Before the adjournment I was commenting on the differences between the amendments put down by Deputy Woods and the amendment passed by the House, having been moved by the Minister. There were differences in three or four areas. Deputy Woods has suggested that all ranks of Garda Síochána should be investigated up to and including that of the Commissioner whereas at the moment it is limited to ranks up to that of chief superintendent. At the moment the provision is that the investigation should be carried out by or under the direction of an independent complaints tribunal. The Minister is in favour of a body other than the Garda Síochána and the amendment proposes that regulations providing for adequate safeguards under section 7 be approved. The suggestion is that these regulations be approved by the Oireachtas and made by the Minister.
There are slight differences because the Minister's amendment earlier provided merely that the regulations be made. In relation to the first of these amendments proposing that all ranks should be subject to the independent complaints tribunal the Minister gave some reasons why he thought it would not be desirable to have it applied above the rank of chief superintendent. Perhaps the Minister envisaged that it would be proper to have a representative of the Commissioner on that body because he is the chief disciplinary officer and therefore it would not be right that he should be investigated, or any member above the rank of chief superintentent.
In other words, the Minister is saying that the Garda would be investigated and therefore it is not appropriate that those above the rank of chief superintendent should be within the ambit of this complaints procedure. If that were not so it seems to me that we should have a totally independent complaints commission.
I will refer briefly to the Minister's comments the last day. He gave some indications as to what he was thinking about and what he had in mind when discussing a complaints procedure. He gave a number of examples which I do not propose to discuss in any depth. For example, he suggested that a seven man board should be acceptable to the House if there was a chief executive on it. The Minister's examples are significant.
During the course of the debate in the past year comments have been made in the newspapers and by members of the Association of Garda Sergeants and Inspectors and others in relation to that board. If that is the kind of board envisaged it would not seem to me to be an independent board and I would be concerned that that is what we might end up with and that pressures will be applied in the future to have a board with members of the Garda on it. It is stated in the official report, Volume 353, No. 7, columns 13 to 15, that the Minister referred to a seven man board with a chief executive officer. He said that investigations should be carried out by Garda officers in the normal course of events under the supervision of the board and that the board should be able to give investigating officers such directions as would appear necessary in relation to each individual investigation.
The Minister expressed satisfaction at the amendment of Deputy Woods that such investigations should be under the control of the board. That does not appeal to me. Even though the board would be set up and have representatives of the Commissioner it would be up to the Garda to make the investigation. That would not be satisfactory, given their history to data. He concedes that there would be occasions when it would be in the public interest for people other than members of the Garda Síochána to investigate a case. He said that he could envisage a situation, and hoped the House would accept it, where the chief executive officer would have the power on the direction of the board to investigate a complaint or cause it to be investigated by appointing an appropriate person to do so. He also suggested that the chief executive officer or the board could investigate a complaint and discuss minor complaints which, with the consent of the complainant need not go through a long rigmarole if it could be informally sorted out. He differentiated between criminal charges and those leading to disciplinary procedures within the Garda. He maintained that it was proper to have a representative of the Commissioner on that board. He acknowledged Deputy Taylor's appeals procedure.
If that is what is in the Minister's mind it is a long way from an independent complaints tribunal. There would be a lot of trouble ahead for us if we were to accept such a tribunal. This amendment is vital, even at this stage of the Bill, to make it clear that we have not conceded that it should be a less than independent complaints tribunal after all that was said about the protection necessary for detainees and for the Garda. In the last few weeks the Garda have commented publicly on their legitimate concerns. All these matters must be taken into consideration. The Minister said we were talking about the Commissioner, a couple of Deputy Commissioners and six or seven Assistant Commissioners. If his suggestion was carried through there would be a difficulty if there was Garda involvement in the adjudicating process. The Commissioner is the chief disciplinary officer of the force. The Minister thinks it would be inappropriate to investigate those senior ranks. I do not think he means that because they are of senior rank they cannot be investigated by the board. He suggested that it was a matter for the Government to investigate complaints against senior members of the Garda. I do not know if that would be satisfactory, given the history of allegations of political interference made in this House and elsewhere.
Recent statements have caused the Garda to worry about the direction in which this Bill and the amendments are carrying them. That is a legitimate worry and there is good reason for expressing it.
The occasions on which it is in the public interest to have investigations carried out by people who are not members of the Garda Síochána are not rare. That is the problem. This would be the norm rather than the exception. That is why I do not think the provision is a good one. Judging by the comments made by the Association of Garda Sergeants and Inspectors, the articles published inThe Irish Times some months ago about the format of the complaints tribunal and the comments made by the Minister they would seem to indicate that that is what is proposed. It is a disappointment to the Members of the House and for those who have taken an interest in the debate and also for those who have appealed for an independent tribunal. I hope we do not lose track of an independent complaints tribunal. There will be a lot of pressure brought to bear on the Minister and on us all to have a strong Garda involvement in any complaints procedure that will come about in the future. With the Bill slotted away somewhere it will be hard to resist that. I hope that is not the reason the Minister did not bring in the complaints procedure before the Bill was passed.
Reference was made in the last issue of theGarda Review to that matter. In the October issue of the Garda News it states:
What is now important is to ensure that the Regulations to be introduced allow the Bill to work effectively and do not militate against the interests or welfare of the members concerned. The same goes for the new complaints system.
It refers also to negotiations going on between the Garda conciliation and arbitration body and the Department of Justice. It states that the problem is that:
Even if agreement on a new system can be obtained ... as a result of its subsequent passage through the Oireachtas as a Bill, the eventual outcome might well be quite different to what the gardaí had peviously agreed to... key amendments might also be incorporated into the complaints Bill. If this were to be the case it would place the gardaí in a most invidious position...
The Minister is now faced with the unenviable task of balancing the legitimate rights both of the gardaí and the legislature with regard to both of these important matters. In so doing he has the close and constant ear of the legislators. He may not therefore be aware of the strength of feeling that is building up on these issues within the Garda Síochána ...
The same restraint cannot be expected on the complaints Bill. This is a matter of immediate vital interest to each and every member of the force and it is encumbent upon their representatives to ensure that any new system does not unduly militate against those interests.
That puts the onus on us to ensure that it does not militate either against detainees or people in custody or detention. The approach which the representatives of the Garda body and the Association of Garda Sergeants and Inspectors have taken during the last few weeks has been very progressive, mature and responsible. It is in their best interests and they have been perfectly right.
Sergeant Michael Murray, a representative of the Association of Garda Sergeants and Inspectors, said a couple of weeks ago that they did not want the sections of the Bill to come into law until facilities were available to the Garda to carry them out properly and until facilities were there to protect their members from any accusations or abuses which might occur because of not having proper technology and facilities at their disposal. The same member was quoted in last night'sEvening Herald as saying that it is time that Garda management did their job properly. Although the paper mentioned a broadside against Commissioner Wren, I do not think any accusation was levelled against him. Sergeant Murray mentioned the management and the Commissioner, Assistant Commissioner and chief superintendents. He said that the gardaí on the street were suffering because of the failure of top management to face up to their responsibilities. Where did this responsible response and awakening come from? I think the response came from very small beginnings in this House and the Garda see themselves in a very awkward position now because they could be the scapegoats as a result of the manner in which this is being tackled. Obviously they have given deep thought to what has been happening and other Members and I, who had been accused in the early part of this campaign, now seem to be vindicated because we showed balance and tried to get the thing right.
From the comments the Minister made last week, I wonder if he really does want an independent complaints tribunal because it has been discussed with the Garda associations by the Department of Justice. The Garda are talking about a very heavy involvement and say they must participate in any complaints tribunal. They say it will be resisted and they talk about the strength of feeling and that the same restraint cannot be expected in the complaints Bill. When the complaints Bill is isolated, will we be able to protect and safeguard the honest citizen? That is what I am concerned about and the wording in the amendment providing for adequate safeguards is important and necessary phraseology to incorporate in the Bill and I hope it will be taken in the spirit in which it is proffered.
I will resist the temptation to go into any depth on the individual examples which the Minister gave. I will reserve it until the complaints Bill comes before the House but I will make a brief comment on some of them. In the example he gave that investigations should be carried out by Garda officers in the normal course of events, it is the normal course of events which have given rise to complaints. Going about one's business in the normal way is an everyday occurence and that is what Garda activity is all about. Perhaps we will have time to go into that in more depth so that we can come up with a better balance.
Will the body be laying down further regulations in regard to investigations to be carried out? In other words, if there is a body other than the Garda Síochána instructing members of the Garda Síochána to carry out an investigation, are they going to lay down regulations, instructions or guidance for the Garda to carry out those investigations? How much credence can the public give to those instructions and how can one ensure they are followed? The body is weakened by being set up in that way and it will not work. I think it was Deputy O'Dea who said it would fail and I agree with him. I know the Minister was only throwing out suggestions but because of the close attention we have paid to the passage of this Bill over the last few months——