnel when they are on overseas service or on aeroplanes or ships. As such, it will enhance the capability of the military police to carry out their investigation of serious offences.

The military police who collect and collate such samples will be trained to the same standard that An Garda Síochána currently is. As I stated earlier, the Bill mirrors the Criminal Justice (Forensic Evidence and DNA Database) Act 2014, which provides for the taking of DNA samples by An Garda Síochána for the establishment of a DNA database with a view to assisting An Garda Síochána in its investigation of crime. Some may question why no provision was made in the 2014 Act for the Defence Forces, including the military police. Differentiating between the roles and responsibilities of the military police and An Garda Síochána would have resulted in cumbersome and more complex legislation.

The Bill is different from the 2014 Act in further specific areas. In overall terms, the Bill reflects the military police environment and the role of the military police in that regard. As Deputies will appreciate, An Garda Síochána deals with the entire population, whereas the military police deal only with members of the Defence Forces. In addition, the military police do not have the scope of responsibilities or authority that is exercised by members of An Garda Síochána in the public domain. The Bill does not include provisions in respect of minors. As Deputies will know and understand, a person cannot enlist in the Defence Forces below the age of 18. Under the 2014 Act, samples may be taken from people under the age of 18 but one must be at least 18 years old to be a member of the Defence Forces and as such, the military police will not engage with minors in the taking of DNA evidence.

Elements of the Bill that were not included in the 2014 Act include extraterritorial provisions whereby members of the military police can take DNA samples from Defence Forces personnel where they are serving overseas in postings or missions or while serving on State vessels or aircraft. Where a member of the Defence Forces is suspected of having committed an offence against military law while serving on an overseas mission, the Irish military police will take the lead role in investigating the offence, including by taking evidential samples should that be required. Subject to the direction of the Director of Military Prosecutions, any such offence would then be prosecuted under military law, rather than criminal law, before a court martial.

The referenced legislation for An Garda Síochána is different from that applicable to the Defence Forces. In this regard, the Bill includes amendments to the Defence Act 1954 and the Courts-Martial Appeals Act 1983 arising from provisions of the Bill. It also includes consequential amendments to the Criminal Justice (Forensic Evidence and DNA Database System) Act 2014. Similar to that Act, the Bill strikes a careful balance between ensuring there is an effective statutory basis for the operation of DNA database systems along with the need to take account of the rights of individuals whose DNA samples or profiles are placed on the database. The military police will be responsible for the collection of evidence provided for in the Bill, including samples from the DNA profiles that may be generated. The relevant person performing the duties will have completed the same course of training as that undertaken by An Garda Síochána crime scene investigators, who perform similar duties.

As I stated earlier, any samples taken under the Bill may be taken only in connection with the investigation of a relevant offence. For the purpose of the Bill, this means an offence for which a person is subject to military law may be punished or imprisoned for a term of five years or more. This will cover offences such as serious assault, rape, murder etc. Accordingly, I envisage that the powers will be exercised by the military police infrequently.

I thank Deputies for their contributions to this important legislation. I remind them comprehensive defence legislation is in place for the operation of the Defence Forces. Legislation is introduced when legally required. Deputy Jack Chambers referred to the working time directive. That legislation is being prepared by the Department of Employment Affairs and Social Protection and not by my Department, which I thought the Deputy would have known. It concerns my Department and is a priority for it but it is a matter for An Garda Síochána and the Department of Employment Affairs and Social Protection. If the Deputy wishes to find out about the matter, I suggest he table a parliamentary question and I have no doubt-----

Photo of Jack ChambersJack Chambers (Dublin West, Fianna Fail)
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We have a responsibility to the troops to pass legislation on the matter.

Photo of Paul KehoePaul Kehoe (Wexford, Fine Gael)
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-----that the Minister, Deputy Regina Doherty, will be only delighted to help the Deputy in that regard. At a recent session of parliamentary questions in the House, I outlined to the Deputy the progress of the legislation and where it was being prepared. I clearly explained that it was not being prepared by my Department.

I thank Deputies for their contributions. Deputy Crowe carried out in-depth research on the Bill. I look forward to exchanges we will have on Committee Stage on this highly technical legislation. I thank my officials for the considerable work they have done on this Bill in tandem with the Office of the Attorney General.

Question put and agreed to.