Tuesday, 8 April 2003
Garda Síochána (Police Co-Operation) Bill 2003: Second Stage.
Maurice Hayes (Independent)
I, too, welcome the Minister. I also appreciate the address of the Minister for Defence, Deputy Michael Smith. I am strongly in favour of this Bill, as one might expect.
I had forgotten it was as long ago as 1998 that we pondered these matters. It causes me to reflect on the long gestation period that seems to be required in Departments of Justice, North and South, in dealing with matters like this. It is a pity it has not been brought forward before. I hope there is a greater sense of urgency about laying the regulations that may be required to put this into effect as it needs to be brought into use as quickly as possible.
There are several reasons interchanges like this are good. If one is dealing with crime on a small island – especially organised crime which, generally, knows no boundaries – it is important that the police forces are geared up to dealing with it. Under this and various European developments, we are moving towards a more open regime of policing. Something like a mini-Schengen acquis along the Border might even be contemplated for issues like hot pursuirt on either side in order that there will be no refuge for criminals. It is important, too, that there should be an exchange of information. There already is a great deal of co-operation between the police forces, both at the senior and operational level but it is not structured and formalised.
The most important reason for recommending this cross-secondment was to help to achieve change within the new Northern Ireland police service. The problem was of transferring an organisation which was 93.4% Protestant into one which was more representative of all the communities. This has been partly done by accelerated recruitment on a 50:50 basis but there is a real problem of young men and women coming into a force at the bottom, which they see as inimical to them or not sufficiently representative of their culture. They need to have role models at different levels of the organisation. They need to have people to whom they can look up, refer to and think of as coming from something approaching the same background. That is the basis for it. This can only be done if there is mutual respect between the two police services.
It is very important that we think of the Police Service of Northern Ireland as a new beginning. We should not be picking into the past or reaching around to see if someone has done something. If we give the impression that we are asking people to go from our whiter than white Garda service to another service which has, perhaps, a slightly dodgy provenance, that is not a very good basis for going forward. There is professional respect between the two organisations which we should recognise.