Wednesday, 16 December 2015
Garda Síochána (Policing Authority and Miscellaneous Provisions) Bill 2015: [Seanad Bill amended by the Dáil] Report and Final Stages
This is a Seanad Bill which has been amended by the Dáil. In accordance with Standing Order 118, it is deemed to have passed its First, Second and Third Stages in the Seanad and is placed on the Order Paper for Report Stage. On the question "That the Bill be received for final consideration", the Minister may explain the purpose of the amendments made by the Dáil. This is looked upon as the report of the Dáil amendments to the Seanad. For Senators' convenience, I have arranged for the printing and circulation of the amendments. The Minister will deal separately with the subject matter of each related group of amendments. I have also circulated a proposed grouping in the House. A Senator may contribute once on each grouping and I remind Senators that the only matters which may be discussed are the amendments made by the Dáil and nothing else.
I thank the House for facilitating the debate this morning. The purpose of the first amendment is to impose a statutory timeline on the Garda Commissioner for the provision by the Commissioner to the authority of the Garda strategy statement. Essentially, once we set up the new policing authority on 1 January, the Commissioner will be obliged to present the strategy statement to the authority within six months and then every three years thereafter. It is really to get the authority up and running and to have the strategy statement presented to it within six months. That is quite demanding, and rightly so, on the Commissioner in terms of having a discussion on the new strategy statement with the new Garda authority.
Amendment No. 3, which involves the insertion of a new subparagraph, takes into account what a number of Opposition Deputies and Senators were seeking, namely, that there should be a provision which makes explicit the authority's function to keep under review the adequacy of the arrangements for managing and deploying the resources available to An Garda Síochána so as to ensure the most beneficial, effective and efficient use of those resources. This simply was not spelled out originally and, as such, we have included an arrangement by way of the amendments for managing and deploying the resources available to An Garda Síochána so as to ensure the most beneficial, effective and efficient use of those resources.
I welcome the Minister and thank her for coming in. She might clarify an issue raised with me again and again by local gardaí, which is rostering and the change in Galway - as a result of the working time directive - from four rosters to five. I am informed that has had the knock-on effect of having gardaí available for fewer hours, which, in turn, has had an impact on rural Garda stations which it is harder to man during the evening time. Where does the policy issue arise here? Obviously, the working time directive is connected into a different Department. How much of that is left to the authority to decide and how much to the Commissioner? What input will the Minister of the day have in having that changed? I understand that the matter of rostering is up for review again at present because the scheme in place was a pilot. The chief superintendent in Galway has sent forward a submission on the working of the pilot scheme. I am not sure if the Minister is aware of when the pilot scheme will be reviewed and if there is any move afoot to revert to the previous system or to put a system in place that would better suit rural areas.
This issue was addressed in the Garda Inspectorate report. There was a great deal of consultation before the new roster scheme came into operation. Obviously, as more gardaí are recruited - and we have ongoing and continuous recruitment - some of the issues the Senator raises will be addressed. The Garda roster scheme is being considered under Haddington Road by Mr. Ray McGee. Clearly, this is an operational matter for the Garda Commissioner and there is also a question of compliance with the working time directive. We have asked for the Haddington Road review to be completed by the end of February. We will see what recommendations are made. It took a great deal of time to get to the new roster but there are some operational issues that have arisen. It may be that changes to some aspects of the rosters may be negotiated which deal with the situation the Senator outlined. There are some real operational issues that have arisen and I have no doubt that the Commissioner will address them. As I say, it is being dealt with under the Haddington Road review.
Amendments Nos. 4 and 5 are straightforward. They relate to a proposal to request the authority to submit to the Minister a report on any matter relating to policing services. The authority is required to submit that report as soon as it is in a position to do so. This is to ensure that there is an option for the Minister of the day to request a report on a particular topic from the Garda authority. It is a sensible thing to do because issues may arise in the Dáil or Seanad on policing. They may be operational matters that the Garda authority has been looking at. These amendments give the Minister the power to request a report from the Garda authority.
I take into account the fact that the Minister may not be in office within the next six months, not for personal reasons, but on foot of the cycle in which ministerial rotation happens in any administration. The future is uncertain and no one knows it. The Minister has been reported as welcoming the recommendations contained in the recently published Olson report. We have raised the report here, as have colleagues from other parties, and it is a shocking indictment of 30 years' of governance in respect of policing matters.For example, the report states that the Garda Síochána has behind technologically for nearly 30 years and that it takes four years for child abuse investigations to be processed because it does not have the necessary technology. Friends and family of mine who are members of the Garda tell me morale in the force is at a very low ebb, primarily due to top-heavy management, as addressed in the Olson report. This heavy-handed management results in questionable promotion practices. The Minister will be more aware of it than I. I am only an ordinary citizen who picks up on these matters. Individual rank and file gardaí who have merit and who in the normal course of events, or in any other occupation, would be promoted are not being promoted. They are not being mentored by senior management, who are ensuring their own futures and feathering their own nests, not financially but in the system, to ensure their continuance in the positions they hold by ensuring the people they recommend for promotion are singing from the same hymn sheet. These are very serious issues which gardaí are telling me about and which have come out in the open through the Olson report. Does the Minister have an opinion on this? In the context of her acceptance of the recommendations of the report, will she take positive action in the short time left?
I hope the Minister continues in her role, given that she is doing a fine job in the most difficult and complex Ministry. She is responsible for range of issues, not least ensuring the personal security of every citizen in the State. It is a heavy burden for anybody to carry, and the Minister is doing it well. I am sure the Minister agrees that the issues raised by the Olson report, and in the context of the amendments and the policing authority, will recur. I hope the Minister will take the opportunity today to indicate her thinking on it. I have not seen the detail of her response, except that she has generally welcomed the report and accepts the recommendations.
I welcome the Minister and I welcome the fact that the Bill is on this Stage. It is a very important Bill in terms of providing, at last, for a policing authority which will oversee the performance of the Garda Síochána. It has been widely welcomed across the House, will be a notable achievement of the Government and will have important benefits for the future of policing. I refer to what Senator Mooney said about the recent Garda Inspectorate report, Changing Policing in Ireland, known as the Olson report. The Garda Inspectorate will come before the Joint Committee on Justice, Defence and Equality at 2.30 p.m. today to discuss the 81 recommendations for change made in the report and explain how they could be implemented.
While the inspectorate is saying there must be a strong implementation group to drive a process of reform, it will take time. Some of the suggestions for change are fundamental, including a reduction in the number of Garda regions from six to three and a significant reduction in the number of senior managers. The report merits much wider discussion, which I hope we will have at the meeting of the justice committee. I particularly welcome the amendment allowing the Minister to require the policing authority in future to prepare a report on particular policing matters. The matters on which the inspectorate has reported are very important and deserve a more substantive debate.
With regard to Senator Mooney's point about Garda morale, the Garda Inspectorate held its focus groups with members of the Garda Síochána approximately two years ago. Given that the Government is managing the economy effectively, we are able to invest in ongoing Garda recruitment. We have 1,150 new gardaí and have allocated an investment of several hundred million euro for the refurbishment and development of the kind of facilities the Garda needs. This year, we have made a much-needed investment in Garda vehicles that will help gardaí do their jobs effectively and efficiently. When gardaí are receiving the resources they need and there are new members joining the force, it is good for morale.
Approximately 800 recommendations on the Garda Síochána have been made by a variety of reports over several years. The Government accepted all the recommendations of the report on criminal investigations, which was published before this report. Last year, a programme of implementation started, and the changes outlined in the report are already happening. It is reassuring and important. By the end of the year, PULSE will record crime investigations, not just the fact that a crime took place. It is a development of the technology. There was a need for investment in technology, and it is under way. Rosters, as mentioned by Senator Ó Clochartaigh, will be on computers. It is extraordinary to think that rosters are not computerised and no HR system is available to the Garda. The tendering process is in place to ensure it happens next year. All of this is important in dealing with the issues in the inspectorate report.
I have asked the Garda Commissioner and some other stakeholders to respond in the first instance to the recommendations. Many of the recommendations are very far-reaching and, if implemented, will lead to a fundamental restructuring of the Garda Síochána across the country. I therefore want the full implications of the recommendations to be clearly discussed and understood. I agree that the inspectorate report needs wider discussion and I am very pleased that the justice committee will meet representatives of the inspectorate this afternoon. Given the history of community policing, which we want to maintain, and the need for community policing, there are questions about how the recommendations would impact on it and how we can ensure it continues. The report makes general points about culture, and there are many recommendations. We must carefully consider what an implementation plan would look like. We need feedback from the front line on the implications of the recommendations.
The purpose of the amendments is to enable the authority or the Minister to refer matters to GSOC for consideration as to whether GSOC should initiate a public interest investigation under section 102(4). This is an important provision.