Written Answers. - Human Rights Issues.

Liz McManus

Question:

25 Ms McManus asked the Minister for Justice, Equality and Law Reform the steps being taken to ensure that members of the Garda respect the civil and human rights of all those who come into contact with the force, having regard to the fact that more than ?7 million was paid out over the past five years in settlement of claims taken by citizens against individual officers; and if he will make a statement on the matter. [17104/03]

A figure of €6.7 million, which includes court awards, out-of-court settlements and the associated legal costs, was paid over a five year period from 1998 to 2002. The expenditure was made in respect of allegations of assault, unlawful arrest, personal injuries and other alleged wrongs suffered by civilians.

The reality is that civil actions may be taken by the general public against members of the Garda Síochána for compensation for any alleged wrongs and personal injuries inflicted on them by Garda members in the performance of their duties. Settlement of cases takes place on the advice of the Chief State Solicitor, the Attorney General and State counsel.

The Garda Commissioner has informed me that incidents which culminate in successful claims against the State in respect of the actions of gardaí are examined by the Garda authorities with a view to identifying and implementing operational strategies to eliminate or reduce similar claims in the future. Conflict resolution training forms part of the education programme for trainee gardaí. In addition, training in conflict resolution is included in the programme at in-service training schools nationwide for members of the Garda and sergeant rank. The aim of the training is to provide members with the skills to defuse a confrontational situation without having to use force. Also, the Garda College, Templemore currently provides a number of training courses for members of the force in the area of human rights. Human rights and diversity training is provided for trainee gardaí and a two and a half day development course on human rights, anti-racism and ethics is provided for inspectors and sergeants. This course is designed to provide a basic introduction to international human rights standards.
In order to further enhance and support human rights training, a generic human rights training course for Garda teachers-trainers has been developed and is being delivered in July of this year to teacher-trainers. The aim of the course is to facilitate the integration of human rights concerns, norms, principles and ethics into all relevant aspects of training courses. In accordance with best practice the course will be delivered by internal and external experts. It is proposed to involve staff from the Garda human rights office and the racial and inter-cultural office as well as Amnesty International and the University of Ulster.
The Garda Commissioner has also informed me that the Garda Síochána (Discipline) Regulations 1989 are invoked by the Garda authorities in appropriate cases where the actions of individual gardaí come into question, some of which may also be the subject of legal actions against the State and the gardaí concerned.
I have made a number of public statements about the standards which should apply to members of the Garda Síochána and their dealings with the public. In particular, I have stressed the point that it is now more vital than ever that gardaí are cognisant of the rights and the dignity of each individual that they come in contact with and that they treat people fairly and impartially. I have a strong belief in the capacity of the women and men of the Garda Síochána to continue to earn and maintain the trust of the community by performing their duties to the highest standards. The maintenance of these standards in an era of rapid change will require that new structures and procedures be put in place.
In this regard, the programme for Government contains a commitment to establish an independent Garda inspectorate which would have the power to investigate complaints and which would also have the powers of an ombudsman. Work on the preparation of a general scheme of a Bill to provide for this is on the point of completion, and I intend bringing this to Government very shortly with a view to early publication.