Priority Questions.

Tribunals of Inquiry.

Jim O'Keeffe

Question:

74 Mr. J. O’Keeffe asked the Minister for Justice, Equality and Law Reform if, in the interests of justice and fairness and having regard to precedents established in other tribunals and the need to facilitate effective procedures, he will provide a mechanism under which persons (details supplied) can avail of periodic payments in respect of their solicitor and counsel of choice when appearing before or being represented at the Morris tribunal; and if he will make a statement on the matter. [27312/04]

Under the terms of the Tribunal of Inquiry (Evidence) Acts 1921 to 2002, the question of costs is solely a matter for a tribunal. The Acts allow a tribunal to order the whole or part of the costs of representation of a person appearing before it to be paid, if it is of the opinion that there are sufficient reasons rendering it equitable to do so having regard to its findings and all other relevant matters. Crucially, when determining whether costs should be paid, a tribunal may take into account whether a person has failed to co-operate with it, or has knowingly given false or misleading information to it. This constitutes a powerful incentive for witnesses to co-operate fully with tribunals, apart altogether from the other potential legal consequences of non-co-operation.

The question of costs for the first module of its terms of reference has already been decided by the Morris tribunal. Its modus operandi has been to complete the first module and then deal with the costs of that module. In deciding on these costs, the chairman made deductions in some cases and totally rejected other applications, where he was of the opinion that persons had deliberately lied or otherwise had hindered the tribunal in its efforts to uncover the truth. This power is not, therefore, some remote academic possibility, but a real and significant factor in the workings of the tribunal. It is also of relevance to note that costs are being settled on a modular basis which, when added to the urgency which the tribunal is bringing to its work, means that co-operative witnesses can expect to receive their costs much more quickly than might otherwise be the case.

The intention of the Oireachtas, in leaving the task of deciding costs to tribunals and in providing tribunals with the power to withhold costs from non-co-operative witnesses, was to ensure the effectiveness of tribunals. Therefore, I do not believe that it would be sensible for the State to dilute this power in any way, for example through the direct payment by the State of the costs of any third party. That has been my clear and consistent position on the payment of costs which I have maintained in the face of High Court challenges from a number of parties to the Morris tribunal.

Deputies should consider the significant implications that any change in this position could have for the effectiveness of the Morris tribunal. I do not believe that there is any analogous precedent for what is proposed here.

Additional information

While we are discussing one group of persons, a family, there must be a generally applicable principle on costs and not just an ad hoc arrangement for any individual. Any payment by the State of one party’s costs would immediately raise the question as to why the State should not pay the costs of other third parties, or indeed every third party. Selective payments would be open to the interpretation that the State is effectively coming to its own view, in advance of the tribunal’s findings, on which are the meritorious and which the unmeritorious parties before it.

At various times since September, the family in question complained to the chairman of the tribunal of their inability to continue to have legal representation for financial reasons, and the chairman recently made efforts to resolve the issue. I understand from a statement made by the chairman at the tribunal, that some progress was made by him in trying to secure the services of counsel who would act on behalf of the family. This was not acceptable to the family and the chairman decided not to continue with his efforts in this regard. Neither I nor my Department had any involvement in this initiative by the chairman.

Finally, I take this opportunity to say again what was said last week in the Adjournment debate on this subject. The forum now exists for the truth about events in Donegal to be exposed. I know the chairman and his legal team are pursuing the truth with vigour. The Morris tribunal has already demonstrated its effectiveness in doing so, and the Government has also shown its determination to take action on the findings of the tribunal. I call on everyone involved to participate in what is transparently a fair and effective process.

I ask the Minister to seriously reconsider this issue from the point of view of fairness and justice and from the point of view of the effectiveness of the tribunal. There would be no Morris tribunal only for the McBrearty family. It is surely a basic principle of fairness and justice that a principal party involved in a tribunal should be entitled to be represented by counsel and solicitors of its own choice. I ask the Minister to accept that basic principle in a context where he is represented and his lawyers are paid, the Garda Commissioner is represented and his lawyers paid, and so on. That is surely a basic situation and needs to be looked at.

It is quite clear that the Morris tribunal has done a good job so far, produced an excellent report, but the judge is now into a number of modules where the McBrearty's are absolutely essential. They want to give evidence and they want to be there to co-operate. The judge wants to see them represented. He himself made a gesture in this regard. Whereas he made it clear that he recognised that they should be represented, they want to be represented by their own lawyers, which is not an unreasonable request. There are precedents for this and I want to quote a number of them if I have time. There are precedents regarding the commission to inquire into child abuse, where the Minister for Education and Science established a scheme for payment of expenses. There is a precedent regarding the Lindsay tribunal, where the Minister stepped in and paid for the legal representation of the haemophiliac society that was before it. There is a precedent in Northern Ireland regarding the tribunal on Bloody Sunday. There is an old precedent regarding families appearing before the tribunal on the Stardust tragedy.

Justice requires that the family be represented. The effectiveness and efficiency of the tribunal requires that they be represented.

There is no question of injustice being done here. I stand by the tribunal and its capacity to do its work in an effective way. One of the powers that it has as its disposal is to grant or withhold any portion or cost to a witness who does or does not co-operate with the tribunal or who misleads the tribunal in any way. I do not propose to pre-judge the outcome of the tribunal in the manner in which the Deputy's question implies. Let me remind him that there are other parties to this tribunal. The family of Richie Barron is entitled to participate in these proceedings. The Deputy implied that there would be no tribunal if it were not for the McBrearty family, neither would there be a tribunal if it were not for the terrible tragedy that befell Richie Barron's family. I am not in a position to say that one witness before this tribunal is to be treated in a substantially different way from other witnesses. In the High Court I resisted efforts made to force me to pay moneys on an ongoing basis to witnesses who were later denied their costs as they did not co-operate with the tribunal and they deliberately mislead the tribunal. I do not propose to depart from that.

The McBrearty family is entitled to be represented by whoever they wish. The chairman of the tribunal, without any input from me in the matter, attempted to provide them with lawyers who would act in the conventional way in the expectation that their costs would be paid after the relevant module in question was completed. For some reason, the lawyers in question were not willing or able to do that. That is something which the tribunal has done its best to remedy, but it cannot show partisanship to one witness when there clearly are other witnesses who sought and were denied exactly the same facility that the Deputy is canvassing for the McBrearty family.

The judge specifically indicated that they should be represented. The only point of difference here is whether they should be represented by counsel of their own choice. There are precedents and if the Minister has the political will, it can be done. The Minister is involved in a legal case and he wants to have his own lawyers and that is not unreasonable. These people are before the tribunal. They have dealt with their own lawyers during the past seven years. Taking everything into account, it is surely not unreasonable that they should be able to continue and be represented in a situation where the judge clearly wants to have them represented before the tribunal.

I absolutely reject that. Richie Barron's family have just the same rights at that tribunal as the McBrearty family.

I have no problem with that.

So have members of the Garda Síochána who have since been denied their costs. Some of these people attempted to have their costs guaranteed in advance by bringing actions in the High Court and others made threats along those lines. The tribunal has not suggested to me that I should pay the McBreartys' costs in advance.

The judge wants them to be represented. He made his own efforts to recognise that.

The Deputy is either ignorant of the fact, or is wilfully ignoring it, that the tribunal has made a clear decision that it must have the right, in the case of the McBreartys as in the case of every other witness, to have available to it the sanction of withholding costs if there is a lack of co-operation. I am not fudging on the issue.

The judge has gone as far as he can. It is up the Minister.

Garda Strength.

Joe Costello

Question:

75 Mr. Costello asked the Minister for Justice, Equality and Law Reform the proposed timetable for increasing Garda numbers to 14,000 in regard to his announcement of 14 October 2004; the moneys that will be allocated for this purpose in 2005; the numbers of gardaí that are expected to leave the force in the period in question; the steps it is proposed to take to ensure completion of the proposed four-storey building in Templemore within the time frame specified; and if he will make a statement on the matter. [27379/04]

This is an historic time for the Garda Síochána. This Government started its second term in June 2002 with a firm commitment to increase the strength of the force to 14,000. The Government recently approved my proposal to achieve the increase, involving an intake of almost 1,100 recruits per annum over the next three years. The logistics of such a major recruitment and training campaign are formidable, but the challenges can and will be overcome with the commitment of Garda management and staff and with my full support.

The Government's decision to increase Garda numbers to 14,000 will lead to additional accommodation requirements at the Garda College in Templemore. A number of key developments will take place to facilitate the recruitment drive. The Garda Commissioner will temporarily move most in-service training from the college to a new location, thereby enabling the college to concentrate mainly on training new recruits. The Office of Public Works advertised in the national press on 22 October last for expressions of interest in the provision of new accommodation. It is envisaged that the outsourced facility will provide accommodation for up to 100 gardaí with classroom, lecture and other necessary facilities. It is envisaged that the facility will be completed in time for the increased intake in February 2006.

The capacity of the college will be substantially increased next year to provide for central administration accommodation, a new library and gym facilities and to free up existing space for classroom use. Work will be undertaken to relocate the tactical training facility, which will be displaced by the new facility. The Garda Commissioner proposes to rebalance phase 3 of Garda training. The last four weeks of phase 3, which involves spending 16 weeks in the college, will now be spent in Garda stations.

The recruitment campaign will start shortly. The Garda Commissioner will place advertisements in the national newspapers in the coming weeks inviting applications to join the force and record numbers of recruits will be taken on. Approximately 274 recruits will be taken into the college in each quarter, over the next three years, amounting to almost 1,100 recruits each year. If one takes projected retirements into account, the Garda will have a combined organisational strength of attested gardaí and recruits in training, of 14,000 as early as 2006.

Additional information

I intend to bring the Commissioner's proposal to increase the maximum age of entry from 26 to 35 to the Government for its approval. This significant change will extend to many more people the opportunity of a career in the Garda and will increase the pool of talent available to the force. After I have engaged in the necessary consultations with the Garda representative associations, I intend to ensure that the new maximum age will apply to the next Garda recruitment competition to be advertised in the coming weeks, subject to the approval of the Government. I am confident the ambitious targets will be met with the support of all involved, without any diminution of the highest standards of training maintained by the college down the years. The necessary resources for the Garda budget are being addressed in the context of the 2005 Estimates process, which will apply to succeeding years and also applies to the largely one-off OPW capital costs. It is projected that the funding required in the Garda budget will initially be relatively small — approximately €11 million in 2005 — but it will rise progressively to €124 million by 2009.

It is projected that 451 gardaí will leave the force in 2005, 440 will leave in 2006, 514 will leave in 2007 and 627 will leave in 2008. The record recruitment drive which is about to commence will place a significant increase in Garda resources at the disposal of the Commissioner, who will draw up plans on how best to distribute and manage the resources. The additional resources will be targeted at areas of greatest need, as envisaged in the programme for Government, which specifies areas with a significant drugs problem and a large number of public order offences. It will also be possible to address other priorities, such as the need to increase significantly the number of gardaí allocated to traffic duties. I have already promised that the additional gardaí will not be put on administrative duties. They will be put directly into front line operational, high-visibility policing and will have a real impact.

The Minister's comment that this is "an historic time for the Garda Síochána" is fairly laughable. He has restated the commitment in the programme for Government for the umpteenth time in the past two and a half years, but no steps have been taken to ensure that it is attainable. The Minister has announced a plethora of proposals that will take a considerable amount of time to implement. If one examines the existing level of recruitment, one will see that 850 gardaí qualified between June 2002 and July 2004 and 883 gardaí resigned or retired in that time. We are not making any progress.

I wish to consider the logistics of the Minister's proposal. He sought expressions of interest at the end of last month, but he has not yet received any firm tenders. Nobody has been contracted to build the new four-storey structure at Templemore. Can the Minister give us some information on the planning process that will be necessary before the new building can be constructed and fitted out? The Minister has admitted that the first phase of the recruitment will take place in February 2006. He said he will commence the recruitment process before Christmas. I cannot envisage how the Minister will be able to fulfil the commitment he has made to recruit a further 2,000 gardaí to increase the strength of the force to 14,000 by 2007 or 2008. The Garda authorities have said the best case scenario is that there will be 500 new recruits by 2007. The Minister has announced it again and explained how he proposes to do it, but it cannot be done within the time frame he has specified. I would like to hear something more positive in that regard.

I am sorry to disappoint the Deputy by assuring him that the programme I announced in the Phoenix Park recently will be delivered on time and exactly as I described it. The building in question will be finished in time. Representatives of the Office of Public Works who attended the function in the Phoenix Park assured me that they will build the facility on time. It will be the subject of an accelerated planning process, requiring little more than a notification, because it is being built on the Templemore campus. The recruitment will take place. If the Deputy checks the programme for Government, he will see that the first commitment I made was to the completion of the current expansion of the Garda. The strength of the Garda will increase to 12,200 later this month, as I promised during the first stage of the process. By 2006 there will be well over 14,000 people in uniform, attested and in training, in the Garda Síochána. The recruitment drive will have driven us there.

Is the Minister counting the recruits now?

The Minister is shifting his ground.

I am interested to hear the Deputy's unruly interjection.

It is like counting medical students as doctors.

I ask the Deputy to hear me out instead of laughing.

I am listening.

I was in Templemore the other day when the Garda Commissioner presented the Gary Sheehan memorial medal to one of the best Garda recruits. The medal is named after a Garda trainee who was murdered in Ballinamore while on active service for the Garda Síochána. The Deputy should remind himself that two people were recently rescued from the River Liffey by a trainee garda who dived into the river to drag them out. They did not ask for the numbers on the trainee garda's epaulets.

That was not the promise.

These are priority questions.

Last week, a trainee garda was wounded when he took on armed robbers in north Dublin.

That is great. Fair play. Well done.

It is wrong for a Member of the House to laugh at or deride the activities of trainee gardaí.

That is very true.

We are deriding the activities of Ministers.

I would like an answer to my question.

These are priority questions. Only Deputy Costello is entitled to speak.

Members of the Garda Síochána——

The Minister is shifting his ground.

——are deeply resentful and bitter when such a remark is made about the contribution of trainee gardaí.

They are not.

It should be retracted.

They are delighted that we are putting the Minister under pressure.

The Minister is referring to something I have not raised.

The Minister and Deputy Jim O'Keeffe are out of order.

If the Minister is referring to a question asked by somebody else, he can answer it in good time.

The Minister provoked us.

The Minister should respond to the question he has been asked, not to interruptions that are not related to the question before the House.

The Mullingar accordion——

I would like to ask a supplementary question.

Deputy O'Keeffe is asking improper questions which denigrate——

It is not Deputy O'Keeffe's question.

I am pricking the Minister's pomposity.

The Minister is very touchy today.

I take with a grain of salt, everything said by the Minister today about the proposed additional 2,000 gardaí, but we will wait and see what happens. Is it appropriate to extend the Garda College at Templemore now? The House has discussed today the Grangegorman Development Agency Bill 2004, which provides for a new campus for six faculties of the Dublin Institute of Technology. Would it not be appropriate to introduce a seventh faculty, in the form of a police academy in an urban setting? Garda trainees could be in contact with their peers at third level at such a location and could do some or all of their training in such a setting. In-service courses could be conducted there. There are adequate recreational and training grounds in the 71 acres of land at Grangegorman. Rather than proceeding with a half-baked plan for a four-storey development at Templemore, which will not be delivered on time, we have an ideal opportunity to plan carefully a long-term solution to the training requirements of the Garda at an urban setting in our capital city.

I am sorry to disappoint the Deputy once again. I will invite him to the opening of this four-storey building, and I guarantee him now that they will have it on the date that they specify.

We would invite the Minister from the Government side.

They can come and see for themselves, feel it with their own hands and watch the increased intake being dealt with in the newly expanded Templemore. The second thing is that the Garda Síochána's facilities at Templemore are being improved as a result of this. I am not making some temporary little arrangement but moving out in-service accommodation with a view to accommodating the temporary increase in recruitment necessary to achieve the Government's commitment.

When it is over, all those buildings will stand to Templemore, which is a premier Garda training institution. The Deputy's question implies that gardaí are isolated in the course of their training outside an urban setting. While I can see that he would like to have another facility built within his own constituency, perhaps I might make this point. Every garda now completes extensive training modules in Dublin and other places away from Templemore as part of training. Many of them follow courses as part of their training, attending institutes of technology and so on during that time. I can well imagine that the Deputy and others want to suggest that what I am doing will not be achieved. However, it will happen.

We must deal with the next question.

Second, I wish to make it very clear——

I am calling Question No. 76.

——that it will not only be——

Two hundred out of 2,000.

There is no point in the Deputy two-fingering me.

The Chair is calling Question No. 76.

It will be achieved, and I invite the spokesman for the Opposition to come and see it when I open it so that I might prove that to him.

The Chair is calling Question No. 76.

It is very interesting that Deputy Jim O'Keeffe is so anxious to attend my press conferences but not the opening of the building.

Visa Applications.

Ciarán Cuffe

Question:

76 Mr. Cuffe asked the Minister for Justice, Equality and Law Reform if he will consider applying the principle of permanence to underpin Irish immigration policy in order that all immigrants are seen as potentially permanent members of society here and provided with equal rights to Irish persons. [27310/04]

In answering this question, I must first point out that discussions on immigration are frequently based on the assumption that immigrants are a homogeneous group, all of whom have the same plans or intentions, primarily to stay in Ireland for ever. That is not the case. The majority of people who come through our immigration system are short-term visitors such as tourists or business visitors. Clearly, it would not make sense to talk about such people as potential permanent residents or to subject them to the level of scrutiny which such potential status would require.

Even among those who seek to enter the State for longer-term purposes, many are by their nature temporary visitors to Ireland. Those include a substantial number of students. The usual situation is that after qualification they return to their country of origin. Many of the workers who come to Ireland through the work permit, working visa and work authorisation schemes plan to do so for a short period. They intend, like many Irish people who choose to work abroad, to spend a short period gaining experience or earning money in their host country before returning to their countries of origin. The view that all those people should be regarded as potential permanent members of society here is simplistic and does not recognise the complex nature of migration decisions.

A distinction needs to be made between those who come to the State through the many legal channels available and those who come illegally or abuse the asylum system by claiming to suffer from persecution when they do not. A person who enters the State illegally should not be regarded as a potential permanent resident. It is recognised internationally that, to protect the integrity of asylum systems, an applicant who, after a fair and transparent determination process, is found not to be in need of protection should normally be returned to his or her country of origin, as long as that does not involve sending anyone back to persecution.

I recognise that at present there is no separate status of "long-term resident" or "permanent resident" in the Irish Immigration system. I am considering the issue of long-term residence in the context of the proposed immigration and residence Bill which I intend to publish in 2005. It is open to a non-national who meets certain statutory provisions, including a period of residence which can vary from three to five years, to apply for Irish citizenship through the process of naturalisation. In 2003 alone, 3,580 people made such applications and 3,138 had done so to the end of September 2004.

I accept that immigrants to Ireland are not a homogeneous group, but I suggest that a significant cohort among them wish to make their permanent home in Ireland. Their status is not treated with the maturity that it deserves. In many respects, Irish immigration policy allows immigrants into the country on sufferance. We need a strong and coherent immigration policy. Does the Minister accept that we must examine best practice abroad and bring that into Ireland and that we have been waiting long enough?

Does he accept that, in many respects, immigrants to Ireland are simply treated as second-class citizens? The status, particularly of those on working visas, is like that of indentured servants. They are like slaves in the southern United States 150 or 200 years ago when they were owned by the cotton kings. It is very difficult for those here on working visas to change their job description without simply going to the employer and pleading with them to have the visa changed. They cannot be promoted because their job description would change. In many respects, they are indentured servants.

Does the Minister accept that the criteria for habitual residence are being very strictly enforced and that it is quite difficult for many people coming to Ireland to claim benefits under that rule? Perhaps the Minister might examine best practice abroad in immigration. There are examples in Canada, the US and elsewhere that might well be brought into Ireland. Does he accept that the Government must recognise that giving some groups of people in Irish society fewer rights sows the seeds of racism? Does he accept that it allows to thrive the myths about those coming to Ireland? People ask why they are not working, but they are not allowed to do so.

Surely the Minister must address their status in Irish society. Does he accept that a Minister of State is needed so that a voice might be given to immigrants in Irish society and that the provision of such a junior Minister might allow a focus point to be created for those coming to Ireland? Surely the Minister would accept that a strong and coherent ethical immigration policy is necessary in this country.

I said in my reply that I am preparing an immigration and residence Bill that will deal with such matters and will be published in 2005. I reject as over the top and a wild exaggeration the suggestion that people working in Ireland under the work permits system, whatever its inadequacies, are analogous to slaves owned by the cotton bosses of the southern United States 150 years ago. I reject that fanciful suggestion. I believe that immigration into Ireland for the purpose of working here is not simply something that is inevitable. It is valuable, and this country needs immigrants at the moment. It would not be doing as well either for itself or for its immigrants if it were not willing to accept migrant workers.

In that context, I am not prepared to operate on the basis that I must consider every economic migrant into Ireland a permanent resident. If I go down that road, it would involve putting more obstacles in their way more than anything else. It is much more reasonable to take account of the real diversity of motivations and timeframes that people who migrate to Ireland for economic purposes have. For instance, many nurses come here from the Philippines intent on working for three to five years. Many people come here from eastern Europe intending to work for two or three years and then to rejoin their family after earning a little capital or repatriate their money in the meantime. The notion that I must deal with everyone as if they are going to live here forever is not realistic. However, we can improve residency administration at the moment. It is sometimes difficult for residents if they have to come back repeatedly to get their status validated on an unnecessarily frequent basis. Part of the new legislation and part of the administrative revolution we are planning for immigration and residency in Ireland will involve a much more positive and attractive approach to migrants.

I am not suggesting that everyone who comes to Ireland wishes to stay here permanently. Given the kind of weather we have had in the past two weeks, some people would be half-mad to wish to reside in Ireland permanently.

The Deputy cannot blame me for the weather.

Many people nevertheless wish to remain in Ireland and they should be given the chance to become constructive and permanent members of Irish society. The Immigrant Council of Ireland has published an excellent report, Voices of Immigrants. I ask the Minister to consider the recommendations in that report and act on as many of them as he can.

I will. It is great to be a member of a political party which can point to global warming and blame the Government for the weather.

Garda Equipment.

Jim O'Keeffe

Question:

77 Mr. J. O’Keeffe asked the Minister for Justice, Equality and Law Reform his views on whether the 20 year old radio walkie-talkie equipment supplied to members of the Garda Síochána is unreliable and totally out of date; the reason the modern Tetra communications system announced five years ago has not been generally rolled out; and if he will make a statement on the matter. [27313/04]

As the Deputy will be aware, a pilot digital radio system covering the Dublin north central division and traffic section of Dublin Castle has been completed by the Garda Síochána. Following its successful completion, the Garda Síochána prepared a detailed business case for the extension of the system on a nationwide basis and this was submitted to me in January 2004 by the Garda Commissioner.

The benefits of digital radio are obvious, including the additional security it provides over the analogue system currently in use. Discussions are in train between officials of my Department, the Garda authorities and the Department of Finance on technical and implementation options. These discussions are now nearing conclusion. There is consensus on the procurement model to be adopted in respect of Garda requirements. Procurement will be based on an outsourced service provision basis and will involve the bulk of the infrastructure being provided by the private sector with detailed service level agreements in place with the Garda Síochána.

The rationale behind this decision is twofold. First, it will minimise the need for members of the Garda Síochána to support and maintain the system. This is in line with my overall policy of ensuring that Garda resources are concentrated on operational duties, not on gardaí acting as technicians for radio systems. Second, the approach being adopted should allow participation by the other emergency services in the same network, thus enabling all emergency services to communicate with one another in the context of major emergencies and other shared or joint operations.

The alternative course open to me was for the Garda to purchase, own, maintain and operate a system involving a huge initial capital outlay, likely to be in excess of €100 million, with all the risks and additional costs inherent in such a major one-off purchase. Regarding timescales for the project, it is estimated that a tender to issue to the marketplace will be finalised in the new year. Tenders will set out indicative timescales which will be incorporated in the contract finalised with the successful bidder.

Will the Minister accept it is outrageous that the Garda should be left with 20 year old walkie-talkies when a new system was promised five years ago and not rolled out? Does the Minister therefore agree that when the Taoiseach spoke in this House this morning about the Garda being supplied with the best equipment, he was talking through his hat? The Garda is using unreliable worn-out radios and in many instances gardaí are forced to borrow mobile phones to connect to headquarters. Does the Minister accept that there are problems other than with that sort of equipment, such as with the financing of the Garda PULSE system for example? Last week I discovered that while we have 703 Garda stations, only 181 have been connected to the PULSE system.

The situation is the same with bullet-proof vests. They are pooled rather than issued individually. A case was discussed earlier this year with regard to speed detection guns. The guns on issue did not comply with the legislation that they should be capable of producing enduring records. Will the Minister accept that a genuine effort is needed to supply the Garda with the best, most modern and up-to-date equipment, that the Government has not made that effort and that the necessary funds must now be made available if we are to move towards making the Garda Síochána the best-equipped police force in the world? Having to use 20 year old equipment puts the Garda back in the days of the Keystone Cops as far as equipment is concerned.

I would not say they are back in the days of the Keystone Cops but back in the days of Fine Gael and Labour in government. That is where they probably still are.

All of this arose in the past seven years.

Regarding unruly remarks made earlier by the Deputy, I remind him that while his party was in office, the number of gardaí declined. This Government has put record resources into the Garda Síochána.

There are record problems.

The Garda Síochána has never been more resourced in terms of numbers and equipment than it is now. Compared with the levels of expenditure on Garda equipment when the Deputy and his party were in office, levels which were pitiful, the Garda is now going from strength to strength and has never been better equipped.

Why will the Minister not equip the Garda properly now?

The Garda has never been better equipped.

The Minister should not be going back into history.

If the Deputy will allow me to finish, I have to provide the Garda with the best possible digital radio system. I also have to give the Irish taxpayer value for money.

Neither is being supplied.

I could have blown over €100 million on a radio phone system and then found that a mistake had been made. I am making the prudent decision to have this service for the Garda outsourced so that it will be of the highest quality and can be changed and improved with time.

Deputy O'Keeffe raised other matters such as other equipment, non-lethal weapons and bullet-proof vests. I am delaying nothing. I have made it clear to the Garda Commissioner that resources will be put in place for any equipment he believes is reasonably necessary for his force of gardaí.

Is it the case that the only money of consequence which the Minister spent was the €1 million spent either towards the end of last year or earlier this year on maintaining the present obsolete system of 20 year old walkie-talkies which were recently highlighted in a newspaper article as being unreliable and worn out? The same article made it clear that in many instances, gardaí had to use their own mobile phones or borrow equipment from others to keep in touch with their headquarters. Is that not a ridiculous system for the Minister to preside over? Will he agree that he should accept this pressure from the Opposition as being of some assistance to him in getting the necessary funds from the Minister for Finance this time to properly equip the Garda?

Before the Deputy ever tabled his parliamentary question, I was addressing this issue. Since I became Minister it has been my intention to ensure that the Garda Síochána is properly equipped.

The Minister has been in the job for two and a half years.

Whatever about the new equipment and the new gardaí?

Deputy O'Keeffe may think that his rhetoric on this subject is of assistance to me, but it is not because I have already decided what action to take on this issue and how I would set about it. I am grateful to him for his support for everything I am doing to make the Garda the strongest and best equipped force in the history of the State. I ask him to reflect on the fact that if these walkie-talkies are defective or inadequate, which I agree they are, they were also in poor condition seven years ago when they were 13 years old, and Fine Gael had been in office for five years without doing anything to address the inadequacies.

I am prodding the Minister to do something. The Minister admits that the equipment was inadequate two and a half years ago.

Foreign Conflicts.

Aengus Ó Snodaigh

Question:

78 Aengus Ó Snodaigh asked the Minister for Justice, Equality and Law Reform his views on reports that gardaí are not inspecting US military aircraft or chartered civilian aircraft carrying US troops landing at Shannon Airport or elsewhere in the State; and the steps that are being taken to ensure that no UN conventions are being breached and no other laws are being broken by passengers on US military or chartered civilian aircraft landing at Shannon Airport or elsewhere in the State. [27529/04]

I refer the Deputy to Parliamentary Questions Nos. 226 and 227 of 27 October 2004, No. 218 of 7 October 2004, No. 125 of 19 February 2004, No. 142 of 3 December 2003 and No. 429 of 30 September 2004, which were answered by my colleagues, the Ministers for Transport and Foreign Affairs, respectively.

It is not the practice of the Garda Síochána to inspect aircraft unless it has evidence that criminal activity is being committed or suspects that it is. Permission for foreign military aircraft to land in the State is granted by my colleague, the Minister for Foreign Affairs, pursuant to the Air Navigation (Foreign Military Aircraft) Order 1952. Permission is normally granted on the basis of a number of policy stipulations, included among which are requirements relating to cargo contents.

Chartered civilian aircraft are also sometimes required to transport military cargo through the State. Permission for the transport of any such cargo on civilian aircraft must first be obtained from my colleague, the Minister for Transport, who in turn consults the Minister for Foreign Affairs before reaching a decision.

In the case of US military aircraft and-or chartered civilian aircraft transporting military cargo, the US Embassy submits applications to confirm that the aircraft seeking landing permission will comply with the operative criteria. The Garda Síochána is notified in advance of the arrival of all foreign military and chartered civilian aircraft carrying military cargo and of the cargo contents and passenger numbers. I am informed by the Garda authorities that although such aircraft are not routinely inspected, all such flights and military personnel are monitored by the Garda Síochána while transiting through the State.

As regards civilian aircraft generally landing in the State for refuelling or other purposes, there is no requirement under international or Irish law to notify the Department of Transport in advance, although many airlines voluntarily do so. I am aware of recent press reports which claimed that such a civilian registered aircraft may have been carrying military prisoners when in Ireland. My colleague, the Minister for Transport, responded comprehensively to these reports in Question No. 218 on 7 October last, in which he concluded that there is no evidence that this aircraft was being used for any illegal activity on any occasion when it was in Shannon.

Neither the Government nor I have any information to indicate that military prisoners are being transported through Irish airports. The US authorities have confirmed to our embassy in Washington that they have not been using Irish airports for this purpose and that they would not do so in the future without first seeking the authorisation of the Irish authorities.

In respect of any aircraft landing in the State, whether it be a military aircraft, a chartered civilian aircraft transporting a military cargo or an ordinary civilian aircraft, I assure the Deputy that the Garda Síochána would conduct a full investigation in any case in which a credible complaint of criminal activity — such as holding somebody in unlawful custody — is made, to include, where appropriate, an inspection of the aircraft in question.

The Government appears to believe the assurances given to it by its US counterpart. In this case, that is not good enough. There is evidence that the Gulfstream aircraft in question, call sign N379P, had been used on a number of occasions to illegally transport al-Qaeda suspects for interrogation abroad and that it regularly travelled through Shannon. No one denies that. The difficulty with the Minister's reply is that evidence is usually discovered after the fact. It is too late for us to investigate the movements of a plane which has reached its home base in America or wherever. The Minister must give an undertaking that gardaí will routinely check these planes when they land in airports in the State. I refer specifically to US military and civilian aircraft.

Are there so many of these aircraft landing here that Garda resources would be wasted in trying to search them? I do not believe so. International law is being violated on a regular basis in Irish airspace and at Irish airports. Will the Minister give a commitment that the Garda Síochána will undertake to check the cargo or personnel on board these planes? That is the only way in which to disprove what I have said.

I profoundly disagree with the Deputy. Members of the Garda Síochána have better things to do than stand on the apron at Shannon, waiting for flights to land in order to check their cargoes. The people expect gardaí to do other things which would be of greater benefit to the State and its citizens.

Arresting peace protesters, for example.

Gardaí never arrest peace protesters, as such. When they are monitoring flights, members of the Garda Síochána are in a position to intervene — and would do so — if there is evidence of any kind that people are being detained unlawfully or that a crime is being committed on Irish soil. However, the Deputy has extrapolated from the fact that a certain aircraft flew particular people from Sweden to some other destination a theory that the same aircraft was used to transport prisoners illegally through Shannon on the 13 occasions in the past two years on which it used the airport. We have been assured that this is not the case. I have no reason to believe that it is the case.

The Deputy has made assertions and asked me to place gardaí on the apron at Shannon to disprove them. However, there is not one shred of evidence that an offence of the type to which he refers was committed under Irish law or that any unlawful act took place on Irish soil.

The political will to carry out such checks does not exist. That is the bigger issue.

The Garda has better things to do, one of which is to prevent breaches of international law. What steps have been taken to ensure that no breaches of international law have been committed on board Gulfstream N379P while in Ireland since the incident in 2001? How many planes have stopped at Shannon Airport while on their way to Guantanamo Bay? How can the Minister provide assurances that what the US authorities have said is correct in light of their record in respect of passports? I refer here to the case involving Colonel North when assurances were given that there had been no breaches of international law but when it subsequently emerged that such breaches had been committed.

It is interesting that Deputy Ó Snodaigh should become excited about the use of Irish passports. He should consider the case of the Colombia Three when he next becomes excited about this matter.

The Minister should just answer the question. He can deal with that matter on another occasion.

It is amusing to see the pot calling the kettle black. If I take the Deputy's logic and not trust anything that comes from the United States because, as the Deputy has alleged, Irish passports were once abused by that country's intelligence services, it follows that I should never take anything on faith from Sinn Féin because members of that party on a delegation——

The Minister never does so anyway.

——to Colombia used falsified Irish passports to enter that country. The Deputy cannot have it both ways.

(Interruptions).

Let us be realistic about this matter.

How many planes used Shannon?

The aircraft in question has been logged in and out of Shannon on 13 occasions in the past two years. There is no evidence, and there is an assurance to the contrary, that it has never been used to carry somebody whose presence in Ireland would be unlawful or to carry prisoners through this jurisdiction.

Was the plane ever searched?

If the standard of reliability to be used is whether somebody has used or abused Irish passports, then Deputy Ó Snodaigh is on extremely thin ice.

That concludes Priority Questions. I must point out to the House that there is a 30 minute limit on such questions and today we have taken 47 minutes to deal with them. The latter is completely unacceptable.

That was the Minister's fault. He was talking and waffling too much.

We now come to other questions, the supplementary questions and answers to which are limited to one minute.