Tuesday, 8 April 2003
Garda Síochána (Police Co-Operation) Bill 2003: Second Stage.
Mary O'Rourke (Fianna Fail)
I welcome the Minister of State, Deputy O'Dea. I welcome the Bill on many fronts because it promotes close co-operation between the people of the North and South, particularly between the PSNI and the Garda Síochána. The Patten Commission was alluded to in the Good Friday Agreement and we all looked forward to its being brought into being.
I pay tribute, as did Senator Quinn, to Senator Maurice Hayes, who was a very steadfast member that commission. The members did not just sit and talk to one another, which I found very interesting. I am aware of this because I know one of its members very well, Ms Kathy O'Toole from Boston, who is clearly of Irish extraction.
The commission travelled all over Northern Ireland and I have heard vivid tales of large meetings in small villages in Armagh, Down and other counties explaining its genesis and raison d'être. It was often faced not just with questioning audiences but also with quite hostile ones, which did not know what it was for. They knew about Christopher Patten, of course, a very eminent person who is now a member of the European Commission. The Patten Commission did not spare itself in terms of how it went about its business and I have heard how it cut into every aspect of life in the North to obtain from the people their reactions and feelings on what was to be a very dramatic step affecting the whole island of Ireland.
We are all touched by Garda activities in the South. The Garda represents a bulwark against whatever ills may befall us in this democracy. Equally, citizens in the North feel the same way about the renamed and reconstituted PSNI.
The Patten Commission operated in a very democratic and open-spirited way. I have had long conversations with Kathy O'Toole about it because I know her very well. We meet when I go to Boston or when she comes here and she has considerable knowledge of police activity having worked with the Boston police. Senator Maurice Hayes's knowledge is also considerable and we will have the benefit of listening to what he has to say.
It was a brave step to set up the commission and to refer to it and the issuing of its report in the Good Friday Agreement. It was hailed very strongly by each side and we are now implementing some of its recommendations. Some of them have already been implemented, such as the change in name of the RUC to the PSNI and its opening up to people of all religions or no religion. However, this is the fundamental one because it means we mean business and that we are ready to implement root and branch reform à la Patten and bring it forward. That is hugely important.