Seanad debates

Tuesday, 26 September 2023

Garda Síochána (Recording Devices) Bill 2022: Second Stage


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

1:00 pm

Photo of Mark DalyMark Daly (Fianna Fail)
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The debate will follow the normal pattern. The Minister has ten minutes. I welcome the Minister to the House. She is most welcome to Seanad Éireann on our first sitting day back after the recess and we look forward to her contribution.

Photo of Helen McEnteeHelen McEntee (Meath East, Fine Gael)
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I am delighted to introduce the Garda Síochána (Recording Devices) Bill 2022 to the House and I look forward to hearing contributions from Senators.

As Senators will be aware, this Bill is an important commitment in the programme for Government and in Justice Plan 2023. The Bill provides a legislative framework for the use of recording devices by Garda personnel and the processing of data gathered through that recording. In support of that legislative framework, statutory codes of practice will also provide further detail on the operation of Parts 2 to 6, inclusive, in this Bill.

Government strongly supports the recommendations of the report of the Commission on the Future of Policing in Ireland, which recommended that An Garda Síochána should make digital transformation. Government has backed this digital transformation through investment in successive budgets in order to modernise the police service. It is necessary therefore that we give An Garda Síochána access to the latest technology in a society that is becoming increasingly more digitalised and where criminals have access to digital tools to carry out their crimes. An Garda Síochána cannot remain an analogue organisation in a digital age.

This Bill is an important contribution towards providing An Garda Síochána with cutting-edge digital tools and framework for their use that ensures the safety of Garda personnel, respect for the human rights of the general public and data protection throughout.

One of the main features of the Bill is the introduction of body-worn cameras, which have been long called for by the Garda Commissioner and the Garda representative bodies. We have all seen the reports of attacks on members of An Garda Síochána in the past year. I condemn these attacks on our front-line gardaí and I agree that this technology has the potential to deter such attacks or, where attacks occur, it can provide strong evidence to bring those culprits to justice.

Policing organisations around the world have found that body-worn cameras can help improve front-line capability with the accurate recording of incidents. For example, the first moments when a garda arrives on the scene of a domestic violence incident are so often crucial in protecting victims and ensuring that in the event of a prosecution, they can access justice.

Body-worn cameras will also speed up analysis, enhance situational awareness and protect our gardaí from harm. I welcome that the Garda have now published the requests for information, RFI, on body-worn cameras and digital evidence management systems on eTenders.iewebsite.The provisions in this legislation will enable members of An Garda Síochána to access the most up-to-date technology. The use of body-worn cameras, automatic number plate recognition, ANPR, and CCTV can play a key role in preventing and detecting serious crime and protecting the security of the State.

Before I move to the key provisions of the Bill, I will briefly mention facial recognition technology. There has been much debate on this topic over the past year. While the Bill will not contain provisions relating to facial recognition, as decided by the Government last July, I will be providing for this in a separate new Bill, the general scheme of which will be published later this year. This will only allow for retrospective use of facial recognition technology for the most serious of offences and will assist in the investigation of these crimes. As I mentioned, this will be used in the most serious of cases, such as threats to national security, homicide, rape and child sexual abuse. It will be an enormous help to the Garda in detecting and investigating serious crime. In cases where time is so often of the essence, gardaí need to be able to search for suspects and evidence quickly. There may be a suspect in a murder, a child who is missing or abducted, or a child subject to abuse. A number of safeguards around the use of facial recognition technology will of course be put in place. These will include, among other things, ensuring a code of practice for its use. This will be subject to approval by government and the Houses of the Oireachtas.

Turning to the Bill, Part 1 sets out the Short Title, the commencement provisions and key definitions of the Bill, including that of a recording device, which is intentionally device neutral in order to future-proof the Bill, and includes devices capable of recording or processing records.

Part 2 deals with the use of recording devices generally by An Garda Síochána in public places, or places where it is invited or permitted to be, and in private dwellings in certain circumstances. Since the definition of a recording device is broad, this would allow, among other devices, for recording from body-worn cameras, cameras, smartphones, tablets, dashcams and camcorders. The use of recording devices on vehicles on aircraft, including unmanned aircraft, and on Garda dogs, is also catered for. Additional provisions concerning the operation of body-worn cameras are included. Where they are in use, there is a requirement for a visible indicator to show they have been switched on.

Part 3 provides for the extension of the circumstances in which automatic plate recognition may be used by An Garda Síochána. The Bill will designate certain bodies as relevant bodies which may transfer, on an ongoing basis, the ANPR records they create to An Garda Síochána. Three bodies will initially be designated: the Dublin Airport Authority, DAA, which includes Dublin and Cork; Dublin Port Company; and the National Roads Authority, which has a network of ANPR cameras along motorways in Ireland. This will give An Garda Síochána access to a range of ANPR cameras in strategic locations throughout the State. Other bodies that have a network of ANPR cameras can be designated at a later date if this is necessary.

The Bill provides that the ANPR can be used for the following purposes: the prevention, investigation, detection or prosecution of criminal offences; safeguarding against and the prevention of threats to public security, which includes securing public safety and public order; and the protection of the security of the State. The use of ANPR for focused monitoring of a vehicle is provided for. This will allow An Garda Síochána to monitor a vehicle where it passes an ANPR-enabled camera, but any such monitoring must be justified and approved by a superintendent or higher. Any continued focused monitoring beyond three months will have to be authorised by a judge of the District Court. In order for this to be granted, the vehicle in question must be related to an investigation into an arrestable offence, which is an offence with a penalty of five years or more, or that the vehicle is relevant to an investigation relating to national security. Retrospective searches of ANPR data will also be permitted for specific purposes and can be approved by a garda at the rank of sergeant or higher. The value of this provision is clear when one considers the frequent need for gardaí to try to trace the movement of suspected criminals in order to progress an investigation.

Part 4 provides for a matter not addressed in the general scheme. It delivers on an outstanding recommendation of the Fennelly commission of investigation, which expressed concern over the legal basis for recording of emergency and non-emergency lines by An Garda Síochána.

Part 5 replaces the revoked and repealed CCTV provisions in section 38 of the Garda Síochána Act 2005 and the associated CCTV order. Under the new authorisation process, community groups will no longer be able to install or operate CCTV as they have perhaps done in the past. However, the Bill ensures that transitional arrangements will be in place for existing Garda or community CCTV. The CCTV schemes authorised may only be granted to Garda personnel or local authorities. That is not to say community groups can no longer continue to have a role. It is a priority for me that they should be involved in this process. Any future amendments or additions to a CCTV scheme, for example, where a new camera is added with greater functionality, would have to be notified to the Garda Commissioner, who would then determine whether a new authorisation is needed. Senators will be aware of the concerns that were raised by the Data Protection Commissioner about the current arrangements for CCTV schemes and those that are authorised. It has been established in inquiries conducted by the Data Protection Commission, DPC, that authorisations issued many years ago were being relied upon for the installation of additional cameras. It is important for data protection purposes that we ensure that the appropriate due diligence is completed before additions or amendments are made to CCTV schemes. As is the case for all the parts of the Bill, the DPC has been consulted at length on the new arrangements proposed under this Bill. Most importantly, what this means is that communities can move forward in expanding on or adding to current CCTV that is in place or in putting in place CCTV that they have not been able to progress because of this DPC issue.

Part 6 will give power to the Garda Síochána to process live feeds of third-party CCTV. Judicial authorisation is required for such access or, where the access is required for less than 72 hours, internal approval from a superintendent or higher-ranked officer may be sought. Similar to Part 3 of the Bill, the processing of live feeds of third-party CCTV can only be used to prevent, investigate, detect or prosecute criminal offences, to safeguard against and prevent threats to public security or to protect the security of the State. This is not to say that the provisions of this part will prevent An Garda Síochána from viewing third-party CCTV where the third party themselves freely allow it to do so. The Data Protection Act allows a third party to share data with An Garda Síochána where it is for law enforcement purposes.

As with Part 4, Part 7 also deals with the matter not included in the general scheme. It provides for the Garda Commissioner to authorise the installation and operation of CCTV on Garda premises. This includes temporary premises for the safeguarding of people or property and, again, for preventing, investigating, detecting or prosecuting criminal offences. This includes private areas of Garda premises and temporary structures and places the use of CCTV in Garda stations on a clear statutory footing.

Part 8 sets out that codes of practice will need to be drafted by the Garda Commissioner for Parts 2 to 6, inclusive, of the Bill, which must be approved by ministerial order. In the interests of transparency, the draft codes will be made publicly available by the Garda Commissioner in order that representations can be made. There will be numerous bodies, including the Data Protection Commission, that the Garda Commissioner will be required to consult during this drafting and the final text or codes will then be published. These codes will outline requirements with regard to storage, access, retention periods, deletion and data subject rights and will follow international best practice.

Finally, Part 9 contains a number of miscellaneous provisions. I mentioned on Committee Stage in the Dáil that I intend to introduce some technical amendments, primarily to ensure consistency and coherence to the processing and offences provisions in the Bill. These amendments are made on foot of legal advice from the Attorney General. Other minor drafting amendments will also be necessary.

In conclusion, this Bill will deliver on two important commitments in our programme for Government, first, to implement the recommendations of the report of the Commission on the Future of Policing in Ireland, which called for the use of the body-worn cameras to enhance the front-line capability of An Garda Síochána and, second, to extend the powers governing Garda use of CCTV and automatic number plate recognition, also known as ANPR, to help prevent crime but also to prosecute those involved in criminal activity.

More generally, the Bill will provide An Garda Síochána with the tools and resources it feels are necessary to combat crime and protect the public in a digital age, while also ensuring there are appropriate safeguards in place for the use of such technology. The standards and procedures that An Garda Síochána must follow when using these technologies will be clearly set out in codes of practice and will be publicly available to each and every one of us. I thank Senators for their time and look forward to hearing their contributions. I commend this Bill to the House.

Photo of Barry WardBarry Ward (Fine Gael)
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Cuirim fáilte roimh an mBille seo ar son Fhine Gael. We are dealing with important legislation of which the Minister has brought us through the main provisions. It is to be welcomed. Probably the most - I do not want to say newsworthy - prominent aspect of the Bill is the provision of body cameras for gardaí. This is something that has been part of a debate on policing for some time. As the Minister said, it is something for which the Commissioner has been asking. To my mind, however, this is an absolutely reasonable step. Arming members of the Garda with an additional tool, that is, the body camera, provides for a number of things. It protects gardaí first of all. It protects them from assaults. One would have to think or hope that somebody would be less likely to assault a garda in the course of his or her duties if there is a camera recording that person as that is happening. It protects individuals from overzealous gardaí and we would never suggest that the Garda is perfect. There are of course people within An Garda Síochána who might be overzealous in dealing with somebody. Where that occurs, there is now an independent record of what happened. Equally, one would think that it would discourage individual members from behaving outside what would be acceptable if there is a device that is going to record what is happening. In that regard, it also protects gardaí from false accusations or allegations of overzealousness or bad behaviour on their part as much as anything else. Perhaps most importantly, the bodycam can be used as an evidential tool. In circumstances where gardaí arrive at a scene, the cameras are activated. They now have an independent recording of what has happened at that particular event or scene. If that is required evidentially later, it can be an incredibly important tool. The reality is, as we know, that many other people have a recording of what happened when incidents occur with gardaí. It is entirely sensible that gardaí would have those recordings in their own power and procurement as well in the way that is set out in the first Part of the Bill. It is really important to remember that bodycams protect gardaí and citizens and help in the prosecution of crime. They are the really important elements that have been brought forward as part of the bodycam legislation before the House and I welcome them.

I also recognise the concerns about the privacy aspects that have been expressed by groups for whom I have great respect like the Irish Council for Civil Liberties. I also acknowledge what the Minister said about the protocols that are going to be built in to the use of bodycams that will be required to be approved by the Department and the Minister through regulation. That is also an incredibly important part of the protections that we build into all legislation for our citizens. It is not appropriate that those protocols would be written out in legislation and, therefore, totally inflexible. To my mind, it makes sense that they will be drawn up over a period of time before the full implementation of bodycams and that they will be put through the sieve of the experts outside of An Garda Síochána as well. Then those protocols will be implemented but equally we will have them in a way that they can be changed if that is what happens. If anything is true of this, it is that the technology is constantly updating and changing and protocols may require to be changed. They should not have to come back to this House to do that. I very much approve of the manner described in the Bill for the approval of the protocols as well.

The Bill is also really about a technological policing response. The Minister said that the reality is that technology is increasingly becoming a part, not just of policing generally, but of policing internationally and international co-operation. We know for example, from the co-operation we get through Europol and other international policing organisations, that we get intelligence and information from other policing bodies and other police forces, because of the technological capacity they have. It is appropriate that we should have a similar technological capacity in this jurisdiction.

ANPR is an important part of that. That independent technology will be there to identify rather than requiring an individual garda to check every car as it goes past. That technology will do that for them without impinging unreasonably on the privacy of an individual or the protection of their data. An issue we have seen come up many times is the number of drivers on Irish roads who are not insured, for example. ANPR is one tool that can be used to deal with that in a much more concrete way. I welcome that as well.

The provisions relating to CCTV are also important. I have grave reservations about the widespread distribution of CCTV. I do not like what we see in other European jurisdictions, even in our nearest neighbour in Britain. It is ironic that London is where George Orwell came from. When going through there one very much has a feeling of Big Brother. There are CCTV cameras on every corner of every street. I can see how that is attractive from a policing and crime prevention point of view but I also see how it is undesirable from a social point of view. In this legislation we need to strike a balance between being able to see everything that is done on the public street and recording it and maintaining it, but having a situation where gardaí are equipped with the tools they need to detect crime, and also to solve crime when an incident occurs. CCTV should be used sparingly rather than carpet bombing a city or town centre with cameras. With that said, what is really important is the involvement of the community in the CCTV schemes and the provisions that are there to allow local authorities to be licensed by An Garda Síochána to operate certain CCTV cameras. Local authorities are going to know in a much more concrete way where the cameras are required. The more we decentralise this to local authorities and to local communities, the better. I would welcome, and I hope the Minister might consider this as we go through, perhaps making that a reserved function of a local authority. This would serve not to disconnect the elected members of the local authority from the application that might be made to An Garda Síochána to make it something that must be approved by councillors in a given area or councillors on a given local authority.Over the past 20 to 25 years we have stripped enough powers away from councillors, so let us give some of them back because nobody knows an area like a local councillor or the person who is on the ground who speaks to everyone. I would favour any application under the provisions of Part 5 being a reserved function for local authority members. From my own time in local authorities I note there are lots of instances where communities are crying out for CCTV because they know it will help with an antisocial behaviour problem or a particular local problem. We need to equip local authorities and, by extension, communities to deal with those problems in the way they think is the right way to do it, and to do so in conjunction with An Garda Síochána so that we are not trampling on data protection rights, privacy rights and all the rest. I welcome what is in the Bill in that regard but I hope the Minister might consider making it something that is directly connected to the elected representatives of the people at a local level.

Broadly, what we have here is a very considered and quite restrained Bill. Given the debate there has been around this and what can and may be done in the future, the Bill represents quite a restrained technological response to equip the Garda with the tools it needs to do the job we all need it to do. Notwithstanding the discussion about policing recently, I have said on a number of occasions that we are incredibly lucky to have a police force in this country that is unarmed and that reacts with a proportionate response to problems. It does not mean that they do everything right or that they get it right every time or that there are not problems - of course there are - but in An Garda Síochána, we have perhaps uniquely among European police forces, a police force that is connected to the people it polices and is respected by them. That is an incredibly important tool. Now we need first to maintain that but second, to equip them with the tools they need to do the job at every level. Technology must be a key part of that, which is why I welcome the provisions in this Bill to arm the Garda with that technology.

Photo of Sharon KeoganSharon Keogan (Independent)
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In my speech I wish to draw attention to the possible data protection issues that may arise because of this legislation. While technology brings new opportunities to deal with the crisis of law and order nationwide, it is important that we do so while respecting civil liberties and the right to privacy of citizens. Following much public consultation and increased criminal activity, I was involved in setting up the CCTV system in my area of Duleek and Donore. At the time it did include ANPR. The CCTV system has helped to make the community safer and it has given me an insight into the data protection issues facing all the relevant parties. Since it was installed, the ANPR had to be removed off the system. It is recording, but it no longer has the ANPR software on it.

In my speech I will summarise a range of compliance issues which could arise because of this legislation and other issues we need to anticipate. This Bill will provide for automatic number plate recognition without judicial approval and searching databases for retained ANPR data, which are not defined. Potentially sharing these data with other bodies risks violating our existing data protection system and could amount to Government overreach. Similarly, any secret tracking of vehicles must be subject to judicial approval. The definition of what is considered a recording device is overly broad. Anything from a camera on a piece of clothing, a device fixed to a structure, a drone or our own 72-hour CCTV footage could be considered a recording device the Garda can use and access without judicial approval.

The information gathering regulations the Garda must follow do not make sense. After a crash, the Garda often appeals to the public for dashcam footage because they are not allowed to access it themselves. It is important to address these contradictions. How does it make sense that the Garda can appeal to the public for footage that its members, technically speaking, are not allowed to record themselves? It is also worth noting on a side note that there is a greater risk that dashcam footage provided by members of the public could be altered. The standards of what is considered admissible in court must be considered and what the Garda is allowed to access must be reviewed and amended. If we are to introduce body cameras, it is essential that we have appropriate training for all gardaí. A colleague in the Lower House cited a report from the Data Protection Commission that revealed that many gardaí had little or no training on handling CCTV. Any training members of the Garda receive on the new legislation must be very thorough.The Minister has previously tried to have the bodycams use facial recognition technology, which studies have shown is only reliable 70% of the time. If there is no proper training, we risk having miscarriages of justice or cases falling apart. Appropriate steps must be taken to ensure any features or functions of the bodycams that are incompatible with Irish laws are disabled.

Careful consideration must be given to Part 8 of the Bill before tenders go out for the provision of bodycams. There is a risk of putting the cart before the horse and finding out the use of the bodycams we have purchased is incompatible with other data protection legislation. If we go out to tender too early, we may not be able to use the devices for a long period. By the time the Garda is able to use bodycam technology, it may be outdated. Before bodycams are introduced for use by gardaí, there must be a statutory requirement for a pilot programme to be put in place. That will allow us to work out what does and does not work before rolling the provision out across the country.

It is important to ensure all devices are calibrated every year and are certified in order for the recording of material to be admissible in court. Often, systems are never checked and recording systems may have been moved. Having these systems calibrated yearly by a Private Security Authority, PSA, provider will ensure the cameras are doing what they are supposed to do. Making provision for calibration annually by a licensed PSA provider would copperfasten the legislation and make it a little stronger. I commend this move. Bodycams are important for protecting victims of crimes, those accused of committing a crime and serving members of An Garda Síochána. However, consideration must be given to the many compliance issues in order not to risk encroaching on civil liberties or engaging in Government overreach.

On local authority CCTV systems, local authority buildings are only open from 9 a.m. to 5 p.m., Monday to Friday. Having access to recorded material outside those hours is really important. What is the plan for running those systems after 5 p.m. or 6 p.m. and at the weekend?

I support the Bill.

Photo of Mark DalyMark Daly (Fianna Fail)
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I would say the Senator is supportive-ish. The next speaker is Senator Gallagher.

Photo of Robbie GallagherRobbie Gallagher (Fianna Fail)
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I welcome the Minister back to the House. On behalf of the Fianna Fáil group, I very much welcome and support the legislation. As she outlined, it provides for the use of body-worn cameras for gardaí, the expanded use of automatic number plate recognition and provisions relating to the use of CCTV footage and the recording of telephone calls. Any measure we can introduce that helps the Garda in its role is to be we welcomed, while at the same time striking a balance with the goal of protecting the public in respect of data protection and so on.

On behalf of my party, I pay tribute to the men and women of An Garda Síochána who go out on a daily basis to protect us. I condemn in the strongest possible terms the increasing number of violent assaults on members of An Garda Síochána as they go about their duty. In the period from 2015 to 2022, there were in excess of 2,000 assaults on members of An Garda Síochána. That is reprehensible. I put forward legislation in this House with the goal of increasing sentences for people convicted of assault, not just on members of An Garda Síochána but on any members of the emergency services, whether gardaí, nurses, doctors, fire service personnel, paramedics or otherwise, as they go about their duty. I commend the Minister on bringing forward legislation with the aim to increase the maximum sentence to 12 years for anybody convicted of assaulting an emergency worker. I very much welcome that development and I sincerely hope it acts as a strong deterrent to anybody who would assault any of our emergency workers. We in this House have a duty to protect those we send out on a daily basis to protect us.I fully support this legislation as I outlined earlier. Any mechanism or tool we can give An Garda Síochána to allow it to do its duty in the prevention and investigation of crime, while at the same time striking a balance so that the public's interests are very much catered for, is to be welcomed. The Minister has struck a balance in this legislation and has achieved that goal, which is to be very much welcomed.

The body-worn cameras An Garda Síochána will hopefully have very shortly will help not just to protect gardaí as they go about their work, but also to protect members of the public. Increasingly we see instances on social media of cameras being stuck in the faces of gardaí in very volatile and violent situations and this is to be condemned. When gardaí enter a scene where they feel switching on that camera is necessary, it would be a great tool not just to protect the gardaí but also to protect members of the general public. The Minister has struck a balance when it comes to the protection of the public, which is vital.

The concerns that Members rightly have regarding CCTV were mentioned here. My feelings on this are very strong. CCTV has not simply been a tool to help gardaí to investigate crime; it has acted as a tool to prevent crime in the first instance. Many businesses the length and breadth of the country have installed CCTV. It has been a very useful tool in the investigation of assaults. I commend those people on installing CCTV. We must strike a balance between the gardaí, whom we send out to protect us, and the rights of the general public. This is a delicate balance but it would be remiss of us not to give the gardaí every available tool to assist them as they go about their daily duties and try to prevent and investigate crime.

We are not new to the party in respect of this. Many other EU states have gone down this road and have found body-worn cameras in particular to be very useful in this regard. I am heartened that there will be continual oversight of this. We live in a digital age where technology is changing not just on a daily basis but on an hourly basis. The Minister has taken this into consideration as well with regard to the ongoing oversight that will be applied, which is very much to be welcomed. I take great comfort from the second last paragraph of the Minister's speech in which she outlined that it is important that An Garda Síochána has the tools and resources it needs, and that the public needs to be assured that these tools and resources will be used in an appropriate manner. I have no doubt that they will. The rights of citizens must be protected but the most important right of all is the right of An Garda Síochána to protect us. We should promote at every juncture every tool we can give it to do its job properly. As Senator Ward said, we are very fortunate to have the Garda force we have, which polices by consent. Gardaí are not armed and, by and large, are very much welcomed and accepted in every corner and parish of the State. That is not to say that there are no bad apples in every barrel - there certainly are - but by and large, we can be very proud of the members of An Garda Síochána, who are our sons, daughters, nieces, nephews and neighbours and who go out every day to protect us. We are very fortunate to have them and it is incumbent on us to give them every tool we can to help them to go about their jobs.

Photo of Vincent P MartinVincent P Martin (Green Party)
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Cuirim fáilte roimh an Aire chuig an Seanad inniu. In moving that the Bill be read a Second Time, the Minister outlined some helpful clarifying and constructive explanations in support of this initiative, which the Green Party grouping supports. The Bill provides for the wearing of body-worn cameras by gardaí and this is something for which gardaí have called for a number of years. It is worth noting that the ICCL has repeatedly expressed some concerns. I take on board concerns from a genuine place as constructive. We need not be afraid of those concerns or consider them anything other than constructive help to the overall debate and consideration. As the Minister said, and is provided for in the Bill, it is assuring that a code of practice will be drawn up governing the use of these cameras. This will have the balance and checks of ministerial sign-off and will be done, as is proposed in the legislation, in a transparent way. The Bill will also involve the current legislative framework for the installation and operation of CCTV in public places in line with Data Protection Commissioner recommendations. It is possible that the next generation of legislators will return to revise legislation in an area that is all the time evolving and fast-moving. In fact, it might even happen before the next generation. We have to keep up, stay modern and offer the very best protections to our people and to our gardaí.

The Bill will also give An Garda Síochána power to use other recording devices and to access digital data, in particular ANPR technology from third parties. It was mooted at one stage that facial recognition technology, FRT, be inserted into this Bill. The proposed FRT legislation will be brought at some later stage to enable gardaí to use it but it will be done in a way that will undergo the maximum proper scrutiny in the Oireachtas. It was wise not to rush that. We want as much buy-in as possible. It was appropriate for the Joint Committee on Justice to scrutinise this Bill and to have that public transparent process to ensure it is as robust, strong and appropriate is possible. The need to balance the fundamental rights of people is at the heart of such justice matters. On the one hand is the need for privacy and, on the other, is the basic social contract between the State and its people that ensures they are safe and protected. This Bill strikes the appropriate balance. I welcome the statement from Liam Herrick of the ICCL who considered the approach to the Bill to be cautious, prudent and sensible. The devil will be in the detail but he viewed it as a prudent way to approach the question. Mr Herrick continued:

If a surveillance technology infringes on fundamental rights, it has to be demonstrated that it meets the threshold of legality, necessity and proportionality, and that it is the least intrusive measure.

What is essential in the detail is that we must ensure there is a good relationship between An Garda Síochána and the public and that this relationship is not jeopardised. The decision to pilot these in three locations ahead of a full national roll-out, which the Minister may want to comment on in his closing remarks, is a prudent decision. Will she provide some information on how these pilots will be assessed? In respect of EU artificial intelligence, equally important to this Bill is the EU proposed artificial intelligence Act that is expected to be agreed this year or early next year. The current draft of that proposed Act, which I believe is the correct terminology to use when talking about proposed legislation in the European Parliament, proposes to ban real-time FRT and, therefore, it is important we do not bring in laws, which could be contradicted or found repugnant to EU legislation.It is a positive move that legislation related to facial recognition technology will be stand-alone and properly scrutinised because it is still unclear what this stand-alone legislation will encompass. Since the EU's Act is a regulation, as distinct from a directive, there will be very little scope for us to regulate areas that have been deemed unacceptable, such as real-time facial recognition technology. This differs from retrospective facial recognition technology, which the Minister has accepted and outlined in her opening remarks where there will be a carve-out for its use in an appropriate way where a judge has approved it, a further balance and checks, or where a serious crime has already taken place and where it is strictly necessary for a targeted search.

It is also important to highlight other aspects of the Bill. It will be positive and will help An Garda Síochána in carrying out its duties. It provides for greater use of automatic number plate recognition by An Garda Síochána, which will be vital in preventing crime and ultimately, catching and apprehending people who are perpetuating and committing crimes. That has to be kept at the centre of legislators’ minds as we legislate. It is for that purpose, to protect people and to apprehend criminals. Its use will have to be justified and approved by someone with a rank of superintendent or higher and anything beyond three months will have to be judge-approved. The provisions around the use of CCTV will address some of the concerns that have been raised by the Data Protection Commissioner. In both cases of CCTV and ANPR, we must ensure there are robust codes of practice around their use. These matters were, and always are, fixable and doable. We must never lose sight of the purpose, which is to prevent crime in a lawful, appropriate way and doing so in such a way as protects the people and protects those who protect us, An Garda Síochána. We must never lose sight of doing what is best for the members of An Garda Síochána who put themselves in harm's way to protect the people.

There are appropriate safeguards in this legislation. I look forward to considering it further on Committee Stage and commend the Minister on bringing it to the House.

Photo of Paul GavanPaul Gavan (Sinn Fein)
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On behalf of Sinn Féin, I mostly welcome the Bill and what it intends to achieve. Modern technology such as body cameras can help the work of An Garda Síochána as it tries to keep our communities safe.

I will mention the issue of Garda resources first because it has had a lot of attention recently with violent incidents around the capital highlighting how people do not feel safe in certain parts of Dublin city. I must say, it is not just in Dublin that communities are feeling let down and abandoned by a lack of Garda presence. There is a real lack of Garda resources being felt up and down the country. There has been a significant increase in violent crime, robbery and thefts according to the latest Central Statistics Office, CSO, crime figures. Homicide offences have increased by almost a third with 17 more people dying violently up to the first half of this year compared with last year. Robberies are up by more than 20%, while theft-related offences increased by 25%. Half of the increases related to thefts from shops, which was up a shocking 27% over the year. In Limerick, we are seeing multiple burglaries and car thefts in the Castletroy area and at the same time, we are being told that the very Garda unit set up to tackle this kind of crime is being disbanded. When one speaks to families in areas where antisocial behaviour can occur, they always ask first for a community police presence; the reassuring sight of a community garda either on foot or on bicycle, who is in touch with local communities and knows first-hand the challenges on the ground. Yet, where I live in Limerick, An Garda Síochána has informed us that it has had to cancel its entire community policing programme. There will be no community policing programme from November onwards in Limerick.That is the responsibility of the Minister. Respectfully, I suggest it is her failure and something she urgently needs to address. There is a huge concern about the impact of this decision. The pressure on the Garda right now is unsustainable. Morale is at an all-time low and something has to change. Garda Thornton from the Garda Representative Association has described current Garda resources as "threadbare", with gardaí "experiencing major difficulty in trying to deliver a policing service, feeling exhausted and worn out". They are his words, not mine.

The Government needs to address the recruitment and retention issues urgently because the Garda shortage is leading to a huge backward step in policing and in community policing in particular. Last week, we all saw at first hand the threat to politicians and staff on the doorstep of this building and the importance of having Garda numbers to deal with potential threats like that. Of course, I would point out that residents in direct provision centres have been putting up with intimidation and threats of violence from these far right thugs for years. I have not seen the same level of concern expressed for them that was expressed for us last week. Nobody should feel threatened at work in this manner, but this has become a far too regular occurrence for many.

We have also seen Garda members being attacked. I refer to incidents where Garda vehicles were rammed and Garda members injured. We have seen how vulnerable they can be due to a lack of support. They deserve to have the equipment and resources they need in order to better protect them. We need to support gardaí in their duties, and if the use of technology enhances their work then we must make sure that the Bill is drafted properly so that it is helpful and, insofar as we can, we ensure there is a balance between enhancing that important work and protecting the rights of citizens. The use of body cameras can help protect the public and gardaí, as will the use of dashcams in Garda vehicles. We know that the Garda Representative Association, the Association of Garda Sergeants and Inspectors and the Garda Commissioner have called for these measures for some time.

However, all of this technology must be treated with caution and we need to ensure that the recorded data are handled in a secure manner and with the utmost respect for data protection and the privacy of members of the public. We acknowledge the concerns of organisations such as the Irish Council for Civil Liberties, which has voiced its opposition to some aspects of the Bill, and we must take those concerns into consideration. That is why we will bring forward amendments on Committee Stage. We support the overall aims of the Bill and look forward to engaging with the Minister on Committee Stage.

My last point is related to the topic of crime and resources. I refer to the huge frustration that local gardaí in Limerick have expressed to me about the fact that the legislation to deal with scramblers which, as the Minister knows, has been signed into law by the President has still not been enacted. They are at pains to stress to me that the powers they need have to be delivered by the Government for the sake of all of the communities in Limerick.

Photo of Mark DalyMark Daly (Fianna Fail)
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We need to stick to the subject matter of the debate.

Photo of Lynn RuaneLynn Ruane (Independent)
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I welcome the Minister to the Chamber. The concerns I intend to lay out in my contribution today have been well aired by many of our colleagues in the Dáil and by representatives from civil society and the wider public throughout the course of the debate on the Bill. The concerns that have been raised about privacy, fundamental rights and civil liberties are legitimate and it is important that we take the time over the coming weeks to tease them out to ensure the Bill includes adequate and robust protections and safeguards.

I commend the fact that plans to introduce facial recognition technology in the Bill by amendment appear to have been scrapped. However, I ask the Minister to confirm on the record that the Seanad will not be used as a back door to reintroduce the concept of recognition technology without these proposals having undergone the necessary legislative scrutiny. There is an overwhelming amount of international evidence available on the many risks and dangers posed by this technology, in addition to clear soundings from Europe about the potential of banning it within the EU. It is important that we as legislators are given the time and space to consider this evidence in a stand-alone context. The Minister and her colleagues in government have spoken about bodycams in what I consider to be quite narrow terms.

We need to equip gardaí with what they need to do their job safely but the true picture of how bodycams function within the culture of policing and justice system is far more complex, as we know from evidence regarding their use in other jurisdictions. Drawing on that large body of evidence, I am of the view that the Bill as drafted is deeply flawed and requires significant amendment before it can be deemed fit for purpose.The prospect of body cameras functioning as impartial records of a crime scene seems like a good idea in theory but the reality in practice will be something quite different because the legislation as drafted will grant absolute discretion to gardaí as to when and whether cameras are recording. As a result, the cameras risk not capturing a neutral account of a scene, instead becoming a one-sided tool of surveillance. Civilians will have no right under this legislation to request that a body camera is turned on, even if they feel a garda is behaving inappropriately or abusively or is using or may be about to use excessive force. I disagree with Senator Ward that this creates a safe environment for civilians because the power imbalance is very clear here. Civilians do not have the right to ask gardaí at the beginning of an incident, or when they arrive, to turn on the body camera. That is a clear breach of the principles of fairness and justice. I am not sure whether the Minister has ever witnessed violence or police brutality within a community but I have and in many cases, the police have been the aggravators. Imagine a situation in which a garda is an aggravator, provokes a response from an individual and then turns on the body camera. To say that this is something that can protect civilians is completely untrue. This provision, or lack thereof, goes directly against what has been established as international best practice, as identified in other jurisdictions. I am hugely concerned about the omission of basic, rights-based provisions in the Bill such as granting civilians the right to ask that cameras be turned on or off. Additionally, there is no clear procedure for victims or complainants of Garda misconduct to get access to body camera footage relating to their case, which is the norm in other jurisdictions. I ask the Minister to confirm whether these requests and applications will be governed by GDPR subject access rules.

Some provisions of the Bill gesture at privacy rights but ultimately fail to guarantee them. For example, sections 9 and 10 provide that the use of recording devices shall be "overt" and have visible indicators. On first reading, this is a positive nod towards privacy rights but in actual fact, it is a provision that is incomplete. The Bill grants virtually uncapped powers to gardaí to deploy drones wherever they believe is necessary. How exactly can this be done overtly? There are no rules to limit the height at which drones can be operated, nor specific parameters in which their use is permitted. In this context, how will civilians be appropriately informed that they are being watched by a Garda drone?

On the issue of the selective use of body cameras, I want to highlight some relevant international evidence. A 2021 report by Reuters on the use of body cameras in the US found that wide disparities remain in how they are employed and when the footage is made public. Crucially, until 2018 more than half of the jurisdictions in the US where body cameras were used had no clear guidelines for when they should be turned on. I would draw attention to the fact that we do not have any published safeguards in this regard. Such safeguards have been referenced and we have been told about safeguard codes but we are debating this legislation without actually knowing what those codes will include. Will the Minister publish the intended safeguard codes before the Bill is returned to the Chamber?

The selective use of body cameras is not just a problem in terms of whether the cameras are turned on or off. Body cameras can also be used selectively by police when they are turned on, in terms of how their bodies are angled and whether the cameras are obscured at certain moments. One of the most acute and disturbing examples of this abuse occurred in the murder of George Floyd by police in the US. Body cameras were on and activated and the police department insisted after Floyd's murder that he had resisted arrest. It was videos from bystanders and security cameras, not body camera footage, that ultimately revealed that George Floyd had been pinned to the ground with a knee to his neck. We need to know what happens at every point of an incident, which is exactly why civilians should be able to ask for a body camera to be turned on from the outset or a garda should be obliged to have it turned on when responding to an incident and not be free to decide when to turn it on.

Recent domestic statistics suggest that around 3,000 complaints are made annually to GSOC in relation to Garda conduct. A significant number of such complaints are never resolved, largely due to a lack of evidence. It is noteworthy that 50% of cases are referred back for gardaí to investigate themselves, which is an alarming proportion, while only 2% result in sanctions and yet we wonder why the public are so vocal in stressing their concerns about Garda oversight.This issue has come to the fore again in recent weeks as we observe the profoundly unequal handling of different protests by gardaí. We saw footage of gardaí arresting someone at an illegal eviction simply for chanting, while far right agitators were treated far more gently outside the gates of this very House. The bodycam legislation could and should have offered us some hope for creating an impartial evidence base that GSOC could use robustly to carry out its own investigations instead of simply leaving them to languish or referring them back to gardaí. Doing so would have made both members of An Garda Síochána and the public safer and more secure in their interactions with one another. However, instead of delivering on this potential, the Bill as currently before us risks further undermining the relationship between the police force and the public and further erodes confidence in the Garda. The Bill as drafted has failed to take account of best practices being established in the international context and is missing crucial rights-based provisions. These must be remedied if we want this Bill to work as it is intended, which is to ultimately strengthen the relationship between of An Garda Síochána and the public, such that both parties can approach their engagement with each other with greater confidence. I look forward to the Minister's reply and to teasing out the issues as I have highlighted, among others, in the weeks ahead.

Photo of Mark DalyMark Daly (Fianna Fail)
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I thank Senator Ruane for her contribution.

Photo of Seán KyneSeán Kyne (Fine Gael)
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The Minister is very welcome to the House to discuss this very important area. I am sure that on Committee Stage there will be some impassioned debate on this and on some of the points that have already been raised. It is safe to say that we have seen from social media internationally the very best and the very worst of the use of CCTV and bodycam footage, as Senator Ruane has rightly highlighted. That is certainly very well known. I am sure the Minister has looked at international best practice and perhaps the Minister might be able to advise on Committee Stage what our European counterparts do. Do they operate similar processes? What best practice would they see? It is important that we learn from those police jurisdictions that are similar to our own.

Clearly this is a two-pronged issue in relation to upholding justice and upholding the rights of citizens but also protecting the members of An Garda Síochána, who certainly in any protest are the ones who are very much the subject of surveillance and very much the subject of camera phones being shoved in their faces in certain circumstances. It is quite right that they would have the equivalence of bodycam footage. Senator Ruane raised the important point about when it should be turned on and under what circumstances. This is an interesting issue and perhaps the Minister might advise internationally what is best practice in that case. Clearly, we have seen this over a long number of years in this country in other countries. Part of the problem with the prevalence of camera phones and social media means that now the life of a member of the Garda Síochána is more difficult. While being fully observed is right, in most cases, it does not make the job any easier in attracting people to it, in that is quite clear now for all to see. A person could verbally abuse gardaí, put the footage up on social media and it is there to be seen, as from certain protests around the country. It does not make it easy to attract people to the profession of An Garda Síochána. However, where there is wrongdoing by members of An Garda Síochána it is, obviously, important that it is fully investigated and that bodycam footage, or other footage, is fully utilised in those small number of incidences or where the life of a garda is threatened, and that footage is available in this case as well.

CCTV use has been controversial. There has been a void, or a lacuna, in the context of its uses under data protection. This will be provided for in the Bill. CCTV plays an important part in all aspects of crime prevention and provides a level of safety.That is not just from the point of view of retrospectively looking at the CCTV footage but also because if people know there are CCTV cameras in a locality, they will be more conscious of it and less likely to do something out of the way. That is important where that is recommended. This raises the whole issue of GDPR, however, which has been a concern for some time.

The Minister stated that under Part 5, existing community CCTV scheme authorisations can remain in force for a period of up to four years from the date of commencement of this Bill. There will have to be a period of renewal. Does renewal involve issuing a licence for a period of time or in perpetuity? How does that work in that case?

Overall, the thrust of the Bill is to seek to come to terms with the increased digitalisation of our society. There are positives and negatives involved in that. It is important that the Garda Síochána has the resources to be able to respond to and acknowledge the challenges that are there and to use technologies to fight crime and ensure that any acts of violence against a member of the Garda are and can be recorded. Individuals have rights as well. It is important, in the small number of cases in which there may be wrongdoing, that the full data will be available to victims.

Photo of Eileen FlynnEileen Flynn (Independent)
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The Minister is very welcome to the House to discuss this very important Bill. I will not repeat anything my colleague, Senator Ruane, has raised. I agree with every point she made. As a community development worker who has worked for more than 16 years with communities that are overpoliced, I will make one point. In my lifetime, I have seen cases where the doors of members of the Traveller community have been kicked in and cots in mobile homes have been thrown aside. In one case, a newborn baby was in the cot. Coming up to Christmas, funnily enough, we always have raids in the Labre Park site. Unfortunately, the way gardaí approach many members of the Traveller community is not as human beings and it is not nice. I have seen this many times. In April last year, a pregnant woman was shoved by a member of the Garda.

Bodycams are obviously not available now but even when they become available, as Senator Ruane rightly said, gardaí can choose when they turn them on and off. That is unfair. If a person's house is going to be raided, it should be clear that this Bill will work in favour of ordinary people and members of the Garda. Having the Garda investigating the Garda, as we have seen, has not worked. I remember one case where a garda in Ballyfermot came into Labre Park. I will never forget it; it was 11 December 2017. His words, and this is no word of a lie, were "You pack of scummy knackers." I was in the garden with a few of the young lads. I will never forget how horrible it made me feel as an individual and how it made the young men around me feel. When I reported the crime, in which a garda called people names on the site, GSOC took two years to come back to me. It stated the Garda had investigated the garda involved and there was no case.

Unfortunately, some groups are overpoliced. We should be investing in youth work and good community development services that can empower communities to empower themselves if they want to do so. Not everyone from a low economic backgrounds is a bad person or member of the Traveller community.

Does the Bill include a plan to protect the most vulnerable people in society? I totally get that gardaí obviously have to do their jobs. I am nearly 34 years of age. One of my first memories from the site is of raids by gardaí and how they spoke to members of the Traveller community. Of course, it is not all gardaí. Just as not all Travellers are bad people, not all gardaí are bad. I get that but young children should not have their door pushed in and should not be referred to as "scum" and "knackers". Just a few years ago on the site, a 13-year-old child's bike was taken away from him. I did not want to get involved. It was shortly after the taxi incident and I did not want to raise it in the House. I remember saying to the garda, "Ah, come on", because he had come onto the site to overpolice and took a 13-year-old child's bike. I was told he could get the bike back if he brought identification. I said he was 13 years of age and would not have identification. The child's mother and father went and sorted it out but, again, children aged just 13 and 14 are being targeted by some members of the Garda, although not all of them.

We are putting in place facial recognition technology, bodycams and all these other things so gardaí can do their jobs. Can the Minister give a guarantee that the legislation will protect the communities that are already overpoliced? As Senator Ruane asked, do people have choices? If a garda comes to our door, do we get to say "Turn on your camera" or "Turn off your camera"? The Bill needs an awful lot of teasing out for communities that are already overpoliced.

Photo of Aisling DolanAisling Dolan (Fine Gael)
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The Minister is very welcome to the House to speak on the Garda Síochána (Recording Devices) Bill 2022. I am a member of the joint policing committee in Roscommon, which covers the brand-new division of counties Roscommon, Longford and Mayo. It is a huge geographic area. While the population is different from that of urban centres, fleet numbers and vehicles for Garda divisions are really important in rural areas.

We had a meeting recently and I am aware of the Minister's concerns. She is very focused on safety in rural and regional areas. She spoke recently of her commitment to the recruits in Templemore and I know there are more cohorts training this year. The Minister has a target of having approximately 800 recruits this year. Those gardaí will be a real boost to divisions across the country.

I welcome the Minister's initiative on the community safety fund. Putting proceeds from the Criminal Assets Bureau back into the local community is crucial. We had serious drug busts in Roscommon and Ballinasloe and it will be wonderful to see how that fund will be used at a local level. That is really important and will have a great impact.

The Bill will include many measures to protect the constitutional and civil rights of individuals. It also gives the Garda the tools to deal with crime in today's world. It is about digitalisation. I have a couple of questions on the operation of CCTV schemes and authorisation by the Garda Síochána and local authorities. I ask the Minister to comment on how that might work in practice. Community groups in Ballinasloe recently asked me how to access funding to be able to install CCTV. They are very worried about antisocial behaviour. The fund the Minister is bringing in is a great initiative and could provide funds for young people in our local towns and villages. It is about how to engage young people as well. It is important that we have access to CCTV and that the Garda, and perhaps also local authorities, will be able to access CCTV feeds. How will that work in terms of engagement with community groups? Will it be through the local Garda station? How does the Minister see that working?

With regard to digitalisation, I may be going a little bit off topic here but it is great the Bill is doing so much as regards having recording devices and so on. I also want to ask about the streamlining of the Courts Service and how we can maximise Garda participation, particularly when we will have so much more data at our fingertips, protected, of course, under the data protection rules.How can we support Garda engagement with the Courts Service in a way that is not to the detriment of the need to have gardaí in local areas? What are the Minister's thoughts on that?

On ANPR, on the joint policing committee in which I was involved, we were shown a video about how that works, how important it is that gardaí are able to link in with different teams and that the calls are being gathered in a headquarters, and how that should and will work. The Minister spoke about ANPR and sharing data to a designated group. Will she give an example of how she sees that working? I thank her for her time today.

Photo of Maria ByrneMaria Byrne (Fine Gael)
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I welcome to the Gallery Irish language students at the UCD Politics and International Relations Society from Spain, Germany and India.

Photo of Martin ConwayMartin Conway (Fine Gael)
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I join the Acting Chairperson in welcoming the students from the UCD Politics and International Relations Society, of which I am an alumnus. It was a great society then and I am sure it is a great society now.

The Minister is extremely welcome to the House for the debate on this long overdue and vitally important legislation. We have a situation in this country whereby people can record members of An Garda Síochána as they are doing their job, while gardaí do not have the right to record others. There is something fundamentally wrong in that. Of course, the rights gardaí have bring with them responsibilities. I have no doubt that An Garda Síochána will use this legislation responsibly. Body-worn cameras are an essential part of modern policing and their use is absolutely necessary. I hope the Bill passes all Stages in the House as quickly as possible in order that it can be signed into law and we can give gardaí another vital weapon to protect them. The Garda is a largely unarmed police force, which creates vulnerabilities in modern society. We should do whatever we can do to provide the latest equipment to protect members of An Garda Síochána.

We have much to do to reduce the volume of paperwork for gardaí and to advance the digitalisation of the force in general. I welcome that these handheld devices are now being made available and will enable gardaí, on the spot, to check information, access PULSE and make a determination on whether to proceed with a particular scenario, as opposed to having to make a delayed response or a judgment call in a situation without having full access to information. That is very welcome and it is something to which the Minister is very committed.

If I may divert slightly, the announcement this week on the establishment of a domestic, sexual and gender-based violence agency is extremely important. It will be a huge legacy of the Government, led by the Minister. Again, it should have been established a long time ago, but it took her to make sure it happened. She deserves a lot of commendations on that. The agency should receive the support of us all. Whatever briefing and information we can make available to our constituents when it is up and running, we should do so.

Modern technology must be used to facilitate gardaí giving evidence in court. Every day of the week in almost every courthouse in the country, gardaí are tied up for the entire day waiting to give evidence, which ultimately takes five or ten minutes, even less in some cases and, in other cases, they are not called to give evidence at all. There must be much greater use of video links. When gardaí are required to give evidence, they should be able to dial into court, thereby freeing them up to do the job they want and need to do. The fact we now have many more civilians working in Garda stations is impacting on the level of paperwork for gardaí, but we need to reach a situation in which gardaí are doing an absolute minimal amount of paperwork. Yes, we do not have enough gardaí but when that is achieved, at least the gardaí we have will be out solving crime and doing their job.

It probably is not popular to say it but we need to look at giving more remuneration to gardaí. It is a particular role that is difficult and challenging, like other roles in society. It is clear that it is not as attractive as it used to be from a financial perspective. There probably is a specific case the Minister can make for gardaí to receive higher remuneration for the work they do. Perhaps we need to have that discussion to make the profession attractive and ensure as many as people as possible give due consideration to becoming members of An Garda Síochána.

The Bill is important. It will help in solving crime. When the FRT legislation is brought forward, it will be another component of dealing with crime in this country. I conclude by saying I have full confidence in the Garda Commissioner, Drew Harris. He is doing a good job. We are in a situation now in which one of the biggest crime gangs in the world has largely been dismantled, and that process continues. It is not insignificant that this has happened under the leadership of Commissioner Harris.

Photo of Maria ByrneMaria Byrne (Fine Gael)
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As there are no other Senators indicating, I call the Minister to respond.

Photo of Helen McEnteeHelen McEntee (Meath East, Fine Gael)
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I thank Senators for the broad welcome and support for the legislation. Issues and concerns were raised, all of which I hope to address. I apologise if I miss anything.

The first point to consider is what we are trying to achieve with this legislation. The aim is to give gardaí the right tools, technology and equipment to be able to do their job as efficiently and effectively as possible and to respond to the fact criminals have become more organised and technologically advanced. It is only appropriate that we ensure gardaí have the resources to enable them to respond, while balancing that with the need to protect the human rights of all individuals and ensure we do not cross a line. As I have said time and again, I genuinely believe gardaí should not have their hands tied behind their back when trying to deal with serious crime. In this regard, a person's right to privacy should never overstep another person's right to be and feel safe. It is about striking that balance and ensuring we have the right oversight, structures and codes of conduct and practice in place.

On the technology to be used, I will start with the body-worn cameras. There are a number of elements to the Bill. We will put a pilot scheme in place. The tender for that has not gone out as yet. People who were at the National Ploughing Championships last week, as I was, might have engaged with the gardaí there, who are looking at a number of devices from the US, Northern Ireland and the UK. They include different types of cameras placed in various locations and different types of technology. As the pilot is rolled out next year, the Garda will be looking at the various technologies, where they should be placed, how they work and the types of footage that can be obtained. All of that information will then feed into the final decision. No decision has yet been taken on the type of technology and equipment that will be used. That is what the pilot is for and it is really important we have the pilot and that we make sure we get this right.

I do not have a code of conduct to hand because it still has to be worked through. It would not be appropriate to include it in legislation. It will be worked though by the Garda Commissioner engaging with all the agencies, including the Irish Human Rights and Equality Commission and the ICCL. When the Bill is passed, there will be an opportunity for Members of this House to have their say and engage with that process. It will be done in line with best practice, looking at what works in other jurisdictions. Body-worn cameras and facial recognition technology, which we have discussed, are in use in a majority of countries across Europe and further afield. There is a huge amount of best practice to examine. The fact we are coming late to it means we can learn from mistakes made elsewhere, which we certainly intend to do.

While there is a perception that gardaí will have all the power when these devices are available to them, my own perception or view is that, at the moment, they have none of the power. We saw people outside this building last week with their faces covered and using cameras to record gardaí trying to do their job. There is intimidation in that. I appreciate that is not always the case but we must make sure there is a level playing field. At the moment, there is not a level playing field for gardaí and there is only one side being told, often on social media. It absolutely is appropriate that we ensure there is a level playing field.

On the question of how and when the devices can be turned on and off, that will be set out in the code of conduct. Members of An Garda Síochána will have to explain why they did not turn on a device in a certain instance if that is what they should do based on the code of conduct.Also, if a camera is turned off in the middle of an incident and somebody makes a complaint or reports that, they themselves will then have to explain why, and there will be that level of oversight in place to make sure it is used appropriately and at times that it is needed. We have talked about the different types of incidents. It could be a situation where a garda finds him or herself among a group of people with the potential for an assault or an incident to happen in front of them. In such an instance there is an ability to capture that. Another situation which the Commissioner has raised many times is if you were a garda arriving on the scene of a domestic violence incident. It is often those first few moments where people say and do things that are crucial and they are able to capture that, which can feed into a case or investigation if a story suddenly changes or if the information is not available because it has not been captured. There are lots of other incidents. I have mentioned events outside of this House and we have seen other protests outside direct provision centres and in our libraries. In many other places it would be helpful to have this type of information to balance the current narrative.

On GDPR, I want to assure Senator Keogan that this legislation has been drafted in accordance and consultation with the DPC. That is probably why it has taken so long. We have made sure that every single element of it is compliant with GDPR and we have made sure the safeguards were in place. I assure the Senator that every level of engagement has been taken with the DPC to make sure we are not in any way impinging on data protection rights. Everything will be put in place with the EU regulation. There was a discussion on facial recognition. I made it clear in June that we have decided that facial recognition will not be part of this Bill. We will be bringing forward a separate Bill which I hope to have published before the year end, where we are talking about retrospective facial recognition, not live facial recognition. The move at European level is to ban live facial recognition. However, it is not moving in the direction of banning retrospective facial recognition. The majority of countries in Europe have retrospective facial recognition and we are slightly late to the party but that gives us an opportunity to make sure that what we put in place is best practice, and that we remove any of the challenges that other countries have seen. That trilogue is ongoing at a European level and that has to come to a conclusion.

On ANPR, this is to try to expand on what is already in place to make sure that it is specifically for preventing, detecting, investigating or prosecuting criminal offences. I refer to the oversight that is in place, for example where you are specifically tracking an individual. It does not have judicial oversight for the first three months but after that you will have to get judicial approval and every year there will be a report from a judge to the Department of the Taoiseach to make sure this is being put in place effectively and correctly, and that there are no issues arising. More generally, in terms of drones, when this is enacted, similar to the codes of conduct, there will be significant engagement to make sure that whatever practice is used does not interfere with people's personal rights or privacy and that it is in line with best practice elsewhere. I appreciate that I am saying this is something to be decided later but this will all be transparent and visible and will have that level of oversight, particularly for ourselves.

On the CCTV schemes, this is an ongoing issue everywhere. While we have CCTV schemes still being rolled out across the country where it is coming directly from the Garda, there has been a lacuna or hiatus for community CCTV schemes coming forward, and that is because of the issues that were raised following the introduction of legislation at European level back in 2015. The situation is that you will either have the local authority or An Garda Síochána being the data controller. Irrespective of whether it is the local authority or not, the Garda will be able to access that footage, whether it is inside or outside of local authority hours, and that is the most important issue. The community CCTV will come in where members of the local authority, through their role, identify a need in a particular area. I do not deny that issues have arisen over the summer, in Dublin or other places, where the use of body-worn cameras and CCTV would be hugely helpful in dealing with antisocial behaviour and in giving gardaí evidence to respond to these types of issues where perhaps they do not have it. On access at all times, it is the case that whether the local authority is open or not the Garda will be able to access it.

On relationships, Senator Flynn asked about marginalised groups that feel they are overpoliced. They would be protected and this comes down to the codes of conduct and the practice that is put in place. We have separate Bills going through the Houses, including the Policing, Security and Community Safety Bill 2023, in which we are reforming the Garda Síochána Ombudsman Commission and making sure we have a much quicker, more efficient and clearer process as to Garda disciplinary matters as well as criminal conduct. That means that certain incidents can be dealt with quickly. More generally, I mention the approach that is being taken by gardaí in making sure they are not just in the community but part of the community and working with the community. The recent recruitment campaigns have been more focused on trying to bring in new communities that would not normally become members of An Garda Síochána because if you see yourself in a member of An Garda Síochána that connection and ability to engage will be much stronger. We need to make sure gardaí are reflective of all the communities they represent and there has been a massive push for that in the recent recruitment campaigns. I mention also the Garda's work in engaging with schools and young people as part of the youth diversion programmes and, more generally, I mention its approach on diversity and inclusion. There has been a huge focus and effort to make sure all members of our community feel respected and supported by the Garda, and that works both ways at all times.

On the Courts Service, we have a massive modernisation programme under way, which will support what we are talking about here. If we move to more digitalisation of the Garda then that needs to feed into how the courts operate, and there has been a year-on-year increase in funding to roll out that type of modernisation. On the Senator's second question, I am looking at legislation to see how we can free up gardaí from having to attend the court where it is not necessary or where it should not be necessary. That in itself would free up significant numbers of gardaí who are attending court on a daily basis.

On CCTV and funding, there is and has been a fund in the Department of Justice for communities to access that. It is still there but because of the issues we have had over time it has not been accessed. However, it is my intention that this fund would be available and that the legislation is enacted. Hopefully before the end of the year that will be available to communities to access again. There is still work to do and I will continue to engage with colleagues as this goes through the House. Again I thank Senators for their support. More generally, I will take on board all of the points, asks or questions that Members have raised.

Question put and agreed to.

Photo of Maria ByrneMaria Byrne (Fine Gael)
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When is it proposed to take Committee Stage?

Photo of Robbie GallagherRobbie Gallagher (Fianna Fail)
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Next Tuesday.

Committee Stage ordered for Tuesday, 3 October 2023.

Cuireadh an Seanad ar athló ar 5.28 p.m. go dtí 10.30 a.m., Dé Céadaoin, an 27 Meán Fomhair 2023.

The Seanad adjourned at 5.28 p.m. until 10.30 a.m. on Wednesday, 27 September 2023.