Seanad debates

Tuesday, 8 April 2003

Garda Síochána (Police Co-Operation) Bill 2003: Second Stage.

 

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

2:30 pm

Michael Smith (Minister, Department of Defence; Tipperary North, Fianna Fail)
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As Minister for Defence I have the privilege to present this innovative legislation to the House which deals with police co-operation on this island. My colleague, the Minister for Justice, Equality and Law Reform, Deputy McDowell, regrets he cannot be here for this debate. The House will be aware he is accompanying the Taoiseach on an important visit to Northern Ireland.

The introduction of the Bill is timely, having regard to the events now taking place in Northern Ireland. It is a key measure towards implementing the policing principles contained in the Good Friday Agreement. The Bill is a firm indication of the real progress made in relation to North-South co-operation on policing matters and is an important milestone in the implementation of the Patten report. It represents a step forward to a new age and creates a formalised link between the Garda Síochána and the Police Service of Northern Ireland which will bring benefits to both jurisdictions in the form of improved effectiveness in crime prevention and detection.

The Bill is grounded in the agreement between Ireland and the United Kingdom on police co-operation, which was signed in Belfast on 29 April 2002. The full text of the agreement is contained in the Schedule to the Bill. I wish to take this opportunity to expand on the historical background to the agreement.

The Independent Commission on Policing in Northern Ireland was established pursuant to the Good Friday Agreement, signed in Belfast in April 1998. The commission produced its report, known as the Patten report, in September 1999. The Patten report contained 175 recommendations, nine of which related specifically to co-operation with the Garda Síochána. A further recommendation was that the community balance at more senior ranks in the police service should be addressed by lateral entry from both police services.

Members will recall that the Patten report led to much debate in Northern Ireland and throughout Ireland. Discussions between the two Governments in Weston Park in July 2001 led to the publication of the implementation plan for the report in August 2001. The intergovernmental agreement, which provides the basis for the Bill, sets out the legal framework for the implementation of certain Patten report recommendations in so far as they involved the Garda Síochána as well as providing for ongoing enhancement of police co-operation.

While there has always been a comprehensive level of co-operation between the Garda Síochána and the PSNI, it has been enhanced in recent years. Closer communication and co-operation between our police services can only improve the effectiveness of cross-Border policing and the fight against terrorism, drugs, smuggling and other organised crime. It will directly assist in crime prevention and detection.

The intergovernmental agreement, on which the Bill is based, provides for three levels of personnel exchange. Under Article 1, members of each police service are to be eligible to apply for certain posts in the other police service. Under Article 2, a programme is to be put in place to enable members of each police service to be seconded with full police powers to the other police service for periods not exceeding three years. Under Article 5, a programme of placements is to be put in place to enable the transfer of experience and expertise, including the area of training.

A five sided group was established at an early stage to oversee the process of implementing these articles. Senior figures from the Garda Síochána, the Police Service of Northern Ireland, the Policing Board for Northern Ireland, the Northern Ireland Office and the Department of Justice, Equality and Law Reform have been meeting on a regular basis to progress the various issues involved. The full implementation of the different categories of personnel exchange provided for in the agreement required detailed negotiation involving all relevant parties on a number of issues.

The Bill provides for the implementation of Articles 1 and 2 of the intergovernmental agreement. The programme of placements, provided for in Article 5, does not have any legislative implications as officers participating in that programme will not be exercising any police powers in the other jurisdiction. A formal protocol on these placements will be signed by the Garda Commissioner and the Chief Constable as soon as consultations with the Garda associations are finalised. Pending the signing of the formal protocol to provide for the placement, I am pleased to say that the informal measures have already been initiated in this area and placements have taken place involving experts in police training.

Before outlining the provisions of the Bill concerning Articles 1 and 2 of the agreement, I will briefly touch on what is happening with regard to other provisions. I welcome the ongoing strengthening of co-operation between the two services, which is exemplified in the holding of the first annual conference in the national Garda training college in March last year. The convening of annual conferences between the Garda Síochána and PSNI is provided for in Article 4 of the agreement and a follow-up conference is planned for later this year.

Work is under way in joint emergency planning under Article 8 of the agreement in the form of a joint Garda/PSNI major disaster project. As part of the European Union Oisín project, co-funded by the Department of Justice, Equality and Law Reform, a joint practical exercise will take place during 2003 on the Border involving the Garda Síochána and the PSNI. The practical exercise on the frontier will simulate a disaster and responses by the appropriate agencies from the two jurisdictions will be observed and analysed by experts from participating EU member states.

Article 9 of the intergovernmental agreement provides for measures to be taken to facilitate joint investigations between the Garda and the PSNI having regard to EU developments in this area. In this regard, I am also pleased to inform Senators that the Criminal Justice (Joint Investigation Teams) Bill will be published in the coming days. The purpose of that Bill is to give effect to the requirements of an EU Council framework decision. It provides for the setting up of joint investigation teams by mutual consent of member states for a specific purpose and limited period. The teams will carry out criminal investigations with a cross-border dimension in one or more of the member states setting up the team. Effective co-operation is of increasing importance in our efforts to combat transnational crime. Law enforcement agencies must actively implement measures agreed by Governments to ensure boundaries do not militate against effective co-operation. The establishment and operation of joint investigation teams represents such a measure.

The provisions of the EU framework decision interact with a number of the recommendations in the Patten report on policing in Northern Ireland, such as that the PSNI and the Garda Síochána should have written protocols covering key aspects of co-operation, that there should be a programme of long-term personnel exchanges between them in specialist areas, to which I have already referred, and that consideration be given to establishing a provision for an immediate exchange of officers and pooling of investigative teams after major incidents with a substantial cross-Border dimension.

The Bill builds on the co-operation to which I have referred and gives a legal basis and framework for a more enhanced and structured co-operation between the two police services by providing that personnel from one police service may move to and work in the other police service in accordance with Articles 1 and 2 of the intergovernmental agreement. Specifically, the Bill provides that members of the PSNI may be appointed permanently to the Garda Síochána above the rank of inspector and that members of the Garda Síochána may be seconded to the PSNI, and vice versa, with full police powers for a period of up to three years. The United Kingdom Government will put the necessary arrangements in place to allow members of the Garda Síochána compete for positions above the rank of inspector in the PSNI.

I mentioned that there was a novel aspect to this legislation and I would like to focus on that. Since 1925 there has been only one police service in this State and there has never been any special provision for a member of another police service to join the Garda. We have experience of gardaí participating in police peacekeeping missions abroad with the United Nations, but they have always remained part of the Garda organisation and subject to the direction and control of the Garda Commissioner. Occasionally members of the Garda Síochána have gone to work with international organisations such as the International Criminal Tribunal for the Former Yugoslavia pursuing war crimes in the Balkans. In those cases the members resigned with an option to reapply to the Garda when they had completed their work.

The idea of transfers between police services is not a new concept for the police in Northern Ireland. There are more than 40 police services in the United Kingdom with broadly similar terms and conditions of service and well-established arrangements for transfers and secondments. However, what is new for the PSNI is the concept of exchanges with a police service from an outside jurisdiction. From both our perspectives, therefore, the movement of personnel between the Garda and the Police Service of Northern Ireland provided for in the Bill is unprecedented.

I acknowledge the commitment of the Garda Commissioner and the current and previous Chief Constables of the PSNI and the positive involvement of both their services in this process. The new relationship between the two police services on the island will provide extended opportunities for police officers in both services as well as enhancing the safety of all the people.

I also acknowledge the role the Garda associations have played in this process to date. We should not forget that the success or failure of the proposed personnel exchanges will depend on individual members of the respective police services. These personnel exchanges will be on a voluntary basis so it is important that the associations representing the police are positively engaged in the process. My officials, together with Garda management, have held informal briefing sessions with the four Garda representative associations to keep them abreast of developments in this area and will engage in a detailed consultative process with them.

On the detail of the legislation, the Bill serves two essential purposes. It provides for members of the PSNI to be appointed permanently to the Garda Síochána above the rank of inspector and for the secondment of members of the Garda Síochána to the PSNI and vice versa with full police powers for a period of up to three years. It also provides for a new disciplinary framework to deal with the secondments to and from the Garda Síochána.

Section 2 provides that the Government may appoint members of the PSNI to specified ranks in the Garda Síochána not below the rank of superintendent, as is provided for in the intergovernmental agreement. For this to happen, eligible members of the PSNI will have to compete in a merit-based selection procedure with Garda Síochána applicants for appointment to the ranks in the Garda Síochána concerned. The extent to which each such rank will be opened up to competition can be varied by regulation under the Bill. The implementation of this section will mean that members of the PSNI will be able to move to the Garda Síochána on a permanent basis. We will encourage Garda members to apply for posts in the PSNI, but it is very much a decision for the individuals in question. I hope the programme of placements and secondments referred to will facilitate an improved understanding and appreciation between the two police services and so overcome any reluctance to apply for a permanent post in the other organisation.

Section 3 provides for the secondment of members of the PSNI to the Garda Síochána with full Garda powers for a period not exceeding three years. Secondees will continue to be paid by the PSNI but will be under the direction and control of the Garda Commissioner and have the powers, rights, duties and obligations of a member of the Garda Síochána of the rank to which they are appointed. A secondment under this section may be terminated by the Commissioner or the Government where it made the appointment. The ranks in the Garda Síochána to which members may be appointed under this section and the number to be appointed may be prescribed by regulation under the Bill. The section also makes certain technical amendments to the Garda Síochána Acts to reflect the position of secondees.

Section 4 provides for secondments from the Garda Síochána to the PSNI with full police powers for a period not exceeding three years. Secondees will continue to be paid as members of the Garda Síochána but shall not be subject to the direction or control of the Garda Commissioner or be entitled to exercise in the State any Garda powers. Secondees shall continue to be entitled to claim compensation under the Garda Compensation Acts 1941 and 1945 and their service on secondment shall be regarded as service with the Garda Síochána for pension, promotion and seniority purposes. The number and rank of members of the Garda Síochána who may be seconded under this section may be prescribed by regulation under the Bill.

The type of secondments provided for in sections 3 and 4 provide a mechanism whereby Garda members who do not wish to leave the Garda Síochána can make their experience and expertise available to the PSNI for an extended period of up to three years. It also allows PSNI officers to be seconded to the Garda Síochána, and I hope we will see a two-way flow enhancing policing standards in both organisations.

Section 5 provides for the procedures which will apply to breaches of discipline by a member of the Garda Síochána who is seconded to the PSNI. A stand-alone disciplinary framework is provided in this regard whereby the investigation of an alleged breach of discipline by a seconded member of the Garda Síochána is carried out under the law and procedure applicable to the investigation of breaches of discipline by members of the PSNI. Any appeal against or request for review of a finding of that disciplinary process is also made under the law and procedure applicable in Northern Ireland.

However, no disciplinary action may be taken against a seconded member of the Garda Síochána by the Chief Constable of the PSNI. Instead, the findings of a disciplinary investigation or the outcome of an appeal or review of such findings will be transmitted to the Garda Commissioner, or the Government in respect of gardaí above the rank of inspector, for whatever action is deemed appropriate. The disciplinary action which may be taken by the Commissioner or the Government under this section is defined. A member of the Garda Síochána whose secondment to the PSNI has expired or been terminated will be obliged to co-operate with any such investigation as if he or she were a member of the PSNI and any failure to do so shall constitute a breach of discipline.

Section 6 provides for the procedures which will apply to breaches of discipline by a member of the PSNI seconded to the Garda Síochána. Similar to the approach taken in section 5, the investigation of an alleged beach of discipline by a seconded member of the PSNI will be carried out in accordance with the Garda Síochána disciplinary regulations or, as may be the case, the Garda Síochána Complaints Board procedures. Any appeals or requests for review of the findings will also be determined within that process. No disciplinary action will be taken by the Garda Commissioner against a PSNI secondee. Instead, the findings of the disciplinary process will be transmitted by the Commissioner to the Chief Constable for whatever action is deemed appropriate. Section 7 provides for the making of regulations for the purpose of giving full effect to the provisions of the Bill.

I have dealt with the key elements of the Bill. It contains certain other procedural provisions as well as consequential amendments to a number of other Acts to which I could refer, but I am conscious that I have already spoken at length and that there will be the opportunity to deal with queries Members may have about those provisions in my reply or on Committee Stage. I hope that what I have said will assist the House in the task of considering the Bill.

The Bill further strengthens the relationship between the two police services on the island. It will provide extended opportunities for police officers in both services and enhance the safety of all of the people. In addition and most importantly, the enactment of this legislation is a key measure towards implementing the policing principles contained in the Good Friday Agreement and the Patten report, especially with respect to improving the level of cross-community confidence in the impartiality of the criminal justice system in Northern Ireland. I commend the Bill to the House.

Sheila Terry (Fine Gael)
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I welcome the Minister. I also welcome the Bill which must be welcomed by everybody. It implements the policing principles contained in the Good Friday Agreement and will bring about greater co-operation between the two police forces, North and South. No doubt, it will be a great tool in combating crime, whether terrorism, drugs related crime or trafficking.

I join the Minister in complimenting the Garda Síochána on the work it has done to date, particularly the work done abroad. We have been proud of our Garda force and the work it has undertaken with the United Nations in various countries.

There are a couple of issues I wish to raise, to which I would like the Minister to respond. In order for this legislation to work to its fullest a Garda ombudsman should be put in place in the South. He or she should have powers similar to those of the Police Ombudsman of Northern Ireland. I would like the Minister's comment on this matter. It makes sense that we should have a Garda ombudsman, for which we have called for on many occasions. If both sides are to be equal, we need to work on this issue.

Section 5 deals with discipline. I am curious in regard to what happens during the period between the time an individual is accused of malpractice and the time disciplinary action is taken. Will an individual stay in position and continue working until disciplinary action is taken or will he or she have to cease operating in that position? That is not clear.

In section 5(9) the disciplinary actions are listed. The final action is "advice". I am curious to know what this means. The previous two actions are a "warning" or a "caution". Advice is far too loose an action to include. It should be more specific. Can the Minister tell me exactly what the word means in this context?

Who will make up the interview boards when individuals apply for membership of the PSNI or the Garda Síochána? It is important that we have a senior garda on the interview board if the Government appoints an individual to the PSNI. Will the Minister respond?

Apart from these issues and the amendments I propose to table on Committee Stage, I welcome the Bill which is a good one. We are moving forward. It is a good omen that we can work in close operation with the police service in the North.

Photo of Jim WalshJim Walsh (Fianna Fail)
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Cuirim fáilte roimh an Aire go dtí an Teach agus fáilte roimh an Bhille freisin. Notwithstanding some reservations I might have in regard to it, I welcome the Bill. It is a progressive step which will be endorsed by the House.

While the Good Friday Agreement gave rise to a number of North-South initiatives, particularly in regard to the North-South bodies, these were diluted in the last throes of the negotiations. While progress has been made on a number of fronts, many of us would like to have seen much more of an impact as a consequence of the setting up of the North-South bodies. In this context, the particular relationship between the PSNI and the Garda is a positive step in that direction, even though its genesis might be more in the Patten report rather than the Good Friday Agreement. As the Minister outlined, co-operation between the Garda and the PSNI is essential because criminals do not recognise borders. Whether they are involved in organised crime, drug smuggling or whatever, close co-operation and communication between the police forces on a cross-Border basis are essential if we are to have modern, effective policing methods.

The structure of the relationship allows for reciprocal arrangements on a lateral and secondment basis. I am glad to hear the Minister say some initiatives have been taken in this regard because one of the questions concerns how many will participate. The success of the initiative depends to a large extent on fairly fluid movement of reasonable numbers, otherwise it will not have the impact it could otherwise achieve. It will be interesting to see, when looking at the lateral mobility aspect, how successful people will be in competing for senior positions above the rank of superintendent within either the PSNI or the Garda. It would be nice to think that members of the Garda would be successful in gaining senior rank within the PSNI given its historical make up. Such success would achieve one of the Bill's objectives because one of the primary purposes of the Patten report was to achieve cross-community confidence in the PSNI. This measure will assist that process.

North-South co-operation generally needs to be promoted more strongly. This interchanging of officers on secondment and the possibility of achieving senior positions within either force are fine examples in some ways. The Minister has said it is historic. It would be nice to think that at some future stage, in the context of a united Ireland, we might see the amalgamation of both police forces. That is something to which all on this side of the Border would look forward.

Policemen and women are often leaders and quite influential in their communities. It is important that the PSNI members who will participate on secondment to the Garda create a positive effect on their own communities when they go back and that they help bridge the gulf between North and South. Such interaction generates mutual understanding. I have seen it operate in other arenas where we have exchanges, such as twinning, where it has been positive in changing attitudes and outlooks for the better. This is healthy and desirable and essential in the context of the divisions in Northern Ireland and the division between North and South.

The cross-fertilisation of ideas, attitudes and approaches can lead to the application of best practice in each force. Whether in business or any other arena, those who aspire to excellence seek out best practice from competitors and others. The Minister indicated that the use of such methods will be beneficial in the area under discussion. Any benefits that accrue from this interchange and exchange would be a welcome development.

I wish now to outline some of my reservations in respect of this area. We have seen the establishment of the Stevens inquiry, which has yet to report, into alleged collusion between members of the RUC and loyalist paramilitaries, in particular. The case under investigation by the inquiry is the murder of Pat Finucane in 1989. Allegations were made in a biography of Michael Stone about such collusion taking place with loyalist paramilitaries. The Barron inquiry in this jurisdiction has not received the co-operation of the British authorities with regard to the making available of the necessary information to allow it investigate fully the alleged involvement of British security forces in the Dublin and Monaghan bombings. In that regard, it is important that some precautions be put in place in order that people within the PSNI can be identified. Those inquiries must, therefore, get full co-operation in order that they can determine precisely what happened.

I would not welcome a situation where people who may have been involved in the type of activity to which I refer would be operative members of the Garda Síochána. I hope this matter will be considered and perhaps the Minister will indicate how we might ensure that the type of situation I have outlined will not arise.

The Bill sets out clearly the modus operandi for the relationships. The appointment of persons to either police force is something we would like to see happening. It will be interesting to see how many will apply and how many will be successful in their applications. To some extent, the success of the import and the motivation behind the legislation will be determined by that.

The secondment of staff for a period of up to three years is welcome. The gardaí who will operate within Northern Ireland will be accountable to the Chief Constable of the PSNI and the converse will apply within this jurisdiction. They will also be investigated for breaches of discipline under the current regulations within each of the police forces, but, ultimately, will be accountable to the Chief Constable or the Garda Commissioner. It is important to have proper screening of those offering to take part in interchanges and exchanges. Any major breach of discipline could give rise to certain political consequences. Most of us who visit the North regularly would be conscious that Nationalists, in particular, would be tarnished in the event of any major scandal. I am sure initial precautionary steps will be taken to ensure that persons of good repute are involved in the exchanges.

That the annual conference has already taken place and will continue to do so is a positive step. This can only lead to friendships, good understanding and enhanced co-operation between both police forces. As many participants as possible should be encouraged to take part in all such conferences.

Section 5 deals with personnel exchanges and placements not exceeding one year. I note that those participating will not exercise any police powers within the relevant jurisdiction while they are there. What is the reason for that stipulation, particularly in light of the fact that those on an exchange of up to three years will exercise all the powers of the police force while within the other jurisdiction? There must be some reason that it will not apply in this case. I would welcome any explanation from the Minister in that regard.

While the Bill refers to the financial implications, there is no reference to the possibility of comparability claims. As a result of the difficult circumstances in which it operated during the Troubles, significant enhanced payments were made to the RUC. I understand that, to some extent, that continues to be the case with the PSNI. We should ensure that there are no knock-on effects in that regard. Perhaps the Minister would comment on that matter.

I welcome the Bill. We will monitor with interest its progress and impact and the support it will receive from the Garda and the PSNI. Ultimately, that will be the yardstick by which its success will be measured. It is evident, as we discuss the Bill before us, that we live in changing times. If we recall the occasion, over 40 years after the partition of the island, when the then Taoiseach, Seán Lemass, visited Terence O'Neill, one wonders whether the 30 years of the Troubles brought us to this point or whether they delayed the progress that would otherwise have been made and inhibited the natural relationship that would have evolved between North and South. It is an interesting point to ponder. I have no doubt that when we review the legislation at some future date, we will see the positive effects it will have had.

Photo of Ulick BurkeUlick Burke (Fine Gael)
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I wish to share time with Senator Quinn.

Acting Chairman (Mr. U. Burke): Is that agreed? Agreed.

Photo of Joanna TuffyJoanna Tuffy (Labour)
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I thank the Minister for being present and for his contribution. I welcome the general thrust of the Bill. It obviously derives from implementation of the Good Friday Agreement and the Patten report recommendations.

As a general principle, it is positive that members of each police force should be able to apply for certain posts in the other police force and have opportunities for secondment. I agree with Senator Walsh that the Bill is positive from the point of view of North-South co-operation and building a relationship between the different communities and the two Administrations.

There are issues I wish to raise on which I shall table amendments on Committee Stage. Senator Terry referred to one of these matters, namely, the provisions in sections 5 and 6 regarding breaches of discipline by members on secondment. Similarly, I suggest that these sections highlight the need for common standards in our investigation procedures. The legislation also highlights the need for a Garda ombudsman in the Republic similar to the one in the North. The inspectorate proposed for the South, which probably will not be established for some years, is inferior to a proper ombudsman.

Section 3 should make provision whereby people on secondment to the Garda Síochána would be deemed members of that organisation. This is not included in the Bill and I am interested to hear the Minister's response. I think Senator Walsh mentioned the provisions that do not apply in respect of a person appointed under section 3(4). Will the Minister clarify why they do not apply to seconded people? I welcome the general thrust of the legislation.

Photo of Feargal QuinnFeargal Quinn (Independent)
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I appreciate Senator Tuffy's allowing me to share my time with her and I welcome the Minister of State, Deputy O'Dea, to the House. I was very impressed with the words of the Minister, Deputy Michael Smith, who spoke earlier. I hope Senator Maurice Hayes will speak today because he was a member of the Patten Commission and was more involved with the issues in question than any of us.

On the Order of Business I referred to the significant event which the Garda Commissioner and Deputy Garda Commissioner attended in full uniform in Belfast yesterday for the first time ever. Later in the day, the Deputy Chief Constable and his assistant came to Dublin, also in full uniform. It may not be a major event for members of the Police Service of Northern Ireland to come to Dublin in full uniform but it is a definite indication of a step forward and a reminder of how far we have come in the few years since the Good Friday Agreement and of how much we can achieve in the future. We would not have believed it some time ago. Combating crime is only part of what we are trying to do. What we are attempting is to bring two peoples – if I may use this phrase – closer together.

I am from a Northern Ireland family. My mother came from County Armagh and my father from County Down. I spent much of my youth in Northern Ireland with family and cousins. I grew up with a fear of the men with guns because we were not used to seeing guns in the South. Senator Jim Walsh mentioned the establishment of an unarmed Garda Síochána on the creation of the State, which was probably very difficult to consider in the 1920s. Those of us who grew up with a knowledge of the policemen with guns in the North were fearful of them and therefore a divide was created. Anything that brings us closer together must be of benefit.

In the early 1970s, I think, I was arrested following a traffic accident in Northern Ireland. I discovered that my insurance did not cover me in the Six Counties and only covered me in the Republic. I was released on bail of £5. When told by the policeman in Newry that my insurance was inadequate, I told him I thought I had the correct insurance at home. He said he would have to arrest me and asked if I had any money. I had one of those big white fivers that they had in those days and he said, "That will do. I will take that as bail." I went up a few days later—

Photo of Mary O'RourkeMary O'Rourke (Fianna Fail)
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Did the Senator get the money back?

Photo of Feargal QuinnFeargal Quinn (Independent)
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I did. Those of us who saw the RUC or, even worse, the B-Specials from a distance were fearful of them. However, when we came closer to them as individuals we found that they were people with whom we could deal, with whom we had a good relationship and who were fine policemen in many instances. The more we can get people from the North to meet, co-operate with and get to know people from the South, the better the chance we have of being able to achieve success in the Good Friday Agreement.

This Bill is a further positive step towards combating crime in Ireland and will prove to be a further step towards combating it in Europe in the future. I welcome the huge steps that have already taken place. It may well be that there will be amendments to the Bill but none jumps out at me. The Bill is worthwhile and I support it and wish the Minister every success in making sure that the recommendations of the Patten Commission are implemented.

Photo of Mary O'RourkeMary O'Rourke (Fianna Fail)
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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.

Already we have seen that most of the pro-Good Friday Agreement parties have agreed to take part in the policing boards in Northern Ireland. My hope and wish, as I speak with my Northern Ireland hat on, are that we will very shortly see Sinn Féin take its place and play its role on the boards. We need to feel, not just in the written word but in the spirit also, that the thrust of the Patten report is being implemented.

The idea of interchanging is that some members of the Garda Síochána will go to the North and that members of the PSNI will come here for stated periods of time to carry out their duties. This is a terrific Bill which we take very much on its macro-merits. When it becomes law and the various groups start to move up and down, it will be interesting to see how many it will affect. I see that the Minister, by regulation, will bring forward that measure in the Bill. He will say what numbers will be seconded from our end. Those who go will volunteer and those who transfer from the North will, equally, be chosen on a voluntary basis but it will be interesting to see how many will seek to have that experience and bring the skills of their chosen vocation to bear upon an alternative environment. It will be different.

This is one island but because we remain under different jurisdictions there are various ways in which we carry out our various activities. Children go to school, men and women go shopping, do their jobs and build or rent their houses. all of which is normal procedure. The rates of criminal activity and the methods of policing it, the way in which sports and recreation are used as conduits for young people to express their feelings and get rid of their pent-up energy may have different consequences North and South. There may be different ways of approaching the same problem. We will have much to learn. Equally, the PSNI will have much to learn too about normal everyday life here. For instance – I think Senator Walsh, our spokesperson on justice matters, spoke about this – there will be the huge issue of drugs and how they are dealt with here and in the North, to all of which there is a European background. European directives have, perhaps, been implemented at different rates in the two jurisdictions. One may be slower than the other. All of this will be the stuff of everyday life when these exchanges take place.

Exchanges sound good. We love when we are driving to see that a town through which we are passing is twinned with another. I saw an interesting one the other day. A wee small village had a sign saying it was twinned with Korea. I thought what a very large ambition. We all like the idea of twinning. It has good undertones to it. It assumes friendship, a degree of conformity, exchange of ideas and all of those good warm things. This Bill contains all of them.

The implementation of the Patten report via this Bill is an adventure. I wish the adventure – indeed the venture – every success. In time to come I hope it will not be a wonder when we hear of people from the PSNI coming down and our men and women going up but a celebrated fact of everyday life.

Maurice Hayes (Independent)
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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.

It is one thing to set up the machinery and the structure but it is another to get people to go. I happen to think there is value in a two-way exchange. People coming from outside into the Garda can be of great value, too, in opening up a culture. There are people who have different sorts of experience in areas like family violence, crowd handling, traffic offences and the rest of it. The more that can be opened up and exchanged the better.

Let us look at it from the point of view of Northern Ireland and the importance of leavening the lump, at least for a number of years. There is no point in laying down the legislation and making a provision if it is not taken up. By and large, people will not take up provisions unless they see them as being of some advantage to them, in terms of their career, career development and the rest of it. At the very least, they should not lose money. It is a sensible and general rule that when somebody is seconded, he or she is offered his or her existing terms and conditions. There may also be a relocation allowance and an incentive for those separated from their families, or who have to move their families for a period.

I suggest to the Minister of State that it might be worthwhile introducing a culture in the Garda in which experience in another force is seen as an advantage if one is going for promotion. If people knew that by moving and gaining this experience they would actually enhance their own prospects of promotion, it would encourage more to do it.

The issue of the people one would get to go is also important. The people I would send to Northern Ireland at the present time, particularly in the junior ranks, are those who could be seen as role models for young people – outstanding athletes, footballers or hurlers, people with whom it would be possible to identify. This is something the Minister of State might keep in mind.

I share concern in regard to a couple of queries raised. I too, find section 5 a little dense. Perhaps it could be teased out on Committee Stage. I am not sure whether its import is that an officer from the Garda who goes to the North and commits a disciplinary offence will not be dealt with until the expiration or termination of that period. Is the implication that once this happens, his or her secondment will be terminated and he or she will be brought back? I can see the difficulty involved in living and negotiating between two sets of disciplinary procedures and accept that one force will want to hold on to its disciplinary procedures.

Like Senator Terry, my attention was drawn to subsection (9). "Advice", by the way, is a wagging of the finger. It is the lowest form of caution, it is like saying, "Don't do it again." These are all terms of art in disciplinary manuals. It seems that a caution and advice could be given informally without having to go through this whole rigmarole.

There is symmetry in the ombudsman position that needs to be represented. There should be some indication that the Garda ombudsman's office will be set up as quickly as possible. There is no mention of the Northern Ireland Police Ombudsman in the Bill but presumably a member of the Garda in Northern Ireland will come under that jurisdiction when in service, if a complaint is made. It seems strange to have parallel secondments on quite different arrangements. It is an argument for expediting the appointment of a Garda ombudsman. I do not think the converse is true, that we should hold up the Bill until we get the other because the Bill is urgent and important.

I am struck by the opening up of senior ranks. I presume this is mutual, that a member of the Garda may apply for a senior position in the Police Service of Northern Ireland. I hope the corresponding UK legislation will allow this to happen. There are requirements in Northern Ireland, that applicants for a senior post should have served in another force and should have undertaken the senior command course at Bramshill. It is important that other courses such as American ones and so on are recognised as being equivalent in order that there will be free movement. There is a very strong argument for opening up senior positions in the Garda to wider competition when possible.

It appears that we will all support the thrust of the Bill. It is important that it is seen to be for the good of policing, particularly in Northern Ireland, and that there are benefits to policing on this part of the island from the exchange of views and so on.

I am struck by an aspect of training in the Bill which purports to enact Article 5 of the agreement and does not give police powers to members of the Garda there for one year. What will happen if they are on a course and see somebody committing a crime? Will they just sit there and do nothing or will they have citizens' power of arrest? Do they have to be citizens of the North before they can do this? It seems there is a slight ambiguity which is not very necessary in the circumstances.

As I said before to the Minister of State, the key to all this is making it work. This will depend on the enthusiasm with which management, both in the Garda and the Police Service of Northern Ireland, approaches the matter, the incentives and encouragement given and the effect of having a beneficial result on career prospects. The Police Service of Northern Ireland is a brave social experiment. The policing board has performed remarkably well in difficult circumstances. It has faced up to difficult problems and dealt with them sensibly and reasonably. We should have no reservations about encouraging gardaí to take what should be for them a great opportunity to develop their own career and do some good in Northern Ireland at the same time.

Photo of Geraldine FeeneyGeraldine Feeney (Fianna Fail)
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Like other colleagues, I welcome the Minister of State and his officials to deal with this short but enabling Bill. It is important legislation that is apt at this time. If memory serves me correctly, next Friday is the fifth anniversary of the Good Friday Agreement. It shows a positive aspect of how we, on the southern part of the island, are moving matters along.

I was interested to hear the Minister of State, Deputy O'Dea, speak about secondment being so unprecedented. Since it was set up in 1925 we have had only one police force. For the first time ever we will see the intervention of another police force from the other side of the island.

It is marvellous to hear Senator Maurice Hayes and get an insight from the background from which he comes. He was at the coalface for years. It is wonderful that he can come here and give us an insight into how it all developed and we have got to this stage. Words cannot tell him how delighted I am to have somebody like him working along side me. It gives me such a detailed picture of how things were in the past.

The Bill sends out positive signals to both sides of the community in Northern Ireland, in particular, the Nationalist community, members of which, as we all know, have been slow for genuine reasons to become part of the PSNI. Now they will see their Southern colleagues almost taking a form of ownership of the PSNI by being seconded to it.

I agree with Senator Quinn's sentiment that there is a feeling of a coming together of communities. I was touched by what he had to say. Like him, throughout the 1980s I was a regular visitor to Northern Ireland, not simply because I come from Sligo and live in close proximity but because my late husband played inter-provincial rugby at the time for Connacht.

I recall feeling terribly uneasy whenever I crossed the Border and saw policemen with guns resting in the crook of their arms, and I did not like bringing my children up there. People today have simply becomes used to that. I am glad that our unarmed police force will go into that environment and that, vice versa, an armed force will come down here.

I was struck by something else the Minister said:

Closer communication and co-operation between our police services can only improve the effectiveness of cross-Border policing and the fight against terrorism, drug smuggling and other organised crime. It will directly assist in crime prevention and detection.

For reasons such as these, this Bill is to be welcomed. It lays the ground for best practice and high standards in policing, and I have no doubt that both forces, North and South, will have a wealth of expertise to share with each other. As other speakers have said, that wealth of expertise can only benefit and protect the citizens of this island as a whole.

I intend to propose an amendment to section 5 of the Bill, but it is better that I leave discussion of that until Committee Stage tomorrow. I feel privileged to be associated with the introduction of this Bill and its passing into law. I look forward to being involved in it on Committee Stage and to mapping its course through the Lower House when it reaches it. In years to come, our children's children will take for granted what we are putting into law today. They will not have known anything different. I feel privileged that I will be able to say I knew a time when we had two very distinct police forces on the island but that they are now coming together as one in the best interests of the people of this island.

Photo of Willie O'DeaWillie O'Dea (Minister of State, Department of Justice, Equality and Law Reform; Limerick East, Fianna Fail)
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I thank all Senators who have contributed to the debate on this very important legislation and thank them in particular for the welcome they have afforded the Bill and for their very constructive comments.

I recognise the special position of Senator Maurice Hayes and express my appreciation of his work as a member of the Patten commission. With no disrespect to other speakers, I listened very carefully to what he had to say. I note his point about regulations that will have to be speedily introduced, and I will certainly convey that to the Minister. I also note his important point that there must be an incentive to take up the new opportunities provided for in the Bill. There must be some incentive provided, or, at least, there must be no disincentive. The point was well made, and it is a matter I will certainly discuss with the Minister.

I welcome the broadly positive response to the Bill from other Senators and will briefly address some of the points they have made. We will have more opportunity to do that tomorrow on Committee Stage. As the Minister for Defence, Deputy Michael Smith, said in introducing the Bill to the House, this legislation is a firm indication of the very real progress made in relation to North-South co-operation on policing matters and is an important milestone in the implementation of the Good Friday Agreement and the Patten report. There has always been a comprehensive level of co-operation between the Garda Síochána and the PSNI, as it is now, and this co-operation has been enhanced in recent years. Closer communication and co-operation between our police services can only improve the effectiveness of cross-Border policing and the fight against terrorism, drug smuggling and other organised crime.

This Bill represents one of a range of measures which will bring benefits to both jurisdictions in the form of improved effectiveness in crime prevention and detection, to the benefit of all the people on this island. The on-going development of co-operation between the police services on this island will be further cemented by this Bill, which provides that members of the PSNI may be appointed permanently to the Garda Síochána above the rank of inspector, and vice versa. Members of the Garda Síochána may be seconded to the PSNI, and vice versa, with full police powers for a period of up to three years.

The Bill further strengthens the relationship between the two police forces. It will provide extended opportunities for police officers in both services, enhance the safety of all the people of Ireland and improve the level of cross-community confidence in the impartiality of the criminal justice system in Northern Ireland. Senator Terry said she would not like to see the Bill come into effect until the Government had proceeded to appoint a Garda ombudsman. As Members of the House will know, the Government is committed to the establishment of a Garda inspectorate to deal with complaints against the Garda Síochána. Work on the preparation of a general scheme of a Bill to provide for this is well advanced and the Minister intends to bring this to Government in the very near future, with a view to publication shortly. This should not be taken as a criticism of the existing Garda Complaints Board, which can only operate under existing law and which has itself been a strong advocate of change. Rather, it is a recognition of a public need for reassurance that there is independent oversight of the exercise of the extensive powers given to the Garda Síochána.

The commitment in the programme for Government is to give the Garda inspectorate the powers of an ombudsman, and this will be reflected in the Minister's proposals. The Minister intends the inspectorate to have comprehensive powers of investigation equal to those that might be given to an ombudsman. At this stage, the Minister sees advantage in the inspectorate comprising perhaps three persons, supported by appropriate staff, rather than by one person, as would be the case with an ombudsman. This should not pose a difficulty of principle for those who support the idea of an ombudsman. That legislation is on the way, and we do not see any reason why this Bill should be postponed in the meantime.

Senator Terry raised the issue of what happens when a secondee is subject to a disciplinary investigation from the time the malpractice is investigated to the time it is concluded. This is of course a matter for the Chief Constable or the Garda Commissioner, as appropriate. The secondee could be suspended or the secondment terminated if the Chief Constable or Garda Commissioner decided that the situation was serious enough to warrant that.

Senator Terry also raised the provisions for the Garda Commissioner to impose the sanction of advice, and Senator Maurice Hayes explained that advice is the least severe form of disciplinary sanction. It is tantamount to a slap on the wrist. Caution is perhaps slightly more serious, but it falls into the same category. I take the Senator's point that it might be better if this could be done informally rather than having to go through the entire disciplinary procedure, and I will convey that to the Minister.

Senator Jim Walsh raised questions about the distinction between different levels of personnel exchange. The intergovernmental agreement provides for three types of exchange: placements without power of up to one year; secondments with power of up to three years; and lateral entry at the level of superintendent or above. Legislation is not required for the first category because the people coming across to share their expertise in that situation will not exercise police powers in the other jurisdiction. We can go into this in more detail on Committee Stage tomorrow.

Senator Walsh also questioned the financial implications of the Bill. The financial implications of implementing the secondment with policing powers provision of the agreement will depend on the extent to which Garda secondments to the PSNI are made. The Bill provides for the Government to control by order the number of secondees. Costs will arise mainly in respect of allowances to cater for the accommodation and relocation of members of the Garda Síochána who are seconded. Preliminary discussions have already taken place in this regard between the Department of Justice, Equality and Law Reform and the Department of Finance. No significant costs are anticipated in respect of PSNI members who are seconded to the Garda Síochána, as they will continue to be paid by the PSNI. It is proposed, however, that any positions occupied by such members will be regarded as supernumerary. Lateral mobility does not give rise to any specific financial implications as it simply involves members of the PSNI competing for certain Garda posts.

I thank everybody for their contributions, for welcoming the Bill and for their constructive suggestions. We look forward to resuming this debate on Committee Stage tomorrow. Any sensible suggestions put forward by way of amendment to improve this important Bill will be accepted or will, at the least, be considered in a sympathetic light.

Question put and agreed to.

Committee Stage ordered for Wednesday, 9April 2003.