Thursday, 10 September 2020
Ceisteanna Eile - Other Questions
7. To ask the Tánaiste and Minister for Justice and Equality if she has contacted the Garda Commissioner about the burning out of a car that was being held as evidence by An Garda Síochána as part of the investigation into the abduction of a person (details supplied) to ascertain the way in which this occurred; and if she will make a statement on the matter. [22988/20]
Has the Minister for Justice and Equality contacted the Garda Commissioner about the burning out of a car that was held as evidence by An Garda Síochána as part of an investigation into the abduction of a person in order to ascertain why this occurred? Will she make a statement on the matter? This is a serious incident. For many years, Garda evidence used to go missing. I had hoped, however, that the Garda reforms we have had recently would have ensured that this would not happen any more. This happened in the past 12 months, however, and it is very concerning.
As the Deputy will be aware, section 26 of the Garda Síochána Act 2005 provides that the Commissioner is responsible for the direction and control of An Garda Síochána. The Garda Commissioner is also responsible for the day-to-day management of An Garda Síochána, which includes investigations of alleged crimes and other relevant matters.
As Minister, I have no role in these matters and, therefore, it would be inappropriate for me to comment on an investigation carried out by An Garda Síochána, in particular in respect of a case currently before the courts.
Generally, however, and to try to be of assistance to the Deputy, I understand that where no facilities for the storage of vehicles exist in Garda stations, the Garda tenders for such services. Contracts for the storage of vehicles are awarded locally following a comprehensive tendering process. As part of any such process, applicant companies are required to meet certain security criteria and submit to an evaluation by the local crime prevention officer. In cases in which incidents such as those mentioned by the Deputy occur, they are fully investigated. I am informed that the premises where the vehicle is stored will be subject to a further security review.
For many years we came across situations in which video evidence was "lost" or evidence was destroyed or went missing. Down the years we have had whistleblowers come forward with various such examples. A lot of reform and work was done, in fairness, to try to move things forward and move that culture to one side to ensure that this stopped happening. I fully appreciate and understand that this is a live case before the courts and that it would not be appropriate to go into the detail of it. The incident has occurred, however, and it reflects very badly on the reform we expected to have brought us well past any such situation happening now. The view among the public is, "Here we go again", and that it is back to this type of situation again. I do not think that will be good for anyone but I believe this incident needs to be a red flag to ensure that nothing like it happens in the future.
I do not want to give the Deputy a short answer, and it is not that I do not want to answer him, but, given the very serious nature of what we are talking about and the situation in general surrounding this case, it is important I do not say anything that could impact a case currently before the courts. As I have outlined, however, there is a very clear process where there is no storage or capacity available within An Garda Síochána's facilities. The Garda has to go through a very rigorous process to ensure that anybody who does win a contract for storage goes through a certain set of security criteria.
What has happened here should not have happened but this is being investigated. I am informed there is a security review under way based on this incident but I cannot say any more on that.
I wrote to the Garda on this and asked if there were any other incidents where evidence of this nature went missing or vehicles were burned while in Garda pounds or under Garda custody. I did not receive any reply, which was disappointing. The thing that struck me about it was that it is not something that happens. If a file was shredded, it is likely there is at times a process where files are shredded and the wrong file could get mixed up and be accidentally shredded. However, cars or vehicles are not being burned. It is not something that can accidentally happen. It clearly has a sinister nature and that is how most people would see it. It requires the Minister to ask questions as to why this has happened and to make sure that there is an absolute guarantee that any pound or compound storing vehicles that could be used as evidence in cases would be safe and that there would be no possibility of this happening again.
I agree we need to ensure that any kind of evidence being kept or stored is kept safely. That is why there is a security review under way as to what happened here specifically. I do not know of any other such incidents nor do I have figures of incidents like this. I do not know if that information is available but I reassure the Deputy that this is being looked at and a review is under way. We do not want to see this happening at any stage with any kind of evidence and it is important that all the correct procedures and mechanisms are followed by anybody who is given a contract through the Garda or any Government body and that something like this does not happen.