Dáil debates

Thursday, 2 March 2023

Policing, Security and Community Safety Bill 2023: Second Stage (Resumed)


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

2:35 pm

Photo of Seán Ó FearghaílSeán Ó Fearghaíl (Ceann Comhairle; Kildare South, Ceann Comhairle)
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Deputy O'Reilly was in possession and had four minutes remaining. Does Deputy Martin Kenny wish to take that slot?

Photo of Martin KennyMartin Kenny (Sligo-Leitrim, Sinn Fein)
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I am coming up in a later slot.

Photo of Seán Ó FearghaílSeán Ó Fearghaíl (Ceann Comhairle; Kildare South, Ceann Comhairle)
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Deputy Ó Cathasaigh is indicating. Ar aghaidh leat ar son na hÉireann.

Photo of Marc Ó CathasaighMarc Ó Cathasaigh (Waterford, Green Party)
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I hope the Ceann Comhairle will get a chance to get his breath back. I want to join with other Deputies in acknowledging and condemning the attack on Detective Chief Inspector John Caldwell of the PSNI last week. It throws into very sharp focus what we are discussing and the reality of what we ask our police forces to do on a daily basis. There are not many other jobs where you put yourself in harm's way in the discharge of your duty during your working day, and in the case of Detective Chief Inspector Caldwell, outside of his working day. I join other Deputies in wishing Detective Chief Inspector Caldwell a full and speedy recovery.

This is an extensive Bill and the Minister has shown himself not to be adverse to extensive Bills. The Minister and I would have dealt with the Higher Education Authority Bill, which was a mammoth Bill. In this case, even the explanatory memorandum runs to 58 pages so the Minister is to be commended on it and there is a great deal of good in this Bill. Deputies across the House, while maybe speaking to things they would like to see improved, are in favour of it.

Unfortunately it is not a short period since I was a philosophy student in University College Cork. Counting back on the years I am afraid I topped a quarter of a century but I still remember the jarring effect that a quote from Max Weber had on me. We were discussing political philosophy at the time and he distilled the following idea, which dates back far before that to Thomas Hobbes’s Leviathan. He said that the state has a monopoly on legitimate violence. You can phrase it differently and say that the state has a monopoly on the use of force or the legitimate use of force, which might be less jarring and pejorative. We would like to think of the state in much broader terms than that but it is a facet of the state, and a defining facet in how the state interacts with the citizen.

We are lucky in this democracy that we live in a country where that legitimate use of violence or force is applied in a way that is consistent, for the most part, with our values and the liberal democracy within which we live. However, it is quite an awesome responsibility of our State and it should be treated as such and with the due respect it deserves, particularly in terms of the increasing technological capacity for the State to peer into the lives of our citizens. I readily acknowledge that in this case the State is one of the most benign actors in those technologies. There has been discussion in this House in the context of the Garda Síochána (Recording Devices) Bill of some of those potential technological advances, and I would have voiced some of my concerns during that debate, particularly in respect of facial recognition technology. As the State becomes more sophisticated in terms of the technology available, the discussion in terms of the balance we choose to strike between the individual liberty and the individual privacy of the citizen and the State’s role in acting in the public interest using the tools available to it will become ever more important, challenging and difficult to negotiate.

As I have noted previously in this Dáil, we are so fortunate to live in a State where we police by consent and we have an unarmed police force. That type of policing is enabled by all of us and our opinion of our police force. It is enabled by that high regard and trust we have in our police force to act in our best interest as citizens. In order to have that trust - and maybe I am erring too much in quoting the political philosophers - we could go back to Roman times and ask quis custodiet ipsos custodesor who watches the watchmen? A central component of this Bill is making sure we have adequate and appropriate oversight of the people who police the State. The provisions in this Bill around governance, oversight and accountability mechanisms for An Garda Síochána are important in this regard, including the creation of a non-executive board of An Garda Síochána, bord an Gharda Síochána, to support the Garda Commissioner and senior Garda management, and to hold them accountable for their performance; the restructuring of the existing three-person Garda Síochána Ombudsman Commission, GSOC, into a police ombudsman and deputy police ombudsman model with a clear and publicly identifiable head and expanded remit; and the updating and streamlining of the existing system for the handling of allegations of wrongdoing concerning An Garda Síochána members, and its extension to civilian Garda Síochána staff.

I know the joint Oireachtas committee gave this Bill detailed pre-legislative scrutiny, and scanning through the recommendations, it is clear it was anxious that these facets of the Bill were right. I will pick out three of those recommendations. The committee recommended that we evaluate the accountability structures, particularly in terms of the various bodies to which the Commissioner must be accountable and the time it will take the Commissioner to account to these different bodies. It recommended that the roles of the board of An Garda Síochána and the policing and community safety authority should be clarified under heads 11 and 104 respectively to avoid any duplication of roles. I listened carefully to the contribution of Deputy Berry on this and he is right; the Garda Síochána is not a business and it cannot be run like one. We need to make sure that if we are borrowing some tools from that world, which may increase the efficiency or oversight of An Garda Síochána, they should be appropriate to use in this context. The committee also recommended that we ensure the investigative powers of the Garda Ombudsman are fully compliant with the human rights and constitutional rights of Garda members.

It is important that regardless of however GSOC is reformed, it works for everybody involved. It has to work for members of the public and the Garda and I am not sure that is currently the case. Some of the manner in which one arrives at GSOC is a little too labyrinthine. I have spoken to our spokesperson on justice, Deputy Costello, on this and there is a need to make sure, for the Garda as well as members of the public, that GSOC works.

I want to raise another issue that Deputies have mentioned and which was brought to my attention by Fórsa representatives. This relates to the provisions in section 54 of the Bill, which is around the changing of the employment status of a number of Garda civilians from civil servants to public servants. It seems that a large majority of civil servants working in An Garda Síochána have reservations about this reclassification. I was a public servant, a teacher, which is a role I was specifically trained for.

I knew getting into it that I was going to remain a teacher for as long as I remained in that career pathway. There are people who have chosen to work in An Garda Síochána as civil servants who want to have that flexibility and to be able to move between different roles within the Civil Service. I understand the Minister has undertaken to engage with Fórsa about this, which is welcome. The people who have come to me have made their concerns known in a genuine way and I think they are legitimate concerns. I am glad the Minister has given that undertaking.

The community policing aspect of this Bill is very important and goes back to the idea and principle of policing by consent. One reason the Garda is so well regarded in Ireland is that gardaí are known to us. We know our local gardaí and our local community gardaí, if we are lucky enough to have them. My grandfather was a garda and was known to the community for the right reasons, I hope. The explanatory memorandum states that community safety may be understood as relating to improving the "safety and perception of safety in communities through collaboration between relevant Departments of State and public service bodies at national and local level and to provide for community engagement in the prevention of crime and harm." It is quite a mouthful. It is a fair amount of Civil Service speak to describe something we understand in a far more straightforward and simple way, which is that when our gardaí are more visible and known within our communities, people feel safer and rates of crime go down. This is especially important for younger people in some of our more disadvantaged communities. The importance of the community garda in that respect cannot be understated. The best community gardaí, especially when properly resourced, help keep kids out of trouble. To put it quite simply, they help prevent them starting down a road that leads to places we do not want our young people ending up in and can have lifelong consequences because once you start down that road of getting involved in criminal activities, it is difficult and challenging to turn your life around.

The Garda is one of the public expressions of our State. The regard we hold our gardaí in is a mirror we hold up to ourselves as a society. In general, we are a kind and fair society. It is important we continue to be a kind and fair society and to police by consent, with the goodwill of the people supporting An Garda Síochána. There are some very useful provisions in this Bill that move in the right direction. I thank the Minister for bringing it forward.

2:45 pm

Photo of Martin KennyMartin Kenny (Sligo-Leitrim, Sinn Fein)
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As we know, this legislation is far-reaching and has a lot in it, which we understand and respect. We are supportive, in general, of the direction it is going in. However, we have difficulties with aspects of it. The general issue for many members of An Garda Síochána is the under-resourcing of the force. They feel they do not have the backup or resources they require when attending an incident. That is mainly because of the retention and recruitment crisis, which is the primary problem at the moment and must be at the forefront of our minds when we look at this type of legislation. It is one of the reasons why they tell us there are such difficulties. One of the many reasons is excessive red tape they see coming out all the time. Every time they have to do something or anything happens anywhere, on the street, in a person's house, or wherever, there are reams of paperwork to fill out, which causes huge frustration. They feel they almost have their hands tied behind their backs when they are trying to do their jobs. It is important that An Garda Síochána is held to account and there is accountability when members engaging with the public do so in an aggressive way, which happens occasionally, not regularly. It is important that there is an emphasis on that. I think we all understand that.

I looked at a parliamentary question I asked a few months ago regarding the numbers resigning. In the Dublin metropolitan area, nine gardaí resigned in 2016, while 60 resigned in 2022. One reason for that and one of the primary reasons so many gardaí are leaving the force and we are finding it difficult to recruit people is that, particularly in Dublin but in other cities as well, gardaí cannot afford to live. They cannot afford rent, to buy a house or afford to survive in those circumstances. It is a very poor reflection of where we have gotten ourselves over the past decade. Many saw the profession as solid, dependable, pensionable, there for life and once somebody got in, they were set up. It is no longer seen that way at all. That is one of the issues that needs to be dealt with. Traditionally, many people who joined An Garda Síochána came from families in which their fathers, grandfathers or uncles were gardaí. That is no longer happening. I speak to members of An Garda Síochána who tell me there is no way they would encourage their sons or daughters to join the service. Reflection is required about why that is and why we are in this position.

The issues that continue to cause these problems are mainly around the pressures gardaí feel under. In the past, I often looked at it as similar to our health service. We talk about why we cannot recruit nurses or why so many leave the country because they feel under so much pressure in the environment they work in, for example, when there are only two nurses in a ward when there should be six and they feel they cannot manage and are under pressure. The pressurised and inappropriate work environment they feel they are in is there reason we cannot retain people in our health service. It is becoming a similar situation in the Garda. They feel they have similar pressure.

I spoke to gardaí recently who told me they get a callout out to an incident and they know they need to bring at least five or six people with them because of the type of incident, but there are only two available and only one car. That kind of situation puts them at a huge disadvantage. We need to recognise that. The problems we have with having a police service that works for people is about the numbers within it. Across Europe, I think it is measured per 100,000 population. I think there are approximately 330 police per 100,000 population. In Ireland, there are 270 per 100,000. If we were to meet the European average, we would have to recruit about 5,000 more gardaí. The other services across every other country in Europe have high levels of civilianisation, which is something we also have here, with people who do a lot in the back office. Those other services all have that, but they also have a higher number, so they can be face to face, meet, deal with and provide a service to the public. We need to recognise that is a difficulty. The model that provides that service is not there. The community garda who everyone knows, as Deputy Ó Cathasaigh mentioned, and the time when people knew their local garda is no longer the case for many people. They do not know their local garda and they are not part of the community. That needs to change.

I remember raising this with the Commissioner, who said every garda was a community garda. That is not entirely true because a lot of gardaí are put into specialties. They are in specialist units that do specialist work. We understand that needs to happen but community gardaí engaging with the community, particularly in urban areas and in rural areas, needs to be there to meet members of the public and young people who are vulnerable and will get into difficulties and problems. Part of the service the Garda provides is about protecting our people. It is also about protecting people who can fall foul and go down the wrong route. There is a huge amount of work to be done on that.

The measures in this legislation regarding the Garda Síochána Ombudsman Commission, GSOC, and the reforms are welcome and are going in the right direction. We are still in the position where there is a perception among the public that we are going to see members of the Garda investigating members of the Garda. We are on a small island and we have a small population. People know each other. Members of the public come to us - not just me but I am sure to every other public representative - telling us they went to GSOC and something was investigated and they discovered that the person who carried out the investigation was in Templemore with the person being investigated. It causes a perception that they are not going to get fair play. That is one thing that needs to be examined. If an ombudsman is to do its job properly, it must be independent and be seen to be independent.

Another issue that has been raised by other speakers is that flexibility may be removed from civilian staff in An Garda Síochána, and that instead of being civil servants they would be public servants. There are issues with this and the unions have raised them. I welcome that the Minister has said he will meet the unions to discuss these issues. This is vital. We have to recognise people's rights, including their employment rights. We will table amendments on all of this. I hope we will be able to support the Bill as it progresses. Effective work must be done to ensure that civilian employees taking up positions get at least the same rights as people who work in other Departments, whether in other sections of the Departments of Justice or Agriculture, Food and the Marine, Finance or wherever else. They need to have equal status and equal opportunity for promotion across the public service. This is something they will need to be able to see.

With regard to the direction the Bill is going in, it is welcome to see reform. Sometimes reforms can be painted in a particular way but they do not provide the end result that we need. This is one of the issues I have with the Bill. Recently we discussed legislation to introduce body cameras. Most other jurisdictions have had them for the past ten years or more. We are slow coming to the mark in using technology adequately and appropriately. I know there are issues with civil liberties in this regard but there are also the civil liberties of the victims of crime. We need to ensure that matters are properly investigated for them and that the employment of every resource can be used to ensure they get a proper service. We have to have the right balance in this respect.

The next point I want to make is on how we can address the issue of so many people feeling they do not get the level of service they require when they call the Garda. Recently I attended a meeting in Navan , County Meath. Quite a number of people in the room had shops and businesses in the town. They spoke about how when incidents happened they rang the Garda station but nobody turned up for an hour or two, yet when somebody went up to the station and knocked on the door there were gardaí in there but they did not come out. That person was told to phone 999 and that there was no point in ringing the Garda station. I was very surprised to hear this. I checked it out with other places and I was told the same thing. I was told not to ring the Garda station but to ring 999. It certainly gives people an impression.

I have great respect for the vast majority of the members of An Garda Síochána who do Trojan work and try to do their best. Certainly an impression is being given that somehow or other lesser crimes, or crimes that are of less urgency, are just left to run. We have a problem. I am not saying we need a zero-tolerance approach as there was in New York but we need to ensure that when people look for a service, it is provided for them. This is a key element that needs to be brought to the issue. For too long too many people have found that when they seek the service it is not there and they are not responded to adequately. There is work to be done on the Bill. I hope the Minister understands and respects this. It will need amending and work to make it something that will provide the proper service that the public deserve.

2:55 pm

Photo of Patricia RyanPatricia Ryan (Kildare South, Sinn Fein)
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While the Bill is not perfect, we see some of the measures outlined as a step in the right direction. I will speak on these measures and outline the reality. Sinn Féin welcomes giving clear effective oversight for accountability in the upper ranks of An Garda Síochána. There cannot be said to be justice without checks, balances and, if needed, the right to appeal to a higher authority. The restructuring of the Garda ombudsman into something with teeth is long overdue. As with most things, the proof is in the pudding. A mechanism by which ordinary citizens can make a formal complaint is vital for those who have been mistreated or who have suffered injustice at the hands of the force. I sincerely hope the new office of the police ombudsman will enjoy the full co-operation of An Garda Síochána and be sufficiently staffed.

I also hope the Government plans will effectively tackle chronic understaffing and retaining gardaí in rural areas such as south Kildare. We have a big problem there. The Bill will allow gardaí to get back to the front-line duties they want to undertake and for which they originally signed up. I have never met gardaí who complained about not spending enough time behind a desk doing paperwork. I will take this opportunity to commend the men and women of An Garda Síochána, including those behind the desks, who keep us safe.

Recently I was made aware of ongoing work by units in County Kildare related to combating organised criminal activity. All of this work must be commended. I call on the Minister to engage with trade unions immediately to ensure the voice of civilian staff is heard with regard to the Bill. We must look after them. The Government should not unilaterally impose these measures after failing to consult the affected unions prior to the publication of the Bill.

Photo of Niamh SmythNiamh Smyth (Cavan-Monaghan, Fianna Fail)
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I welcome the Bill. It marks a new departure in policing in Ireland, giving effect to the recommendations made by the Commission on the Future of Policing in Ireland. It provides a comprehensive and robust framework of accountability, governance, oversight of policing and security and a new approach to community safety. The Bill embeds the key principle from the commission's report that preventing crime and harm and making our communities safer does not rest only with An Garda Síochána and the Department of Justice alone but can be most effectively achieved as a whole-of-government responsibility with Departments and agencies involving health, social services, education, local authorities and An Garda Síochána and the wider community working together to prioritise and support the overall objective of safer communities.

The establishment of local safety partnership is welcome. They will develop local safety plans that are tailored to meet the priorities and needs identified by communities themselves. The safety partnerships will provide a new forum for State agencies and local communities and representatives to work together to draw on plans to improve community safety in their areas.

I would like to mention the many voluntary community alert groups that have been up and running for many years. Many such groups stopped because of Covid. This is an opportunity for communities and people to engage with gardaí and get to know them again. I must concur with some of what Deputy Kenny said. Gardaí have got so caught up in the bureaucracy and paperwork that has to be done that they do not have the same opportunity to be on the beat engaging and meeting the community. They would like to do this as much as the communities would like to have them doing it.

The Minister of State, Deputy Browne, recently visited the local youth division in County Monaghan. The opportunities provided by youth divisions are incredible. They really capture those young people who can be very much at risk. They can be vulnerable and easily taken on a path that is life destroying. This type of investment and work with the Minister and the Department is very useful. It certainly supports the work done by the Garda. Hopefully, it means that these young people do not go down a path that leads them further into the criminal system.

I must speak about the situations with drugs. My constituency is not unique in this regard and it is happening nationally. There may be a perception that it is most prevalent in the bigger cities. It is everywhere, including in small communities, parishes and clubs. Young people are being targeted. It is becoming more and more difficult for them to avoid it. I have real concern about this. I see An Garda Síochána doing amazing work on community engagement. This is important because we are back to trying to get gardaí to know their communities and, more importantly, the communities knowing the gardaí. Are we tipping the balance with regard to the importance of this in policing as opposed to the importance of having well-resourced drug units?

We need to tease that out and look very closely at it. We have very frequent joint policing committee meetings and I hear the same thing being raised by colleagues of all parties and none across the House. They see dealing happening on the streets, outside the club grounds and outside the school gates and, God forbid, it could be happening inside the school gates, but it is happening. It is happening in a very visible and tangible way, so communities can see it and there is a fear among communities around that.

I have to tell the Minister that we have seen a huge loss of life of very young people across Cavan in the last 12 months. All of their parents and the local community were very candid and honest, and they spoke bravely about the impact and about drugs being a huge cause of the very high rates of suicide in Cavan and Monaghan. I do not exaggerate that one bit. For people to be that honest takes huge courage and we have to respond to that in a very meaningful way.

We have a very active drugs unit across Cavan and Monaghan. The unit is located in Cootehill, so it straddles both counties very well. I again ask whether we are really putting the emphasis on giving gardaí the resources to do what they need to do. We are all on social media. I frequently see how An Garda Síochána is very good at providing those community engagement opportunities which we see all of the time on the hashtag. That is fabulous. However, I again ask whether the balance is tipping a little bit. I know that needs to be done and it is very important because if we do not get that right, we will not get the information about what is happening on the ground with drugs, but I ask whether we are putting the required resources into the drugs units. There is probably a perception that rural communities are not as susceptible but the drug barons of the world have taken huge advantage and they are in there, destroying lives and communities.

Another opportunity to see that at first hand was when the Minister of State, Deputy Hildegarde Naughton, was with us in Cavan on Monday. She brought us all to visit the Cavan and Monaghan Drug and Alcohol Service, where we got a very good briefing from Zoe Wells. One of the services is part of Merchants Quay, and the people there talked about the change in the nature of referrals they are getting in regard to drugs. I want to give some of the statistics around that. There has been a huge increase in cocaine referrals, a huge increase in prescription drugs referrals, an increase in heroin referrals and a 200% increase in street methadone, MTD. All of us in the room were gobsmacked in one sense and, in another, not really surprised. Those are just the referrals and that is not looking at the young people who are being targeted and who are getting hooked and becoming addicts. I believe this Bill provides the opportunity and the necessary supports, and it will again nurture relations with communities and An Garda Síochána to address this.

The Minister spoke at our committee about the new Garda station in Bailieborough, which is welcome. For many years, gardaí were expected to work in deplorable conditions in an old building, so I am very happy to see that. I again ask the Minister to speak with the chief superintendent there, Alan McGovern. He is a great man and he has a huge role and a huge job to do because he is now covering Cavan, Monaghan and Louth. I want to know if there are any specialised units that can come to that Garda station. When I say “specialised units”, perhaps we could ramp up the drugs units in Cavan and Monaghan. I am not sure what the manpower is but whatever it is, they need more. I will conclude on that.

3:05 pm

Photo of Bernard DurkanBernard Durkan (Kildare North, Fine Gael)
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This is very important legislation, as the Ceann Comhairle and I know, having looked at the situation around us, to which the last speaker referred. The situation in regard to drugs has come up again and again, and it is going to get worse, unfortunately. I will deal with that shortly. It is important legislation because it will set the standards in the police force of this country for the next 20 years, I would say, having regard to what happened in the past in terms of reform within An Garda Síochána.

We all have a duty to support An Garda Síochána and we look to it as a friendly force and as friendly people to go to at any time, particularly at times of difficulty. It is a benign force, rightly so, and we expect recognition of the need for it to do the unique job done by an unarmed police force. Generally speaking, that is being done. However, in recent times, things have happened that I cannot understand. For example, those of us who have been around a while have put forward suggestions for recognition of various forms of protection for gardaí in regard to, for example, a garda being dragged by the hair of her head along a footpath, and gardaí being stabbed and interfered with in every way possible in an appalling situation that reduces confidence among the members of the force and the public who support the force. That should not be happening; it should not happen once but it certainly should not be repeated. I know drugs are probably a reason for this but whatever it is, we need to get to the bottom of it.

Gardaí depend on the public for support and if some members of the public take it upon themselves to attack the forces that are there to protect the rest of the community, then it is time to take a hand. Whatever needs to be done by way of public education, advertisement, engagement or whatever the case may be, we have to do it. There is now an indication that the forces of law and order are breaking down, which is a serious issue. I know we live in an era where there is little respect for any kind of authority. In particular, in regard to An Garda Síochána, for some unknown reason, there are people who take things out on what they see as the representatives of the institutions of the State. They have no right to go that direction but if they do go that direction, they should face a prison sentence.

We have had a number of situations in recent years concerning the Garda. Situations have come to our attention and a recent speaker referred to ringing a Garda station and being told they had to ring 999. People do not have to ring 999. They can go up and knock on the door and if gardaí are inside, people can report something, and that is it; it is done. On the other hand, of the situations that have presented in the recent past, some need very urgent attention. When, as was indicated earlier, a member of the public goes to a Garda station to be told they rang the wrong number, that is wrong. Modern technology is such that it is now possible to ring any number and get to the space someone wants to go to in an instant. Pretending that someone has to ring a different number is all wrong.

I raised an issue this morning in regard to another subject because issues have been brought to my attention that are, to say the least, alarming and will be the subject of a major investigation at some stage. This is in regard to family law issues that I have raised previously. Things have happened that should not have happened. Children have been arrested on the basis of the actions of messengers of the court. Mothers have been arrested, and even some men have been arrested, although not many as it is generally women. Something is going wrong. We all know what the law is, so we do not need a lecture from anybody to tell us what should be happening. We know what should be happening and we need to deal with it, and make it possible for every citizen to believe that, as supporters of the institutions of the State, they can expect to be treated as if they are members of the same State.

I have always had the view, as the Ceann Comhairle knows, that if we have a complaint to make, we make it.

I would like to think that in any of the cases I was involved in, I never wished to damage the promotional possibilities for any officer anywhere, even where something was brought to my attention that should not have happened. We should always be prepared to give the person at the centre of the storm a second chance.

I had an experience recently where something was brought to my attention that was not what we would expect. A person who was not a prisoner anywhere yet was being treated as has happened in other jurisdictions. That should not be happening here. I decided to ring the officer concerned on the basis I did not want this to go any further. I merely wanted them to consult the offended party to see if the concerns could be assuaged, and so on. I was told in an offhand way that I was not present, implying I did not have the right to raise the question. Of course, I did not have to be present because the person to whom I was speaking was present, and he knew. I then followed it up. I do not go away easily, a Cheann Comhairle.

3:15 pm

Photo of Seán Ó FearghaílSeán Ó Fearghaíl (Ceann Comhairle; Kildare South, Ceann Comhairle)
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We know that.

Photo of Simon HarrisSimon Harris (Wicklow, Fine Gael)
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We do.

Photo of Bernard DurkanBernard Durkan (Kildare North, Fine Gael)
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I followed it up and to do so I went to five different locations to repeat what I set out to do in the first place. Recall that I specifically did not want anything done that might in any way affect the promotional prospects of the officer or officers concerned. Eventually, I was told what I had to. I would have to write to a person, who would in turn write to another person. That person in turn would write back to the first person, who would then make a decision, and I would have to make a statement. I had to explain I did not have to do anything and that I was simply bringing to the attention of the proper authorities something that concerned me and that would affect both the good standing and the morale of the force concerned. I said I would raise it in the House and I have just done so. The moral of that story is a situation whereby we are not going to be listened to if we raise something is totally wrong and will eventually undermine the standing of the force. It can do nothing else.

There are a number of instances I will not go into now other than to say we can all read and we can all hear what people say in response to a general query. I remember being told something on the way into this House in the very recent past. The Ceann Comhairle will recall this. There was some demonstration taking place. We are supposed be able to gain access to this House at any time 24 hours a day, seven days a week. I was told, "You cannot go there", which was interesting. I was told that if I did go there, I would not get in and if I did get in, I would not get out. I had to explain I had the right to go there at any time during the sitting time of the national Parliament without any interference from anybody. I went in, but there was a hell of a confrontation where people swarmed all over my car, took photographs, made threats and so on. It was not thought that I would follow anything up, but I did. I lodged a complaint. Nobody thought that would happen, but that is what we have to do in those kinds of situations in order to protect gardaí themselves. I am glad to say that in that case a hearing was held. The superintendent attended and explained to those concerned that you cannot do that. It should be noted we can move from situations where nothing is done to one where something is done.

I have, as has the Ceann Comhairle, supported strongly the forces of law in order for a long time. We have raised questions such as the need to reform the bail laws repeatedly, as well as the compensation boards where 4,000 or 5,000 gardaí were on a list waiting to be heard and have their cases discharged. We do not agree with that kind of thing. We believe An Garda Síochána must have applied to it the best possible services available at any time and without foot-dragging.

Another matter, which does not apply to the Ceann Comhairle, is that nowadays the Questions Office sometimes decides a question is disallowed. Sometimes we follow these matters up to find out where they go. I discovered an interesting thing. On one particular case, a question I raised on behalf of a garda was disallowed, but the subject of the question was immediately attended to within the section - a score the first time. I do not have any problem with that and do not mind the question being disallowed, but then I had another one. These are in recent times because for maybe 20 years I did not have a complaint from any quarter, but there is something gone wrong when these things are popping up. This one was a case where a couple came home from a night out to get a knock on the door at 2 a.m. or thereabouts. They had been accused of having a grow house or whatever it was. It had to do with drugs, in any event. Obviously, there was wrong information, which happens quite regularly, but the spouse in this case was very upset and had been restrained, for want of a better word. Consequently, I put down the question. It was disallowed on the basis that we cannot ask such questions - though of course we can ask questions - with the theory being it is a matter for the courts. We in this House do not have an access to the courts whereby we can ask the President of the High Court something. Our only route, therefore, is that the public says we must investigate something, we ask the question and if it is not satisfactorily dealt with, that is not our problem.

Returning to the grow house, I asked within the question whether it would be possible to explain to the people concerned that they were not accused of anything and that it was a mistake, mistaken identity or whatever the case may be. I was fobbed off. I pointed out there would be consequences and that the individuals concerned would definitely seek the law to protect themselves. They did so and won their case. Then they went again for wrongful arrest and won that case. This was a very simple issue to deal with in the first instance. All that was required was for somebody to say "I am very sorry, there was a misunderstanding here and something happened that should not have happened.". That needs to be brought into the legislation. Provision should be made to ensure that happens in future. The result in that case was thousands of euro in costs paid by the taxpayer. If the case had had to go to the European Court of Justice, it would have gone there too, because some people object strongly to being arrested or interfered with when there is no reason for it, as they see it.

There is a theory that nobody likes politicians. We know that; we did not have to wait until now to find it out. The institutions of the State must be recognised and their rights observed, be it the Garda, politicians or whatever. We are all part of that and need to recognise it. I do not object to or harangue the security forces at any time, but there comes a moment when one must ask what is going on here, see that we are informed about it and ensure it is not going to happen again. We had situations in Donegal a number of years ago where issues were investigated. Members of the House were due to be imprisoned because they would not disclose the source of their information. We know how that ended up. I was part of the commission at the time, as far as I can recall, and we had to deal with it. I am speaking as a citizen. I do my best to observe the rules and regulations. I resent being told there is a lesser code for you or people like you. Point taken and point given as well.

The previous speaker spoke at length about drugs. Drugs are the ruination of our society.

The longer we go on appeasing drug barons, the worse it is going to get. Regarding the methadone programmes, I was a ministerial member of the drugs alliance some years ago. We must be more effective in the way we provide treatment. Medical treatment must come for people. There is no doubt about this. It must be fully funded and supported. This should be done, however, based on it being an improvement. We should not feed the habit just for the fun of it. Otherwise, we will end up in a situation similar to feeding whiskey to somebody with an alcoholism problem. That does not work. We must get to the situation where we are dealing with the problem. We have all had to deal with drug addicts who could not help themselves and were helpless. We have had to try to get them into a particular unit to deal with them. Some of them have come out of it okay and unscathed but some have not and have instead gone the other way. We must, however, spend money on their rehabilitation. It is clear from reading about methadone that we are supposed to be weaning people off drugs. This is what it is supposed to be about, and not feeding them with enough to keep them going until they get their next big fix. That should not be the case under any circumstances.

I am totally opposed to the concept of liberalising the drugs issue here. To the extent that this is for medicinal purposes only, people can go to the chemist to get it. There is no problem getting the prescriptions for these drugs. The suggestion, though, that we want drugs for everybody at every street corner in the place in order to make it better is wrong and we will pay a big price for that. No matter what happens, there will be a massive increase in the use of drugs and in the numbers of those who will supply the drugs. By one means or another, we are going to get into a situation whereby this is going to get out of control. There are those who tell us this was a very successful programme in Spain and the Netherlands. I was in the latter country with the former Deputy, the late Tony Gregory, and we saw it all. We were in the coffee houses. That approach did not work. It just did not work. There is no good playing around with it and this is now being recognised there. Here, though, we are now apparently deciding to go down that road and to start entertaining ourselves with drugs, recreational drugs, gateway drugs and starter drugs. Eventually, we will end up in a situation whereby we will have to ask people at meetings whether they are under the influence or if it is their real selves present.

This approach will not work. It cannot work. All we have to do to see this is to take a trip along the quays at night and see what is happening there. The unfortunate people who are addicted cannot help themselves. They are gone past the stage where they can help themselves. It is the same on O'Connell Street in the capital city of the country. Anybody coming into the place and looking at the scene around them cannot but come to the conclusion that we have a drugs capital. We must get away from this.

I compliment the Minister on his responses to the various objects I have brought to his attention, and his predecessor as well. There is a lot of work to be done. We must ensure the integrity of An Garda Síochána and the supremacy of keeping the law in force. We must recognise that we must back up the Garda. To back something up, though, we must also recognise that we must be absolutely confident we are backing up something that will stand up to all scrutiny or as much scrutiny as possible. I think I have said enough for now. Perhaps I will say more at a later stage.

3:25 pm

Photo of Paul McAuliffePaul McAuliffe (Dublin North West, Fianna Fail)
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I thank Deputy Durkan. Having just taken the Chair, I have three more speakers listed before me and several different slots for political groupings. I will take the three speakers who are in the Chamber, and if any other speakers not listed are present, I ask the Members to alert me to it. I call Deputy Ó Snodaigh.

Photo of Aengus Ó SnodaighAengus Ó Snodaigh (Dublin South Central, Sinn Fein)
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Tá sé go maith go bhfuil am agam le labhairt faoin mBille seo. Is Bille mór dlí atá ann. Tá súil agam go ndéanfar athruithe bunaithe ar an méid atá daoine tar éis a rá air agus é ag déanamh a bhealach tríd an Dáil agus tríd an gcoiste. Tá sé ríthábhachtach go bhfuil aon rud a bhaineann leis an nGarda Síochána i gceart, nach ndéanann muid aon bhotúin air agus nach bhfuil muid ag cur ualach iomarcach ar an nGarda Síochána leis. Tá sé tábhachtach gur féidir leis na gardaí agus an pobal na hathruithe móra atá i gceist anseo a thuiscint.

Major changes are afoot in this legislation, most of which have a good basis and some that I am still perplexed by, because if something is not broken, then we do not fix it. There is, though, a crisis of policing in the State. It is not a crisis on the level of that in the health service or housing but we do need more gardaí. We need gardaí with equipment. Only last week or the week before, we were speaking here about the modernisation, in my view, of An Garda Síochána with body cameras. I raised the issue of dash cameras as well. These are minor things, however, compared with other changes that are needed. One of these is the computerisation of the front desks in Garda stations so that when I go in with a passport application form or to sign on as somebody who has been instructed to do so by the courts, the information would be held in a computer and can be accessed quickly. This would ensure we would not again have the chaos we had last year when people were ringing us up and telling us that a garda had certified their passport application but nobody could ring to check. It was a simple thing. The information should be in a central database, but that is not where it is. We know we have the problem of cybercrime, and I will return to this issue, but the chaos last year was a simple thing that should not have happened. It should be the case when somebody fills out a form that the information goes straight into the computer system and that is it done. The garda has ticked the box. I am aware that sometimes members of the force are called out when they are in the middle of doing something, so this is not a criticism of the members of An Garda Síochána in any way, shape or form. I am trying to ensure that the required tools are available.

I refer, for example, to the situation where somebody is being fingerprinted. There may be a logical reason for this process being the way it is, but I refer to the fact that in this day and age we are still using ink, rolling it out, putting somebody's hand on a glass plate and then scanning that information, whereas machines exist that can do this digitally. Equally, we are still behind most other countries in terms of forensic science. In recent years, we have seen this with society in general learning about forensic science. Criminals, in particular, have learned about this and they try everything to avoid getting caught by leaving any material behind when they commit crimes. Many cases rely on forensic science to establish whether somebody is innocent or guilty and if the material found at a crime scene is relevant. There is also a need for this to happen quickly. Far too many cases have been delayed because the forensic scientists have not had the facilities or the staff to carry out the work quickly.

That is part of what we were talking about last week. This week, we are talking in general about a lot of work. I am old enough to remember and to have had my dealings with the Garda Complaints Board way back. This was ridiculous at the time. You just wrote in to that body and it responded with the same letter that had been received the previous time when a member of the Garda had harassed you and it was stated that your complaint was mischievous. It was not mischievous if a Garda said, "Aengus, stop, what is your name?". He already knew your name. That was harassment. You could make a complaint, but you got the same letter back.

That era changed with the advent of the Garda Síochána Ombudsman Commission, GSOC. According to some gardaí, this went too far. With the powers and the extra trust we have put in An Garda Síochána, there is a need to ensure there is accountability. The Garda, though, should also not be burdened with bureaucracy to the extent that the force cannot carry out its functions. Over the years, complaints have been made by members of An Garda Síochána concerning the continuous delays in court. I refer to gardaí having to turn up in court. Moves were made to try to ensure that this process was more streamlined, that gardaí did not have to spend all their days hanging around courts waiting for adjournment after adjournment and that they had only to present at the key moments, whether at the opening of a trial, the initial adjournment, etc. There has been a little bit of progress, but not enough.

We need An Garda Síochána members who are trained. We need them on the streets, or if they are specialist staff, doing the specialist work with which they are tasked.

That brings me to the new era we are in. Part of this debate is about Garda members and the future. There are new tasks which An Garda Síochána has to undertake that would not have been thought of at the time An Garda Síochána was set up as the guardians or keepers of the peace. Cybercrime is one the new areas where gardaí need the time and the skills required to carry out their duties. It is not just fraud. We all know of the level of online abuse online and of people trafficking and of money exchanges, which are all happening online now. This means that many of our gardaí will, over the years, be out of sight from the public because they are stuck trying to track down criminals online.

We need more gardaí on the street. There is a visibility aspect to policing, because it is to keep the peace, and their very presence over the years has been enough for rows not to break out and for people not to get up to devilment, vandalism or to engage in other crime. When the numbers and visibility of An Garda Síochána drop and they are not engaging in the community, one will see the ne’er-do-wells running amok, and believing they can carry out their actions without any consequences.

As we have regrettably seen in my area in recent times, we see elements of society who think they are a law unto themselves and who attack members of An Garda Síochána. Hopefully, the Garda members who were subjected to attack at an incident at a funeral in Ballyfermot recently have fully recovered. Only a number of months ago, two members of An Garda Síochána were in a car and they were rammed. Some elements of society believe they are a law unto themselves.

Without support, the community is afraid because it does not see gardaí day in, day out. The gardaí are then made feel unwelcome because the only people on the streets are those who, on many occasions, are intent on destroying their own communities.

The whole aspect of public safety is key to this but the public has to buy into any changes and understand where those changes are coming from. I was at a policing forum meeting on Tuesday night in the south inner city. It was very informative and many young people engaged with it, which I was quite surprised to see. It is a slightly newer model to the joint policing committees, JPCs, which we have been used to. Rather than just a community and council report being made, there was a greater engagement. Hopefully, that is what we will see going forward, that we see progress and that issues raised at that level are delivered on.

That is one of the problems, in that some speak about old policing while others speak about new policing, which is the cuddly model. The cuddly model is what was always intended, which was to ensure An Garda Síochána members were involved in their communities, that they understood them, that they knew the young fellas and young girls by their first names and that knew all of the area they patrolled.

Sometimes gardaí get used to an area and, suddenly, they are gone and you will not see them again. That whole wealth of experience just disappears. There has to be some way of allowing gardaí gain promotion while remaining in situ. In my area we have seen the best community gardaí being promoted to sergeant and disappearing from the area. They have gone elsewhere because there cannot be too many chiefs in the same station. In my area there are very few chiefs so I would have no problem holding on to a few extra sergeants or whatever. I understand this from the point of view of An Garda Síochána but when that happens, you lose that wealth of information, communications and camaraderie. Even the normal pleasantries of life disappear. You then have a new whole cohort who come in.

Thankfully, in most areas, we are starting to see some of those new gardaí drifting into communities as they come out of Templemore but they are raw recruits and one can see they are learning on the job. There are not enough sergeants to ensure they are learning as much as they can but I wish all of them well. Hopefully, more and more of them will come into the areas where there are major crimes.

Deputy Durkan mentioned drugs. Again, when An Garda Síochána was first set up, there were no drugs and there was no real appreciation of alcohol. There were lads making poteen and there were a few shebeens, which was the most that was going on. There is money involved and we see the wherewithal the drugs gangs now have. We have seen the fatal consequences of that in this city and in my area, in particular. We have seen the links between and the reach of these gangs well beyond our shores. That is another element which also needs to be addressed to ensure An Garda Síochána has all the skills and the links internationally.

We are looking at a number of areas. I am interested in the concept in the Bill, which I believe is Part 7, which deals with the security legislation because we do not have a security service. It is very interesting because An Garda Síochána, or some other genius, has come up with using extra words on some of its logos, which seem to indicate that it is the security service. The Garda Síochána has taken to using the phrase, “Ireland’s National Police and Security Service” as a subtitle to its logo. I do not know if G2 or the National Cyber Security Centre fall into that category as they are also part of our security service because we do not have an individual such service. We are not like the Brits with their empire, where they have MI6 running around the world thinking they are lords and masters and with MI5 providing an internal service. Thankfully, we do not have that because we did not need it but we need some body. Perhaps it will be an independent examiner of security legislation. I am not opposing it but it needs a great deal more clarity before we set up another body, examiner or whatever to ensure it is not doing what it was never intended to do and to ensure there is no security service, per se, in the State. The different organs of the State, however, which have international reach or a job of work to do to protect the State, could work together co-operatively.

Speaking of the independent examiner of security legislation, it was only last year that we passed the Official Languages (Amendment) Act 2021, and in that there is a specific section which states that any new bodies being set up by the State had to be done as Gaeilge. A number of bodies are being set up by this legislation, one of which is the one I have just mentioned. The legislation also refers to a police ombudsman. I remind the Minister of State of the requirement to ensure the title is as Gaeilge. An bord Garda Síochána is the title. That is easy because it is the same title in English or in Irish. The other ones listed need to have Irish language titles. Oifig an ombudsman póilíneachta would be one. Fear an phobail, believe it or not, was the original name when Michael Mills was the first Ombudsman. He was asked what the translation for the word "Ombudsman" was and he replied that is was fear an phobail, which means the man of the people. Póilíneacht is drifting into parlance also and I do not know if that is done purposely or not.

When An Garda Síochána was set up, it was not just supposed to be a police force; it was always supposed to be working with the community. If we start drifting into using policing continually, police authorities and what not, we need to be careful that it is not undermining the original ethos and function intended for An Garda Síochána.

There is criticism from the Garda Commissioner and others about oversight and accountability, and that these should not become unbearable or obstruct the force's ability to carry out its functions. We need to ensure that An Garda Síochána is specifically accountable in order that history does not repeat itself in the context of people in An Garda Síochána getting away with every type of skulduggery. In most cases they have been brought to book, usually only after a furore.

The idea of oversight in the context of this Bill and other legislation is to ensure that accountability is automatic or part of the culture. People need to understand from day one that there is no way to get away with something. We do not want to end up with a situation similar to what happened with the heavy gang, the members of which battered suspects and locked them up willy-nilly, with the State and the courts supporting their actions for many years. There were quite a number of those incidents. Hopefully, that is all in the past. The key is that we are trying to build for the future, but we need to put guidelines and strictures in place in order to ensure that what I am referring to does not happen again.

Every member of An Garda Síochána needs to be compliant. Being compliant needs to become second nature to them from day one. That needs to be part of the job just as much as it is part of the job of gardaí nowadays to be part of the community apparatus, whether it is the JPCs, safety forums, regeneration boards, drugs task forces or whatever. They need to understand from day one when they join An Garda Síochána that there are different duties and this is what their role will be. There should be no misunderstanding. The same goes for ensuring that they understand that they cannot step over the line because there will be a process to be followed and that process will sometimes upset people who are being investigated. Hopefully, they will be found not guilty of an offence because that means they are doing what it says on the tin.

We all come under more scrutiny nowadays because of the ready availability of cameras, recording devices and whatnot, and also because we can search back over data, cross-reference information, etc. We all need to be careful in our lives that we are not involved in any type of skulduggery. This is as true for members of An Garda Síochána as it is for politicians or anybody else. We have seen the consequences for the people in this House and in An Garda Síochána who have been caught out. The idea behind legislation that brings about accountability is that it will ensure that people will be protected from the actions of those who might want to take a chance but who should not do so.

I hope that some of these issues may be addressed further on Committee Stage. This is a big Bill and it will require a great deal of work.

3:45 pm

Photo of Paul McAuliffePaul McAuliffe (Dublin North West, Fianna Fail)
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I will facilitate Deputy McGuinness to speak after Deputy Connolly. I call Deputy Pringle for deich noiméad.

Photo of Catherine ConnollyCatherine Connolly (Galway West, Independent)
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On a point of order, will the debate be concluding at 4.30 p.m.?

Photo of Paul McAuliffePaul McAuliffe (Dublin North West, Fianna Fail)
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I am informed that it is due to conclude at 5.15 p.m.

Photo of Catherine ConnollyCatherine Connolly (Galway West, Independent)
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Is it not due to adjourn at 4.30 p.m.?

Photo of Thomas PringleThomas Pringle (Donegal, Independent)
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It will adjourn at 4.30 p.m.

Photo of Paul McAuliffePaul McAuliffe (Dublin North West, Fianna Fail)
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Deputy Pringle will have ten minutes. I am bound by that. The Deputy should be conscious of the time.

Photo of Thomas PringleThomas Pringle (Donegal, Independent)
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As it is a 20-minute slot, I might run on a bit on the next day. I will get to bridge the two parts of the debate when we resume.

I am grateful for the opportunity to speak on the Policing, Security and Community Safety Bill 2023. I acknowledge the immense contribution of Dr. Vicky Conway in scrutinising the legislation. The Bill is better for it, and there is no doubt that her legacy will carry through in the context of the many incredible contributions she has made to Irish legislation and policing reform throughout her life. This legislation would be considerably stronger if her views had been taken on board entirely. That is a debate for another day, however.

The legislation will probably need to be revisited because it seems to be moving responsibility back to the Minister, which is a problem. Everything in recent years should have told us that we need a policing body that is completely independent of the political system. That is only right, and that is how it should be. We have seen so much political policing and so much happen in the context of all the controversies of recent years.

In the Donegal case, the political system was in a rush to ensure that it was seen as only affecting Donegal. In other words, that gardaí in Donegal were going mad and that Donegal was the only place where it was happening. Even though we knew it was going on all over the country, the political system wanted to ensure that it was contained in a small area in order to make it look as if that was all it was and that, only for it, everything would be grand.

We need to get away from that. We need to get away from the political masters. We need to get away from the idea that people might get their jobs because of political connections. Even if that does not happen, this legislation allows that perception to go out to the public. That is unfair to the people who got the jobs, but it is also unfair to the public. Even with the best will in the world, somebody might go on to be independent, but at the back of their mind they might be thinking, "The Minister decides whether I can stay in this job and maybe I don't want to piss him off too much because if I do that, they can call into question what I'm actually doing". That is wrong and nobody should do the job on that basis. If it deserves to be done, it deserves to be done right and should be done right regardless of the implications. The legislation needs to maintain and strengthen the independence of the role rather than bringing it back again into the political system, which is wrong.

I welcome the intention to introduce important policing reforms in line with the recommendations of the Commission on the Future of Policing in Ireland, which published its comprehensive report in September 2018. It is now 2023. Almost five years have passed and the legislation is only coming through now. It is disappointing that it has taken more than four years to publish legislation reflecting these recommendations, particularly when you consider that 2022 was the target date for implementing the recommendations. The Government had accepted within months of the report's publication in 2018 that it should be implemented, but then we delayed and dragged our heels. There may be genuine reasons for that, perhaps relating to the volume of legislation the Department needs to deal with and the fact that this is a long and detailed Bill, which means that it will be slower to implement. It has taken five years from when the report was published to the Bill coming before the House. That is a long time. It should not have taken so long.

The Bill is very ambitious and covers many different areas, including governance, oversight, complaints, harm reduction and community safety within its 270 pages. It is proposed to create a multilayered system of boards and agencies. It is hard to keep track of this while reading the legislation, never mind considering how having so many bodies with similar functions might work in practical terms. Just reading the Bill is confusing enough. I fear that the establishment of many different bodies may make it confusing, not only for the people dealing with An Garda Síochána but also for those working in An Garda Síochána. We should be simplifying the system rather than adding multiple different layers to it.

Good policing should focus on the quality not the quantity of its policing bodies. I wonder whether having multiple bodies with the same functions will be counterproductive in that when everyone is responsible, no one is.

One could be cynical and say it is the intention that we have loads of ideas of responsibility and the perception of responsibility, but we do not have any responsibility.

Debate adjourned.