Thursday, 24 January 2019
Nithe i dtosach suíonna - Commencement Matters
I am grateful to the Minister of State, Deputy Phelan, for coming into the House to substitute for the Minister for Justice and Equality to deal with this matter. I understand the Minister, Deputy Flanagan, may be receiving medical attention for having a boot on his throat from the former Senator Ross, according to today's Irish Independent, which is an interesting development.
In any event, what I am dealing with here is a matter of the greatest seriousness. This Government, on foot of a statutory provision that I put into the Garda Síochána Act 2005, committed itself to expanding the Garda Reserve to 2,000 men and women who would voluntarily assist An Garda Síochána in the discharge of its duties, be available as backup and support, and be part of An Garda Síochána rooted in the community across rural and urban Ireland.
In 2013, the number of reservist gardaí was 1,164. In 2018, it had sunk to 542. I know that because I have been approached in the street by people I have never met before who have told me they were reservists disgusted by the way they were treated by An Garda Síochána. I want to make that clear. They were disgusted by the way they were treated. They entered in a spirit of voluntarism and willingness to help An Garda Síochána, willing to do voluntary service in just the same way as reserve constables do in Britain. I led a delegation of Irish media to see the reserve police force, the special constables, in Chester. People such as nurses from ICUs in Chester also volunteered to be woman reserve constables in their spare time.
The experience of Irish reservists, however, has been uniformly awful. The reason the numbers have declined so spectacularly is that they were made to feel redundant, unwanted and in many cases actually shunned. They turned up to perform their duties and were left standing there, one arm as long as the other, with nothing to do. The general attitude which percolated down to them through An Garda Síochána was that their services were not required, their presence was an unpleasant consequence of a statutory change and that they had nothing to add to the efficiency or efficacy of An Garda Síochána. I am disgusted by that because I believe it represents a clear issue of culture which came not only from the bottom up, and I remember the GRA's opposition to the creation of a reserve in principle, but from middle ranking and more senior ranking gardaí who did not want the bother of having a reserve force and thought they already had enough problems.We now have the suggestion that there is to be a strategic review but we have not heard who will do the review, when it will complete its activities or the like. The result is that this group of men and women have now been reduced to a small remnant of what they were and are being left, effectively, to wither on the branch.
A point made in the other House by a Minister was that this was a matter for the Commissioner of An Garda Síochána. It most certainly is not. I ask the Minister of State, Deputy Phelan, to go back to the Department of Justice and Equality and tell it that it is a matter for the Minister for Justice and Equality, personally, whether the Garda Reserve is increased to 2,000 personnel, as he promised, or halves in number as has actually happened since 2013. It is his personal responsibility. Instead of him coming in here and telling us about how he wants to do the Minister, Deputy Ross's bidding on how the Judiciary should be appointed, he should be doing his job. His job is to ensure that An Garda Síochána operates effectively, that his targets for the recruitment of the Garda Reserve are met, that he insists the Garda Commissioner and An Garda Síochána conclude any study they want to do immediately, that he restores the Garda Reserve to the strength that he promised it would be and that he stops this appalling campaign to effectively drive out decent people from the reserve by a process of neglect and indifference.
I remember the opposition and the issues that arose when a reserve was first mooted and introduced. From my experience of knowing people in the reserve, that some of them had similar appalling experiences to what was outlined by Senator McDowell. Equally, I could mention a number of people who are now gardaí having first been members of the Garda Reserve. It is not accurate to say the treatment meted out to members of the Garda Reserve was universally appalling, as mentioned by Deputy McDowell, but there were cultural and other issues.
The introduction of the reserve was an excellent initiative and was one which the Minister, Deputy Flanagan, strongly supported at the time. The Minister wants to acknowledge the deep interest in the reserve that Senator McDowell has, following his role in its establishment. Acknowledging the Senator's experience in this matter, I remind the House that the Garda Reserve was established to enhance the links between An Garda Síochána and local communities, through the deployment of locally recruited volunteers who operate in support of their full-time colleagues. The Garda Reserve continues to be a valuable operational resource for An Garda Síochána with approximately 530 reserve members currently working alongside gardaí to protect and serve their local communities.
The Minister has asked that I take this opportunity to commend the Garda Reserve members for their commitment to serving their communities. It is clear, as in other aspects of the overall organisation of policing and the provision of State services to protect communities, that there is a need to examine the reserve to ensure that it both operates to maximum effectiveness and fits coherently into the overall architecture of community policing in Ireland.
As the Senator will be aware, the Commission on the Future of Policing, which undertook a review of all aspects of policing in Ireland, published its report on 18 September 2018. The commission recommended that recruitment to the reserve be paused, pending completion of a strategic review of the reserve, with a view to ensuring that the best possible use is made of this valuable resource. On 18 December 2018, the Government endorsed the report of the Commission on the Future of Policing in Ireland and agreed to accept all 157 recommendations contained in the report, including those relating to the Garda Reserve.
On 18 December, the Minister published a four year high-level plan, entitled A Policing Service for the Future, which sets out the approach to the full implementation of the commission's recommendations. As set out in the implementation plan, the strategic review of the Garda Reserve is one of the key issues being taken forward, as a matter of priority, in 2019. It is prudent that the role of the reserve is considered at this time of policing reform.
I know Senator McDowell shares the Minister's goal, which is to maximise the full potential of the reserve and ensure it is deployed in a meaningful way that best meets the needs of a modern police service and the communities which it serves. While it is disappointing that the number of reserve members has dropped in recent years, both the Government and the Garda Commissioner remain committed to increasing the strength of the reserve. In that regard An Garda Síochána has indicated that a training class of approximately 100 reserves, who successfully applied under previous recruitment drives, will commence training in the first quarter of 2019.
I thank the Minister of State for his response but he knows the problem runs much deeper than the text of his reply suggests. There is a cultural problem, as he admitted. There is a resistance to the Garda Reserve. If there is to be a review of the reserve, I want to know the following. Who will be on the review? Who will conduct the review? Within what timeframe will they bring back their review? When Mary Harney was a Minister and I was a former Deputy, she commissioned me to do a review of company law enforcement and compliance, which we did within three months. Around the same time, the then Minister for Finance, Charlie McCreevy, asked me to do a review on the Central Bank structure. We did it within three months. Either the Government is serious about a review or this is a kicking the can down the road exercise. I very much fear that it is the latter.