Wednesday, 15 December 2004
Garda Síochána Bill 2004: Committee Stage (Resumed).
This section dealing with security officers worries me. It proposes that by giving a uniform and a badge to somebody that person will have the powers of a garda. I am totally opposed to that. When some people get a uniform and a badge they lose their heads. This section gives them the powers of the gardaí including "to seize, in exercising powers under this section, any weapon other than one in the possession of a person with lawful authority;". These are powers that only the gardaí should have. It is not acceptable to give voluntary forces and security people similar powers to those of the gardaí. There should be nothing of that sort in this Bill.
I do not object to civilians doing jobs at desks and other such jobs to enable more gardaí to go out on the streets. This, however, gives security officers the same powers as the gardaí. What does the Minister of State mean by "adequate training" for these people? If the security people are to have the same powers as the gardaí they should have similar training to the gardaí in those areas. I oppose giving Garda powers to security officers. This would be a retrograde step. The gardaí are the guardians of the peace. That is how it should be, they have served us well since the foundation of the State. To give powers in other areas to quangos and other people is not acceptable. I oppose this section.
I too am very concerned about this provision. The Labour Party opposes it and will put forward that opposition on Report Stage. It gives substantial powers to the designated persons, for example, to search and exclude people from a building. It will change the nature of places such as the National Gallery. People in Ireland are not accustomed to this. It exists in the United Kingdom and other places but Ireland is a different country with a much smaller population base and a reputation for a certain regime which tourists expect to encounter. We should take account of that.
It could lead to people feeling their rights are infringed or their reputation is damaged in some way if, for example, there is a misunderstanding or difference of opinion as to whether a person refused to be searched and is excluded from a building. Many issues come into play. These people will have powers under statute with which it will be very difficult for a person to contend when making a complaint regarding civil rights. This Bill underpins a person's right to make complaints about what he or she regards as inappropriate conduct by the gardaí. There is no such provision for these people.
Senator Cummins mentioned training. Under this section the head of an authorised body can decide whether a person has received "adequate training for that purpose" yet the Bill provides that the Minister make regulations for Garda training. It refers to people who have entered into contract for the provision of security services and so on. Contract companies will provide security services and will be the designated officers under this provision. This has very significant implications for the future because although this legislation strengthens safeguards for gardaí, these do not apply to the new officers under this section.
Senators Cummins and Tuffy are missing the central point here, namely that gardaí are tied up in these duties involving many gardaí and hours. Most people do not see that as the most productive use of Garda time and experience. Senator Tuffy said that when one goes to other jurisdictions and visits art galleries and so on one does not see the local police there. One sees special security people employed by the gallery and it is sensible that we adopt that practice.
I will talk about the Courts Service in a minute. There is prudence in this section. For example, it mentions only six areas in which these security officers will serve. The list could be more exhaustive and the Minister should consider other areas and identify them on Report Stage. If the Minister is to implement this measure he should have provision to roll it out without having to come back with other legislation. There could perhaps be a catch-all clause so that other locations which have not occurred to people yet, but might arise in the future, could be covered by a regulation to have the same facility of engaging their own people. The locations mentioned in the Bill are State bodies and their management is vested in people acting on behalf of the State. Therefore, one can rely on there being proper training and recruitment procedures to ensure that the people are of good repute and will carry out these duties with the required diligence. There are protections in the Bill to prevent abuse.
Yesterday I made a point concerning the courts system to which Senator Cummins has now referred. If the courts system moved exclusively to using security people, I would have certain concerns. However, if it is moving towards having some security people backed up by gardaí, that is an entirely acceptable approach. I distinguish the Courts Service from other areas in that one can have a congregation of people, depending on the case, making security essential. Perhaps, in his reply, the Minister might confirm that, while the Courts Service can engage security people, there would obviously still be involvement on the part of gardaí, albeit on a smaller and more selective scale than at present. That must be done.
The provisions in section 114 are very good and prudent. The main reason for us to have gardaí is to regulate society. Their prime function is to ensure that crime is prevented if at all possible, and that is done by high visibility and active involvement in operational duties. Where a crime is committed, it must be pursued diligently to detect the criminals and bring them to court before the laws of the land. If one considers that as a priority, one sees that it is like running any operation. Once one prioritises the functions, subsidiary functions should obviously be dealt with in a way that does not interfere with the primary objective. This section takes that on board.
If one takes the Houses of the Oireachtas as an example, one sees that one could have a situation where a member of staff could be excluded from the Houses by a person from a security firm. I am straying a little, but if it were decided that an outside security firm should be used in the Houses, and some of those involved were designated officers under the section by the head of the Houses, there could be a disagreement between a member of staff and an officer with the result that the member of staff might be excluded. Such a situation could arise. That has important implications and my main concern is that the Bill has no element of accountability in the way that there is regarding members of the Garda Síochána.
I welcome the Minister of State at the Department of Justice, Equality and Law Reform, Deputy Fahey, to the House.
The one section over which I would place a question mark is the Houses of the Oireachtas, since the presence of the Garda Síochána here is a big asset to the work of the Houses. It is all right now, since we are in peacetime, but in difficult times it was very important that they were here. They accord status to the Houses of the Oireachtas, which are not like the National Gallery or the National Museum. I would be very reluctant for the Government and the Minister to remove the excellent staff and members of the Garda Síochána who are present in the Houses. There are security positions in the Houses with cameras, and the staff are doing an excellent job. I would be very reluctant to change that system. The gardaí have tremendous status in the Houses.
The Army is in charge of security at night when the Houses close. Its training in this regard is very specialised. I do not know whether there is any provision for the removal of the Army personnel who take over the full security of these Houses from the close of business until the opening of business in the morning. We are fortunate in having the Army prepared to carry out this duty of protecting the institutions of the State and the Houses of the Oireachtas. It has a dual role in that regard, and I am delighted that members of the Defence Forces are here in the House. They have served the State very well, and it lends great prestige to the House to have members of the Army present for its security.
I would be very reluctant to see members of the Garda Síochána withdrawn from service in the Houses if the legislation were enacted. I do not think the Minister will act in that manner, since their presence is a great influence on the many visitors to the House and a great support to Members and visitors.
The Bill deals with the issue of an ombudsman. There is a need for an ombudsman for the Garda Síochána similar to that approved for the Army, and I hope that senior officials will consider it. I brought up some matters on Committee Stage concerning the need for members of the Garda Síochána to have a complaints mechanism similar to that established for the Defence Forces, and I hope the Minister of State will convey to the Minister for Justice, Equality and Law Reform, Deputy McDowell, my strong recommendation that it be considered. Many of the matters that I raised on behalf of the Garda Síochána might be better dealt with by a dedicated ombudsman who could address them internally.
I would like to contribute again, since I feel so strongly on this issue. Who will vet these "security officers"? Contractors will come in and act as such. We have heard on many occasions about other jurisdictions where such people have worked in art galleries from which there have been thefts. It is all right speaking up when something of that sort happens, but I would not like to be the one to say that he had warned the Minister.
As Senator Leyden pointed out, people such as Heads of State and ambassadors attend the Houses of the Oireachtas regularly. They are to be met and protected by security officers of whose background we know nothing. We do not know who has vetted them or what training they have undergone. In the Courts Service, as Senator Walsh mentioned, in many cases there might be a number of dangerous criminals; yet security officers are to look after the security of the State and the Courts Service.
The Minister should rethink this section. It is not an appropriate response to what is required. I humbly ask him to return on Report Stage and amend this entire concept of voluntary guards and security officers. We are diluting the powers and status of the Garda Síochána, and I am not in favour.
I thank the Senators for their contributions.
It is very important to read the provisions of the Bill, and Senator Cummins is reading the exact opposite of that which stands in it. There is no question of handing the powers of gardaí to security personnel.
That is clearly not the case, and I will presently outline why. It makes eminently good sense that the Houses of the Oireachtas, the National Gallery and the National Museum be secured by private personnel. There are about 100 Garda posts involved, which necessitate approximately 500 gardaí being deployed in what are described as static protection duties. If we had 500 gardaí walking the streets of Dublin today, I can assure Senators that they would be much better employed in guaranteeing the security of the people and the State than in their current positions. That is the essence of this proposal, which makes eminently good sense. I reject out of hand the misguided views of Senator Cummins in particular.
The purpose of the provisions of this section is to free up the position of gardaí engaged in what are described as static protection duties on public offices in the State, mainly in Dublin, as listed in the Bill. It may not be generally appreciated that retaining one member the Garda Síochána on this duty requires more than five other officers to be rostered for that duty. Proposals have been made over the years to allow for the release of this not inconsiderable number of highly-trained Garda officers for normal policing work. However, most of them have come to nothing. On the initiative of a previous Garda Commissioner about ten years ago, serious attempts were made to deal with the matter principally on an administration basis, but that came to nothing. The proposal in the Bill represents a determined effort by the Government to put the issue on a proper statutory footing.
The provisions in the Bill are well thought out. In essence, only the State bodies listed in section 114(1) may be designated by order of the Minister to employ private security officers at particular locations and premises. Those private security officers will be properly vetted, the companies involved will be properly chosen and proper training will be provided.
In every modern democracy across the world private security operations are involved with the state in providing security for public buildings. Senator Cummins can be assured a comprehensive series of vetting and training will be carried out to ensure the people selected are the best in terms of the job they will have to do. There is no question of that process being any other way.
The head of the proposed body may be the Minister, the Attorney General or the chief executive of the Courts Service. The latter will specify the particular premises involved and he or she must also be satisfied that the security person concerned is suitable, has received adequate training and, if a private security firm is involved, that its members are fit and proper persons to supervise the work of their staff.
The section contains detailed provisions regarding identification and powers. Senator Cummins should read the section.
Their powers are set out in subsection (4) and they mainly relate to what might be termed ordinary checking of identity, examination and seizure of articles, search of a person, which is confined to the removal of outer garments only such as coats, hats, jackets and shoes, power to refuse entry and the use of reasonable force, if that is required. No mention is made of powers of arrest in that subsection.
The one area where special provisions apply in regard to the detention of persons is the courts in accordance with a judicial direction. That is directly related to a person being found in contempt of court.
Subsection (9) merely confirms that the security officers are no different from any other member of the public or from any other security personnel with whom we all come into contact in our daily lives in commercial premises, ports, airports, private offices and shopping centres, who may decide to exercise the right of arrest of a person whom they, with reasonable cause, suspect to be in the act of committing an arrestable offence. This is in accordance with the provisions of section 4 of the Criminal Law Act 1997, which provides for what used to be termed a "citizen's arrest".
As to the right of redress for any wrongs committed by such security staff, the same position will apply as in the case of any member of the staff of private security firms that are so much part and parcel of our ordinary lives. They will be liable to be sued in the same way for trespass to the person and assault if the alleged wrongs are proved in court and so too will the company which employed them. I dare say that an inventive lawyer will also find a way to include some element of blame attaching to the State body which contracted for the service in the first place. If a member of the public has any complaint about his or her treatment, that can be followed up in the ordinary way.
I wish to confirm the position in regard to the courts and the Houses of the Oireachtas. There will be a Garda presence at all times in the courts in association with the security presence that is being provided. Equally, there will be a Garda presence in the Oireachtas. It is a question of finding a balance as to the Garda presence required in association with the security presence. The point made by Senator Cummins regarding dealing with difficult criminals and so on is not correct. Such security personnel will be accompanied in the normal way by gardaí and prison officers. We are talking about the buildings, not people who go to the courts who will be provided for in the same way.
I assure Senator Leyden that the Army presence will continue here at night as it has up to now. I take the point he made about the individuals concerned in the Oireachtas whom we have all got to know, who are excellent people and do a fine job. However, the reality is that for ten years various efforts have been made to release up to 500 gardaí from duties where it is quite clear they are not required and to deploy them on the beat where they are required. That is the purpose of this section. This is one of the better proposals I have seen in terms of Garda reform in recent years.
We are not against the relieving of gardaí from duties such as this. The Minister of State referred to the deployment of extra gardaí. We were particularly in favour of the implementation of the report recommending the relieving of approximately 500 gardaí from administrative duties and that such posts would become Civil Service-type positions.
The Minister of State referred to powers under the section. It is not proposed that such personnel will have a power of arrest, but the proposed power they will have to search is significant. How many campaigns around that issue have there been in terms of its implications for infringing human rights? A person who is searched could feel that his or her personal integrity is being infringed by the searcher. Down the line people could feel their rights have been infringed. That is a significant issue.
The main point concerning this section is that such powers are not underpinned by the type of provisions that apply to the Garda Síochána throughout the Bill. The Minister of State is basically saying that a private firm could recruit people for this purpose, yet unlike the position that applies to the Garda Síochána, no regulations will underpin such recruitment. I have raised similar concerns regarding training. Those concerns are the main problem with this section. There are no accountability provisions regarding these people. They will have substantial powers, yet provisions in respect of similar powers apply to the Garda Síochána. That is a serious problem with this section.
The Minister of State clarified a number of points. I agree with him that balance is what is required. I was glad to hear him say there will continue to be a Garda presence within the Houses of the Oireachtas, the Courts Service and other areas. He clarified that point. He also mentioned that similar proposals were put forward in recent years but they came to nothing. These provisions will also come to nothing because the wording at the start of the section is that the Minister "may, by order" and so on. That is the way we will proceed until many of the points raised are clarified. Nothing will be done about this for a number of years.
I do not know why the Opposition cannot see the merit of this proposal. It seems extraordinary because it is apparent to any casual observer that to have gardaí standing at these locations, while serving a function, is not serving the function for which the gardaí were recruited and trained. These tasks could be adequately carried out by officers with far less training in general Garda duties than gardaí would have.
The Minister of State has outlined this in a sensible way. I welcome that there will be Garda back-up in certain areas where it is considered necessary. However, this should be extended beyond the number of locations listed. Some 500 gardaí is a significant number. There has been much talk about increasing the size of the force and this measure would allow for a significant increase of gardaí on active duty.
This type of measure should be taken because, ultimately, the public want crime tackled effectively. Any measure that provides resources to make this area more productive must be welcomed. I am surprised that members of the Opposition do not endorse this.
I note the Minister's remarks in regard to the power of arrest, and it is important this would happen. However, he made the analogy that security officers in the relevant State bodies would have similar powers and be exposed to similar litigation to those engaged by private companies. Should they have an extra element of protection in this regard? They will train and operate on behalf of the State and there is a need to consider this aspect. Ultimately, what is wanted in this system is that security officers and gardaí operate effectively. When drafting and passing legislation, we must be mindful that we have become a litigious society so that we do not open up many avenues for some to unnecessarily pursue cases, as has happened in the past. If there was trouble in bodies such as those listed in the Bill, the emphasis of security officers has been to protect the areas for which they are responsible, particularly the assets and personnel involved. I am sure the Opposition will see the merit of this measure.
With the good Minister for Justice, Equality and Law Reform currently in office, Senator Cummins can be assured that when the legislation is passed, he will not have to wait long for the Minister to implement the provisions of the Bill. With regard to Senator Tuffy's point on the indiscretion of personal searches, this is exactly what might happen to the Senator or I in any shopping centre in Dublin city. Existing security staff have the power to search us in the same way we would be searched under the new arrangement the Bill provides for.
We are lucky to have a significant private security industry employing thousands across the country. They do excellent work in guarding property, shopping centres, hospitals and public and private institutions. To reflect negatively on those companies, which are highly professional, in the way Members have is very unfair. Those companies will tender--——
I can reel off the names of private sector companies providing significant security services for the public and private sectors in shopping centres, hospitals, banks and every form of institution. We have nothing to worry about if those companies tender to provide security services for the Houses of the Oireachtas, the National Library, the National Museum or elsewhere. It is not an issue. I assure Members that the Minister and Department officials are convinced that this section will have the desired effect of freeing up 500 gardaí.
There has been much discussion in recent years in regard to 2,000 extra gardaí. The Opposition was vocal about the fact that the 2,000 gardaí——
There has been vocal opposition from Senators, rightly so, in regard to the delay in the 2,000 gardaí coming on stream. Here is a proposal which will provide 500 extra gardaí on the streets of Dublin.
Some gardaí will still be here or in the courts but only a minimum presence will be required, not the significant rostered service in place at present. I recommend the section to the House.
There is a lack of clarity in regard to training, the powers of security officers under the section and every other aspect of the section. It is flawed. The Minister of State should reconsider the section and return with plans for a clear, decisive role for security officers rather than what is in the Bill.
The dearth of merit in the argument from the Opposition can best be illustrated by reference to security officers at our airports, which are much more vulnerable and sensitive in a security sense than the locations identified in the Bill.
The system works effectively to protect the people. Given events in the context of international terrorism, nobody would dispute that our airports are more sensitive and top class security is required. We undertake this with security officers, not with gardaí.
I am not against the idea behind this provision in terms of relieving members of the Garda Síochána from this type of duty. My problem is the issue of accountability. This is totally different to the case of security firms looking after private areas such as shopping centres. The Government is giving significant State powers to those designated security officers under the Bill. These powers would affect members of the public, including citizens who vote and visitors to the country.
There is no point stating the security officers will be vetted — perhaps they will and I am sure most officers would act in a reputable way. However, there is no statutory underpinning of that vetting. Neither I nor any other Member commented in a negative way on the security industry, private security firms or anyone involved in the industry. The Minister is wrong to put that kind of spin on this. Like any profession, the majority of those who work in it are good and act in good faith.
The same is definitely true of the Garda Síochána. I trust the Garda Síochána but I still think — as does the Minister, in putting forward this legislation — that the force should be accountable and that there should be a legal basis for that accountability. That is the problem with this provision about which questions remain. Senator Walsh referred to litigation but listening to him one would think that anyone who takes a legal case is just out to get money. People have rights and that is why we have laws. People use the law and the courts to enforce their rights.
Most people who do that, do so in good faith. They do not do it lightly. However, the legislation is taking away people's rights. If someone is defamed or manhandled in a shopping centre, he or she can assert his or her civil rights in court. The Bill is giving people who would operate in this way the force of a legal statute behind them. It might actually take away people's rights if they feel their reputation is being impugned.
I wish to clarify this matter. Members of the public have exactly the same rights in this situation as they would have in an airport, a shopping centre or anywhere else.
The Dail Divided:
For the motion: 30 (Eddie Bohan, Cyprian Brady, Michael Brennan, Peter Callanan, Margaret Cox, Brendan Daly, John Dardis, Timmy Dooley, Geraldine Feeney, Liam Fitzgerald, Camillus Glynn, John Gerard Hanafin, Brendan Kenneally, Tony Kett, Michael Kitt, Terry Leyden, Don Lydon, Marc MacSharry, John Minihan, Paschal Mooney, Pat Moylan, Labhrás Ó Murchú, Francis O'Brien, Mary O'Rourke, Ann Ormonde, Kieran Phelan, Eamon Scanlon, Jim Walsh, Mary White, Diarmuid Wilson)
Against the motion: 19 (Paul Bradford, Paddy Burke, Ulick Burke, Paul Coghlan, Noel Coonan, Maurice Cummins, Michael Finucane, Brian Hayes, Derek McDowell, Joe McHugh, David Norris, Kathleen O'Meara, Joe O'Toole, John Paul Phelan, Feargal Quinn, Shane Ross, Brendan Ryan, Sheila Terry, Joanna Tuffy)
Tellers: Tá, Senators Minihan and Moylan; Níl, Senators Cummins and Tuffy.
Question declared carried.
This is interesting as it deals with breach of discipline. It refers clearly to discourtesy, prevarication, abuse of authority and so on. All are part of the disciplinary code. Perhaps the Minister might amplify those issues. Gardaí have a difficult job and, in general, carry out their duties with diligence, often putting themselves at considerable risk. It is important for the effective functioning of the Garda that it has public support. That is an essential component of effective policing. Good discipline is the key to securing that support.
Corrupt or improper practices include a member placing himself or herself under a pecuniary obligation to any person by soliciting or receiving any gratuity in a manner that might affect the member's ability to discharge his or her duty. If a garda has given a particularly good service some people might feel a compunction to recognise that in some tangible way. The guidelines need to be clear as to what is proper or improper.
Perhaps the Minister might comment on the disciplinary procedures. I am sure Senator Tuffy will take me up on this, but sometimes gardaí must deal with people who try to exploit particular situations by making unjust claims against a garda for personal reasons. It is therefore important, where a claim is seen to be vexatious and without foundation, that appropriate action can be taken against individuals who make false claims. The Garda Síochána is a disciplined force and in carrying out its duties gardaí are open to false allegations being made against them. Anybody making such false allegations must also be taken to account. As the Minister said earlier, balance is a very important component of this Bill, and it is obviously necessary in this area.
Schedule 5 is a repeat of the existing disciplinary code, which the Minister will review in conjunction with the Garda Síochána representative bodies. The area of disciplinary procedures will be reviewed in light of the provisions of the Bill. Section 102 deals with the question of false claims. I assure the Senator that those issues will be dealt with in that context.
I move amendment No. 129:
In page 9, line 10, after "OF" to insert "A BODY KNOWN AS COIMISIÚN OMBUDSMAN AN GHARDA SÍOCHÁNA, OR IN THE ENGLISH LANGUAGE,".
I am satisfied the Government has addressed the issue raised in this amendment and will agree to withdraw it.
In regard to amendment No. 129, is there an Irish translation for "ombudsman"? In terms of the preservation of the Irish language, it is important that we produce Irish words for such terms. The word "ombudsman" is perhaps understood in several languages but an Irish translation would be helpful. The Minister of State is more adept in the Irish language than I am.
In page 9, line 14, after "INVESTIGATED", to insert "AND ALSO FOR THE ESTABLISHMENT OF A BODY TO BE KNOWN AS CIGIREACHT AN GHARDA SÍOCHÁNA OR, IN ENGLISH, THE GARDA SÍOCHÁNA INSPECTORATE FOR THE PURPOSE OF ACHIEVING AND MAINTAINING THE HIGHEST LEVELS OF EFFICIENCY AND EFFECTIVENESS IN THE OPERATION AND ADMINISTRATION OF THE GARDA SÍOCHÁNA".