Dáil debates

Tuesday, 16 November 2021

Ceisteanna - Questions

Policing Reform

4:10 pm

Photo of Mary Lou McDonaldMary Lou McDonald (Leader of the Opposition; Dublin Central, Sinn Fein)
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5. To ask the Taoiseach if he will report on the policing reform implementation programme office based in his Department. [47864/21]

Photo of Alan KellyAlan Kelly (Tipperary, Labour)
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6. To ask the Taoiseach if he will report on the policing reform implementation programme office based in his Department. [55856/21]

Photo of Dara CallearyDara Calleary (Mayo, Fianna Fail)
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7. To ask the Taoiseach the details of the policing reform implementation programme office based in his Department. [55890/21]

Photo of James LawlessJames Lawless (Kildare North, Fianna Fail)
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8. To ask the Taoiseach if he will provide a report on the policing reform implementation programme office of his Department. [55893/21]

Photo of Mick BarryMick Barry (Cork North Central, Solidarity)
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9. To ask the Taoiseach if he will report on the policing reform implementation programme office based in his Department. [55898/21]

Photo of Micheál MartinMicheál Martin (Taoiseach, Department of An Taoiseach; Cork South Central, Fianna Fail)
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I propose to take Questions Nos. 5 to 9, inclusive, together.

A Policing Service for our Future is the Government's plan to implement the report of the Commission on the Future of Policing in Ireland. As recommended in the commission's report, implementation of the plan is being overseen by a dedicated programme office in the Department of the Taoiseach. The policing reform implementation programme office, PRIPO, monitors progress on A Policing Service for our Future, and supports the work of the implementation group on policing reform, IGPR. The office also keeps the high-level steering board on policing reform and the Cabinet committee on social affairs and equality apprised of the progress being made. The programme office has been resourced with appropriate expertise in project management; policing; justice; and public service reform.

A Policing Service for our Future is a living document, which is reviewed and updated by the programme office as required to maintain ambitious but realistic commitments, timeframes and milestones. A Policing Service for our Future is broken down into four stages of implementation, namely, the building blocks phase; the launching phase; the scaling phase; and the consolidation phase. The first two phases have been completed and much has been achieved, for example, the roll-out of a new operating model for An Garda Síochána, designed to streamline Garda administration and to provide a more visible, responsive and localised policing service to communities nationwide, is under way; An Garda Síochána has established and strengthened resourcing of a human rights unit and re-established the strategic human rights advisory committee; pilots of local community safety partnerships, LCSPs, are being undertaken in three locations around the country, namely, in Dublin's north inner city, Waterford city and county and County Longford; the development by An Garda Síochána of an equality, diversity and inclusion strategy statement and action plan 2020-21; and the launch of a three-year Garda health and well-being strategy, which will see the introduction of additional health and well-being supports.

Progress on legislative reform has also been made. The Government has approved the drafting of the landmark policing, security and community safety Bill, which provides for the most wide-ranging and coherent reform of policing in a generation; the Garda Síochána (digital recordings) Bill, which concerns the use of recording devices, including body-worn cameras; and the Garda Síochána (powers) Bill, which brings together and modernises police powers of search, arrest and detention. These measures and achievements represent only some of the wide range of actions being progressed under the plan, and further detailed information on the implementation of the reform programme is available on. While progress since early 2020 has been impacted as a result of the Covid-19 pandemic, I have been encouraged to see the responsiveness and flexibility shown by An Garda Síochána in dealing with the demands of this unprecedented situation.

The third phase of the implementation of A Policing Service for our Future, the scaling phase, commenced in October 2020. This is the critical phase of the programme of reform, during which the programme will gain momentum. The delivery of the majority of the actions will be started or executed during the scaling phase. The IGPR and PRIPO have been, and continue to be, actively engaged with key stakeholders to ensure continued momentum on reform, insofar as possible, in the current circumstances.

Photo of Ruairi Ó MurchúRuairi Ó Murchú (Louth, Sinn Fein)
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This year marks the 30th anniversary of the global 16 Days campaign. One of central themes of this year’s campaign is the demand for an end to gender-based violence in all workplaces. Ireland has yet to ratify the International Labour Organization, ILO, Convention 190, which commits the State to ending violence and harassment in the world of work. Does the Taoiseach know when his Government will ratify this convention? There is also an outstanding commitment to deliver domestic violence paid leave for victims. Victims and advocates have called for paid leave for years. Sinn Féin has introduced robust legislation in this regard that was developed in consultation with stakeholders and the Office of Parliamentary Legal Advisers, OPLA. I urge the Taoiseach and his Government partners to engage constructively with this legislation in order that the Oireachtas can collectively deliver on cross-party support for the provision of domestic violence paid leave.

I also want to raise with the Taoiseach outstanding commitments to victims of domestic homicide and their families. Progress on domestic homicide reviews has been too slow and commitments on legislative amendments to the Succession Acts made to families and supported by the Taoiseach during the period of confidence and supply have been withdrawn by the current Government. It is important to note that the long-awaited study on familicide and domestic homicide reviews is not relevant to the specific matters raised concerning the Succession Acts, nor was the consideration of succession rights included in the study’s terms of reference. I encourage the Taoiseach to do what we can to expedite all of these long called for reforms. In addition, any changes in respect of the structure of An Garda Síochána and community safety forums must consider An Garda Síochána as being part of a holistic solution to the issues we have with drug and organised crime.

Photo of Alan KellyAlan Kelly (Tipperary, Labour)
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The new Garda divisions coming into place are downright mental. They make no sense in some areas. The one in Cork is particularly bad. The one in my area of Clare and Limerick, from Ballyvaughan to Carrick-on-Suir is insane. The Association of Garda Sergeants and Inspectors, AGSI, has raised this issue and said that it will not be able to administer the area. We also have a situation where the headquarters has been taken out of Thurles and moved to Ennis. Therefore, Galway, Ennis and Limerick are headquarters, but the county with the two biggest motorways running straight through it, and one of the largest counties in Ireland, does not. It is crazy from a policing point of view, and it is the AGSI which is saying this and fairly deliberately. This decision must be re-examined.

The Garda Commissioner has questioned the constitutionality of the powers to be given to the new Garda Síochána Ombudsman Commission. That is fairly unprecedented. Is he going to be listened to? As the party which brought forward and introduced the Policing Authority some years ago, we highlight the fact that the chair of that body, Mr. Bob Collins, has described the reforms as "a significant step back". Are these stakeholders going to be listened to? We will not be in a position to support a reform regarding changes to the Policing Authority as regards how senior appointments are made, if this aspect is not looked at. These appointments must be made independently given that is what got us into trouble in the first place. Has the Taoiseach examined that aspect?

4:20 pm

Photo of Dara CallearyDara Calleary (Mayo, Fianna Fail)
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I too have some concerns about the policing, security and community safety Bill. It contains a diminishment of the joint policing committees, to be replaced by a new structure. The joint policing committees have been effective, though less so since the abolition of the town councils by the Government that was in office between 2011 and 2016. This new structure will result in a further diminishment of community involvement in policing.

I have also noted Garda Commissioner Drew Harris's concerns about the Bill. He normally takes on reform but he has said that this Bill would result in the seeping away of his authority as the most senior Garda officer. He has expressed concern about its impact on the force. What plans has the Government to take on board those concerns, as well as the concerns expressed by the Association of Garda Superintendents and the Association of Garda Sergeants and Inspectors?

Photo of Micheál MartinMicheál Martin (Taoiseach, Department of An Taoiseach; Cork South Central, Fianna Fail)
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Speaking generally, this is a long-term programme of policing reform, which the House, to varying degrees, bought into in terms of the establishment of an independent Commission on the Future of Policing in Ireland. I was in opposition at the time and we were properly consulted by the commission itself, along with many others. I have noted there seems to be a lot of dissatisfaction now across the board.

Photo of Alan KellyAlan Kelly (Tipperary, Labour)
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We support the minority report.

Photo of Micheál MartinMicheál Martin (Taoiseach, Department of An Taoiseach; Cork South Central, Fianna Fail)
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I know that. I am not just talking about the issue as it pertains to a policing authority, I am talking more generally. The Deputy is now calling the Garda divisions "insane".

Photo of Alan KellyAlan Kelly (Tipperary, Labour)
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The Garda divisions are insane.

Photo of Micheál MartinMicheál Martin (Taoiseach, Department of An Taoiseach; Cork South Central, Fianna Fail)
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I am not saying the Deputy is wrong, I am referring to the language used.. The point I want to get across is that there is now a huge gap between what I heard previously and what I am hearing now. That invariably happens when geography comes into the question around the reform of organisations.

Photo of Alan KellyAlan Kelly (Tipperary, Labour)
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This has nothing to do with the policing commission.

Photo of Micheál MartinMicheál Martin (Taoiseach, Department of An Taoiseach; Cork South Central, Fianna Fail)
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I take the Deputy's point. I am not answerable on specific operational decisions as to where a headquarters is located. I take the Deputy's point about Tipperary, as opposed to the west of the mid-west, as the Deputy has described it, and the organisation of divisions, headquarters and so forth on the ground. I will follow up on that. A unit in my Department oversees policing reform and I will undertake to have a briefing and bring to the attention of those who are overseeing the reform the concerns quite a number of people have about these matters.

Deputy Ó Murchú raised issues relating to domestic violence and the UN convention. I will come back to him with a timeline for Ireland's ratification of that. Issues of murder within families and so on are complex. A lot of work is being done from the justice and health perspectives in terms of the comments and experiences of others who have been through terrible trauma as a result of the loss of life of family members through the actions of another family member. There have been a number of such cases in recent times. We are open to an informed engagement and dialogue on the issue. It involves input from many professionals.

In terms of domestic paid leave and so on, we are supportive of measures of that kind. The Minister for Social Protection recently brought in some measures that were tried during the Covid period in respect of social protection which we will continue now as part of policy into the future. We will follow through on those issues. A joint departmental approach is being taken by the Departments of Justice; Housing, Local Government and Heritage; and Children, Equality, Disability, Integration and Youth in respect of domestic and gender-based violence more generally with a view not just to additional resources but the provision of proper coverage across the country in terms of refuges and supports. It is a bit uneven at the moment. Eight counties have no provision right now and there is a need to support victims of domestic and gender-based violence in areas where the supports are not adequate or sufficient.

I will turn to the Garda Commissioner's comments. I have great belief in the joint policing committees. I think they have been very instructive and I know the Garda Commissioner has articulated some concerns with the legislation. We will take input but the Government must legislate, ultimately. Our objective is to create a modern, reformed police force. That means change from the way things were done in the past. We want to do that in a way that is operationally sensible to ensure it works. We will take on board submissions that are being made by the Commissioner and others in respect of the legislation. Authority is important in terms of the management of any force but, as I outlined earlier in my reply, the Commissioner has overseen significant reforms in respect of the Garda Síochána Ombudsman Commission, GSOC. The Government will always be advised by the Attorney General on matters relating to the constitutionality of any matter we introduce through legislation. It has always been that way and it will continue that way. There is always a balance between oversight and operations.

Overall, we must never lose sight of the fact that we want to maintain resources on the front line. Sometimes we can create enormous bureaucratic overhang above any force. Resources must, first and foremost, be targeted to front line resources and to gardaí on the ground to allow them to police effectively and to make communities safe. I would be concerned that a lot of the anecdotal evidence is that many people do not feel safe in some of our cities and towns right now. That is something we need to address because people need a sense of security and safety as they walk our streets.