On behalf of the Minister for Justice I, like other speakers, wish to be associated with the expressions of sympathy to the late Detective Garda McCabe. I wish to associate the House with condemnation of the tragic reprehensible incident whereby Garda McCabe's family has been deprived of the breadwinner. We attended the obsequies on Sunday evening last and it brought home to us in graphic and stark terms the magnitude of the death of the breadwinner of a large family, a man who was highly respected. It serves to renew our resolve that there is no place in this society for people who carry out such deeds. Likewise we send our best wishes to Garda O'Sullivan for a full and speedy recovery.
I thank all Deputies for their contributions to the debate. There has been broad acceptance by all parties of the need for this legislation to resolve this damaging dispute. The Government appreciates that the Opposition do not propose to divide the House on the issue. That will give a clear message from this House concerning the serious and damaging nature of the dispute which has affected the force for some time.
Deputy O'Donoghue referred to the Garda Federation's wish to have the Mulvey report implemented and failing that, that the federation be afforded recognition. I am pleased Deputy O'Donoghue and other Deputies accept there should be only one representative body for the Garda rank. A number of recommendations of the Mulvey report are incorporated in the Bill. These relate to the appointment of a president, vice-president, general secretary, trustees, the adoption of standing orders and the reconstitution of the Central Executive Committee to give more proportional representation to DMA gardaí. The other recommendations in the Mulvey report are essentially matters which are not appropriate to this legislation. His recommendations concerning the establishment of subcommittees by the GRA on various topics, the appointment of an external ombudsman to sort out internal disputes, the exhortation to avoid legal recourse and instead avail of the ombudsman services, that existing officers and officials in paid employment should have the option of having their contracts bought out are all matters which can only be acted on by the association itself, if it so chooses.
Deputy O'Donoghue also referred to the Minister's alleged failure to meet the GRA. The Minister met all three parties in the dispute, including the GRA, on four occasions: 22 February 1995, 20 March 1995, 24 July 1995 and 21 May 1996. The Minister's efforts at reaching agreement with the bodies could be described as exhaustive. The attitude of Fianna Fáil, as indicated by Deputies O'Donoghue and Lenihan, is that it will support the Bill — I appreciate the support from the Opposition — but that the Minister should meet all parties again to attempt a resolution before the Bill reaches Committee Stage. As the Minister indicated, this Bill came about precisely because exhaustive efforts aimed at reaching a consensus have failed. Nonetheless, I am sure the Minister will consider what Deputies have said.
Deputy O'Donoghue mentioned the GRA criticism of the power in section 4 to disestablish a representative body, the suggestion being that this is excessive. The power to disestablish is a power which, as the Minister said in her opening remarks, a Minister would be slow to exercise. It is the last resort option which will carry the full authority of the Oireachtas, but if a representative body refused to implement the changes required, that would be a serious situation and would require a serious response.
Deputy O'Donnell referred to the view, which she does not share, that the Bill is contrary to the Constitution. Article 40.6.1 iii. of the Constitution guarantees the right to form associations and unions subject to public order and morality but it also provides that laws may be enacted for the regulation and control of the exercise of that right in the public interest. In the 1988 Haughey case, the Supreme Court acknowledged that a reason for public concern and public interest was the possibility of multi association agitation or industrial action by the Garda in the sensitive areas of pay, pensions and conditions of service. In that case section 13 of the Garda Síochána Act, 1924, was deemed constitutional in so far as it permitted refusal to establish more than one association with the objects of pay, pensions and conditions of service. There is no reason to believe the court would look at the matter any differently when it came to consider this Bill.
Deputies O'Donnell and Lenihan also asked how the Minister could satisfy herself that section 2 has been complied with, saying the Bill should not specify the extent of the majority required to be deemed sufficient. The purpose of the Bill is to reconcile the different groups in one organisation and if this is achieved the provision would be superfluous.
A number of factors must be considered by a Minister in determining whether such a majority exists. There is, for instance, no obligation on any member to join the representative association and the extent to which members voluntarily choose not to join an association will have to be assessed. Thus, a certain flexibility is needed which would be lost if a precise figure was specified. The Minister will be concerned whether the association is one with which she can negotiate deals that will please the rank as a whole.
Deputy O'Donnell asked what an order establishing an association would achieve and pointed out that there would be no official representative body to negotiate. If an association was disestablished it would be open to gardaí to come together to found a new organisation, truly representative of the rank and file, for recognition. The disestablishment of the GRA would not of itself directly dissolve the association, although that could be the ultimate effect. Disestablishment would, of course, mean the loss of negotiating rights, the revocation of secondment arrangements from the force, the loss of direct funding from the State and the removal of payroll deduction facilities for the organisation.
Deputies Dukes and Lenihan raised doubts about the need for the provisions of section 10 of the Schedule which require that the appointment of a general secretary shall, in certain circumstances, be subject to the approval of the Minister who may attach such conditions to such approval as he or she thinks fit. These circumstances are when the general secretary is a member of the force but not a member of the association or when he or she is not a member of the force.
Under the existing regulations the Minister already has such power in relation to non-association members of the force becoming general secretary. This power is being extended to cover the new situation created by this Bill, that is, the appointment of a general secretary who is not a member of the force.
In tandem with the establishment of the GRA in 1978, an agreed report on the Garda conciliation council and a memorandum of understanding with the Garda associations were drawn up which deal with, among other things, the prohibition in the Garda conciliation scheme on public agitation regarding claims, the confidentiality of negotiations, affiliation with outside groups and discipline. Those agreements are with the relevant representative bodies, membership of which in the case of the Garda association is confined to members of the force at Garda rank. It would be necessary for the Minister for Justice to satisfy herself that a general secretary who is neither a member of the association nor the force is subject to these agreements.
Moreover, a general secretary of a body representing gardaí would, of necessity, be in possession of information of a sensitive nature, some of which would pertain to the security of the State. Therefore, it is appropriate that such a person would be subject to some constraints in relation to public utterances, dissemination of information and so on.
Deputy Eric Byrne spoke generally on crime, including the drug problem. Deputy Michael Ahern and Deputy Shortall made general points about crime levels. I will have the points made conveyed to the Minister.
Deputy Lenihan raised the issue of the independence of the association whose rule book, so to speak, is set out in detail in the Schedule to the Bill. The fundamental rules of procedure and organisation of all the Garda associations are already set out by way of regulations made under section 13 of the Garda Síochána Act, 1924, which allows for establishment of Garda associations and under section 14 of the Police Forces Amalgamation Act, 1925, which allows the Minister to make regulations in relation to the formation of such representative associations.
As the Minister indicated, the reason these provisions are being made by way of legislation and not by regulation as heretofore, is that she has been advised the detailed provisions enshrined in the legislation carry with them the full authority of the Oireachtas and are less open to court challenge.
The Deputy also raised the question of the level of consultation on the Bill. By definition this Bill comes about because of a failure to reach a consensus. Elements of the Mulvey report are included in the provisions of the Bill and other provisions come about as a result of the detailed discussions with the dissenting parties. As recently as 20 February 1996 the Minister circulated a document to all gardaí setting out the intended provisions of the Bill. On publication the Bill was sent to the three groups and on 21 May 1996 the Minister met the three groups to discuss the Bill.
Deputy Lenihan also raised the issue of the right of the general secretary and deputy and assistant general secretaries to attend meetings of the Central Executive Committee. It will be a matter for the elected CEC to decide whether these officials can attend its meetings. If their absence will cause administrative difficulties this is within the power of the CEC to remedy. They may give the officials leave to attend and speak as required.
The Deputy also queried the appointment of the president and vice president under section 9 of the Bill. This section provides that these posts shall be filled by members of the CEC upon election by the annual conference. It provides that candidates must be nominated by at least two divisions and where only one person is nominated, that person shall be deemed to have been elected by the annual conference.
Deputy Lenihan referred to the operation of section 6 of the Bill dealing with the review of disciplinary decisions where there are current civil actions on such disciplinary measures. The Deputy will be aware that the Minister stated in respect of this section that one of the considerations she cannot ignore is the current legal proceedings and that will inform all her actions in relation to this section.
The Deputy also referred to the Garda college in Temple more continuing to have an entitlement to a seat on the CEC. One of the most contentious issues in this dispute was the perceived imbalance in the make-up of the GEC to the detriment of members in urban divisions. The revised CEC will total 30 members and the Minister does not see how a section of the force containing only 60 members could continue to retain a seat on the CEC.
I thank Deputies for their contributions to the debate. The level of participation is an indication of the interest in the Bill. Although some Members took poetic licence to extend the realm of the debate, it has served to focus attention on an issue that has aggravated the administration to the Garda Síochána for some time.