I appreciate that Deputy O'Keeffe feels strongly about this issue I have had the matter examined in very considerable detail prior to and since Committee Stage, when I acknowledged the arguments advanced by Deputy O'Keeffe and colleagues from all sides of the House.
As I indicated to the committee, there is an agreement in place setting out the detailed arrangement under which the gardaí may opt for transfer to Forfás. This agreement was reached through the normal negotiating procedures of the Garda Conciliation Council after long and detailed discussions. Secondment, having been ruled out earlier in the talks, formed no part of it. The agreement provides that the Garda Weights and Measures inspectors who opt for transfer to Forfás will retain their existing pay rates and allowances as well as other conditions on a personal basis. However, in deference to the views strongly expressed by Deputy O'Keeffe and other Members at the Select Committee on Enterprise and Economic Strategy and elsewhere, I agreed without commitment to raise this secondment issue directly with my colleague the Minister for Justice. Secondment is first and foremost a matter for the current employer. I have received a comprehensive reply from the Minister for Justice and I will quote directly from her letter of 5 June 1996:
The question of secondment of the Garda Sergeants attached to the Weights and Measures Inspectorate was raised in late 1993 when discussions started on the setting up of the new Legal Metrology Service. At that time, the Garda Commissioner expressed to my Department his opposition to the secondment of members of the Force to the new Service and he has restated this view as recently as April of this year.
One of the difficulties which would arise from a secondment arrangement is that the Garda Sergeants concerned would continue to be employed as members of the Garda Síochána but would be performing their function as Inspectors in accordance with the provisions in the Metrology Bill under the proposed Director of the Legal Metrology Service. This in effect would mean that they would not be under the general direction and control of the Garda Commissioner. Such an arrangement would not be in accordance with Section 8 (i) of the Police Forces Amalgamation Act, 1925 which provides that "The general direction and control of the amalgamated force shall, subject to regulation made under or continued in force by this Act, be vested in the Commissioner of the amalgamated force who shall be styled and known as the Commissioner of the Garda Síochána".
In addition, the commissioner is subject to the constraints of the several Acts and regulations currently in place concerned with the management and control of the Force. I fully agree with the commissioner's view in this matter and I am satisfied that the secondment arrangement is not a viable option for the transfer of members of the Force to the new service.
As you are aware, 20 Garda sergeants are affected by the reorganisation of the weights and measures service. In the knowledge that secondment was not a viable option, discussions between your Department [the Department of Enterprise and Employment], the Association of Garda Sergeants and Inspectors and my Department were ongoing for a very lengthy period (over 2-3 years) on the conditions on offer to those Garda sergeants who choose to transfer to the new Legal Metrology Service under the auspices of Forbairt. The aim of these discussions was to ensure that members who so choose would not lose out in any way and would retain their existing pay and conditions.
Agreement was reached between all parties concerned in December 1995 on the terms and conditions of transfer to the new service. The agreement stated that those members who join the new service shall no longer be members of the Garda Síochána. I must reiterate that agreement was reached after long and exhaustive discussion and all the parties involved accepted this agreement.
Finally, I would like to highlight the fact that the Garda sergeants concerned may opt to transfer to the new metrology service on the conditions and terms agreed or continue their careers in the Garda Síochána, an option which is, and always has been, open to them.
In light of the position outlined by the Minister for Justice, I regret I am unable to accept Deputy O'Keeffe's amendments.