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Dáil Éireann debate -
Tuesday, 28 Jan 1986

Vol. 363 No. 4

Garda Síochána (Complaints) Bill, 1985: Second Stage.

Limerick East): I move: “That the Bill be now read a Second Time.”

This Bill marks another step in the implementation of the programme which the Government adopted on taking office. That programme stated that an effective independent complaints procedure would be established to safeguard both the public and the Garda, who are often the subject of false allegations. It also stated that, linked to that reform, legislation would be introduced to strengthen the criminal law. The Criminal Justice Act is now on the Statute Book and I am pleased today to deliver on the second part of the undertaking.

When introducing the Criminal Justice Bill the Government gave a commitment that the provisions giving increased powers to the Garda would not be brought into operation until new procedures for the handling of complaints against gardaí were in operation. That commitment was later written into the Bill. The Government thought it proper that there should be no question of new powers being given to the Garda without the added safeguard — both for the public and the Garda themselves — of a proper complaints procedure. While therefore this Bill brings important reforms in its own right, it also has a significant secondary effect which is to fulfil one of the two requirements necessary before bringing into force the remaining provisions of the Criminal Justice Act. The other requirement is to make comprehensive regulations for the treatment of persons in custody in Garda stations.

Before dealing with the provisions of the Bill. I should like to make some general points. The main objective of any legislation establishing a procedure for dealing with complaints against police is to secure that the handling of complaints should be just, and be seen to be just, both to the complainant and to the police.

It must be a system in which the public have confidence — confidence in the integrity and impartiality of the investigation of complaints and of the subsequent adjudication on them. The Garda themselves are conscious of the need to have public confidence in this aspect of their operations and of the importance it has in fostering good relations between themselves and the community in general.

The fact is that gardaí, unlike the great majority of other public servants, are frequently brought into serious confrontation with members of the public in the course of their normal duties. In the case of arrests or detention, complainants have an interest in making exaggerated or unfounded complaints with the object of having incriminating statements made by them declared inadmissible. Inevitably, gardaí are regularly exposed to criticisms and complaints. Some of the complaints may be justified. Others may be unjustified, irresponsible or malicious, As far as possible a complaints procedure should ensure that all complaints, whether justified or not, are dealt with properly and in a manner fair to all concerned.

There is a further and fundamental consideration which cannot be lost sight of in any alternation of the present system of dealing with complaints from the public. That is that any new system, while ensuring an effective outside scrutiny of complaints, must not undermine the responsibility of the Commissioner as chief officer of a disciplined force for maintaining discipline and morale among its members. Any system that would separate the Commissioner from involvement in the investigation and adjudication of complaints against members of his force would seriously undermine his authority and have adverse effects on the maintenance of discipline and morale. Of course the introduction of any independent element into a complaints procedure must imply some weakening of the Commissioner's role in this respect but the objective must be to try to strike the right balance between the need for an effective independent input and the need to safeguard to the greatest possible extent the Commissioner's position as head of a disciplined force.

Another feature of any effective complaints procedure must be its capacity to distinguish at a very early stage between serious complaints and those that are minor or trivial. Otherwise a disproportionate amount of time and energy will be devoted to dealing with complaints that ought to be disposed of promptly by a simple explanation or apology or some other informal means.

The fact is that traditionally complaints against police are investigated in a detailed formal fashion, always with the prospect that the matter, even if relatively trivial, could become the subject of an inquiry or perhaps of proceedings before the appeal board. Some degree of formality cannot be avoided if the procedure is to be seen as fair to those concerned, especially when a garda's prospects or, in a serious case, his job may be at risk. But the aim must be to reserve the full formalities for serious complaints while providing less formal or informal procedures for the others.

It needs to be said also that quite apart from any formal complaints procedure the conduct of gardaí is subject to the operation both of the general civil and criminal law enforced by the courts and also of the internal discipline code of the force.

First of all, a garda, like anyone else, is amenable to the criminal law. Where he commits a criminal offence, such as an unjustified assault, he can — and must be — charged with that offence whether it arises out of his official duty or whether it relates to something done while he is off duty. The conduct for which he is convicted is also a breach of discipline. A garda's conduct may also affect the outcome of criminal proceedings taken against accused persons. For example, if a garda has not made a lawful arrest, a charge of assaulting him in the execution of his duty will not succeed. And there are many other examples where the conduct of the Garda is subject to detailed scrutiny by the criminal courts as being relevant to the outcome of the proceedings. Frequently, allegations are made by a suspect who has made a confession and later regretted it and who alleges at the trial that pressures were put on him by the Garda or that they are telling lies or have fabricated evidence against him. In such cases the verdict at the trial may imply that the evidence given by the Garda has not been accepted or that there has been some misconduct or impropriety by individual gardaí. Sometimes the court may criticise gardaí expressly.

There is also the control exercised by the civil law. Anyone who is aggrieved by some action of the Garda may bring civil proceedings for damages for assault, false imprisonment, where it is alleged that an arrest was unlawful, or malicious prosecution. The legality of a police search of premises or of the detention of property can be challenged.

These external sanctions on police misconduct are not mere "paper tigers" as has been demonstrated on many occasions in recent years and they will of course continue to operate in the normal way.

In addition, apart from the sanctions of the criminal law and civil law there is the existing disciplinary code embodied in the discipline regulations of 1971. These cover not only internal breaches of discipline but also those breaches which come to light as a result of complaints by members of the public. Seventeen breaches of discipline are listed. Most of them relate to matters of internal discipline, such as disobedience of orders, misconduct towards a member of the force and so on. Some are specifically related to situations involving members of the public. For example, the breach described as abuse of authority is defined as making an arrest without good and sufficient cause; using unnecessary violence toward a prisoner or any other person with whom the garda is brought into contact in the execution of his duty; or failing to behave with due courtesy towards a member of the public.

Finally, it should perhaps be emphasised that gardaí are not a group of people separate and distinct from the rest of the community but persons who remain part of the community while exercising, when necessary, powers conferred by the community and to be used on its behalf. It follows that gardaí should enjoy the same rights and privileges as other members of the community. If a complaint against them alleges a criminal offence, then they are entitled to the same rights and safeguards as any other suspects. If the complaint concerns a purely disciplinary matter, they are entitled to have it handled properly and fairly.

These are some of the general considerations which arise in connection with any system of handling complaints against the police. They have been taken into account in the preparation of the Bill and account has also been taken of the complaints systems in operation in other jurisdictions.

Before finalising the text I brought to the Government's attention the views that had been expressed in this House and the Seanad about complaints procedures during the concluding stages of the Criminal Justice Bill. Much stress was laid on the need for the complaints board to be independent. Some speakers envisaged the board as having no connection whatsoever with the Garda Síochána, whether in relation to the investigation or the adjudication of complaints. I believe that investigation by a fully independent body is unrealistic.

For one thing, it would be necessary to appoint a large number of independent investigators — in effect a second, though naturally very much smaller, police force to handle the work — and it is by no means clear where persons with the requisite skills and experience for this could be found, bearing in mind that it would often involve investigating complaints alleging criminal offences — assaults and the like. Former or retired gardaí would, presumably, be unacceptable as not being manifestly independent. Moreover, even if there were no recruitment difficulties, neither the scale nor seriousness of the problem in this country could be said to warrant such an extreme solution which would be far more costly than the solution proposed.

Even if independent investigation were free of the difficulties mentioned, there is the fact that many occurrences giving rise to complaints are seldom witnessed by independent third parties and, consequently, there is frequently a conflict of evidence between the complainant on the one hand and the garda on the other without any corroboration of the complainant's allegations. In these cases supervision of the investigation by an independent board is likely to be just as effective as investigation by a fully independent person. The credibility of the parties is what has to determine the outcome and, if in the end there is a doubt, the deciding authority — whether it be a board, tribunal or court — must give the benefit of it to the garda as the person being accused.

The main Opposition spokesman, while advocating an independent complaints commission, envisaged — in line with the proposals in the Bill — substantial Garda involvement in the handling of complaints. He advocated a scheme under which, in general, complaints would be investigated by the Garda Síochána who would operate under the supervision or direction of a complaints commission. However, he disagreed in regard to two aspects of the scheme then being proposed: the presence of the Commissioner or his representative on the complaints board and the exclusion of ranks above chief superintendent from the arrangements proposed for the investigation and adjudication of complaints.

As regards the second point, the Bill now proposes to include all ranks in the Garda Síochána other than the Commissioner himself. However, the Government remain of the view that the Commissioner or his representative must be a member of the complaints board and participate in the adjudication of complaints and in the determination of any disciplinary action to be taken. As I have said, maintenance of discipline is an important part of the Commissioner's operational responsibility. He is chief disciplinary officer of the force and it is essential that any changes in the existing procedures for handling complaints should not undermine his position in this respect and weaken his command of the force. To exclude him entirely from the disciplinary process would be bound to undermine his authority and be detrimental to the force's morale. In my view, it would also tend to give rise to unnecessary friction between Garda management and complaints board. By giving the Commissioner representation on the board and the adjudication tribunal his position is being preserved to the maximum extent consistent with introducing a decisive independent voice into the complaints procedure.

The Bill proposes to set up a board, which will be independent in the exercise of their functions, to supervise the investigation by the Garda of complaints from members of the public. An important feature is that the board are being authorised to give directions to Garda investigating officers, subject to the prior consent of the Director of Public Prosecutions in criminal cases, and these officers will be under a duty to comply with any directions given to them by the board. The board may also prescribe general principles to be observed in appointing investigating officers. These officers are being required to send an interim report in writing to the chief executive of the board if unable to complete an investigation within 30 days and, after completion of the investigation, to furnish, if requested, a supplementary report in writing to the chief executive.

The chief executive is required to submit written comments on each report and a recommendation as to what action, if any, the board might appropriately take in relation to the complaint concerned. All these provisions should ensure that there is no avoidable delay in investigating complaints and that the investigation is properly carried out. But if the board consider that the public interest so requires or that the Garda investigation has not been or is not being properly carried out, they may have a complaint investigated by their chief executive or another person.

There will be seven members on the complaints board and they will be appointed by the Government for a five year term. The chairman and at least two of the ordinary members must be practising barristers or solicitors of at least ten years' standing and one of them will be the Garda Commissioner or a deputy or assistant commissioner nominated by him.

Membership of the board will be part time, but the board will have their own full time staff and an office in Dublin. Complaints which a member of the public wishes to have considered by the board may be made either in person or by letter to their office and there is provision also for such complaints to be made to the Garda themselves, either at a Garda station or, elsewhere, to a member above the rank of chief superintendent. The latter provision is mainly to cover letters addressed to the Commissioner at Garda Headquarters. In the case of complaints made directly to the Garda, I propose to make it clear that all complaints will go to the board unless the complainant requests in writing that the complaint be dealt with by the Garda themselves. Each of the complaints must be recorded forthwith and an acknowledgment in writing given to the complainant. Where a complaint is made to the Garda, the chief executive of the board must be notified of it as soon as may be after it has been received. He must be sent a copy of the complaint or, where it was made orally, a copy of the record of it.

The chief executive will then decide whether the complaint is, on the face of it, admissible. To be admissible the following conditions must be satisfied. The complainant must be a member of the public, that is, not a member of the Garda Síochána. Any complaint by a member about another member is a matter for the Garda discipline regulations. The complainant must have been directly affected by or have witnessed the conduct alleged in the complaint. The conduct must constitute either a criminal offence or a breach of discipline. A "breach of discipline" is defined as one of the breaches specified for the time being in the discipline regulations. These include, for example, conduct likely to bring discredit on the force or failing to behave with due courtesy towards a member of the public. It also includes non-compliance by a member of the force with a requirement of an investigating officer under section 7 (9) (b) of the Bill to answer a question, furnish information or produce a document or thing. Moreover, the conduct complained of must have occurred on or after the date on which the complaints procedure comes into operation and within six months before the date on which the complaint was made. Also the application of the Bill to the conduct must not be excluded under section 14 by reason of the fact that at the time the complaint was made a person had already been appointed to hold an inquiry into the conduct under the 1971 discipline regulations or section 12 of the Dublin Police Act, 1924. Finally, the complaint must not be frivolous or vexatious.

This screening process, to be carried out by the chief executive, is intended to ensure that clearly inadmissible complaints are detected at the earliest possible stage and that no further time is spent by the board in dealing with them. The chief executive is required to tell the complainant the reasons for not admitting the complaint and there is provision for a review of the chief executive's decision. This is the effect of paragraph (c) of section 4 (3), which makes it clear that the board may subsequently decide to admit a complaint that the chief executive had found to be inadmissible.

Once the Commissioner has been notified that a complaint is admissible he must tell the member concerned the nature of the complaint and who made it but he may delay doing so, in an appropriate case, if it appears to him to be necessary or expedient to take measures for obtaining or preserving evidence about the subject matter of the complaint. Indeed any member who becomes aware of a complaint may take any of those protective measures. Incidentally, this provision does not, as has been suggested, give the Commissioner carte blanche in the kind of protective measures he may take. It does not authorise him to break the existing law. He would be doing only what the Garda must often do when they get a report of a suspected offence, that is, delay approaching a suspect if they think that by doing so some evidence may be interfered with or destroyed. But in case the draft is not sufficiently clear on this point I shall have it looked at again. Subsection (6) of section 4 makes it clear that, once a complaint has been made under the Bill against a garda, he may not be charged with an offence relating to the complaint except by or with the consent of the Director of Public Prosecutions.

Even after the chief executive has filtered out frivolous or vexatious or other inadmissible complaints, there will be inevitably a category of minor complaints which it would be in everyone's interest not to have subjected to the full investigation and adjudication machinery. There will, for example, be cases where a garda's actions were both lawful and reasonable and a full explanation is all that is called for. In other cases an explanation or apology will be sufficient to dispose of the matter satisfactorily.

Clearly, it is important to ensure that both the complainant and the member complained of would have genuinely agreed to have the complaint dealt with informally. Accordingly, section 5, which sets out the procedure for informally resolving complaints, gives the board power to prescribe procedures to be observed in this connection and also power to reopen a complaint and have it formally investigated if they are of opinion that the complaint is or was not suitable for informal resolution. As a corollary, it is provided that any statements made by the complaint or by the member concerned in connection with or for the purpose of informally resolving a complaint is not to be admissible in evidence in any proceedings whatsoever.

These provisions about informal resolution of complaints are key elements in the Bill. Ideally, they should enable most minor complaints to be disposed of reasonably quickly and in a manner that satisfies the parties concerned, while leaving the serious complaints to the formal procedures provided for in subsequent sections. Obviously, the board will give close attention to the extent to which the informal procedure is operated and I would expect them to make particular reference to this aspect in their annual reports and, in particular, in the triennial report they are obliged to make to the Minister for Justice under section 12.

Section 6 details the procedure for the formal investigation of complaints that have been declared by the chief executive to be admissible. As I have said, complaints will normally be investigated by investigating officers appointed by the Commissioner but the investigation will be subject to close supervision by the board, acting through their chief executive, and the investigating officers must comply with any directions given by the board in relation to a particular investigation. Even after the investigating officer has submitted a final report, the chief executive may request him to furnish a supplementary report and he would do this if there were any aspects of the investigation that were not satisfactory.

The chief executive is also required to submit written comments on each report and a recommendation as to what action, if any, the board might appropriately take in relation to the complaint concerned. He may also be requested to investigate a complaint, or cause it to be investigated, if the board consider that the public interest requires that the complaint should be so investigated or that the investigation of the complaint has not been, or is not being, properly carried out.

Subsection (8) of section 6 deals with a problem that can arise in relation to the investigation of some complaints, that is, the protection of information affecting State security or of information that would be liable to constitute a serious and unjustifiable infringement of the rights of third parties. For example, disclosure of the identity of an informant could place him or her at risk — in some cases the mere disclosure that there was an informant could have equally serious consequences.

I appreciate that any kind of blanket exemption of such information from the scope of the complaints procedure could be criticised as being too easily open to abuse. Accordingly, the subsection envisages that in such cases the investigating officer would refer the matter to the Commissioner who, having made any necessary inquiries, would, if he agreed with the investigating officer, report the matter to the Minister for Justice. It would be a matter for the Minister, if and in so far as he agreed that the matter came within the category mentioned, to direct that the information should not be included in the investigating officer's report to the board. Non-disclosure would be permitted therefore only where, and to the extent that, the investigating officer, the Commissioner and the Minister were all of opinion that disclosure would affect State security or seriously and unjustifiably infringe the rights of third parties.

Provision is made for the possibility that the Minister, having given a direction, could authorise additional information to be given to the board about the matter to assist them in considering the complaint. The subsection also envisages that other arrangements could be made between the board and the Commissioner whereby, in a particular case or more generally, a matter of this kind could be dealt with by some other procedure. For example, it might be possible in a particular case for the Commissioner to give confidential information to the chairman of the board on a personal basis.

Section 7 sets out the functions of the board on the completion of the investigation. If the board are of opinion that the complaint may constitute an offence committed by the member concerned, they must refer the matter to the DPP. If the conduct has no criminal aspect, the board will deal with it in one of three ways: by taking no further action, by referring it to the Commissioner to deal with informally by way of advice, admonition or warning to the member concerned, or by referring the matter to a tribunal for adjudication. They would take no further action where they thought that neither an offence nor a breach of discipline had been disclosed or that the complaint was otherwise not admissible. They would refer it to the Commissioner where they thought that there had been a breach of discipline by the member but that it was of a minor nature and could be appropriately dealt with informally by the Commissioner by way of advice, admonition or warning. In such a case the member concerned would be given an opportunity to make representations to the board before the reference to the Commissioner was made. The third option — that of referring the matter to a tribunal — would arise where the board were of opinion that a breach of discipline on the part of the member concerned — other than a minor breach just referred to — might be disclosed.

Subsection (7) of section 7 sets out the rule against double jeopardy, that is, that a member of the force who has been convicted or acquitted of an offence is not to be liable to disciplinary proceedings if the board consider that the breach of discipline is in substance the same as the offence of which he has been convicted or acquitted. This does not apply to a breach of discipline which consists of conduct constituting an offence in respect of which there has been a conviction by a court. This provision gives statutory recognition to an existing concept. However, the concept does not extend to a case where the DPP has decided that proceedings for a criminal offence should not be instituted in respect of a complaint. Subsection (8) of the section gives the board discretion in such a case either to refer it to the Commissioner to be dealt with informally or to refer it to a tribunal or to take no further action.

Subsection (9) of section 7 has come in for criticism by the Garda representative associations. It deals with a case where, in the course of the investigation, the member concerned has refused to answer a question put by the investigating officer or to furnish information or produce a document or thing relevant to the investigation and where the conduct complained of either does not constitute a criminal offence or it does and the DPP has decided that proceedings should not be instituted.

In such a case, the board are being authorised to give a direction to an investigating officer to investigate the complaint further. Where this happens, the investigating officer may, in the course of the further investigation, require a member to furnish any relevant information and it will be the duty of the member to comply with the requirement. If he does, the information furnished will not be admissible in evidence against the member or his spouse in any proceedings whatsoever other than any disciplinary proceedings against the member concerned. If he does Lot, his non-compliance will constitute a breach of discipline, provided that the investigating officer has told the member that he is acting in accordance with a direction under subsection (9) and has brought the substance of the relevant provisions to the member's notice. Similar provisions are being incorporated in the 1971 Regulations. That is being done by paragraph (h) of subsection (9). A further — consequential — amendment is being made in the regulations by deleting the requirement that an officer investigating a complaint of non-criminal conduct must caution the member concerned that he is not required to make any statement relating to the matter. That is the effect of section 14 (6).

These provisions do no more than place the gardaí in the same position as those in other occupations. If, for example, a member of the public complains about the conduct of a public servant employed at, say, an inquiry desk, that person's superior will ask him or her for an explanation. There is no obligation to give an explanation but any refusal to do so would leave the person concerned open to disciplinary action, probably immediate suspension. Normally, of course, an explanation is given and the employer decides whether or not to accept the explanation and what, if any, action should be taken. It would be the same with employees in the private sector.

Contrast this with the position of gardaí who, as I have said, must be specifically informed in writing that they are not required to say anything when a complaint against them is being investigated, even where the complaint concerns a minor breach of discipline. Of course, if the conduct complained of constitutes an offence, the usual caution must be given. But it is surely not right that members of a disciplined force should be under no obligation to give an explanation of their conduct when such an obligation is the norm in every other employment. The Bill makes it clear that any information given in reply to a requirement under this provision may not be used in any proceedings other than disciplinary proceedings so that there is no question of any member having to incriminate himself or herself.

When I met representatives of the Garda associations before the Bill was published I made it clear that, in the discussions that were to take place on this and other matters connected with the Bill and also in relation to a review of the 1971 Discipline Regulations, I would be prepared to look at any alternative formula that might be proposed and, if necessary, to table a suitable amendment on Committee Stage, so long as the principle of the provision was not affected. Discussions have taken place and are continuing between my officials and the associations representing chief superintendent, superintendent and Garda ranks on the Bill and also in relation to a review of the discipline regulations. The Association of Garda Sergeants and Inspectors withdrew from the discussions at an early stage. As a result of the discussions, I announced on 18 November my intention to confine the requirement to furnish information under section 7 (9) to matters arising out of a member's performance of his official duties and to move an amendment to this effect on Committee Stage. The amendment will meet a major concern expressed by the associations, that a requirement to furnish information arising from a complaint could result in an intrusion into a Garda's private and family life.

This brings me to sections 8 and 9 and the Second Schedule. These provisions deal with the operation of the disciplinary tribunals that may be established by the board to inquire into complaints where, in the opinion of the board, a breach of discipline may be disclosed. Each tribunal will consist of three members of the board. One of the members at least must be a practising barrister or solicitor of not less than ten years standing. One must be the Commissioner or his representative on the board. It will be the function of a tribunal to adjudicate on the complaint, that is to say, to decide that the member has, or has not, been in breach of discipline, either the breach alleged or some other less serious breach. It will have power to determine what disciplinary action should be taken, ranging from a simple caution at one extreme to dismissal from the force at the other. Decisions of a tribunal must be implemented by the Commissioner or, in the case of dismissals of members above the rank of inspector, by the Government.

The procedure of a tribunal will be determined by rules made by the complaints board with the consent of the Minister for Justice. The kind of matters to be provided for in the rules are indicated in paragraph 12 of the Second Schedule. In particular the rules must provide for enabling the member concerned to present his case to the tribunal in person or through another member or a legal representative. This is the existing position under the discipline regulations.

In practice, most gardaí appearing before disciplinary inquiries either are not represented or are represented by another member of the force, usually one who is skilled in such matters. I accept that there will be cases under the procedure where, in the particular circumstances including the seriousness of the alleged breach of discipline, it would be unreasonable to expect the member to conduct the case by himself or through another member and where it would be appropriate to pay the costs of legal representation from public funds.

I have agreed to set up a group consisting of official side and Garda side representatives under a neutral chairman to decide on applications for legal assistance in advance of a hearing before a tribunal or the appeal board. Details of this arrangement have not been fully worked out and discussions about it are continuing. Here I should emphasise that a tribunal is concerned with purely disciplinary matters. Its decisions can have only disciplinary consequences. True, these consequences can be serious in so far as they may involve dismissal or an impairment of career prospects; but in other occupations there are fewer safeguards, or less obvious safeguards, against unfair treatment than in the existing or proposed complaints procedure.

The final plank in the structure of the new complaints procedure is the appeal board which will consider appeals by members of the Garda Síochána from decisions of tribunals. The appeal board will consist of three members, appointed by the Government for a term of three years. The chairman will be a judge of the Circuit Court and at least one of the ordinary members will be a practising barrister or a practising solicitor of at least ten years' standing. The appeal board will have power to affirm, vary or set aside decisions of tribunals — both findings of breaches of discipline and decisions that disciplinary action should be taken. Appeals will be based on the record of the tribunal's proceedings, on such other evidence as the appeal board think fit and on any observations of the tribunal which the appeal board may request the tribunal to furnish in relation to any matter arising on that record. As in the case of tribunals, there is power to require withnesses to attend and also power to make procedural rules with the consent of the Minister for Justice. These provisions are in sections 10 and 11 and the Third Schedule.

Section 12 is an important provision in that it requires the board to make an annual report to the Minister for Justice and authorises them to include in the report information and comment in relation to any matters coming to their notice to which they consider that his attention should be drawn. The board are also obliged to keep under review the working of the system of investigation and adjudication of complaints and to make a report to the Minister not later than three years after the new procedure comes into operation and at least once in every subsequent three-year period. The Minister may also require the board to report to him on such general matters relating to their functions as the Minister may specify and a copy of every report received by the Minister under the section must be laid before each House of the Oireachtas.

Section 13 is a standard provision applicable to State boards, disqualifying Deputies, Senators and MEPs from becoming, or being, members of the complaints board or the appeal board.

Section 14 contains a number of technical provisions which are designed to avoid any overlapping between the Bill and the existing enactments for dealing with complaints against the gardaí, that is, the 1971 Discipline Regulations and section 12 of the Dublin Police Act, 1924. Subsection (1) provides that the Bill will not apply in relation to conduct alleged in a complaint if, before the date on which the complaint is received, either the Commissioner had appointed a member or members of the Garda Síochána to hold an inquiry under the 1971 regulations into the conduct or a person had been nominated by the Minister for Justice under section 12 of the 1924 Act to hold an inquiry into the matter. If, however, by the time a complaint is made under the Bill an investigation is proceeding under the regulations but the stage of holding an inquiry has not been reached, then the complaint will be investigated under the Bill and provision is made in subsection (2) to deem the investigation and any statements made in connection with it to have been made under and for the purposes of the Bill. Subsection (1) (b) preserves the power the Commissioner has to dismiss a member not above the rank of inspector and his power to suspend from duty, notwithstanding that an admissible complaint has been made. There is also a saver for the powers of the Government in relation to removal from office — in the case of a deputy or assistant commissioner — and dismissal or reduction in rank in the case of chief superintendents and superintendents.

Section 15 is a technical amendment of the Criminal Justice Act, 1984. It is consequential on the inclusion in the complaints procedure of all members of the Garda Síochána other than the Commissioner. When the Bill of that Act was being debated the intention was that the procedure would apply only to ranks up to and including chief superintendent.

I have already referred in passing to the discussions which are taking place with the Garda associations — other than the Association of Garda Sergeants and Inspectors — on the Bill. The discussions are proving to be very useful in identifying areas where the Bill can be improved in ways which, I believe, will find general acceptance. I should like to mention some of the points that have come up in the discussions, that is, in addition to the matters I have already referred to.

The associations suggested that the Bill should provide that the making of a malicious or vindictive complaint would be an offence. I am not persuaded that it would be right to create a specific offence for complaints of this kind against the gardaí. I do appreciate that gardaí, in common with members of police forces the world over, are peculiarly vulnerable to having false complaints made against them. The reason for doing so may be a desire for revenge arising from a successful prosecution or an attempt to have a confession declared inadmissible. However, the arguments against creating a special offence are in my view more compelling. The effect of such an offence might well be to discourage persons who have genuine complaints from going to the board because of a fear — unjustified though it would be — that they might be prosecuted if they were mistaken or if the complaint could not be substantiated for lack of evidence. There is also the fact that existing civil and criminal remedies may be available to a member who is the subject of a false or malicious complaint and that in the majority of cases such complaints would be made without publicity and disproved without damage to the member concerned.

These considerations have led me to come down against the inclusion of a special offence in the Bill. I do not believe that the association's fears in this regard will prove to be justified. However, in deference to their views I have agreed to use the procedure under section 12 (2) and request the complaints board to report to me on the question of creating a special offence on the lines suggested in the light of their experience of such complaints. I will be asking the board also to consider including a reference in the complaint form to a complainant's possible liability under the civil and criminal law in the event of his having made a false complaint.

In the discussions the associations also adverted to the fact that members of a disciplinary tribunal of the board who will adjudicate on a complaint may have been involved already in the decision to refer that complaint to the tribunal. They suggested that this could be unfair to the garda concerned and would be contrary to the principles of natural justice.

As a tribunal would be dealing only with purely disciplinary matters there is no analogy with the conduct of criminal proceedings and so no breach of the recognised rules of natural justice is involved. Moreover, the board merely decide whether a breach of discipline may be disclosed whereas a tribunal, after hearing the oral evidence, decide whether breach has, in fact, occurred.

Nevertheless, I have been impressed by the case put forward by the associations and, subject to any views the House may have on the matter, I would be disposed to consider whether their concern should be met by a suitable amendment on Committee Stage. One possibility would be to provide that the membership of the tribunals would be drawn from a panel completely independent of the board. Another would be to enlarge the board's membership to enable the two functions of supervising investigations and adjudicating complaints to be performed by different persons. The acceptance of either option would tend to complicate further a structure which is arguably already elaborate enough for what is essentially a disciplinary procedure.

Another matter discussed with the associations was the period within which a complaint must be made. The associations have suggested that the six months period provided by section 4(3) is too long. I would welcome also the views of the House about this. It may be that it would be better to have a period of three months with the possibility of an extension to six months in exceptional circumstances.

Arising from the discussions, I have agreed to propose that the breaches of discipline which the public can complain about should be spelt out in a schedule to the Bill rather than be specified, as the text now stands, only by reference to the breaches designated in the 1971 regulations. This will make for ease of reference and will allow the exclusion of some breaches, such as disobedience of orders, which are appropriate only to internal discipline within the force.

As I have said earlier, discussions are also taking place with the Garda associations — other than the Association of Garda Sergeants and Inspectors — on the 1971 regulations. My intention is to replace these regulations with a new updated version. This will enable sections 14 (6) and 7 (9) (h) to be deleted and the matters to which they refer to be dealt with in the new regulations.

I should like now to mention the two remaining steps being taken for the improvement of our criminal law and procedure. These are the draft regulations for the treatment of persons in Garda custody and the provision of facilities for the electronic recording of Garda questioning. The regulations will come before the Government for approval in principle within the next few weeks. Details will then be published so as to enable interested parties to submit comments before the regulations are made in draft form, as required by the Criminal Justice Act, and submitted to the Dáil and Seanad for approval. The commencement of field trials of electronic recording equipment is dependent on the coming into operation of the detention provisions of the Act, and that in turn depends on the enactment of the present Bill and the making of the treatment regulations. I can assure the House that as soon as this Bill has been passed there will be no delay in setting up the complaints board. The necessary preparatory work in relation to the acquisition of premises and so on is proceeding to the maximum extent possible so as to avoid delay not only in establishing the complaints machinery but also in bringing into operation the provisions which the Garda need to help them in the investigation of serious crime.

Apart from the underlying principles, there is a lot of detail involved in the Bill because I considered it was better to spell out the detailed procedure for making complaints and for dealing with them in the Bill itself rather than in regulations made subsequently so that the House would have an opportunity of seeing the whole picture now. There will be an opportunity for detailed examination of these provisions when we are in Committee but if Deputies have any questions about them I shall try to answer them when replying and, in any case, I shall give consideration to them between now and the Committee Stage.

I believe there is a general consensus in the House on the need for an independent complaints procedure which will have the confidence of the public, preserve to the greatest possible extent the responsibility and accountability of the Commissioner as head of a disciplined force, be sufficiently flexible to ensure that disproportionate effort is not devoted to trivial or minor complaints and ensure that justice is done, and is seen to be done, to both complainants and gardaí without unnecessary delays. I am confident that the Bill will be approached on that basis and I look forward to a constructive debate.

The main reason for the Minister for Justice bringing this Bill before the House now is to enable him to exercise through the Garda Síochána the new powers of arrest and detention embodied in the Criminal Justice Act, 1983. That Act provides for the arrest and detention in Garda Stations of persons, without being charged, for periods of six, 12 or 20 hours. This is a totally new departure in Irish law, with the exception of the emergency powers and of the Offences Against the State Act which is confined to subversive activities.

These new powers, already contained in the Criminal Justice Act, will mean that a citizen can be arrested on the suspicion of a member of the Garda Síochána and subsequently detained for up to 20 hours in a Garda station.

Originally the Minister proposed to apply these powers to any child from the age of seven upwards. However, in the course of the Dáil debates the Minister accepted my amendment that all children under the age of 12 be excluded. It is essential that the House and the public at large understand that the Criminal Justice Act provides for the first time since the foundation of the State, other than in emergency legislation, for the power of police arrest of any citizen on mere suspicion and imprisonment in a Garda station for the purpose of questioning.

Section 1 (2) of the Criminal Justice Act provides that an order shall not be made in respect of sections 4 to 6, 8 to 10, 15, 16, 18 and 19 until legislation is enacted relating to the investigation of complaints from the public against members of the Garda. The powers we are talking of here are in section 4 which deals with detention after arrest, section 6 which deals with the powers of the Garda in relation to a detained person, section 8 which deals with the destruction of records, section 9 which deals with the application to persons in custody under section 30 of the Offences Against the State Act, 1939, section 10 which concerns re-arrest under the powers of this Act, section 15 which deals with the withholding of information regarding firearms or ammunition, section 16 which deals with the withholding of information regarding stolen property and so on and section 18 which deals with inferences from a failure or a refusal to account for objects, marks and so on. Involved also is section 19 which deals with inferences drawn from an accused person's presence in a certain place.

These sections of the Criminal Justice Act are frozen, as it were, and will not be brought into operation until a satisfactory complaints procedure has been introduced and until the regulations regarding the treatment of people in custody have been introduced also.

Fianna Fáil, reluctantly but inevitably, accepted the need for these new powers in the light of the necessity for tackling the present high level of crime. However, because the new powers of arrest and imprisonment marked a fundamental new departure in our law we were convinced that these powers must be accompanied by two major provisions. The first was a Garda Síochána Complaints Commission and the second was the provision of minimum safeguards for persons in custody. The Minister acknowledged in the course of the debate the need for these measures and agreed to implement them before adopting the new powers.

While that Bill was being discussed we put forward our proposals for a Garda Síochána Complaints Commission. It was amendment No. 48 to the Criminal Justice Bill, 1983. We set out in general terms the functions and the independence of this commission. In the draft which we put before the House at that time we differed somewhat from the Minister's initial proposals but perhaps differ less from his proposals at this stage.

One may ask why there should be a Garda Síochána complaints procedure since there is already in existence an internal disciplinary procedure governed by the Gárda Síochána (Discipline) Regulations, 1971. These regulations are quite extensive and in many respects they are effective. Recent events have indicated that something more substantial is needed.

Experience during the seventies which culminated with the Ó Briain report, and other more recent events, have pointed the way towards the additional need for an independent complaints procedure. For example, in the Shercock case, a man died in Garda custody and notwithstanding that, an internal Garda investigation failed to lead to any satisfactory outcome. In the Bunratty case, a man died following an incident in respect of which there were allegations of Garda involvement, and of some kind of cover-up. Many questions were still left unanswered following an internal Garda investigation.

(Limerick East): That is not completed yet.

In the Kerry Babies case, yet again, an internal investigation failed to allay public fears and apprehension. A full scale, time-consuming, expensive and at times harrowing judicial inquiry became necessary. This could have been avoided and expense spared if there had been available a commission or board that was clearly independent and which could be seen by the public to be an independent body for the investigation of complaints and allegations against the Garda Síochána.

Yet again most recently a private individual was subjected to physical assault, and abuse by a member of the Garda Síochána in Malahide Garda station, where he was punched and hit with a baton and held for 15 minutes without charges being preferred against him. He was subsequently awarded £85,000 by a jury, reflecting their horror at the treatment he received. This is an indication of how people feel when they are confronted with these matters.

No one has been given more delegated power within the community than the Garda Síochána. This is a necessary concomitant for the maintenance of law and order in a free society. But members of the force must carry out their delegated powers in a controlled, equitable and responsible way. By and large we in Ireland have a police force which have given, and continues to give, excellent service, with exceptional dedication and skill in implementing in a balanced and impartial way the laws of the land. But as we have seen, we also have examples of serious complaints and allegations of harassment and physical and psychological abuse of persons in custody, which are alien to the force itself, and unacceptable to the community.

The public representative finds himself or herself caught between two fires. One is the desire to back up and support the Garda in their difficult task. The other is to ensure that equity, fair play and freedom from abuse will prevail. Here the community and the media who comment on these events must decide whether they are in favour of law and order, and supportive of the Garda in their work, or just giving lip service to them. We know only too well that some elements engaged in crime or subversion will use every snare and ruse to bring odium on the force. The Minister has referred to this. To apprehend and detain hardened criminals can be a very difficult physical task and can lead to necessary rough play in the heat of the moment. On the other hand, when a detained or arrested person is under control it is quite a different matter.

Support for the Garda in executing their duties does not, however, extend to supporting conduct that is oppressive, irregular or otherwise unacceptable. Hence it is that we need a system of dealing with complaints against members of the force which is independent, fair and practicable. The complaints procedure should not impede the normal working of the Garda.

It should complement their work; support their onerous position within the community and act as a brake and a preventative influence on the would-be errant Garda.

It was with this in mind and with the proposed introduction of new and extended powers for the Garda that we in Fianna Fáil proposed that the Criminal Justice Bill of 1983 be amended by the addition of an amending section (amendment No. 48) entitled: "The Garda Síochána Complaints Commission". In our amendment we described our proposed body as "an independent commission for supervising and investigating complaints against the Garda Síochána and related criminal or disciplinary charges". Suffice it to say that we set out the composition, functions and method of operation of such an independent body. But the Minister refused even to consider our proposals then in the context of the Criminal Justice Bill, or to bring in his own proposals in parallel with the debate which preceded the passing of the Criminal Justice Bill at the end of 1984.

The Minister, through his obstinacy and unco-operative approach, contributed to two wasted years in the battle against crime. We also submitted to the Minister our proposals for safeguards for people in custody. These are on the record of the House. Again, the Minister refused to adopt them or to introduce his own at that time. Indeed, he has yet to bring them before the House. Thus, in all, it is probable that three years will have been wasted before the new powers will be available to the Garda. This constitutes an extraordinary delay on the part of a Minister who, when the new powers were being requested in the course of the debate on the 1983 Criminal Justice Bill, stressed the urgency of having the new powers immediately to help the Garda fight the high levels of crime. This is even more inexplicable when one considers that Fianna Fáil put draft proposals before the House at that time. At last we have the Minister's proposals before us in this Bill. It is significant that while we described our body as an independent commission for supervising and investigating complaints the Minister has dropped the word "independent" from the Bill, describing it as a system for investigation and adjudication of complaints.

Our principal criticisms of the Minister's proposals are as follows: first, the proposed Garda Sióchána complaints board is not independent of the Garda. In his remarks the Minister suggested that there is a conflict between the existence of an independent Garda complaints board and the position and status of the Garda Commissioner. In my view this is a contrived argument calculated to throw a smokescreen over the fact that the proposed complaints board will not be fully independent. The Minister has told the House that the new complaints board should assist in maintaining public confidence in the Garda. Since this can best be achieved by having a fully independent board, surely such independence can only assist the Commissioner in maintaining discipline and morale among its members?

The Minister has provided in this Bill that of the proposed seven members of this complaints board one will be the Commissioner or his deputy or an assistant commissioner. In our view this is neither desirable nor acceptable. We proposed that no serving member of the force should be a member of the board. That remains our position and we will propose an amendment to that effect on Committee Stage. If the Commissioner or his deputy is a member of the board then the board will not be seen by the public to be acting independently of the force.

The Commissioner is the head of the Garda Sióchána and, as such, his office must protect and promote the interests and the image of the force. He has a healthy, vested interest in the management of the force and, rightly or wrongly, will be seen as being naturally biased in its favour. The Minister would serve both the Garda Sióchána and the public better if he provided a board which would be seen to be independent. Decisions of the board would be more readily accepted if that were the case.

If one carries one's mind forward to some future event, such as the allegations made in the Kerry Babies case, or some other allegations, and if one has to come to the House to tell people that the allegations will be considered by a board which the Minister would contend is there for investigating such complaints — and the House would like to be able to say to those members of the public that this will be an independent board — it should be remembered that it will not be independent of the chief of the board, the Commissioner. In those circumstances how can one expect people to accept their findings as being those of an independent body or of one acting with independent powers, as the Minister contends? That kind of situation inevitably will recur in the future. Experience of such tribunals has shown that difficulties can arise subsequently in getting people on all sides to accept that such a tribunal has acted totally independently, that their findings are, if you like, the last word. Then if such a matter is to be referred to a board which have among their membership the Commissioner of the Gárda Sióchána, from a purely public administration point of view, I would expect that, rightly or wrongly, the board will be seen to be biased in favour of the Garda Sióchána or in favour of the Commissioner and his function within the force.

This has nothing to do with the standing, status or excellence of any given Commissioner. It is a question of public administration. How does one devise a system which will operate — and be seen to operate — independently and fairly, whose findings will be taken as the final word on the matter so that one can then say to people: "It has been referred to an independent board and that is it. You may not like the findings but they are those of an independent board." Very often that has to be said afterwards to different sides in an argument.

From the point of view of the public administrative arrangements we make in this House, the Minister well knew that that was the principal weakness of his proposals. That was why at the beginning of his remarks he emphasised that this House:

... must not undermine the responsibility of the Commissioner as chief officer of a disciplined force for maintaining discipline and morale among its members. Any system that would separate the Commissioner from involvement in the investigation and adjudication of complaints against members of his Force would seriously undermine his authority and have adverse effects on the maintenance of discipline and morale.

We are agreed that the most practical method of investigation or adjudication, with some exceptions, is through the police themselves. But in our view those findings should then be referred to a board independent of the Garda.

The Minister has uttered severe warnings about the great dangers there might be if we do not accept his proposal here. We are looking at the matter from the long term point of view, from the point of view of the success of the board the Minister is proposing. We believe that if there is sufficient independence on the part of that board, and it is clearly seen to be independent, then it will be acceptable to all sides and will commence on the right footing. What the Minister suggests here is an overstatement of the position, the extent to which he sees the Commissioner's position being eroded were he not to be a member of the board. One could argue the other way around, that the position of the Commissioner would be strengthened were he not a member of the board because, while he would be in charge of discipline generally and while there are internal disciplinary arrangements, he would then have an independent body to which complaints on the part of the public could be referred. I believe that would be of great assistance to the Commissioner, that he could refer such matters to this body knowing he was doing so on the grounds that it would be clearly seen to be an independent body. In addition, members of the force would be able to see the board as separate from their management. That is another aspect: that the Garda themselves would be able to see the board as one which would adjudicate on allegations made and see that board as being separate from their management.

The Garda associations have sought the right to nominate a member to the board. If management are represented then why should they not be represented too? This would be the normal argument. If management are to be represented, then should the staff not be represented also? This highlights the fact that for the board to be seen to be independent neither staff nor management should be on the board in this instance. When the Ombudsman investigates complaints against a Government Department the Secretary of the Department has no control over the Office of Ombudsman.

The Ombudsman Act, 1980 provides that "The Ombudsman shall be independent in the performance of his functions." Nobody will be at his shoulder keeping an eye on what he is doing or feeding in the inside thinking in relation to the particular Departments. He is to be independent in the performance of his functions. In that Act the Departments of State and other persons subject to investigation include the Department of the Taoiseach, the Department of Justice, Land Registry and, of course, the Departments of Social Welfare and Health and various other Departments. The Ombudsman is independent in his actions and in his adjudication on such cases. Why not have a similar arrangement in the case of the Garda Síochána complaints board where members of the public will be making complaints? This is a question of being relevant and acceptable to the public at large.

The Minister emphasises the internal disciplinary control which the Commissioner must exert within the force. I accept that. They are a disciplined force and the Commissioner has that function, but we are looking here at them as a body and our principal interest here is to provide a mechanism whereby members of the public can bring their complaints and allegations before a board who are clearly to be seen as independent. In the case of the Garda complaints board it is essential that there be close dialogue between the board and the Garda Commissioner or his nominee on matters of Garda procedures. There is no question about that. There would have to be close dialogue and understanding of the procedures and processes involved, but, of course, that would be the case in other areas also.

When you come to a person's rights under all the mountains of social welfare legislation, of course the Ombudsman would have to be advised and kept informed by the Secretary of the Department of Social Welfare, or by somebody nominated by him, about these rights and given a clear understanding of how they operate and what the procedures are. Of course, the Garda Commissioner or his nominee would have to be in close dialogue over such matters. Nevertheless, the ultimate decisions of the board should not be a matter for consultation or negotiation with the Commissioner nor should they be seen to be so. This is the only way in which the behaviour of the Garda in the performance of their duties can ultimately be placed above public suspicion. This in turn will strengthen public confidence in the Garda and facilitate the effectiveness of the force in the performance of their duties. Therefore, contrary to what the Minister has suggested, we believe that to have the board truly independent would in effect strengthen general public confidence in the Garda and through their operation would put an end to many of the complaints which are made and show that they are dealt with fairly, generally speaking.

The second criticism I have is that the Minister has not provided specifically for medical, vocational and community interests on the board. The Minister's Bill provides that the membership of the board shall comprise a chairman and six ordinary members and that at least two persons each of whom is a practising barrister, or a practising solicitor, of not less than ten years' standing shall be ordinary members of the board. That is similar to the provision we had in our proposals and we agree entirely with the Minister in that respect. We say that because of the experience that Governments and administrations have had in the past. Such a board having at least two members on it who have long experience as barristers or solicitors would constitute a valuable input into the operation and work of the board. A similar provision was included in our proposals but in contrast to the Minister's proposals for the remaining positions we suggested that one must be a member of the medical profession and that the other ordinary members should include representatives of vocational and community interests. The Minister's proposals ignore these important provisions and he has reserved entirely to himself or to his successors as the case may be——

(Limerick East): To the Government.

——and the Government — the free choice of the remaining ordinary members excluding the Commissioner. Does the Minister intend to appoint further members or former members of the Garda Síochána? Does he intend to appoint a member from the Department of Justice or is he planning to appoint political cronies who may have nothing in particular to offer? Why does he not accept our proposals from which he has deliberately and knowingly departed? We will press the Minister further on this matter on Committee Stage because we want this board to be relevant and independent. We believe that a member of the medical profession is essential to this board. Experience both in Ireland and elsewhere has shown that an understanding of the medical and psychological aspects of treatment of persons in custody is very valuable and even essential. In addition, if we want the board to be relevant to the community, then why should we not appoint members from the general community and vocational areas? We are not suggesting that there should be any pre-selection; we are not trying to put any restriction on the Minister or the Government as to the people who are appointed, but we have proposed that they should be selected from particular areas and that the community and vocational areas should be represented in the other appointments.

This is the age of community policing and neighbourhood watch. In these days the Minister quite often has talked to us about the need for neighbourhood watch and the involvement of the community within the whole process. He is conscious, as are other Members of the House, of the need to bring more closely together the functioning of the Garda and the community and to get the kind of detailed support in the community that the Garda need to do a more effective job. We should be encouraging community involvement and the respect of the community at large. If we are to win the war against crime we must involve the community. Why not make a commitment now by including that provision in the Bill? We are not asking the Minister to commit the Government to any particular people or to sectional interests of any sort but to ensure that when the appointments are made and whatever Government are making the appointments, the Government of the day in making the appointments will represent on the board community and vocational areas and interests and also the medical profession.

Many cases which have occurred over the years have indicated the desirability of having a medical understanding and for a medical input into consideration of allegations in matters like this. We can all be amazed and stunned by the effects which particular kinds of treatment can have. I am not going to go into any individual cases, but I could cite cases which have been presented where a certain kind of psychological abuse has taken place. The ordinary man in the street might not readily recognise the impact of this kind of abuse but the medical person would have a much better understanding of it. Since cases might involve injuries or psychological abuse of one kind or another, we felt it wise to have at least one member representing the medical profession. We stress that we would leave it to the Government to pick that person, but we ask that they commit themselves to having someone on this board from that background. It would be very helpful and valuable to the board in their work. When this matter comes before the Cabinet there will be different members of the Government putting forward their own suggestions and proposals, and some particularly strong member may want somebody represented on that board and may get that view across at Cabinet level.

The Minister's proposals for the informal resolution of complaints are overcentralised, bureaucratic and wasteful. We agree that there should be a simple method of dealing with routine complaints in an informal way and put that forward in our original proposals. This is very important because in practice quite a sizeable number of complaints would come into this category. The public do not hear about many such complaints, the more exceptional ones coming to their notice. Many complaints can be dealt with satisfactorily by the Garda Síochána at present in the normal course of their duties.

We emphasised in section 14 of our proposals the position of the superintendent in this area of informal resolution of complaints. Most public representatives find that the local superintendent will deal satisfactorily with the less serious complaints and with the resolution of misunderstandings at local level. We included such a provision in our proposals. We proposed that such complaints be dealt with by the superintendent and that a note of the number and nature of the complaints would be given to the board and their executive. By contrast, the Minister proposes that all complaints be processed through the Commissioner. This would appear to bog down the Commissioner and his office with routine complaints which will be informally resolved. It should be sufficient for the Commissioner to have a note of these and be free, as head of the force, to examine the files at local level at any time. The Minister's proposal will create a wasteful administrative nightmare.

According to a report on the complaints procedure in Britain, a very large proportion of the complaints there are of a more minor nature which could be suitable for informal resolution. The Police Complaints Board in July 1985 published a final review covering the period 1977 to 1985, which set out much information relevant to this debate. They give the number and categories of complaints dealt with by the board between 1978 and 1984. Of the total figure for 1984 of 17,245 complaints, 14,372 required no action; charges were preferred in 194 cases; an officer received advice in 1,425 cases and dispensations were granted in 1,253 cases. The sizeable proportion of these complaints which resulted in no action being taken is very significant. One could say that perhaps the system was not responding in a proper manner and that more action should have been taken, but it indicates that a very substantial body of complaints presumably required explanation and understanding of the circumstances in which any member of the Garda Síochána can find himself or herself.

The types of complaint have been broken down in the report and include 140 cases of corruption. There were 3,380 cases of oppressive conduct or harassment. There were 2,446 cases of incivility, 3,318 complaints about assault, 2,253 cases of irregularities in procedure. The other big one was neglect of duty, 2,082 complaints. In 1984, after the complaints had been dealt with, a massive proportion did not require disciplinary action. As the Minister said, such complaints could have been dealt with by a suitable apology or a letter of explanation.

The number of complaints was similar in 1978. Out of 13,000, 10,700 required no further action; in 1979, 11,000 out of 14,000 complaints did not require further action; in 1980 the figure was 11,552 out of 14,900; in 1981, 13,900 out of 16,700; in 1982, 13,729 out of 17,000; in 1983, 12,800 out of 16,000. There was a consistent pattern of cases in which no action was required.

That would coincide with the experience which Members of the House have, including me. When a query arises locally, I usually refer it to the local superintendent and that would be the end of the matter. People are satisfied with that procedure. In some cases complaints are much more serious and further action may be necessary. The Minister will have a sizeable number for informal resolution.

The Minister said it would be necessary to have all complaints processed through the Garda Commissioner. I would ask him to reconsider this. The Commissioner and his office are fairly busy in any event and the Minister's proposal will just centralise a big volume of business in the Commissioner's office because many cases could be dealt with informally and locally. The Minister should be seeking maximum delegation instead of centralised thinking. He must learn how to manage and to trust his superintendents, who are experienced and competent, capable of resolving informal complaints.

Another criticism I have is that the Minister has dropped our proposals aimed at protecting persons who supply information to the board. We included a section in our proposals entitled "Disclosure of Information". The Minister was fully aware of this and yet he dropped that section. We would like to know why and at whose instigation he did this. We proposed that no information received by the board in connection with any complaint shall be disclosed by any person who is or has been a member, officer or servant of the board, except:

(i) To the Minister or to a member, officer or servant of the board, or so far as may be necessary for the proper discharge of the functions of the board, to other persons,

(ii) For the purpose of civil, criminal or disciplinary proceedings, or

(iii) In the form of a summary or other general statement made by the board which does not identify the person from whom the information was received or any persons to whom it relates. We also included stiff penalties of up to £5,000 or five years' imprisonment or both for breaches of this section.

We believe that such confidentiality and trust are essential for the satisfactory operation of the complaints procedure. Both the private citizen and the member of the Garda Síochána should be protected from unnecessary or even malicious disclosure of information in connection with complaints.

The report of the Ombudsman deals with this subject. The Ombudsman Act, 1980, section 9, states that information or a document or a thing obtained by the Ombudsman or his officers in the course of or for the purposes of a preliminary examination or investigation shall not be disclosed except for the purposes of the examination or investigation of any statement, report or notification made thereon, or any proceedings in respect of an offence under the Official Secrets Act, 1963, alleged to have been committed.

That section deals with complaints by the public against Departments, including the Department of Justice. It deals with the secrecy of the information supplied. Fianna Fáil felt that this would be desirable in respect of the complaints board and we should like the Minister to tell us why he has not gone along with our suggestion.

The Minister has created unnecessary conflict with the Garda by section 7 (9) and in my view he will have to amend it. He dealt at length with this in his speech. Apparently at the last minute he introduced an extra element into the Bill. Under section 7 (9) the Garda have felt that their traditional right to silence was infringed and this has led to public controversy and a loss of morale. This matter must be cleared up as soon as possible. The Garda must enjoy the same rights as ordinary citizens in relation to criminal charges. They should also be prepared to answer to the board for actions committed in the course of duty, or in the exercise of their powers.

It is important that their internal disciplinary procedures should be separate from the board's activities. It should be made clear that our concern in this Bill is with allegations concerning the behaviour of gardaí in the course of their duty or in the exercise of their powers. The Minister today emphasised the need for information but pointed out that he was prepared to reconsider the matter.

Section 7 (9) has come in for criticism by the Garda representative associations and the Minister refers to that matter in his speech and deals with it at some length. Later on in his speech the Minister says he would be prepared to look at any formula that might be proposed and if necessary to table a suitable amendment on Committee Stage so long as the principle provision was not affected. The Minister said that as a result of discussions he intends to confine the requirement to furnish information under section 7 (9) to matters arising out of a member's performance of his official duties and to move an amendment to this effect on Committee Stage. What strikes me about that is that gardaí should be prepared to answer to the board for actions committed in the course of duty. I have added to that "or in the exercise of their powers as gardaí". That matter can be dealt with on Committee Stage. I recognise that the Minister is open to an amendment which deals with the problem.

It is important that internal disciplinary procedures should be separate from the board's activities. Our concern in this Bill is with allegations concerning the behaviour of gardaí in the course of their duty or in the exercise of their powers. The Minister has emphasised that by saying he would go along with some amendment as long as the principle is maintained.

My eighth criticism is that a complaint can only be lodged by a person affected by or who witnessed the conduct complained of, or by his solicitor, or, if the person is under 17, by a parent or guardian. In many towns the public find difficulty in getting one solicitor to sue another in the same area. The same might happen in relation to a complaint against a garda. The category of individual who may complain should be wide enough to embrace persons of standing in the community other than solicitors, such as officers of legal aid offices, ministers of religion, doctors, teachers, trade union officials and so on. The Minister should consider broadening the category of person who can accompany a complainant in this situation. In the difficult circumstances of a complaint being made against a garda the aggrieved party might be more at ease with some such person rather than a solicitor who may be too expensive or too remote.

The UK have had a complaints board in operation for some time. The UK Government's reply to the fourth report of the Home Affairs Committee — session 1981-1982, HC 9081, command report 8681 — in the annex dealing with the Government's proposals for handling complaints against the police, stated, inter alia, that a complaint would be lodged either by a complainant or by any person on his behalf orally or in writing, thus it would be open to a complainant to go, for example, to a citizens' advice bureau or a community relations officer and for them to forward the complaint to the police. The UK Government consider a change necessary to enable any person to make a complaint in the UK. In the event, they had already been thinking along the lines of some specialised people such as community relations officers, and the recommendation was to extend it to any person.

The ninth criticism relates to the need for early action on complaints. The Bill does not take into account that the hours after the receipt of a complaint may be vital since evidence may have to be obtained which might be unavailable later. Immediate searches or observations may be necessary. Both the complainant and the garda in an alleged assault case would need to be medically examined. It is essential that the need to lodge a complaint with either the Garda or the board should not delay any necessary preliminary investigations and that there will be a clear duty on the Commissioner and the board to make provision for the taking of the necessary preliminary steps to obtain or preserve evidence. A system will have to be devised to ensure that the investigative machinery can be set in motion by either the board or the member of the Garda Síochána who receives the complaint or by the local superintendent.

Section 6 confers authority on the Commissioner to appoint an investigating officer and subsection (3) (a) gives the board the right to supervise that investigating officer. Allowing for the question of urgency which could occur, is there any scope for having an immediate preliminary investigation machinery to carry out a holding operation pending the full scale appointment by the Commissioner? Section 9 (5) imposes a duty on the Commissioner to do what appears to him necessary or expedient for the purposes of obtaining or preserving evidence. That subsection comes into operation only on receipt of notification of complaint by him. There could be prolonged delay between the time of the complaint and any such action. In that event the board or the garda to whom the complaint is made should have a duty and a power to obtain or preserve evidence or procedure its preservation in the interim between the complaint and the Commissioner being notified. This whole area will need to be looked at again. Many of the cases could be settled informally. Dealing with some matters informally on a localised basis would lead to the speedier resolution of some matters. Whether the Minister goes for a more centralised system of dealing with informal complaints or adopts our suggestion he will need to make some provision for immediate preliminary investigative machinery before the notification of complaints is received by the Commissioner.

The investigation process is broadly similar to what we suggested. We support the Minister in that regard. The Bill also provides for an exception. The Minister had made it clear that if the board consider it necessary to have an investigation carried out in a certain way in an exceptional case — presumably there will be exceptional cases — the board, through the chief executive, will be empowered to carry out such an investigation. We consider that to be a healthy and wise arrangement which provides the normal investigative process and caters for situations where that process might not be adequate. The number of cases where that will occur will be few and far between but in this legislation we must recognise that this can happen. The power should exist to enable an independent investigation to be carried out. The need for the investigative process outlined in the Bill is contained in many studies and reports. The New Law Journal of 8 January 1981 contained an article by Alex Samuel about complaints against the police and the need for an independent investigatory body. We accept that such an arrangement is satisfactory provided that there is an alternative measure available to the board, as is suggested by the Minister.

We welcome the fact that all members of the Garda Síochána, excluding the Commissioner, will be subjected to the complaints procedures, a change from an earlier proposal. We proposed such a move earlier and we are happy that the Minister adopted our approach. In the course of his speech the Minister said:

The main Opposition spokesman, while advocating an independent complaints commission, envisaged — in line with the proposals in the Bill — substantial Garda involvement in the handling of complaints.

The Minister is correct in that statement. For practical reasons we see that as the most workable solution. However, we were suggesting that procedure if the board could be seen by the public to be independent. That procedure is fine where there is an independent board but if the Commissioner is to be appointed to the board I do not think it would be a good arrangement. The board should be truly independent in their operations particularly when a section within the Garda will deal with the investigation of complaints.

The Minister also said:

But if the board considers that the public interest so requires or that the Garda investigation has not been or is not being properly carried out, it may have a complaint investigated by its chief executive or another person.

We included a similar provision initially because we considered it important. I am happy that the Minister has included it and I am sure this will arise only in exceptional cases.

I recognise that the Minister has provided an internal tribunal and appeals procedure. In doing that I recognise that he is trying to be objective in regard to the appeals system. The Third Schedule states:

1. (1) The Appeal Board shall consist of a chairman and two ordinary members.

(2) The members of the Appeal Board shall be appointed from time to time as occasion requires by the Government and, subject to the provisions of this Schedule, shall hold office upon such terms and conditions as the Government may determine.

(3) The term of office of a member of the Appeal Board shall be three years and, subject to the provisions of this Schedule, a member of the Appeal Board shall be eligible for re-appointment as such member.

(4) (a) The chairman of the Appeal Board shall be a judge of the Circuit Court and at least one of the ordinary members of the Appeal Board shall be a practising barrister, or a practising solicitor, of at least ten years standing.

The Minister, through the appeal board, is attempting to arrange a system of appeal within the system but, again, that is for exceptional cases. As we see it the weakness is in the board itself. The Minister is attempting to overcome that weakness by the provision of an appeals board but the complaints board will be the body that the public will be concerned with. It is that body that people will look to in the first instance. That board should be seen to be independent. The Minister mentioned the limitation on submissions of complaints of six months which is about the shortest period that should be permitted.

We will examine the Bill in greater detail before Committee Stage taking the comments of the Minister and other Members into consideration. We will then put forward the amendments which we consider necessary. It is our objective that the complaints procedure should be effective and widely accepted by the Garda and the community. When enacted it will be an important advance and, accordingly, we have pleasure in supporting Second Stage.

I will be very brief. I know how long the passage of the Criminal Justice Bill took and I commend the Minister and the Opposition spokesman for their patience in dealing with this protracted matter. It is very difficult to get a balance between the rights of an individual and the reasonable efforts that have to be made by the Garda to bring people to justice and to make sure that the administration of justice and the crime detection system operate properly.

I should not like the complaints board to become a quango and there is evidence to suggest that this has happened in Britain. We do not want a repeat of the huge expense involved in judicial and other inquiries which has been the case in Britain. I hope that the new procedure will be a simple and an expeditious way of getting fair play in regard to grievances which people have against the Garda. I should like the Minister to consider appointing the Ombudsman as one of the seven members of the board.

I should like to deal with section 7 (9) and section 14 (6) and the extent to which the regulations relating to the right of silence of the Garda are at variance with regulation 9 of the code of discipline within the Garda, particularly subsection (c) of those regulations which says:

....the member concerned is not required to make any statement relating to the matter but if he wishes to make such a statement he may make it in writing and any statement made under (c) may be used in any inquiry under the regulations relating to the matter.

As the Minister is aware, it is not the rank and file gardaí who are upset about this section, it is superintendents, inspectors and sergeants who are concerned. I respect their opinion because there are rotten apples in every barrel and a tiny minority of the force tend to abuse their position from time to time. I criticise superintendents, inspectors and sergeants for withdrawing from discussions with the Minister. We must not put members of the force into a situation where they may incriminate themselves and are subject to penalties for breaches of dicipline which might lead to their dismissal. I welcome the Minister's comments in that regard and I hope discussions can be initiated because it is a very difficult aspect of the Bill.

The Minister said also that when a complaint is made against a garda he may incur costs in trying to protect himself. This is a matter for further discussion and perhaps the tribunal could decide on the course to be taken. I hope that a reasonable attitude will be taken and that gardaí will be reimbursed, certainly in cases where they are cleared of any wrongdoing. I should like clarification regarding vexatious complaints because, in family disputes and, indeed, in others there could be many vexatious complaints against members of the force. At present there is nothing to stop people from making repeated complaints against a member of the force and from victimising him. As Deputy Woods said, all this will be costly to administer and time consuming but it is necessary. The figures in the UK clearly indicate that there is an element of frivolous or vexatious complaints which can be dealt with quickly.

The Ombudsman is seen to be fair and that is why he should be appointed to the tribunal. If a member of the complaints board is involved in deciding whether a case goes to a tribunal he or she should not be allowed to sit on the tribunal. The Minister should ensure that this cannot happen. In relation to section 4 (1) regarding the time limit of a complaint, six months is too long, two months would be reasonable. There should be a deadline in terms of concluding a complaint because there could be a cloud hanging over a garda's head for a long time. A case should be concluded in perhaps a year or so.

Deputy Woods spoke about informal resolution of cases and he said that they would prefer to utilise the procedure of the superintendent to deal with minor complaints. I see a difficult problem concerning informal resoultion, that the guidelines laid down in section 5 (6) (b) are too restrictive. This means that when the Garda are making an informal presentation in an amicable way with the person making the complaint and the member of the force that in such cases any statements made may be admissible subsequently in any other proceedings. This means that there will be a restrictive interpretation on this and the Minister should give consideration to deleting this paragraph to allow the greatest flexibility possible so that cases can be dealt with informally. It might be a matter of an apology or explanation only which can be easily dealt with.

In relation to penalties, some account should be taken in regard to a senior member of the force who may have been found guilty in the case of a complaint brought against him. Recognition should be given for years of service and a good record and, conversely if people committed misdemeanours before that should also taken into account. There should be some procedure whereby there can be a mitigating factor for those who have a good record and who have never had a complaint against them. There should be an element of discretion in those cases in terms of the sort of punishment which would be meted out eventually.

I welcome this Bill, but until such time as there is an independent authority, we will not reach the position where there will be complete satisfaction with the police. Many years ago Fine Gael promised an independent police authority and, in my view, it is important for the morale of the force, and for the working of the force, that this be set out as a clear objective. Perhaps the Minister would tell me if anonymous complaints will not be permissible, because in my view that would not be fair.

I disagree with Deputy Woods's main objection, which is that the Commissioner will be a member of the board. It is scandalous that that criticism should be made because it means that internal Garda discipline is not impartial and that the Garda have no confidence in internal disciplinary procedures. In fairness it must be said that no Commissioner worth his salt would not have respect for his own credibility and his insistence that justice be done, and be seen to be done. There is no way he would wish to give comfort to gardaí who are not behaving properly. Therefore it is only reasonable that the Commissioner be a member of the board. I agree with the point made by Deputy Woods that a medical person should be a member of the board. I hope when the Minister is making these appointments that he will consider that suggestion.

We must keep a balance between, on the one hand, Garda morale, the professionalism with which they must be imbued to do a good job, and the pressures they are under and, on the other hand, make sure that the administration of justice is fair. There is a need for this Bill and for an independent complaints authority, but I ask the Minister on Committee Stage to take the sting out of certain minor aspects of this Bill so that all sides will be free to support it and that the Garda can look forward to fair play.

I welcome the publication of the Garda Complaints Bill, 1985, and am pleased to have the opportunity of contributing to this debate. The publication of this Bill has been awaited for a considerable time. In this House, Fianna Fáil have been pressing for the Minister to bring before the House the Bill we are debating this evening.

The implementation of this Bill is crucial to the full enforcement of the new provisions of the Criminal Justice Act, which was debated at length in this House some time ago. I am sure this Bill will receive the same careful and meticulous consideration as was given in both Houses to the Criminal Justice Act. I hold the view that the debate on the Criminal Justice Bill was one of the finest ever to take place in this House. That debate and the debate so far today reflect the anxiety and the concern of the general public about deterioration in law and order.

We all acknowledge the extremely difficult task faced by the Garda in dealing with crime. I feel certain that there is a willingness on the part of Members on all sides to strengthen their hand and to support them in the difficult changing social scene in which they operate while at the same time endeavouring to protect the rights of the citizen. This is a difficult task but one which this Bill, when it becomes law, will have succeeded in achieving, so far as legislators can achieve the kind of balance which is necessary and desirable in this very sensitive area.

I have no desire to make a political point at this stage but I am sure the Minister and the Members opposite will acknowledge that the contributions from this side of the House, particularly the contribution of Deputy Woods, resulted in major changes in the original Criminal Justice Bill as circulated. In this debate the Minister will receive from us the same level of co-operation and constructive approach he received during the debate on the Criminal Justice Bill.

As our spokesman, Deputy Woods, said, we are all alarmed at the escalation in crime and violence, particularly in recent years. We need to bring about as quickly as possible a situation where crime can at least be contained. We cannot afford to be complacent. I believe that the economic environment in which we live, with the growing level of unemployment and all the accompanying social issues, is a major contributory factor to the present very serious situation. In previous debates I referred to the relationship between the economic conditions prevailing in the country at any given time and the state of law and order. I say that particularly in relation to unemployment and all the social evils which are associated with that great national tragedy.

Members will be alarmed at the growing increase in urbanised crime, particularly drugs and armed robberies. It behoves all of us to take whatever action is necessary to secure and strengthen the hands of the Garda in dealing with crime and protecting society from its worst effects.

The public debate which has surrounded the publication of this Bill has been helpful — some of it was predictable, all of it worthy of the fullest consideration of this House. It is inevitable that the most forceful views have come from the representatives of the Garda associations. To the extent that the Bill is of direct relevance to the force and the performance of their members, this is to be expected and their views are deserving of our most serious consideration. I wish to acknowledge the willingness of the Garda associations in accepting the principle of an independent complaints tribunal. Here may I endorse what Deputy Woods said: I regret that the Minister's proposal does not have the degree of independence which we had hoped. From the point of view of the credibility of the Bill and of the eventual tribunal, and from the public and the Garda viewpoint, it would be far more desirable if this tribunal were completely independent of Garda representation.

I hope that on Committee Stage the Minister will keep our views in mind. I have no doubt that Deputy Woods will be tabling amendments because I know from discussions with members of the Garda Síochána that they are anxious that the new body will be seen as independent. Therefore, from the point of view of the public and of the Garda force the term "independent" is crucial to this entire debate. The decision of the Garda representative bodies to accept the principle of an independent complaints tribunal was good judgment on their part. That is why I make the point as strongly as I can that the Minister should give serious consideration to this aspect on Committee Stage.

It is desirable to put on record that some of the incidents that have tended to mar the image of the Garda force and which strangely enough happened to coincide with the drafting of this and previous Bills, are not representative of the overall performance of the force. However, the fact that these incidents occurred, and perhaps are likely to happen again, justifies our decision to set up a procedure for the investigation of any form of misconduct within the force. This is desirable not only from a public viewpoint but even more so from the viewpoint of the Garda Síochána. However, it would be wrong if I did not put on record the fact that the number of such incidents is very insignificant in relation to the total strength of the force. In fact, it is somewhere in the region of half of 1 per cent and, in itself, that is sufficient proof of the very high status and standards of our Garda.

I say to the Commissioner and the force generally that never in the history of the State was there such a need for the widest possible acceptance of the credibility and the performance of our gardaí. Never was there a greater need for closer public co-operation with the force. With suitable amendments this Bill will strengthen that link. I hope the Minister will be receptive towards accepting amendments tabled by us on Committee Stage for that purpose.

I should like to see greater co-operation between the Garda and the community. If that co-operation is not forthcoming the Garda will not achieve a very high success rate in law enforcement and in the detection of serious crime. I have always held the view — I have no reason to change my mind now — that the departure from community policing in the true meaning of that concept was a mistake. By that I mean the position where gardaí were known to the community and where there was a common bond and a common goal. As a result of this Bill that kind of co-operation from the public will be forthcoming. They will feel confident that if they have a complaint against an individual garda it will be investigated independently and fairly. I know that is the intention of the Minister and I can assure him and the House that it is also the intention of Members on this side. We want to see a fair and independent tribunal set up, one that is seen to be independent and that will do justice to the public and the Garda.

The existence of a body like that proposed will create a greater awareness on the part of individual gardaí that their performance must always be to the standard expected of the force and that if they are in serious breach of that acknowledged ethical code they will have to answer for their conduct. I do not think that is an unreasonable assumption. It is a view that will be shared by the vast majority of the force with whom we are proud to be associated.

If I were to interpret the spirit of general Garda reaction to this Bill, I would say gardaí are extremely concerned about their individual positions in relation to some aspects. Therefore, again I make the point that at the end of the day this Bill must be amended in a number of crucial areas. It is fair to say that this House and the public have no desire to reach a point where gardaí are not free and happy to pursue their work of law enforcement to the limit. There is a greater need than ever before for more in-depth training and in-service training, particularly for Garda recruits. Apart from training in practical police duties, gardaí of the future will need a greater and more precise knowledge of every detail of the law. It is a fact that far too often the professional criminal has a knowledge of the law that enables him to manipulate the system to his own advantage and which often places our gardaí at a serious disadvantage. From my discussions with individual members of the force, I know they have become disillusioned and disenchanted with their efforts in apprehending criminals. Sometimes this ends in the criminals being released on a technicality, or because of the inadequacy of our courts or places of detention. Far too often gardaí see the criminals back on the streets.

The task of the Garda Síochána is getting tougher and more dangerous. We have a duty to give them adequate powers to enforce all the provisions in relation to the Criminal Justice Act. It is true that the greater power and freedom conferred on the force in legislation, the greater the risk of abuse. As far as the public are concerned, the Bill with suitable amendments will adequately protect the public interest. It has been suggested to me that if this Bill became law in its present form it would create a situation where the Garda would not fully perform their duties as police officers. I do not believe this will be so. I say that 99 per cent of the gardaí are professional and dedicated law enforcement officers and will not shirk performing their duties under any circumstances. However, we must ensure that we do not make their task more difficult as a result of our deliberations in this House.

At this stage I will confine my contribution to the broad principles of the Bill as circulated. There will be ample opportunity on Committee Stage to deal in detail with all sections of the Bill with a view to having it amended suitably.

Like all other pieces of legislation, the Bill contains references and phraseology that are not understood readily by the lay person, and like other legislation, too, it probably provides ample scope for legal argument and interpretation. Therefore, for the moment I will confine myself to trying to determine as a layman whether the Bill seems to have the potential of achieving what we had in mind for it. The need for the legislation arises from the provision of the additional powers contained in the Criminal Justice Act. In relation to that Act, it is worth recalling that the Garda, for their own good reasons, considered they needed greater powers. Organisations representing various areas of citizens' rights campaigned strongly on the grounds that the provisions in that Act were too far-reaching. This House in its collective wisdom tried to strike a balance by giving the Garda more power in respect of certain areas of their operations while agreeing to delay the implementation of these provisions until an independent complaints procedure had been set up. The broad principles of that procedure are before us today.

It is worth noting, too, that within the force there has been in operation a disciplinary code which was updated in 1971 and which is regarded by many members of the Garda as being weighted heavily against individual members of the force. Whatever about that viewpoint, there is ample evidence that the system exists. We do not have to search far to find the evidence of that. Members of the Garda were always conscious of the existence of that procedure. They feared its sanctions. It is no harm to remind the House that this Bill is before us in the wake of an unprecedented number of serious breaches of discipline, all of which, in a very short period, made an impression on the public mind and which could be taken out of context easily in relation to the overall performance of the force. I made that point earlier when I indicated the very low incidence of any serious breach of discipline within the Garda. Consequently, it is very important that, in fairness to the overall body of the Garda, reference to that kind of behaviour should not be taken out of context. This House condemns any such activity on behalf of the Garda but we must acknowledge that such behaviour is not tolerated or condoned within the force.

What surprises me about the Bill is that a Minister who was reluctant in regard to the concept of a complaints Bill has now gone overboard in bringing before the House measures which are extreme and regressive and which raise serious questions in relation to the rights of members of the Garda not only in the performance of their duties but also in regard to their rights as private citizens. I trust that during this debate, and especially on Committee Stage, the Minister will keep an open mind and that what will emerge at the end of the day will be a Bill that will be acceptable both to the Garda and to the public.

I agree with the general format and structure of the procedure proposed. With some modifications of a technical nature, and which I shall raise with Deputy Woods in the context of amendments on Committee Stage, the procedure provides an acceptable forum for the public in making complaints against the Garda and in having those complaints investigated. That development is welcome. It provides a facility to which the public are entitled and one which democracy of its very essence demands.

The Garda, too, are entitled to have their views considered in the context of this Bill. It is to their credit that they have welcomed the concept of an independent complaints body. All of us will have heard the individual views of members of the force in relation to certain sections of the Bill. The Garda have been constructive and reasonable in their comments. They are anxious to pursue the difficult job with which they have been entrusted on behalf of the nation. They have been embarrassed by some of the undesirable events that have tended to mar the otherwise credible image of the force. The words used by one garda to me in relation to the legislation were, "Give us the same degree of protection as that afforded to the criminal." That statement speaks for itself.

There could develop an unreal air about this debate because in the final analysis the question will be one of trust as between the Garda and the community and trust cannot be legislated for. There is a real danger that if we lock our gardaí in a chain of disciplinary regulations, some of which may be unclear and confusing, we may well be tying the hands of the people on whom we depend to protect the lives and property of our citizens. I do not think that would be the intention of the House because that would be a dangerous and wrong line to take bearing in mind the increasing level of crime and lawlessness generally.

If I were to try to reflect the views of the people, I would say that they are telling us to grant to the Garda by way of legislation the freedom they require to enable them to deal with the thugs, the robbers, the car thieves, the drug pushers and the rapists who are rampant in society and who very often are ahead of our Garda in the organised way in which they operate. In any legislation that might be proposed to deal with the matter of discipline within the force it is of paramount importance that the proposals are seen to be fair and acceptable to the force generally and to its individual members. In the national interest such legislation must be of a nature also that will deter individual members of the Garda in regard to the full implementation of their duty. It is shameful that following the passing in this House more than two years ago of the Criminal Justice Act, we have had to wait all this time for the Minister to bring before us a Bill to allow for the full implementation of that Act. Now that the Bill is before the House it is regrettable to some extent that it lacks the air of independence which all of us had hoped would have surrounded it.

During the debate on the Criminal Justice Bill we sought safeguards for people in custody but there is no reference to that here and no provision to enable that deficiency in the system to be adequately catered for. If we are talking about strengthening the hands of the Garda and introducing an independent complaints tribunal in relation to Garda performance, it is also vitally important that we should protect the public to the maximum extent possible.

Debate adjourned.