Thursday, 21 October 2021
Ceisteanna ar Sonraíodh Uain Dóibh - Priority Questions
An Garda Síochána
80. To ask the Tánaiste and Minister for Justice and Equality if she has engaged with the Garda Commissioner in respect of further issues regarding the appropriateness of the management and cancellation of computer-aided despatch incidents and 999 calls (details supplied); and if her Department has provided administrative assistance and or advice to Garda management on same to date in 2021. [51666/21]
This question relates to the cancellation of a very significant number of 999 calls. I am seeking information from the Minister as to whether her Department has provided administrative assistance or advice to Garda management on that issue in 2021.
I thank Deputy Catherine Murphy for raising this matter. As the Deputy will be aware, I consider any inappropriate cancellation of 999 calls a very serious matter. This falls significantly below the high standards that the public expect from gardaí and the high standards that An Garda Síochána sets for itself. I am particularly concerned that anyone experiencing domestic abuse or anyone in a vulnerable position who summoned the courage to seek assistance may not have received it.
The Policing Authority was asked by the Minister, Deputy McEntee, to oversee the review being carried out by An Garda Síochána in regard to this matter and there have been a number of engagements between the authority and An Garda Síochána since March this year.
I share the authority's concern about the continuation of what appears to be the inappropriate cancellation and classification of calls since the introduction of the new procedures. These circumstances will of course be considered by the authority as part of its continuing oversight of the Garda review of this matter and will be taken into account in the work being carried out by an external policing expert who has been appointed to assist the authority in this task. I await the outcome of the authority's work in this regard.
My Department has ongoing engagement with the Garda authorities regarding their work to address issues which have arisen in respect of the management of 999 calls. The question of the Department providing administrative assistance has not arisen. However, I do not think that would be appropriate, having regard to the Commissioner's statutory responsibility for the administration of An Garda Síochána. I will, of course, consider any recommendations the authority chooses to make regarding the future management of these matters.
When was the Minister's colleague, Deputy McEntee, first informed that there would be an obligation to inform her under section 41 of the Garda Síochána Act 2005? Did the Minister or, indeed, the acting Minister for Justice or the Garda Commissioner receive any protected disclosures in regard to the cancellation of these calls? If there were protected disclosures, what happened to them? When the issue was reported in The Sunday Timesin late 2020, what precisely was communicated? Was it communicated through the press office? There is a sense that what was communicated initially was that there was some technical issue. That certainly was not my reading of the situation. Has there been full and frank engagement between the Minister and Garda throughout this process?
I thank the Deputy. The Policing Authority was asked by the Minister, Deputy McEntee, to oversee the review being carried out by An Garda Síochána. There have been a number of engagements between the authority and An Garda Síochána since March this year. Regarding the exact date that the Minister was made aware of this, I do not have the information to hand but I will make sure it is provided to the Deputy.
I share the concern of the authority about the continuation of the inappropriate cancellation and classification of calls since the introduction of the new procedures. As the Deputy knows, the independent policing expert is carrying out a separate examination of the review and that is being carried out by the Garda authorities which will assist the authority in its oversight of this matter and its advice to me in this regard. The Commissioner has said that it is of concern to him and he has referred the matter to the authorities.
I asked the Minister about protected disclosures. She might come back to me on that very specifically. It appears to me that there is certainly an issue with the credibility of the Garda National Protective Services Bureau. Would the Minister accept that is the case? Not only were large numbers of 999 calls cancelled, in areas where people were very definitely at risk, that continued even after that issue had been notified and was in the public domain. Has the Minister communicated anything in regard to that directly with the Garda Commissioner?
Regarding the protected disclosure, the Deputy will appreciate that there is a duty of confidentiality regarding protected disclosures as set out in the Protected Disclosures Act 2014. It would not be appropriate for me to comment on a protected disclosure.
There have been. I will get my officials to provide the Deputy with that information. The Commissioner is taking this very seriously. The management of An Garda Síochána is a matter for the Commissioner. The Commissioner is due to appear before the authority next week, as the Deputy will know. I expect that this issue will be raised at that meeting. This is oversight in operation. That is exactly what this is about. That shows the structures are in place to ensure that when there is a problem there is oversight in place to deal with it. We need to allow the Policing Authority to do its work and await the report.