Ceisteanna—Questions. Oral Answers. - Garda Discontent.

129.

asked the Minister for Justice if he will make a statement on the present unrest in the Garda Síochána.

130.

asked the Minister for Justice what plans he has for the revision of the Garda disciplinary code.

131.

asked the Minister for Justice what progress has been made by his Department in the investigation of alleged injustices to members of the Garda Síochána.

132.

(Cavan) asked the Minister for Justice what immediate proposals he has (a) to deal with the complaints of the Garda Síochána in respect of their disciplinary code, conditions of employment, payment of overtime and general Garda complaints, and (b) to restore public confidence in the force.

133.

asked the Minister for Justice if his attention has been drawn to a statement regarding the danger of a strike by the Garda Síochána; what action he intends to take in the matter; and when he intends to put all of the recommendations of the Conroy Commission into effect.

134.

andMr. Timmins asked the Minister for Justice if his attention has been drawn to a statement (details supplied) to the effect that the legal system in operation here allows known armed criminals to act in defiance of the law; and if he will make a statement on the matter.

135.

asked the Minister for Justice if he will comment on the recent statement by the Dublin Metropolitan Area Committee of the Garda Representative Body that the people responsible for certain crimes and subversive activities are known to the authorities and that no action has been taken to apprehend them.

136.

asked the Minister for Justice what steps he is taking to abate any grievance that may exist within the Garda Síochána following recent statements by representatives of the force.

137.

asked the Minister for Justice whether he is satisfied with the present promotion procedure within the Garda Síochána; and whether any changes are contemplated.

138.

andMr. Pattison asked the Minister for Justice if in view of the current unrest within the Garda force he will take urgent steps to have an examination carried out by an appropriately qualified tribunal into the role, organisation and personnel policy of the force; and, in particular, its relationship with his Department.

With the permission of the Ceann Comhairle, I propose to take Questions Nos. 129 to 138 together.

The immediate occasion of the recent complaints was a decision to discharge three members of the force who were found asleep on protection duty and, in respect of a fourth, to hold a sworn inquiry which, if the facts are established, would naturally be likely to lead to a similar decision. Of the first three I mentioned, one appealed to the Commissioner, before the dismissal notice expired, for a review of the decision. The Commissioner thereupon suspended the dismissal notice to enable him to review the matter in the light of the case put forward by the member. He has since completed his review and has allowed the appeal. That member is therefore being retained.

Another one of the three, a former recruit-Garda, has now applied for reinstatement on compassionate grounds, as has also another former recruit-Garda who was discharged in similar circumstances over a year ago. The Commissioner has agreed with the Representative Body to consider their applications sympathetically on the clear understanding that he is doing so only on compassionate grounds and that his right to take similar disciplinary action if there is any recurrence is not being called in question. The other one of the three members recently discharged did not ask for a review of the decision but has taken legal proceedings in relation to it.

I am informed by the Commissioner that he had inquiries made as to how these decisions compare with the practice in those commercial firms generally referred to as security firms and, in every single case, the answer was that it is the established and accepted rule in those firms that, if a person on protection duty were found asleep or missing from his post, he would immediately be dismissed. I am confident that the great majority of the gardaí themselves recognise more clearly than anybody else that neither the public interest nor the standing of the force in the community would be served by a policy which accepted from members of the force a lower standard of responsibility than obtains in commercial firms and, quite frankly, I think that the complaints of harshness that were made in this regard do less than justice to the reputation and traditions of the force and to the standards which it maintains.

It is only right that, as has actually happened on this occasion, the rules should be flexible enough to allow leniency to be shown where there are special reasons but, as a norm, it is necessary that everybody should understand that sleeping on protection duty —that is, duty at buildings or installations which the Garda themselves have decided are high on any list of potential targets—is so serious that nothing short of immediate dismissal can be expected if it should occur again in future.

I have no doubt, however, that this question of dismissals was not the real or at all events the major cause of recent complaints, as indeed is clearly shown by the fact that a similar decision in July, 1970, did not give rise to any complaint. It is therefore necessary to look further.

There have been newspaper reports of allegations of delay in taking action on foot of the Conroy Report and an impression is given that nothing at all had been done. The fact is that most of the recommendations have long since been implemented in full. This applies in particular to the key recommendations on pay, reduced hours of work, payment for overtime where time-off in lieu is not allowed, new rent allowances and new night duty allowances. The standard working week had been at least 48 hours. It has been reduced to 42, a reduction of at least 12½ per cent. At the same time, pay was increased by approximately 13 per cent—that is to say, an increase of 13 per cent in pay was given for the shorter working week. The pay increases were of course additional to the increases given as part of the various national pay-rounds. I do not for a moment suggest that these substantial benefits were not deserved—I am only recording the fact that they have been given and that the recommendations about them in the Conroy Report have been implemented in full. The Representative Bodies have been accorded the right to specify the order of priority in which they want to discuss the recommendations that have not been implemented.

I must make it quite clear, however, that there is not, and obviously cannot be, an advance commitment to implement each and every one of the other recommendations of this commission. As I have said, most of them are already implemented but the question of the implementation of the remainder must be the subject of detailed discussion and negotiation. For example, to take one recommendation that has been mentioned publicly in recent times, I would regard it as a grave dereliction of duty on my part—and I say this as much in the interests of the Garda themselves as in the public interest—if I were to set up another inquiry of the kind suggested in the Conroy Report without a full analysis being made as to what exactly it would be expected to do that cannot be done more efficiently and more quickly by other means.

A report of such an inquiry by outside civilian personnel, if it were to be based on an adequate investigation, could take years to produce. What is to happen in the meantime? I, for my part, have every intention of pursuing a policy of maintaining constant progress in dealing with Garda problems. In fact several weeks before the question of an inquiry by some outside group was raised in any public way, I had myself taken and put into effect a decision which reflected my belief that there are—as there inevitably must be—a number of matters concerning the organisation of the force, including personnel policies, selection methods for promotion and so on, which at least need looking at and some of which I think certainly need to be changed.

I therefore, with the full support and co-operation of the Commissioner, set up a special committee consisting of senior officers of my Department and of the Garda Síochána to supervise and direct the operation of the research and planning unit, and, in particular, to fix the order of priority to be given to various projects; to identify problems as they arise and to take steps to deal with them; to review progress at regular intervals and to ensure that there will be an effective implementation of decisions. In all these matters the intention is that the committee will invite views and recommendations from the Representative Bodies.

This committee has already recommended that priority should be given by the research and planning unit to the following matters: manpower utilisation, training, recruitment, promotion, equipment and clerical procedures. Officers of the unit are being assigned to each of these projects. In addition, the existing scheme of joint action by the unit and by the Department of Posts and Telegraphs for the rapid expansion of the communications network is to be intensified. It is not to be expected that any of these projects will bear fruit overnight but in my view they should produce results more quickly and in a form more readily acceptable to the force than recommendations from any outside group, partly because the system adopted is such as to facilitate continuing consultation with the elected representatives of the members of the force up and down the country. To my mind, this is a practical workmanlike scheme that will produce results.

Turning to the question of alleged unrest, I have been assured by the Commissioner that he has had full and careful inquiries made both in Dublin and throughout the country and that he is satisfied that, while there are some feelings of grievance in regard to certain aspects of the present situation, allegations of widespread, serious unrest are unjustified.

In this connection, I wish to refer specifically to Questions Nos. 134 and 135 which relate to a statement recently issued by the Dublin metropolitan area committee representing members of garda rank. The position in fact is that the area committee issued two statements, the second of which made it quite clear that publicly-made suggestions that the first statement had alleged or implied that there had been political interference in the making of certain arrests were without foundation. I am naturally very glad that the area committee have put an end to that particular type of speculation.

It remains true that both their statements were strongly critical of officers of the force, as well as of the Government, and that, in addition, the courts came in for strong criticism especially in relation to matters such as bail and apparently lenient sentences. Whilst I cannot but deprecate very strongly some of the sentiments expressed, and even more so the manner of their expression, and while I am quite satisfied the charges made were for the most part unsustainable, in the sense at least of being very greatly exaggerated, I think it would be wrong for me not to acknowledge and make allowances for the strain under which many members of the force have been working since they have had to deal with what appears to be an organised campaign of serious crime backed by actual or threatened violence. I also acknowledge the goodwill shown by the Representative Body for Gardaí in their statement of Wednesday, 3rd November, which, while it did not go as far as I would have liked in various respects, did go a long way towards correcting wrong impressions that had been given elsewhere.

In all the circumstances, I do not propose either to embark on a detailed refutation of what was said in the statements of the Dublin area committee or to take the risk of appearing to take part in a campaign of recrimination with any section of the force, the overwhelming majority of whose members are well known to be loyal and devoted in the discharge of their duties, some of them indeed risking their lives in the course of their work, and I propose therefore to confine myself to stating the position as I see it.

There is, as is perhaps inevitable in any organisation as large as the Garda Síochána, a very small minority of malcontents. Apart from that, however, there is, I believe, a genuine feeling of discontent which is related to the present disciplinary regulations. A new set of disciplinary regulations has been prepared with the assistance of delegates from the three Representative Bodies and the finishing touches are now being put on the text which I expect can be available to the force inside a fortnight. These regulations will remove a number of acknowledged irritants from the regulations and I am confident that they will in all respects both be, and be seen to be, fair. At the same time, in view of the extent of the powers and functions of the Garda Síochána, I would like the House and the public to know that this in no way implies that there is any intention—or any wish on the part of the force itself —that the force should either suddenly or gradually become any less a disciplined force than it has been. On the contrary, the introduction of a new set of regulations that can be seen to be fair should boost morale and encourage the maintenance of discipline.

There is one other problem and it concerns overtime. I have stated earlier that the recommendation of the Conroy Commission on overtime has long since been implemented. That recommendation was that, where overtime has to be worked, it should be compensated for by time off. It is only where this cannot be done within three months that the question of payment for overtime arises.

There are two aspects of the problem. The first arose from the fact that the recommendation was put into effect very quickly and at the same time as a substantially reduced working week was introduced. In that situation substantial teething troubles were inevitable and it is accepted that in some cases, there were undue delays in payment. These difficulties have by now been very largely if not entirely solved. The second and more intractable problem concerns the circumstances in which overtime is authorised. Very large differences became apparent between some Garda districts and others as regards the amount of overtime that was being worked and later claimed for because it was not being compensated for by time off.

Furthermore, members are authorised to undertake overtime on their own initiative where an unforeseen situation arises in which their presence is needed and in some districts instances came to light where members claimed for overtime done on their own initiative in connection with duties that were of no special importance and that were known about for weeks in advance. The resulting major differences between the take-home pay of members in different districts became a serious bone of contention within the force. It also became clear that a serious temptation was being placed the way of some members to undertake and subsequently claim payment for overtime in circumstances which I shall content myself to describe as questionable.

Finally, a serious problem of equity as between men, NCOs and officers was developing. Some members were, over long periods, earning more money than members of higher ranks who were working equal or longer hours, and already cases have arisen where members of the force whom the Garda authorities would have wished to promote have declined to go forward for promotion because it would, in practice, mean a reduction in income.

It is the considered view of the Garda authorities that excessive overtime, especially when it is, as it must be, very uneven in its incidence, is a menace to good morale in the force and that it must be got rid of with all possible speed. Accordingly, some while back, a chief superintendent was specially allocated the task of investigating the matter and introducing consistency and equity into the operation of the system. His report is now being implemented.

The policy is to aim for a gradual, but not too gradual, elimination of arrangements under which some members have come to expect and to depend on paid overtime as a norm. The norm, as envisaged by the Conroy Commission, is that if and where overtime is necessary, it should be compensated for by time off. If this cannot be achieved with the present strength of the force, we will have to face the need to increase the present strength.

To sum up, I would say this. The objections being raised to the elimination of excessive overtime—understandable though they be, because nobody likes to see a source of additional income eliminated—are not justifiable and, in the public interest and the longterm interest of the force itself, these objections must be disregarded. Apart from that, I can see nothing that is arising at the moment or that is likely to arise in the near future that cannot be the subject of detailed and fruitful discussion. And, in this context, I am deliberately using the word "discussion" rather than "negotiation" for very often it is not really a question of the staff representatives wanting one thing and the official representatives another but of different ideas as to the best means of achieving objectives to which both sides fully subscribe. My policy is to encourage, at all times, detailed and continuing private discussion in all these matters. Despite the recent incidents, I am satisfied that both the elected representatives of the members and the vast majority of the members themselves are of the same opinion and, with the introduction in the next couple of weeks of the new disciplinary regulations, I believe that the outlook for the future is more than just hopeful. It is, I believe, very good indeed.

I hope the Minister is aware of the unrealistic nature of his comparison between time served by members of the Garda and that of private security companies. A member of a private security company has a regular working week with regular meals. This does not at all times apply to a member of the Garda Síochána

Will the Deputy put a question?

I am asking if the Minister is aware that this is an unrealistic comparison. I should not like to see that report go on the records of the House——

Acting Chairman

The Deputy should ask a question.

I do not accept that it is unrealistic. The overtime worked by employees of private firms may well be very much greater than that of Gardaí who have a basic 42-hour week.

May I, first of all, thank the Minister for his very comprehensive reply to the ten questions? I should like to ask him one three-part question. In relation to the disciplinary procedure and the analogy drawn between the Garda and private companies, would the Minister not agree that it is entirely inappropriate that any such analogy should be made? Secondly, would he agree that notwith-standing the setting up of the research unit, which we welcome and which I understand is welcomed generally, there is still a major case to be made in areas not covered by the Conroy Commission's terms of reference and strongly requested as a top priority by the Garda Representative Body, namely the setting up of a tribunal to inquire into the role and personnel of the force? Would he not agree that that should still be done, even by out-siders as the Minister chooses to call them? Would he not also agree that the language used by him of classifying some members of the Garda as a small minority of malcontents was rather inappropriate? Does he not agree that the frustration and the serious concern felt by members of the Garda do not come simply from a small minority of malcontents but that it is fairly widespread and indeed that the disciplinary procedure to which he has referred is not a question of irritants—that there have been major areas of total dispute in regard to the feudal system of discipline? Therefore, it is not just a question of the removal of irritants. Can the Minister comment on these matters?

I have dealt pretty fully with each of the points raised by Deputy Desmond. As far as comparisons with outside bodies on security matters are concerned, I have already dealt with that in reply to Deputy Byrne's supplementary. However, I would say that the comparison is valid and I would imagine the gardaí themselves would expect a higher standard from members of a disciplined force like the Garda Síochána than one might get from time to time in a purely commercial firm. The gardaí are there as representatives of the people and I do not see at all that there was any error on the Commissioner's part in making this comparison or in making these inquiries.

With regard to the second point raised by Deputy Desmond, there has not been by any means any universal request for a particular type of inquiry of the kind referred to at the end of the Conroy Report, one of the reasons for that is that the suggestion made by Conroy is extremely vague, to put it mildly, and neither I nor the Garda would wish to become involved in an inquiry of this kind unless the scope of it was very precisely set out. The gardaí would have to consider whether in certain respects the recommendation that would be made by such an inquiry would be in what they would consider their own best interests. I forget the Deputy's third point.

It was on the language used in reference to the small minority of malcontents. It may be very unfairly interpreted by members of the Garda.

It may be. I hope it is not. I have got to recognise that where you have a body of almost 7,000 if you did not have some small number of people who were dissatisfied it would be remarkable.

But they are not the cause of the frustration.

What I would say is that perhaps their reaction to certain legitimate frustrations was grossly exaggerated or that they overreacted to certain frustrations.

Would the Minister not now agree that the grave dissatisfaction, frustration and strain in the Garda force over the last few years is due to the fact that in this country for far too long under Fianna Fáil we have had selective justice, we have had political interference from Ministers——

I reject fully this allegation.

I am on my feet and the Minister should have manners and reply afterwards. I say there is and there has been political interference by Fianna Fáil Ministers, TDs, county councillors, and threats to gardaí. There have been political promotions by men who are not fit to be chief superintendents today. Will the Minister inform this House that from now on the Garda will be allowed to honour the oath they have taken, that there will be no more political interference allowed by any politician and that the Garda will be promoted not on their political affiliations but on efficiency and merit? As regards the statement that was issued today, would the Minister not agree that the statement issued by the Garda a month ago was a truthful statement, that it had to be withdrawn due to political pressure from senior officers of the Garda Síochána who are in positions today to which they were appointed because of their political affiliations. Those people got them to withdraw the statement in order to safeguard their own positions and to try to get promotion for themselves in the future.

I must confess that I was naïve enough to think that the two statements issued by the Garda Síochána, which could not have been more explicit on the points alleged by Deputy L'Estrange, would have had the effect of stopping even Deputy L'Estrange repeating his pointless, baseless, stupid allegations.

Surely the Minister is aware that the men made this statement. This statement is quite true.

(interruptions.)

One of those men who murdered Garda Fallon was brought down to the Greenore ferryboat in a State car and if you want to know who owned the car I can also tell you. If that is justice——

I am only aware of the gardaí having made one statement and this is the one to which I referred in Question No. 135; "that the people responsible for certain crimes and subversive activities are known to the authorities and that no action has been taken to apprehend them." May I take it from the Minister that a second statement has been made by the same people denying this, retracting the first statement they made?

No. It is not a question of retraction. The first statement was ambiguous. In fairness to them, it was not ambiguous but it was capable of having a particular construction put on it by people who wished to put that construction on it, and as a result the Dublin area committee issued a second statement some short time afterwards.

What is the date of that statement?

The 4th October, 1971. There was a further statement issued by the Garda Representative Body, which is the representative body for gardaí for the entire country, on 3rd November, 1971, making it absolutely clear that not alone was this question of political interference in preventing the making of arrests not alleged but it was also absolutely without foundation; first of all, making it clear it was not alleged but that if the original statement had been interpreted in that way they were satisfied that there was no foundation whatever for it.

(Interruptions.)

Acting Chairman

A conversation may not be carried on between Members on the benches. Deputy Mark Clinton has the floor.

Dealing with the overtime aspect of the report, the Minister referred to the fact that there was excessive overtime in certain instances, that it was uneven, so to speak. Would this not draw attention to the overload which some members of the Garda Síochána were and are carrying before overtime payment was brought in at all, that is, overtime that seemed to be justified?

Obviously in an organisation of this size some people do more work than others.

They were not getting more pay.

Not prior to that, but of course they are now.

On the question of unrest in the Garda Síochána would the Minister explain the strange anomaly that, in contrast to the practice in the law enforcement agency of the gardaí, the courts, the whole process of prosecution, defence, right of appeal to higher courts and so on, in the Garda there is a completely different approach to the whole enforcement or exhibition of justice, in which there are summary charge and conviction. I would thus cite the Minister's own reply when he states that there were special reasons— and I would ask him if he would tell us what the special reasons are—in the sleep-on-duty charge. If these were good and valid reasons which allowed the reversal of the decision, does it not appear that an injustice was prepetrated in the first instance? Is it not a fact that the reversal of the decision took place only after this very disturbing protest by the gardaí, when the process of trial found that there apparently were special reasons, which the Minister says are valid and good, and that this should never have happened at all?

The case in which the appeal was lodged and in which the Commissioner allowed the appeal against dismissal is the only one of which I am familiar with the details, because, of course, all these cases are ones for the Commissioner himself rather than for me. However, in that particular case when the member himself appealed my recollection is that he produced medical evidence to the fact that he was suffering from a particular ailment. That evidence had not been produced by him or offered by him at any previous time when he was asked for his observations on the matters that were under investigation. As far as I know, the matter which swayed the Commissioner was the existence of the medical evidence of a particular ailment from which the man was suffering at the time and which he was satisfied would have contributed to what had happened.

(Interruptions.)

On the question of overtime, would the Minister agree that a major irritant, and a unique practice in these islands—particularly now that the change in the Special Branch payments of overtime is likely to become general, I would hope—is the system of giving time off and payment perhaps three or four months after sanction? Would the Minister not agree that the overtime, if sanctioned, should be paid for as quickly as possible, and that the present situation is absolutely farcical?

The present system is precisely what Conroy recommended. Perhaps an error that was made —and I can say this with the wisdom of hindsight and it is easy to say it—was that, having regard to the problems that were encountered, we implemented the system too quickly. If we had taken somewhat longer to implement it we could have worked out the procedures better, and the cause for complaint that did arise would not have arisen. It is because we implemented Conroy's recommendation precisely as he made it and that we recommended it at the earliest possible date without working out the details of it, as one normally would in a case like this, that these problems have arisen but as I informed the House in my main reply, a chief superintendent has been spending some months looking into the inequities of the matter. He has been trying to smooth things out and his recommendations were made after considerable study of the problems in different parts of the country.

Is the process——

Could we move to Question No. 139?

——of discipline in relation to the Garda code to be reconsidered by the new research body? Is a new process for the investigation of charges to be established?

The new regulations are practically ready. They are being touched up at the moment by the draftsmen. They are radically different to the old ones and they have been drafted in constant consultation with the three representative bodies who have been at all working party meetings. The representative bodies are happy with the new proposals.

Will there be sworn inquiries?