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Dáil Éireann debate -
Thursday, 24 Mar 2005

Vol. 599 No. 7

Garda Síochána Bill 2004 [Seanad]: Second Stage (Resumed).

Question again proposed: "That the Bill be now read a Second Time."

I welcome this important legislation but before I refer to its contents and make a number of suggestions, I thank and commend the Minister for Justice, Equality and Law Reform on his handling of the case of the Nigerian student, Olunkunle Elunhanla, who is being allowed to return to his studies in Ireland. It is not a sign of weakness when somebody in political office stands up and accepts he or she made a mistake, and many Members will support this sentiment.

Policing is a significant issue. Society has major problems and policing and crime are at the top of the political agenda because it is time to address these serious issues. The Garda should always be professional and accountable and, above all, it should work for the community with the support and respect of the community. The Garda needs the confidence of the people but it must earn their respect to gain their confidence. Those of us who have experienced varying levels of quality of policing services will always recognise that when gardaí focus on their jobs, they gradually build respect. This usually results in less crime and a more open society.

The Minister and the commissioner must be part of the debate. Honesty and integrity are needed in policing as opposed to hearsay. However, while all the legislation in the world can be passed, the people on the ground must implement it properly and fairly. This applies to all services, including those provided by nurses, teachers, firemen and other professionals. Those who provide such services must be dedicated and committed, and this is a crucial element of criminal justice legislation.

I refer to the proposed changes in the Garda and in crime prevention. I hear the following comments on a regular basis at my clinics: "At present there is no visible police patrol in our area", "There is a lack of a consistent visible police presence in the community" and "Garda foot patrols are a must". People want a visible Garda presence on the streets both day and night. They believe that a squad car driving around an area occasionally does not prevent crime. Research has shown that 70% of public order incidents occur on weekend nights. This important information is provided by the public, to whom we should listen.

People drink and smoke hash openly in flats in my constituency. Garda data show that 70% of recorded public order incidents occur between 10 p.m. and 4 a.m. Drug addicts inject themselves in public places in Dublin, a sight which causes distress to members of the public who feel threatened by such overt drug abuse on the streets and a perception of lawlessness often ensues. It is also horrific that 63% of women in a survey, as opposed to 49% of men, felt they or someone in their household might become a victim of crime.

The Bill has two main objectives. One is to reform the law relating to the administration and management of the Garda, in particular, the respective roles of the Garda Commissioner and the Minister. This follows from a 2002 report on performance and accountability in the Garda, which was developed under the strategic management initiative and recommended significant reform. The other main objective of the legislation is to provide for the establishment of an independent body to be known as the Garda Síochána Ombudsman Commission. An Agreed Programme for Government contains a commitment to establish an independent Garda inspectorate, which will have the power to investigate complaints. The primary function of the commission will be to investigate complaints by members of the public against members of the Garda and it will replace the Garda Síochána Complaints Board, which was established under the Garda Síochána Complaints Act 1986.

Recently three incidents in my constituency were raised at my clinics. First, there was an armed robbery of a local shop during which €6,000 was taken and the female shop owner was absolutely traumatised by the events. Second, the elderly in my community are constantly intimidated and threatened with violence. Third, off-licence staff have been regularly attacked and threatened. They are often blamed for selling alcohol to minors but they are often threatened by them. Such staff are constantly physically threatened and their cars are damaged. A total of 27 attacks have taken place in my constituency recently. These issues must be highlighted.

Section 16 provides for the establishment by the Minister of a code of ethics for the Garda, which will be incorporated into its disciplinary framework. The purpose of the code is to lay down standards of conduct and practice for members of the Garda and to make them aware of their obligations under the European Convention on Human Rights. This is an excellent section because it places an emphasis on human rights. Those of us who regularly stand up for human rights are often labelled as being soft on crime, which is a myth and misrepresentation. I have encountered a scandalous scenario where a Fianna Fáil councillor who works for the Minister of State at the Department of Community, Rural and Gaeltacht Affairs, Deputy Noel Ahern, has distributed leaflets in my constituency which state that my contributions in the House support criminality. That is a load of nonsense.

I challenged the Minister of State and his hack on Dublin City Council about this disgraceful leaflet. They have a brass neck to lecture me on recent developments in Northern Ireland and on my contribution to the peace process. I will always defend human rights to the maximum. I challenge the Minister of State to stop hiding behind a local councillor when such leaflets are distributed in my area. They have a brass neck to lecture me on human rights and on my commitment to the peace process. The record of the House speaks for itself.

The Bill will involve a power-sharing partnership in which the community and the police will work together to address the underlying factors leading to crime. I refer to core principles which should be adopted. We need to intervene early to prevent people going off the rails and doing harm to victims, the community and themselves. I support restorative justice. It can provide victims with an understanding of the offender, which removes much of the fear while giving them the satisfaction that justice has been served. It also provides offenders with a sense that the legal process seeks to be helpful and treats them fairly.

Section 31 provides that the Minister may issue guidelines for the establishment and maintenance by the local authority and the Garda of a joint policing committee.

I welcome the debate because it is important. I urge the Minister to listen to the sensible views on the Garda Síochána and policy generally. We must have accountability and one person, one job. We must focus on the Garda as a profession. We must have promotion on merit. We need honesty and we must reach out to the community. Only then will we have a top-class Garda Síochána and a quality policing service.

I am almost tempted to allow my good friend, Deputy McGrath, a few more minutes of my time. I will take a more laid-back approach to the issue. I welcome the Minister for Education and Science to the House. If the Chair will allow me, I would like to praise her work and thank her for her efforts in education.

Any time.

What about class sizes?

The Minister does a good job throughout the country and in my constituency we are beginning to see signs of her efforts, which I applaud.

What is the Deputy looking for?

On the business before the House, I am a member of the Joint Committee on Justice, Equality, Defence and Women's Rights which, as the Chair is aware, is one of the busiest committees, working under the chairmanship of Deputy Ardagh. The business before the House today has been on our agenda for some time and we are working through it.

Like other colleagues and my deputy leader, the Minister, Deputy Cowen, I applaud the decision of the Minister for Justice, Equality and Law Reform on the Nigerian student. I told the Minister yesterday that I had been at the protest march outside the House and my colleague, Deputy Curran, raised the matter by way of a reasonable statement on the Adjournment debate on Tuesday night. Good sense has prevailed in this case and I congratulate those——

The Government can get something right.

The decision has been made. As the Archbishop of Dublin said this morning, a decision would be welcome if a mistake was made. That indicates that the Government cares and that it listens, which is important.

It is very important.

To be fair, the Minister for Justice, Equality and Law Reform, on behalf of the Government, listened to what was said by Deputy Curran and other supporters of the student and a decision has been taken.

On the business before the House, we should remind ourselves that the Garda Síochána Bill was presented to Seanad Éireann in February 2004 and passed by the Seanad, after much debate, on 17 December. When enacted, it will replace, with only one or two exceptions, all the Garda Síochána Acts, which I understand date back to 1924.

The Bill provides for reform in three key areas, the first of which is the structures for the management of the Garda Síochána, in particular by clarifying the role and objectives of the force and defining its relationship with the Government of the day. The provisions in this regard are set out in Part 2 and they reflect the outcome of a review of the Garda Síochána under the Government's strategic management initiative. It addresses the existing mechanism for dealing with complaints against members of the Garda Síochána by providing for the establishment of a new independent body to be known as the Garda Síochána Ombudsman Commission to replace the existing Garda Síochána Complaints Board. I support that. The provisions in this regard are set out in Parts 3 and 4 and are in line with the Government's commitment to establish a new body with the powers of an ombudsman to investigate complaints. The ombudsman commission will have comprehensive powers of civil and criminal investigation to deal with complaints and will have ultimate control and oversight of all complaints processed in accordance with the Bill.

It also deals with the existing accountability arrangements by providing for the establishment of an independent Garda Síochána inspectorate as a means of improving democratic accountability for the actions of the Garda Síochána. The provisions in this regard are set out in Part 5. The Garda Síochána inspectorate will examine policy issues with standards, practice and performance benchmarked to comparable international policing experiences. The key objective will be to ensure and promote efficiency and effectiveness in the Garda Síochána and to provide independent and objective advice to the Minister on the operation and administration of the Garda Síochána.

The joint committee sought submissions on the Bill and we are now working through those. We have held a number of public hearings and will continue that process today. Those of us who participated in the hearings were very impressed by the submissions made to us. The remit is fairly broad and we are getting many different views from national and community-based organisations.

Representatives of the drugs task forces were before the committee yesterday, as were representatives of the Irish Council for Civil Liberties. I mention that organisation in particular because its representatives made two very interesting points yesterday. They talked about the need for independent community representation on the boards, which is an interesting point, although there are other points of view.

That particular issue was raised during the Seanad debate. The changes involved provided for representation on the committee at town council level and removal of the county and city development boards model. In addition, the provisions relating to the guidelines governing the establishment of the committees have been extended to include Members of the Oireachtas, not just the Dáil; nomination of members of local authorities; the appointment of a chairperson from the local authority members; nomination by the Commissioner of the Garda; the establishment of sub-committees; the term of office for the committee; the application of qualified privilege; the attendance of bodies and persons before the committee; an enabling type provision to allow for the guidelines to facilitate the attendance of Members of the Oireachtas; and the circumstances in which meetings of the committee may be held other than in public. Those points were made in other debates on the legislation which provided for the abolition of health boards.

I have no difficulty in supporting the notion that community representation be facilitated, which is a good idea. Like myself, most Members came from a community representation background. I have no difficulty with that but we should not be afraid to stand up, as the Senators did, for the rights of those of us who are elected because scant regard is often had for the role of the elected public representative. For example, the partnerships precluded elected public representatives from involvement. I was a member of the Tallaght Partnership in 1991 and I was upset, on becoming a member of the council, having put my name forward and being elected by the public, to be told I did not qualify as a member of the partnership. The partnerships have changed in that regard. Elected public representatives throughout the country of all persuasions are entitled to represent their communities on these bodies.

On community representation, it is worth making the point that if advantage is not taken of the experience of public representatives of all persuasions, the system of selecting community representatives will be more convoluted. The point was made in the committee yesterday that that will be very difficult. The Seanad proposal in that regard is important and we should be supportive of it.

Another point made yesterday in the joint committee concerned anti-social behaviour. The Minister made the point — I raised the matter in the Dáil last night — that he is bringing forward proposals in the context of this Bill. We can all talk about the need to deal with crime in our communities and to support the Garda, which is the body to address the problem of crime in our area, but we must not encourage private armies or people going around meting out justice in various ways.

We must continue to pay attention to serious crime. Colleagues listed various crimes in the debate yesterday and in committee. The level of petty crime in all our communities — the position is no different in Cork, north Dublin and Dún Laoghaire from that in my constituency in Tallaght — and anti-social behaviour has become a modern phenomenon. Many people talk about the need to deal with the matter. Civil liberties groups argued yesterday that we should not try to break a nut with a hammer. If one speaks to community workers, elderly people and young people in the various communities, one will get a clear sense that there is a need to deal with anti-social behaviour in an effective manner. Such people argue that there is a need for a community policing presence on the ground.

I represent the constituency of Dublin South-West, which includes Tallaght, Firhouse, Greenhills, Templeogue and Brittas. It is an area with a huge population — there is an electorate of more than 70,000 people in my local area — but there is just one Garda station there. Parts of the constituency are looked after, in effect, by gardaí from other stations, such as Crumlin, Terenure, Rathfarnham and Rathcoole.

In a debate of this nature, it is reasonable to point out that my community needs more Garda facilities. There is an ongoing campaign to modernise Tallaght Garda station. There may be a need to pull it down and rebuild it on the site or elsewhere. The future Garda needs of Dublin South-West need to be addressed. I hope the Minister, Deputy McDowell, and the Minister of State, Deputy Parlon, will continue to pay attention to the matter. I understand that a report from the Garda Commissioner's office in that regard is expected to be sent to the Minister. I hope that progress can be made thereafter. I ask the Minister to ensure that action is taken to meet the Garda station needs of the area I represent.

An organisation in the Tallaght area is involved in a further campaign to ensure that facilities are put in place on foot of the significant development that is taking place in west Tallaght. All the local Deputies have raised issues relating to west Tallaght. I am sure the Acting Chairman, Deputy Glennon, is familiar with such issues. Community groups have argued that there is a need for a second Garda station in the western part of Tallaght. I hope the Minister will have some news in that regard sooner rather than later.

I do not believe that Deputies should not be involved in making a case for their local areas — on the contrary, I am often impressed when they do so. A Deputy called yesterday for more Garda manpower in a certain rural community and I had no problem with that. There is a small rural community in Bohernabreena in my constituency. Tallaght is the third largest population centre in the country, after Dublin and Cork. It has a greater population than Limerick. I do not like to be simple about it, but it is a numbers game — Tallaght needs more gardaí.

Members who are familiar with Tallaght know that for a long time after the population explosion in the mid-1970s, it had the population of a city but the status of a village. All that changed on 23 October 1990, however, when the Square shopping centre was opened. One can get to Tallaght, which is a great place, quite easily from the city centre by taking the Luas, which I was happy to support. One can enjoy all the facilities one would expect in a major town, such as council offices, a shopping centre, a hospital and an institute of technology. It has leisure facilities such as the National Basketball Arena and the Civic Theatre. There are many things to do in Tallaght — one can work, rest and play to one's heart's content there. That is why I spend so much time in Tallaght. I do not suggest that I hate coming to town because that would not be fair, but it is right that shopping and leisure facilities have been provided in an area such as Tallaght.

Where is the one who does not love the land where he was born?

The growth of Tallaght has put great pressure on such facilities, however. As one comes into Tallaght on the Luas, one can see the 25 cranes which are being operated in the town centre.

I am arguing, in the context of this legislation, that Tallaght needs more gardaí because it has changed over the past 15 years. It was a different place two years ago and it will be different in five years. There is a strong case for a substantial increase in Garda manpower in Tallaght. I do not want to fight with anyone in the House because we are all entitled to argue that small Garda stations in little villages need increased manpower. I have no problem with such claims, which I support in a general way. In that context, I suggest that the strength of the Garda in Dublin South-West, specifically in Tallaght, needs to be examined. That is a reasonable point to make during a debate on this legislation. All Deputies have argued that increasing the visibility of gardaí on the beat is the best way to deal with petty crime, such as vandalism, and to develop good relations between communities and the Garda.

I visited the city centre last Saturday evening for the Skyfest fireworks display, which was a great event for Dublin. There had been some mayhem in the preceding two days so it was noticeable that there was an impressive physical Garda presence. Members of the force could be seen at every street corner and on every doorstep. I think people responded in a positive way to their presence. I was too busy on Sunday to read newspaper reports of the event, but I suspect there was no real trouble in Dublin on Saturday night, especially when compared to St. Patrick's Day.

The authorities should learn a clear lesson that putting gardaí on the beat is the best way to make progress, in my constituency and elsewhere. I hope the Minister will take note of the need for additional gardaí during the debate on community policing. He should consider that such a need exists in the major population centres as well as in rural areas. He should ensure that the new gardaí who are being trained are not deployed behind desks or in squad cars. They should be deployed on the streets, where they can interact with people and engage with communities. That is important.

Deputies who spoke about the development of the community policing model said that a great deal of good work is being done by many gardaí in the communities. My local community is no different in that regard. I agree with those who spoke about the promotion of community gardaí, which often happens on the basis of the interest they have shown in their work and the effective way in which they have done their job. I do not propose to prevent good gardaí from being promoted, but it is reasonable to suggest that some provision be made in this regard. A Deputy proposed yesterday that a system should be put in place to ensure that a community garda who is doing an effective job, for example by looking after communities, making progress with the community policing concept and developing neighbourhood watch schemes, can continue in that role for at least two years after he or she is promoted. It is important that we make such a provision.

I would like to speak about a particularly good submission that was made to the Joint Committee on Justice, Equality, Defence and Women's Rights. The letter in question was written by a woman from Tallaght, strangely enough, who represents a community group. She made the fairly reasonable point that when the Minister is establishing local committees with local representation, as agreed, it is important he understands that such committees should not be allowed to become mere talking shops. I hope that meaningful models will emerge from the debates on this legislation so that progress can be made in respect of community policing. Communities will not buy into the process if that is not done.

I would have expressed my support for some of the provisions of the Bill if I had had enough time to do so. I look forward to continuing to follow the progress of the legislation. I will make submissions on it to the select committee that will examine it. I will read all the submissions received by the committee and I will listen to all the oral submissions made to the committee. I hope the House will appeal to community groups to continue to engage with the Oireachtas and to tell public representatives what they want in this regard. I expect the Minister and the Department of Justice, Equality and Law Reform to take action on the basis of the points raised so that progress can be made. I thank the Acting Chairman for his forbearance and wish him a happy Easter.

I join other speakers in congratulating the Minister for Justice, Equality and Law Reform on his decision to allow a Nigerian student to return to Ireland. I hope he will be equally enlightened when he reviews the case of a Nigerian family of three living in Millstreet, County Cork. The family would have been on the same aeroplane to Nigeria as the student had it not been for a last minute reprieve by the courts to allow another appeal to the Minister. I hope the Minister's latest decision is an indication of a more compassionate approach in this area.

The Fine Gael Party welcomes the Garda Síochána Bill 2004, especially the new emphasis on community policing. As Deputy Jim O'Keeffe said, our only problem is that the Bill does not go far enough in providing new and independent structures to ensure the Garda force which has served the nation well since the foundation of the State will continue to do so. Society is changing rapidly and gardaí require training, structures and resources to meet the demands of challenging times. This is not to say the fundamentals must change. As Deputy Costello pointed out in the course of his contribution, every member of the Garda must know that his or her primary duty is to protect and help members of the public with unfailing patience, courtesy and good humour.

As the founding party of the State, Fine Gael against all the odds established an unarmed police force whose members were rooted in and servants of the community. Without maintaining the basic principle implied in the force's establishment, it matters little how many gardaí are deployed on the streets. Without community co-operation, policing will not work, which is why cracks are beginning to show in certain areas of Garda work. Originally, gardaí were part and parcel of their communities. They lived locally and their children went to school and grew up in the community, which is why the State had a community Garda force long before the term was included in law enforcement and crime prevention terminology. Times have changed and most gardaí want and are entitled to live outside the communities they serve.

Work practices have changed and shift work and round-the-clock cover are required in most areas. It is in this context that I wish to concentrate in my contribution on community policing. I welcome the emphasis on community policing in the Bill and am confident the report being prepared by Deputy Costello for the Joint Committee on Justice, Equality, Defence and Women's Rights will provide a sound basis for community policing in future. I suspect, however, that old attitudes will prevail. At a recent meeting of the joint committee, the Garda Commissioner said he could not properly deploy gardaí if a dedicated community police force were established. The attitude is similar to the one adopted by the Government in the area of education.

It is generally accepted that money provided for pre-school and primary school services is well spent. That intervention must take place when it is most necessary and effective is not only true from a social point of view, but in the context of the long-term benefits to the economy and taxpayers. Useful, efficient community policing will have the same beneficial effect on crime prevention. It will prevent problems from developing, thereby cutting back on the requirement to invest resources in remedial education, crime detection, court services, probation services and prisons. Given the Government's promise to provide a dedicated traffic corps, why can it not provide a dedicated community policing corps as part of the proposed restructuring of the Garda force?

The nature of Garda training will become increasingly significant and specialisation will form an essential element of it. Special training is required for gardaí providing immigration services. I have brought to the attention of the Minister previously the numerous complaints made about the treatment by immigration officers at airports and ports of immigrants, asylum seekers and tourists mistaken for asylum seekers or immigrants. The complaints have never been properly investigated because of the complexity of the complaints procedure. This is because immigration officers at our ports and airports are members of the Garda Síochána.

The Government must have recognised the need for a traffic corps given its promise to provide one in the lead up to two general elections. The training requirements for a member of a traffic corps, a community police officer or a garda investigating information technology offences or financial fraud must have completely different emphases. It has been suggested that Garda training should include attendance at a university or other third level institution at which personnel could specialise in one or two aspects of the profession. Such attendance would also have the advantage of broadening a recruit's horizons from an educational point of view.

Without dedicated corps, the objectives of the Bill will not be achieved, especially in the area of community policing. Community policing has been the poor relation in Garda structures and is not seen by many gardaí as real police work. The Garda authorities do not give it the priority it deserves and until now the Minister has failed to ring-fence resources for this most important function. To an extent, it is easy to understand why. From a career or political perspective, the results of reform in this area will only become apparent in the long term and the benefits will not be felt during the terms in office of the serving Minister or Garda Commissioner.

The facts demonstrate that community policing is working in only a few areas and any success is due solely to the few dedicated gardaí on the ground who are committed to the concept. Recently, a retired Garda sergeant formerly in charge of community policing in the Bray-Shankill-Greystones area made a submission to the Joint Committee on Justice, Equality, Defence and Women's Rights. He said that during his tenure and since, the powers that be have provided only lip-service to community policing which is underfunded, under-resourced and constitutes the Cinderella of Garda services. There are no proper structures in place and the committed people involved lack a career path. Community policing survives solely at the whim of various district officers.

Community policing officers are classed as occupying dead-end jobs and have been told so when seeking promotion. The retired garda painted a picture of a completely under-resourced unit that lacked personnel and could not provide cover for more than eight hours per day. The unit had no access to staff to replace officers who were sick or on leave. Community gardaí were constantly taken off community policing duty if there were shortages in other units. The submission was not isolated. A serving garda in Cork described to the joint committee her complete frustration at the inept manner in which community policing has been run. Instead of appointing suitably trained gardaí, the Garda authorities seek to fill vacancies by asking gardaí if they will take jobs in the short term. As outlined by the former Garda sergeant to whom I referred, the problem is that a community policing appointment is considered to be a dead-end position.

Community policing gardaí complain at the lack of training for the specialised work they undertake with juveniles, Travellers and, more and more, in the context of general integration. In another submission to the joint committee, a garda said senior gardaí gave little credence to the concept of community policing and prioritised what they described as "real police work". All community gardaí in Cork are called on to perform regular policing duties as well as their community policing functions. Community gardaí may be given to understand their work is unimportant, part-time and secondary. However, they perform cash escort duties, post office duties and duties at concerts and matches. Community gardaí are required to submit details of their attendances at court and the number of drunk-driving and other summonses they issue. In effect, they undertake a role similar to that of a garda working in a regular Garda unit and are reprimanded if they are perceived to be inactive in the areas in which they have responsibility. To add insult to injury, one of the submissions includes the comment of a senior member of the Garda Síochána to a group of community gardaí to the effect that community policy is an unaffordable luxury.

Despite the good work done by the current Garda management in other areas, it clearly either does not appreciate the role of properly trained and resourced community gardaí or simply does not have the resources to fund such a force. We are all to blame for this to some extent. The statistics which indicate the achievements of the Government, Minister and Garda Commissioner during their period of office are all important. However, we should focus on the statistical improvements that could be achieved over time by a properly resourced community police force.

The sentiments in this Bill are correct. However, without at least a separate division, reporting to an assistant commissioner and with its own resources and budget, the Minister's good intentions will remain aspirational. The provision in Part 5 for the establishment of a Garda Síochána inspectorate represents a useful tool for the Minister in the future. Had such a power been available to Ministers in the past, community policing might not be in its current deplorable state. However, notwithstanding this new power, it is clear that unless community policing is a separate corps with its own budget, one of the central planks of the legislation will be unworkable.

Another element of the Bill which could sit comfortably within the community policing division is the establishment of a volunteer force. A well-trained and committed community police force could direct and assist in the training of a volunteer force. In suitable circumstances this concept could be extended to include a part-time element, through which the talents of retired gardaí, civil servants, social workers and other highly qualified personnel could be utilised to back up community gardaí. I am confident there are many such people prepared to participate as volunteers. Such a force must be under the jurisdiction of the Garda and proper training must be provided. The Minister has included safeguards in the legislation in this regard.

Apart from making provision for a community volunteer force, the main function of this Bill in regard to community policing is the establishment of local structures or the modification of existing structures at local authority level. I do not envy the Minister's task in this respect and I agree that local authorities represent the best way forward. However, there must also be a substantial input from other organisations, especially community groups. Anyone familiar with local government knows the improvements to local governance that were introduced in recent years have largely failed.

One must judge the success of local government on the general public's perception of the new bodies. Perhaps 10% of the population has a concept of the function of county development boards and even fewer understand the concept of expanded area committees. In general, the electorate is totally confused, bemused and over-taxed because of the plethora of agencies in existence. In most cases, the primary objective of such bodies is to build an empire and ensure their own survival.

There are no defined areas at sub-county level or suburban divisions through which all organisations can work together. For example, different local areas are defined for the purposes of the operation of the HSE, the Leader programme, ADM, enterprise boards, Garda divisions and even the local area served by a number of Garda stations. The education system is structured through the differing areas of responsibility of VECs and community and private schools. Likewise, county councils perform their functions according to various definitions of housing areas, roads areas and so on.

None of the areas defined by these various bodies is compatible with any other. To ensure the development of successful community policing, educational, health and other agencies must work together in a specifically defined local area to deal with the various problems that arise. In this context, the Minister should work with his counterpart in the Department of the Environment, Heritage and Local Government to instruct county and city councils to clearly designate sub-county and suburban areas in which all agencies must focus their work. In this way, all bodies working with State money and resources can organise and pool their activity to the best benefit of the community. It is within such defined boundaries that community policy will work most effectively.

I have advocated the creation of such divisions for a considerable time. They are not unlike the divisional district councils which the Progressive Democrats Party proposed some years ago. That party envisaged a corresponding abolition of the county councils. However, it is possible to have effective district councils operating within the existing county and city council structures. A new framework must be devised if intentions regarding the provision of community policing are to be realised.

Whatever area divisions the Minister decides to use, it is important that all agencies co-operate closely. Flexibility is crucial in those counties such as Cork, for example, where there are different layers of local government including county council, city council and other administrative divisions. The system devised by the Minister must be capable of being adapted by county and city councils. The designation of defined areas or districts on which all agencies can focus is the preferable solution.

The Bill suggests that members will be appointed to the police committees in accordance with the proportional strength of their parties at local government level. The legislation does not make clear whether, apart from the Garda representation, it is the Minister or members of the committee who will have the power to co-opt or appoint members from other agencies. Once the committees have been established, it should be the members and chairman, perhaps in consultation with an outside body, which appoints other members from the community, as in Northern Ireland. There is no doubt, judging from submissions to the committee, that a strong involvement by community groups is necessary. There are other issues that I do not have time to cover. However, generally speaking, Fine Gael welcomes the Bill. We will table amendments on Committee and Report Stages which reflect our policy as well as the submissions made to the joint committee. The amendments should not be seen as a basic criticism of the Bill, but rather as constructive proposals for what is worthwhile legislation.

Any Bill that serves to clarify and tidy up a century of legislation, as this one does, should be welcomed. That this Bill lays down for the first time a definition of the functions and objectives of the national police force makes it imperative that it is passed. The Bill proposes to modernise the State's definition and working of the Garda Síochána so that the force is in line with the 21st century and developments in modern policing. I emphasise, therefore, the benefits of the introduction of this legislation, providing as it does for joint policing committees and volunteer policing.

We live in a modern democratic society that is policed by a system of mutual consent, as it should be. Public support and trust in the Garda Síochána and the criminal justice system as a whole is critical if it is to operate in this way. This means that it is unhealthy for the police to become isolated from the community they are meant to serve because such distance invariably promotes mistrust and apathy and breeds a lack of confidence in a body which is intended to protect law-abiding citizens and prevent crime. Joint policing committees and volunteer policing will bring communities and the Garda into closer proximity, thereby enhancing confidence and feelings of security by allowing a greater sense of partnership and joint responsibility. Not alone will this boost community morale, since if relations are close-knit at local level, there is every reason to believe that anti-social behaviour will be discouraged.

Six community policing forums have been experimented with in recent years in areas of Dublin, entailing monthly meetings at a Garda station between local police commanders, representatives of local and community-based organisations and local residents. The first to be established was in the north inner city, which borders my constituency. In a report published three years after its inception, major improvements were found to have occurred in relations between the community and State agencies, including the Garda. Moreover, it was found that almost three-quarters of the residents in that area were more willing to report drug related crime and 80% were more willing to report anti-social behaviour. This is clear evidence that the new style of policing can and will work. The report is entitled Community Policing and Drugs in Dublin: The North Inner City Community Policing Forum, prepared by Johnny Connolly in October 2002.

Anti-social behaviour has become a key issue of concern in the press, but more importantly in neighbourhoods across Ireland. The basic fear of it not only impacts on people's lives, it can often blur the boundary between the perception of a crime epidemic and the reality of a situation. If people are actively involved in some level of policing, not alone can they feel reassured, they can help to spread this into the community by word of mouth and by increasing the visibility of law enforcement officers. People more often than not have pride in their local communities. This pride can be effectively streamed through a volunteer force to help tackle crime and work towards the betterment of the quality of life. On a logistical level, moreover, without any intention to replace them, a volunteer force would free up uniformed gardaí and allow them to be re-employed more effectively, for example, at night time and during weekends when public order incidents are at their peak.

The involvement of local authorities in the system would also make tackling crime and its prevention more efficient by highlighting area-specific issues to the Garda and passing on local concerns. One corollary of this is local and neighbourhood renewal. The projects offer us a potential instrument for skill development in the community. This has been one aspect of the local strategic partnerships set up in parts of Great Britain as part of the Crime and Disorder Act 1998. It is one that could be put to good use in this jurisdiction too. When we set up these joint committees and volunteer forces, however, we must be careful to ensure they are taken seriously at all levels and within all jurisdictions from the start. To function with effect, they must command the respect, not just of the people but of the gardaí with whom they work. The response to any realisation of these forces must be one of respect and confidence and this must be reciprocated by both sides. Moreover, they must ensure inclusiveness within their operations and activities so that no minority groups become isolated from the projects and render their leading qualities worthless.

Another aspect to the clarifying and modernising character of this Bill is the introduction of greater transparency and accountability in the methods and actions of the Garda. This is a welcome step and the proposed legislation ensures that neutrality and objectivity, the two key ingredients in the make-up of any such body, will prevail. This will also serve to boost public confidence in our security forces following recent high-profile cases which do not reflect the organisation as a whole but, sadly, have led to its being tainted in the eyes of a few. The Bill's contents overall will benefit the Garda Síochána, the criminal justice system and society by bringing them closer together and further into line with the new century, a move that is long overdue.

I reiterate what I said about confidence in the Garda Síochána, despite recent high-profile events, both in Donegal and at the May Day protests a few years ago. By and large, the majority of citizens have full confidence in the Garda Síochána and in the way it carries out its duties. Certainly, we as legislators have a responsibility to back up the force in its work and defend it. There were a few incidents but these must not be allowed to characterise the Garda as a whole and must not be used by people who, on the whole, oppose community forces. We cannot repeat often enough our confidence in the force while at the same time introducing new measures of reform which are needed as well as constantly monitoring the situation.

I pay tribute to the Chairman, Deputy Ardagh, and members of the Joint Oireachtas Committee on Justice, Equality, Defence and Women's Rights for the work they have done on key aspects of this Bill, for the submissions received on community policing and the meetings held with the various interested groups. This week several groups made presentations to the Oireachtas Joint Committee on Justice, Equality, Defence and Women's Rights, including the Irish Council for Civil Liberties and the local drugs task forces. Both organisations expressed concerns over the proposed anti-social behaviour orders as outlined in the Bill. These orders will allow local authorities and the Garda to summon offenders to court on a civil rather than a criminal basis. Both groups argue that this will undermine community policing and criminalise young people.

It is important to listen to these concerns, particularly those from the local drugs task forces. The task force in the Dublin North-Central constituency, with which I am familiar, has first-hand experience of the situation. I am keeping an open mind on these proposed anti-social behaviour orders and am prepared to listen to the arguments for and against. New ideas and methods for dealing with the serious problem of anti-social behaviour are always welcome. While the Minister for Justice, Equality and Law Reform is a man of ideas, he is also one for delivering on them. I hope agreement can be reached on introducing measures such as these to deal with the problem.

I compliment the Association of Garda Sergeants and Inspectors on the quality of debate at its annual conference this week. There is a recognition that change is needed in the Garda. It is a healthy sign that many new suggestions for changes were made, demonstrating that members of the Garda are serious about delivering good public service and have new ideas they wish to see implemented by the Minister and the Oireachtas. The association also made a submission to the Joint Committee on Justice, Equality, Defence and Women's Rights. It wants a radical overhaul of community policing structures within the force in the interest of breaking down the perceived anti-police ethos in some sections of the community and improving relations with the public.

When the Association of Garda Sergeants and Inspectors makes such a statement, Members must take note. As public representatives we should wholeheartedly support the association's position. Community policing is vitally important on the ground but it has not been backed up in the past with either commitment or resources. The benefits of community policing have been well outlined. I hope that with this Bill serious consideration will be given to beefing up the community policing system and ensuring it operates effectively.

The association outlined the need for an ethnic mix within the Garda, while maintaining standards. For various reasons, some ethnic groups may not meet the training qualifications as easily as Irish citizens. This is through no fault of theirs but due to language barriers, training and so forth. Members need to be conscious that as the make-up of Irish society is changing rapidly, State institutions and organisations must respond and serve these changes. The Garda is no exception. The Minister for Justice, Equality and Law Reform has referred to the need for an ethnic mix in the force and is committed to it. Recent reports point to the fact that ethnic minorities will be with us in greater numbers in the years ahead. Garda policing methods will have to be up to speed in this regard.

I listened with interest to Deputy O'Connor's comments about gardaí on the beat. All Members are calling for a more visible presence of the Garda. Deputy O'Connor gave the example of the recent St. Patrick's Festival, at which the Garda was clearly visible, making a real difference in reassuring the public, giving further evidence of how important it is to have gardaí on the beat.

The Dublin Lord Mayor's commission on crime and policing believes reducing crime, disorder and anti-social behaviour should not be the sole responsibility of the Garda but shared among public bodies and communities. This recommendation is in line with the Bill's provisions. The commission's worthwhile report highlights the frustrations of Dublin city communities and neighbourhoods with anti-social behaviour, disorder and low-level crime. The report points to a range of concerns from people leaving pubs at night, behaving in an aggressive and noisy manner, leaving pools of vomit and urine behind them to groups congregating in parks, on street corners and other public places to drink or take drugs. These are everyday occurrences in the life of our communities. The measures called for in the commission's report are catered for in the Bill.

The lack of consistency between geographical areas of Garda districts and local authority area committees was raised. Speaking from a Dublin perspective, I agree these do not coincide. This issue must be examined in the context of the new structures proposed in the Bill to see if greater co-ordination can be achieved. I welcome the Minister's statement that the volunteer members of the Garda will not be a substitute for the recruitment of new gardaí. It has allayed people's concerns about volunteer members.

I hope the Bill has a speedy passage through the House. It is an exciting Bill and I believe it will make a huge difference in our community.

Fáiltím roimh dhíospóireacht ar bith mar gheall ar an Gharda Síochána, agus go mórmhór roimh an athbhreithniú atá i gceist ag an mBille seo. Is beag is fiúé, faraor, gan acmhainní. Caithfimid acmhainní a phlé agus muid ag caint ar athbhreithniú ar bith.

Tá mé tar éis teacht ón gCoiste Oideachais agus Eolaíochta, áit a bhfuil an Teachta Hoctor chomh maith. Bhíomar ag plé go leor ceisteanna ansin, agus bhain ceann amháin acu le mo cheantar i mBaile Átha Cliath thuaidh, is é sin, an méadú mór i líon na ndaoine ina gcónaí san áit. Tá an méadú sin ag cur isteach go mór ar go leor acmhainní, mar shampla, ar chúrsaí scolaíochta. Níl spás sna scoileanna do na daoine atá ag iarraidh scolaíocht a fháil san áit. Ciallaíonn sé sin go bhfuil brú an-mhór, ní amháin ar na scoileanna, ach ar na teaghlaigh atá ag brath ar scoileanna atá breis is 20 míle ón mbaile.

Anuas air sin, an tseachtain seo, agus muid ag caint ar chúrsaí a bhaineann leis an Gharda Síochána, níl aon dabht ach go bhfuil an brú céanna orthu, go mórmhór sa dáilcheantar, agus baineann sé le go leor dáilcheantar eile chomh maith. Nuair atá méadú mór ag teacht ar líon na ndaoine atá ina gcónaí in áit, caithfimid a admháil go bhfuil gá le méadú mór i líon na ngardaí ag feidhmiú nó ar dualgas san áit. Faraor, tá an líon céanna gardaí— nó níos lú in áiteanna — ag feidhmiú anois i roinnt stáisiún Garda, agus i mo cheantar féin, i mBaile Brigín, tá níos lú nó an líon céanna. Níl méadú againn ó na 1980í. Ag an am céanna, cé go bhfuil níos mó ná an baile i gceist maidir le dualgais an stáisiúin, tá Baile Brigín féin tar éis méadúó na 1980í. Go luath sna 1980í, bhí timpeall 3,000 duine ann. Táimid ag súil anois, leis an bplean forbartha atá ann, le tuairim is 30,000. Is méadú mór é sin. Má tá deich n-oiread níos mó daoine ann, is cinnte go bhfuil méadú mór ag teastáil i méid an Gharda Síochána freisin, ach níl sé sin ag titim amach. I ndáiríre, cad is fiú an díospóireacht seo muna bhfuil na hacmhainní ag teacht ina diaidh? Tá mé buartha nach bhfuil na hacmhainní ann chun é sin a dhéanamh.

The Government is being reckless in expecting the Garda Síochána, at a strength that is far lower than the proportionate rise in population would require, to operate effectively without commensurate additional resources. It is not just taking a risk but is creating the ingredients for huge problems. I see it happening already in my constituency. The pressure on parents to leave home early in the morning to seek employment to pay for the mortgage and child care not only means they are not at home and children are expected to remain out of trouble in the course of their latch-key upbringing but also that those housing estates do not have the passive supervision that existed in such estates in previous times when only one parent was forced by economic circumstances to work outside the home. Burglaries will be another inevitable consequence.

The Garda Síochána is under increasing pressure. Although the Government will say there are more gardaí, there are far more duties for those gardaí. These include drugs related duties, public order duties, policing under age drinking and so forth. Will the Government support its debating and organisational strategy for the Garda with resources that are commensurate with the demographic changes that have taken place? I do not see that happening. The Garda Síochána does not see it because the figures do not add up even though the expectations of the Garda are constantly increasing.

Some gardaí are, understandably, suffering from low morale as a result of the pressures. Many of them are looking forward to early retirement if they can secure it, but that also creates the problem of vacancies arising which are left unfilled. However, there are, thank goodness, gardaí who engage with the community, in many cases above and beyond the call of duty, although one would like to think it is their duty to do so. I work with the Balbriggan Awareness of Drugs group which runs, in co-operation with the Garda Síochána, successful parent to parent courses. They are conducted on a voluntary basis by those involved but they facilitate a critical interaction between the Garda Síochána, parents and the community.

After seeing samples of confiscated illicit drugs, parents are in a position to recognise the substances when they unwittingly come upon them. A number of parents have approached me on this issue. They feel helpless when they belatedly discover that their children have been offered drugs or are getting caught up in a damaging, not to mention illegal, recreational pursuit. We commend the gardaí who are providing that level of co-operation. Hopefully, they will be emulated by others and helped by additional resources.

Deputy Haughey referred to the Lord Mayor of Dublin's commission on crime. I welcome that initiative. It has started a debate and ensured the community empathises more with the Garda Síochána and plays a part in alleviating the problems and stress which give rise to crime. I pay tribute to my colleague, Councillor Bronwen Maher, and other colleagues on Dublin City Council who worked with the Lord Mayor in initiating that commission. I hope the recommendations made by the commission will be seriously considered. Ultimately, much of the expectation on the Garda Síochána is related to its actions on the licensed trade and on late-night drinking in particular. In the town of Swords, there seems to be a deliberate policy to corral people into the licensed premises on the main street. The unseemly side of late-night drinking culture can therefore be contained and the Garda can concentrate their resources. This policy has a down side as it has a serious impact on the local community. This needs to be taken on board and I am glad the Minister gives much thought to this matter. I ask that further consideration be given to the communities that have to suffer the consequences of late-night drinking. They have to get up in the morning and provide economically for their families.

I welcome the fact that there has been some reaction against the habit-forming under age drinking promotions. Some spirits are being sold in small plastic bags and are not intended for social drinking as their producers might claim. A complaint has been upheld against that product. There are health and crime costs associated with not tackling under age drinking. In future years, Deputies will look back and ask why something more effective was not done about it. Hospitals are already bulging due to the effects of alcohol abuse.

The Garda need community support. They also need Government support. Such support can be given in resources. Organisational aid is welcome, but it will be a very small and meaningless part of the overall reform unless resources are provided. This is particularly the case in fast-growing areas like north Dublin, where the population has grown tenfold in some towns, yet the Garda strength seems to remain static. That cannot be sustained.

I welcome the new reforms and structure that have been put in place in this Bill. I particularly welcome the new fully independent Garda ombudsman commission, which will operate in favour of the public and the Garda Síochána. This new mechanism is urgently needed to ensure honesty and to highlight any complaints against members of the Garda Síochána. There should be strong emphasis on the need for a fair and effective complaints system to ensure that the police are held accountable if they infringe the rights of citizens. This system must guarantee a fair hearing for the complainant and the accused officer and must provide a firm basis for public confidence in the police force.

While the Bill offers some welcome reforms, I hope it offers fully effective protection for civil liberties. There have been public complaints about a number of incidents involving the Garda Síochána in recent times. A genuinely independent investigator will, I hope, provide us with the adequate safeguards and restore the shaky confidence of the public.

The level of policing is a vital concern to us all. I call on the Minister to put in place the 2,000 extra gardaí promised in the last election. If there was an increased number of gardaí, as promised, then we could be assured of the best police service and Irish towns would not suffer from so much vandalism. The Garda is doing all it can to police our streets, but there are simply not enough gardaí on the beat at night. The Government is to blame for this. More gardaí are needed on the streets and more action needs to be taken against those who perpetrate crime on businesses and elderly people. More resources should be given to gardaí to combat the violence they face. They need assistance to deal with issues like running battles, assault and abuse, as they try to do their duty and restore the peace. Cases remain unreported and the Garda Síochána is unable to justify the urgent resources needed to reduce crime.

In my own town of Ennis, the Garda works closely with the president of the chamber of commerce. A joint working accord has been formed to deal with the increased levels of petty crime, harassment and begging which affect businesses, residences and visitors. This highlights the urgent need for prudent measures for more gardaí on the streets in the towns and villages in County Clare. We need more gardaí to target violence, drugs and crime so that public trust and confidence can be restored. Justice is here to protect citizens in their homes, businesses and communities. If the Government does not ensure justice by putting its promises into action, to whom can the people turn for a safe society? I call on the Minister to address this situation and I demand the 2,000 gardaí that have been promised. The people are entitled to safety.

I place on record my appreciation for the Garda and the work it carries out, often with limited resources. I also declare my thanks and appreciation to a superintendent in Clare who is soon to retire. Seán Corcoran was an ambassador when he went abroad with the Garda Síochána. He was held in high esteem throughout County Clare and among gardaí in general. The people of Clare and Ireland are thankful to this garda for a job well done.

Tá mé an-bhuíoch as ucht an seans labhairt ar an mBille tábhachtach seo. I welcome the opportunity to speak on this Bill.

I pay tribute to the Minister for Justice, Equality and Law Reform, Deputy McDowell, for his openness on this Bill. He has welcomed many contributions on this debate from people in the Seanad and from a number of statutory organisations. The debate has been very enlightening so far and we can all contribute to the most radical legislation that has come before the House in years. I also commend his Ministers of State, Deputies Brian Lenihan and Fahey, as well the staff in the Department. I have no doubt the Minister will remain open-minded when recommendations and amendments come before him in later stages of this Bill.

I commend Commissioner Conroy and his staff on the work they do on our behalf. We must recognise the work that nobody sees but which is undertaken by the Garda Síochána. This includes the gathering of intelligence and quiet but effective work against the illegal drugs trade and other gangland crime. Not all such work is reported because of its very nature but I commend the Garda Síochána for its endeavours. We can see how efficient the Garda Síochána is in a crisis. In recent months, murders in Cork and elsewhere were acted upon effectively by members of the force. I commend the manner in which they worked, by bringing local communities with them in the search for missing persons, although I do not wish to comment on individual cases.

While we have a very efficient Garda force, the Bill aims to promote effective relations between the Garda Síochána, the Government, the Minister, local authorities and the community at large. I acknowledge that there is already a good working relationship in this regard. One only has to attend meetings of the Joint Committee on Justice, Equality, Defence and Women's Rights to witness the open relationship that exists between the Department and the Garda Síochána. That relationship is to be commended. Nevertheless, gaps have been recognised and the Bill will go a long way towards addressing them.

The Garda Síochána must work to maintain public confidence. Members of the public may be slow to express their confidence in the force but it is important to highlight the respect the public has in this regard. That will happen as a result of the joint policing committees that will eventually be established under the terms of the Bill.

I welcome the changes that have already come about due to the openness of the Minister's attitude, the debate in the Seanad and the redefining of the roles of the Minister and the Government. Transparency is required concerning the relationship between the Minister and the Garda Síochána. When the Joint Committee on Justice, Equality, Defence and Women's Rights dealt with the Barron report, former Ministers for Justice were asked about their exact roles vis-à-vis the Garda Síochána. In the investigations following the bombings in Dublin, Monaghan and other places, communications between the Minister of the day and the Garda Síochána appear to have been somewhat deficient. The Garda Síochána was investigating these atrocities but it was apparent to the committee that the ministerial and Garda roles were not clearly defined. The Minister of the day seemed to be far removed from the workings of the Garda Síochána.

Following those bombings, the Garda investigations were often wound down quickly but there was no clear explanation for why this happened. The Minister was not particularly involved and no doubt there were other pressures on him to get on with managing the affairs of State, although the North of Ireland conflict was a particularly sensitive issue.

The Bill will clearly establish the working relationship between the Minister for Justice, Equality and Law Reform and the Garda Síochána. They will work closely together, but as independent entities, for the betterment of policing generally.

We have a unique situation in so far as the Garda Síochána is the sole police force here, unlike other European countries. The Bill goes quite a way towards addressing the particular needs of that security force. The proposed significant involvement of members of local authorities and the public is to be welcomed. They will be called upon to act, as they currently do in an unofficial capacity. Their role will be given a clearer statutory basis once the Bill is enacted.

Many local authorities are already working in this way with the co-operation of the Garda Síochána. I speak as a former member of Nenagh Town Council where local authority members meet with local gardaí under the direction of Superintendent Jim Fitzgerald. To the best of their abilities, they address the various crime problems in the area. This open working relationship has proved to be quite effective, albeit in a limited way.

The proposed introduction of joint policing committees is currently a matter of wide-ranging debate at the Joint Committee on Justice, Equality, Defence and Women's Rights. I welcome the fact that Members of the Oireachtas will play their part despite yesterday's contribution by the General Council of County Councils, which was emphatic that it did not want Deputies or Senators on the joint policing committees. We also have a role to play, however. Confining meetings of such committees to Mondays and Fridays should not be a deterrent to keeping Oireachtas Members on joint policing committees.

I welcome the Minister's willingness to take on board the need for representation from town councils. We must recognise that crime is more apparent in urban settings, so it would be a serious omission if town councils were not represented on joint policing committees. I see them playing a leading role on such committees in future.

Deputy Costello, myself and other members of the Joint Committee on Justice, Equality, Defence and Women's Rights have listened intently to representations on this issue from the various local authority members' organisations, such as LAMA, the General Council of County Councils and the AMAI. Emphasis has been placed on restricting membership of the joint policing committees to elected representatives, both at national and local level, and members of the Garda Síochána. There is merit in this argument because, after all, various community interests are already represented by those who have gone before the people and have been elected. No doubt there will be conflicts of opinion in that regard but I believe that formula is possibly the best one that has come before us. The involvement of those fora will integrate the various voluntary organisations and representative groups that have an interest in local area policing.

Great work can be achieved by the Garda Síochána and local authorities in preparing town and county development plans. The Garda Síochána will have a direct advisory role in issues such as public lighting, estate management and estate layout, thus helping to create a safer environment, particularly for vulnerable people, including the elderly and others living alone. I welcome the Minister's move in this regard, which will mean that much useful work can be done. Ironically, the Department of Justice, Equality and Law Reform has accorded great recognition to the integrity of local public representatives who are elected by the people.

The introduction of volunteer members of the Garda Síochána is an interesting concept which arises in the Bill. The Minister is actively considering UK models where a reserve police force works in a training capacity with the established constabulary. I look forward to learning more about this idea in the near future.

It is essential that adequate training be provided for those working on the new joint policing committees and related fora. The issues of confidentiality and adequate training were queried yesterday at the Joint Committee on Justice, Equality, Defence and Women's Rights. Examples were cited from Northern Ireland, where training models are already in place. We may look to them for such training but it is essential that people should be clear about their roles on policing committees and the voluntary fora that will provide the necessary information to allow the Garda Síochána and local authorities to work together.

I welcome that the Garda ombudsman commission is included in the Bill. The existing Garda Complaints Board, due to its limited capacity, needs to be revised and reformed and I am glad the opportunity for this arises in the Bill. The issue of complaints about members of the Garda Síochána must be made clearer. Members of the public may have a complaint to make against a garda but would not know how to do so. I particularly welcome the significant development in the Bill that the new body will not always require the catalyst of a public complaint before it can investigate a case. However, we must acknowledge the powers of individual members of the Garda Síochána, the people in uniform. To be fair, anyone who holds a position of power is in a position to abuse it. We must recognise this and enable and encourage gardaí to maintain a high level of integrity and ensure their behaviour is ethical at all times.

It is beyond doubt that past and more recent actions by some gardaí would call their integrity into question. For example, I am aware of situations in which gardaí working in different communities inherited significant property on the death of residents. Such gardaí may with the best of intentions have acted to protect vulnerable or elderly people living on their own and been willed the property following their deaths to the devastation of some families. While it is difficult to know how such matters can be investigated, I hope the ombudsman commission will conduct investigations. Bequests may be due to the kindness and genuine efforts of the gardaí involved but it is undoubted they can call into question their integrity and credibility as effective, ethical members of the police force. At present, such matters would be difficult to investigate but the appointment of the ombudsman commission will go far towards addressing the issue.

The ombudsman commission will be appointed to serve the people and the Garda Síochána for greater effectiveness and the betterment of the wider community. However, what happens if a member of the Garda Síochána has a complaint about another member of the force? For example, a member of more senior rank may subject a garda to bullying or other unacceptable behaviour. There is no provision in regard to the ombudsman commission for Garda members who wish to make a complaint about other gardaí who act in an irresponsible or unacceptable way. Gardaí may feel isolated or inadequately equipped to make a complaint. The Minister should seriously consider this as an issue that might opportunely be addressed in the context of the Bill.

I welcome the anti-social behaviour order recently indicated by the Minister, Deputy McDowell, which I hope he will implement. The behaviour of the young is a gap that has not been addressed and elderly people living on housing estates, for example, can feel vulnerable due to egg-throwing and other kinds of anti-social behaviour while gardaí feel helpless. The issue will be addressed by the new order of the Minister. While the Irish Council for Civil Liberties expressed deep concern about the measure, legislation must be put in place so that young people experience fear. Many of the young have no idea of fear and dread nothing. They must experience some fear as a deterrent so others can live with the regular quality of life they were accustomed to but which diminished because of out of control and anti-social behaviour.

I welcome the recent development by the Department, working with the Garda Síochána, to attempt to upgrade Garda vehicles, a long-standing request of the Garda Representative Association. Great strides have been made in this regard. The Minister has heard me speak of this matter on a number of occasions.

I visited Nenagh on one occasion and got a classic example of what can go wrong.

I am glad Nenagh is always to the fore of the Minister's mind when he examines upgrading for the Garda Síochána.

I welcome the provision of additional gardaí, a matter on which the Minister has acted in good time. He did not wait for construction to take place at Templemore before training the gardaí. I welcome that construction of the four-storey block in Templemore is well under way and that the Minister has provided accommodation for gardaí in nearby Nenagh while training is ongoing. The Minister is also working to ensure an adequate number of the additional 2,000 gardaí will go to rural areas outside Dublin. The Minister recently acknowledged at a committee meeting that growing areas of population outside Dublin have a minimal number of gardaí who do their best but struggle with the limited staff available to address anti-social problems and larger issues of crime. The Minister should adequately provide rural areas with gardaí trained at Templemore and open additional Garda stations.

Táim an-bhuíoch as ucht an seans labhairt ar an mBille tábhachtach seo inniu. Táim ag súil le níos mó oibre ar an reachtaíocht agus táim ag brath ar na grúpaí éagsúla, go mórmhór an Garda Síochána. I would welcome further submissions from the Garda Síochána on the Bill.

I welcome to Leinster House the deputation from the Nenagh community reparation project, the unique project which I hope will eventually become a statutory body. It has worked successfully on the area of reparation and involving the community with local justice issues. It serves not to replace the judicial system but to work with it by making people accountable and responsible for their misdemeanours and offences, and when they return eventually to court, with the assistance of the community panel, to see that their contract has been fulfilled. The deputation will attend the community policing hearings at the Joint Committee on Justice, Equality and Law Reform this afternoon. I look forward to the expansion of this project as a model for other areas to adapt.

I am grateful for the opportunity to speak in the debate. I welcome further work on the Bill, in which I am particularly interested.

I welcome the opportunity to speak on the Bill. I congratulate the Minister and his officials for putting it together and others for making submissions on it. It is an important, timely and complex document which reflects the multifaceted, complex and demanding role the Garda Síochána plays in our modern society. I am constantly pleased to see gardaí involved in many different functions. We as citizens greatly depend on them to protect and assist when emergencies and accidents occur. In the main, gardaí are talented and dedicated people. This Bill serves to modernise the legislation under which they work and to protect both them and citizens from possible abuses, to modernise the complaints procedures and so forth.

I will make some technical points about the Bill and draw attention to some minor issues initially. Section 7 notes that "In performing its functions, the Garda Síochána shall have regard to the importance of upholding human rights." Section 16 also notes that the gardaí should be aware of their obligations under the European Convention on Human Rights but that convention is not mentioned in the Bill and I am not sure that the explanatory memorandum carries any weight or what is meant by human rights, which are not mentioned in the Bill.

Section 16 speaks of a code of ethics, which is important. The section mentions a number of bodies to be consulted about establishing a code of ethics. The Minister might consider including the National Disability Authority among those bodies. It might well have a role to play in the drawing up of a code of ethics. It is good that the reference to the code is there.

Section 22 has been the subject of much debate. Concern might be too strong a word, but I note the Minister may issue written directives concerning any matter relating to the Garda Síochána. These directives will be laid before the House and the Minister is accountable to the House. However, in terms of the future, I would like more information about these directives. If, as is stated in the Bill, the directives can relate to any matter regarding policing, I would be concerned that we might be giving future Ministers too much power and freedom. We have to be careful in the area of policing in particular that we do not do so and that there are checks and balances. The Minister might give us some more information on this issue.

Section 32(5) is of interest. It says that a statement "made in any form and without malice by a member of the committee or subcommittee or by a person attending the meeting at the request of the committee or subcommittee is privileged for purposes of the law of defamation and so is any subsequent publication of the statement." We in this House have privilege.

Absolute privilege.

The section refers to the law on defamation. Is there any redress if someone makes a statement? Members of the public have redress in that they can complain to the Committee on Procedure and Privileges but in this case I am not sure if any such redress is possible. I am not a solicitor or barrister but reading this from a layman's point of view, it appears that someone could possibly make a statement and not have it challenged. Are there procedures built in so such a statement could be withdrawn or challenged, or to allow for a person to ask for redress if the statement was later proven wrong? This point might be worth considering on Committee Stage. It is important that we ensure there are no abuses or, if there are abuses, that people have a means of seeking redress.

The Bill sets up the ombudsman's commission, which is important. There are three members on it. I know there has been much debate about whether there should be one or three members. What happens if there are three members and two agree on a decision while the other disagrees? Does majority rule or must the decision be unanimous? That is not clear in the Bill. Could that lead to difficulties at a later stage? Is there a chairman of the commission or are all three members equal? How are their meetings to be convened and run?

Over my years in this House we have had chairpersons of such bodies who have certain responsibilities and roles to play in convening and so forth. That does not seem to be the case in this instance. I would like that matter clarified because it is not clarified in the Bill. Does the commission have to act as a unanimous body or can two members of it take a majority decision? That needs to be clarified.

The removal of members of the commission is mentioned. They can be removed for stated misbehaviour but it does not say in the Bill what such behaviour is, who decides what it is, how or by whom it is to be adjudicated. Would someone have to be brought before a court of law and found guilty of stated misbehaviour? Who states what the stated misbehaviour is? Where is it stated? All this may be in the Bill but I have not seen it.

Section 58 speaks of certain types of people debarred from being members of the ombudsman commission. However, it does not say that a person with a criminal record cannot be a member. It might be useful to insert that provision. It may not be the right thing to do but we have inserted that provision in other instances.

The other interesting bodies being established are the joint policing committees. Going by my first reading, the mechanism for setting these up is a little woolly. My colleague asked earlier if the town councils, no matter how large or small, were to be included. I believe they should be, in some way or other. It is not made clear if it is just county and city councils which will be involved. These committees also run the risk of being very big, which worries me.

There has been a debate about the role of Members of the Oireachtas. All Members of the Oireachtas in the particular area should be ex officio members of the committee. That might be a way of dealing with the matter. I agree with what many Deputies said. Members of the Oireachtas are being shoved aside and excluded from many areas, which is wrong. We have a mandate. We are elected to speak in this House, which is linked with many bodies in the State. If it is the case that an Oireachtas Member in an area is a “member of”, that means the others are excluded. There may be a way of solving this issue with an ex officio mechanism.

The local Garda inspector or superintendent has an important role to play in interacting with the local authority, whatever it might be, but particularly with town councils. It is in urban areas that we have many difficulties with anti-social behaviour and so on. It is not clear in the Bill if the local authority could invite the Garda superintendent or authorities to meet it. That would be important. I am not saying the local Garda superintendent would be summoned before the council. That would be a bit strong, but perhaps the local authorities might invite the Garda superintendent or inspector to discuss a particular issue. A series of anti-social issues might, for example, be building up in a town and the local authority might feel it important that the local Garda superintendent be invited to discuss the matter before it. We need to introduce that more formal type of arrangement because it gives people a voice through their elected members at local level to interact with gardaí on general policing policy. This more formal interaction happens in other countries where local police chiefs work with and come before city councils. There is another role for joint policing committees where members of community groups, voluntary organisations etc. can interact with gardaí in a more informal capacity.

There are perhaps two roles for the committees. My understanding of the Bill is that the joint policing committees as envisaged bring these roles together as one. We need to separate them. We should have formal interaction with the local authority and a more informal working relationship with local communities, including members of the local authority.

In some areas there is an anti-Garda ethos and one of today's newspapers reported on that. Previously I worked as a teacher in a school where we used invite members of the Garda into the classroom. They came in, often dressed informally, interacted with the young teenagers and answered their questions. Their visits were important because they bridged the gap between the formal garda and the young citizen. A particular result of these visits was that a young girl rang the Garda station to speak to the female garda who had visited the classroom. This girl was being accosted inappropriately on her way home in the evenings. As a result of having met the garda informally in the classroom, the girl felt she could ask to speak to her and have the problem dealt with, and it was dealt with in a professional manner. This sort of relationship must be developed between gardaí and our young people.

Section 29 deals with the importance of the Irish language. To my shame I am not fluent in Irish. I wonder whether the Official Languages Act applies where a person goes into a Garda station and wants to conduct his or her business as Gaeilge. A question struck me when the Bill was passing through the House; if a person is arrested, is the arresting garda obliged to caution him or her as Gaeilge as well as as Béarla? I am not sure about that. If a person wants to interact with gardaí as Gaeilge, has he or she a right in that regard? If the garda did not have competency in Irish, would there be a difficulty? We could tie ourselves up in knots and red tape, but this is the time to raise these issues and tease them out.

I agree with Deputy Hoctor that it is important that there is adequate training for members of the joint policing committees. We need more debate and clarity on the issue of volunteers. The volunteers will have the same powers and role as gardaí, but I am not sure whether they will have the same training as gardaí. How will they deal with cases where they must go before a court to give evidence or where they have to arrest people? How will these volunteers be recruited? The word "volunteer" implies they will not be paid, but they will probably have expenses of some sort. Will these issues be teased out? Will the volunteers have Garda uniforms?

I raise these issues on account of my experience in An Fórsa Cosanta Áitiúil, the reserve army. That force did not have anything like the interaction with the public that these volunteers will have. It is important, however, to ensure when people are put in uniform they are properly trained and resourced and that they have proper back-up. Their role must be thought out fully. If they are to have the same role as gardaí, they must be subject to the same restrictions and responsibilities. The Bill indicates these volunteers will not be community police as such, a different concept. They will be volunteers who will form a reserve police force. Will they be paid when they go on duty?

The Bill also addresses the issues of the inspectorate and the ombudsman commission. There has been much debate on this. I agree there is a need for both roles. If there is a conflict between the inspectorate and the commission, which will have supremacy? If, for example, the inspectorate says gardaí may use a certain procedure, but the commission finds human rights will be affected by that procedure, who will adjudicate on the issue? This matter must be clarified as it is not clear in the Bill as it stands.

I welcome the opportunity of being helpful and making these general points. Section 38 provides for the annual report of the Garda Síochána to be brought forward. I understand that it will be laid before the House five months after the year ends. That time should be reduced to maintain confidence. There is much good in this welcome Bill, yet it is important to have debate on it. The ombudsman commission is a good and welcome idea. It is important that citizens are made aware of the commission, its role and authority so that they know how to proceed if they want to make a complaint. I wish the Minister and the Bill well and look forward to further debate on Committee and Report Stages.

Fine Gael welcomes this important Bill but has some questions and concerns. A particular concern is the role of the Accounting Officer. The Secretary General of the Department is the Accounting Officer, but under this Bill it will be the Garda Commissioner. Value for money is important, as I know from my experience as Chairman of the Committee of Public Accounts. The difficulty for Mr. Dalton was that he had so many different areas of responsibility and it was difficult to deal responsibly with Garda expenditure when he was not the person wholly accountable.

The remit of accounting for the significant expenditure within the Garda and ensuring we get effective value for money is a most important responsibility for the Garda Commissioner, not alone from the point of view of services and the pay element, but from the point of view of investment in Garda stations and cars and the critical investments needed for victims of crime and other associated costs. In essence the Garda Commissioner must be concerned with value for the taxpayer. He will no doubt focus on getting the proper methodology in place in his office so that there will be total accountability with regard to the expenditure of taxpayers' money in the delivery of an effective service throughout the State. This is something that is very much needed. It was very much lacking within the Department because the Accounting Officer's responsibilities are so wide and include the Prison Service, child care and so on. The Accounting Officer will deal solely with the Garda and this will be ring-fenced. The accounts will be audited by the Comptroller and Auditor General and the Accounting Officer will appear before the Committee of Public Accounts, which is welcome.

Section 14 provides for the appointment of volunteer members to the force but it is vague and ambiguous. However, the Minister recently announced that the volunteer force will comprise 1,400 members and, more significantly, while the volunteers will not receive the same two-year training course as members of the Garda, they will have the same powers. This is extraordinary. While I support the creation of such a force, volunteers should not have the same powers, given the responsibilities involved. The standard of training and qualifications of gardaí in Templemore is high. For example, volunteers will be expected to prepare files for court and to be well versed in the cases to obtain prosecutions. Will the Minister explain his thinking in this regard?

The recruitment of volunteers will be difficult. I am the chairman of a voluntary company which deals with people on FÁS schemes. It is extremely difficult to get people to participate in such schemes, even though they are paid to do so. However, volunteers will be expected to take on a dangerous job without payment. It is hard to believe people will volunteer, unless significant expenses are offered. This does not stack up.

However, the Minister has missed a significant opportunity. Up to 3,000 gardaí have retired in recent years having reached the age of 50 and served in the force for 30 years. They could have served until they were 57 years. They are entitled to a gratuity, which they do not receive until they reach 57 years, but the Minister could pay them after 30 years service and then re-employ them on seven-year contracts. Experience cannot be beaten. If these retired gardaí could access their gratuities, the Garda could re-invest in their experience and re-employ them. This, in turn, would free younger gardaí from desk work to go on the beat. The retired gardaí could man stations on day shift contracts and do much of the clerical work, given their vast expertise. It is not too late to do this and the Minister should examine this issue. These gardaí could be given a special rank and a long service increment.

Garda confidentiality is also an issue. How will volunteers be screened to ensure the confidentiality of Garda operations, the PULSE system and so on? The proposal on the volunteer force has not been fully thought out. Only a few masochists would volunteer to do a dangerous job and work with the Garda and the legal profession. Perhaps I will be proved incorrect. However, the Minister has lost an opportunity to hire experienced personnel who leave the force when they are 50 and who usually take up jobs with security firms and so on.

I am concerned that a number of sections in the Bill will turn the Minister for Justice, Equality and Law Reform into the chief of police. He or she will have a substantial role in directing the Garda. All substantive aspects of policing matters must, first, be approved by the Minister. For example, the Minister may set Garda priorities under section 19; the Garda strategy statement must be submitted to him or her for approval under section 20; the annual policing plan must be submitted to the Minister for approval; and, perhaps, most significantly, the Minister can issue directives to the Garda under section 22. The Minister is giving his successors significant powers. Will his desire to control the Garda be matched by a willingness to reply to parliamentary questions about the force when the Bill is enacted? That is a critical issue.

If an independent police authority was in place, I would not have to reply to any question.

We are aware of that.

When we table questions to the Minister regarding the Garda, we are informed that is the responsibility of the Garda Commissioner, not the Minister, but the Commissioner is not answerable to the House.

The Minister has responsibility for nothing.

It would be most welcome if the Minister gave a commitment to reply to parliamentary questions on the Garda when the legislation is enacted.

Sections 30 to 34, inclusive, provide for the first time a statutory basis for the involvement of local authorities in policing matters. Interaction between local authorities and the Garda is long overdue. It is a welcome measure, which Fine Gael has advocated for some time. Garda superintendents will meet local authority officials and this is the most welcome provision in the legislation. Garda superintendents, who are all-powerful in their districts, will have a statutory duty to meet local authority officials and public representatives to discuss road safety, policing, anti-social behaviour and licensing laws.

If communities are to experience long-term reductions in crime, local authorities must take on a dedicated oversight role in policing matters. I hope the Minister has discussed this with the Department of the Environment, Heritage and Local Government to establish how effective local authorities could be in taking on this role. It is important that local authorities should promote the local policing boards upon their establishment. Providing a forum for gardaí and local authorities to exchange views and co-ordinate their activities will bring real benefits to local communities. It will certainly provide an opportunity for interaction and give a sense of ownership to a public that is fast becoming disenchanted with our criminal justice system. Interaction between gardaí and communities must be brought down to a more local level.

An enormous amount of legislation has been enacted in these Houses in recent years and the difficulty is to implement it effectively. The biggest difficulty is that there are too few gardaí on the beat. With the three-shift system, on any given day in Sligo alone there might be only ten gardaí on duty out of perhaps 100 due to time off, holidays and so on. That is a major problem.

The Minister lost a huge opportunity with the volunteer system. It is not too late for him to examine the possibility of re-employing gardaí at the age of 50.

There is no reason there would not be volunteer members.

They will not work for nothing.

It is a unique concept.

It is like every other common law country such as Canada, New Zealand and Australia.

The Minister cannot compare Ireland to a country like New Zealand. The economies of scale are completely different. Policing here is completely different. I do not know how the Minister can make any comparison with other jurisdictions when it comes to policing. If he expects a member to return to the force as a volunteer, having retired at 50 after 30 years' service, he is not living in the real world. I cannot see that happening. It may be possible to re-employ them under a different contract but they will not return unless the Minister clearly indicates the type of contract they will be offered, such as day shifts or whatever.

They would all retire at 50 if that were the case.

The Minister sounds deeply suspicious, almost paranoid.

The Minister has lost 3,000 of the most experienced Garda members in the past three to four years——

That is right.

——at the age of 50 having given 30 years' service. If he were to indicate that they could tap into their gratuity, that would be welcome because those members are a huge loss. They are just waiting for an offer from the Minister. If they got a gratuity cheque and were employed on day shifts, I am certain they would return.

The annual report for 2003 was published towards the end of 2004. It took almost one year for the Garda to compile its annual report. With that level of inefficiency we will not see the publication of the 2004 annual report until next Christmas.

With regard to accountability, I am delighted the Minister is now seeing the type of accountability we experience in the Committee of Public Accounts regarding the responsibility of the Accounting Officer. There should be accountability in every Garda district in terms of the way funding is spent and the level of service provided.

On the inadequate Garda facilities, the gardaí are using third-rate vehicles.


They are provided with commercial vehicles instead of specially manufactured patrol cars with the emphasis on security. Gardaí are chasing criminals driving cars with turbo-charged engines in a vehicle with a 1.6 litre engine. They are not at the races at all in that regard.

With a lot of noise from the chassis.

Section 38 requires the Garda to publish its annual report four months after the year end. That would be a vast improvement and I hope it happens.

On the question of the volunteer members, I hope it will not be like "Dad's Army" because the way it is being framed it is almost like an imaginary plan. People looking for financial gain will not volunteer to take up a high-risk job. Trainee gardaí, having spent only two years in Templemore, are being put into uniform without much training.

It is a new concept. A free-standing volunteer force.

Perhaps such systems operate effectively in New Zealand and Australia. I will have to investigate that matter further.

The Garda Complaints Board has been the focus of consistent criticism for some time. It does not have the confidence of the public. We welcome the Minister's decision to dissolve the Garda Complaints Board and opt for the ombudsman model, which we have advocated for some time. The ombudsman commission will comprise three persons to be appointed by the Dáil. Why has the Minister departed from the good precedent set in Northern Ireland where one ombudsman was favoured?


We welcome the power given to the ombudsman in section 94(4) to initiate an investigation.

Section 66 appears to envisage a need for gardaí to provide special assistance to the ombudsman commission but is it not damaging to the independence of the ombudsman commission if members of the Garda are brought in to investigate other gardaí? If persons of particular expertise are required, why can they not be from the UK, Canada, France or elsewhere?

The Bill is welcome, although it has many shortcomings. The sections about which I am concerned are those on the Garda volunteer force and the additional powers to the Minister. I welcome the local authority involvement. I am concerned that when Garda stations are to be searched the ombudsman must notify them prior to their investigation. If one were to have a hygiene audit, there would be little point in giving notice that it would take place the next day.

We welcome the last-minute decision to amend the Bill to provide for the Garda inspectorate. One reservation we have is that the inspectorate could have been established as part of the ombudsman's commission rather than as a separate body. It is extraordinary that we will have the appointment of an inspectorate and an ombudsman's commission when we could have had the one office.

I am delighted to speak on the Bill. It is vital that we reassure and involve the public. I hope the local authority involvement is not just lip service and that citizens of the State will be involved in the important consultation that will take place with residents, local authority representatives and politicians in their own areas to discuss the important issue of law and order.

I welcome the opportunity to speak on the Bill and make some general points on the improvement needed in the services and the security provided by gardaí.

I acknowledge the administrative role mentioned in the context of the Bill and I compliment the Minister introducing the Bill on the amount of legislation he is bringing before the Dáil for approval. While every Bill assists in the administration of the State, this Bill will touch the lives not only of the gardaí but the people with whom they engage on a daily basis.

The Bill is timely because the Garda Síochána, as an organisation, has to be modernised, better resourced and given the opportunity to engage in a positive way with the communities within which it works. It has to be resourced in a way that allows it to be a step ahead of those involved in criminal activity. At the same time, it has to be in a position to reach out to communities to assist them in their endeavours, thereby ensuring that the people it represents can live in a safe place in comfort and dignity.

I would like to discuss the response of the Garda to the problems faced by the elderly in our communities. The biggest change I can remember in my local Garda station in County Kilkenny was the appointment of a FÁS worker to answer telephones. After that person was appointed, telephones were answered on time and complaints were logged and, presumably, passed on thereafter. The worker answering the telephone engaged with the person making the call. When one contacts a Garda station, one often gets the feeling that not enough people are on duty and those who are on duty cannot deal with all the aspects of that station's administration. One often wonders whether there is a need for urgent and immediate change.

I would like local Garda stations to be better resourced so they can employ civilians to conduct administrative functions, thereby allowing those who are trained in dealing with society to get back on the streets. It would mean that the number of gardaí on the beat could be increased and more people could deal with community issues. I am glad that this Bill relates to administration and engagement with local authorities and local groups.

The community watch and community alert schemes which were promoted in the past were more relevant to an era that has passed. We are living in a different society that has moved on considerably. We no longer pursue a policy of closing Garda stations in rural communities because we understand that such stations are needed in growing communities. There was a time when one could count on the fingers of one hand the number of houses in some villages in County Kilkenny, but estates of more than 100 houses are now being built in such villages. We need to increase the policing service being provided in areas where Garda stations were closed some years ago so that they can benefit from some Garda presence in the interests of law and order.

As urban centres have grown throughout the country, problems such as anti-social behaviour, drug and alcohol abuse and general criminality have increased in tandem. As a representative of a rural constituency, I think there has been a phenomenal growth in such problems in recent years. The efforts being made to combat such crime are not succeeding, much to the frustration of local communities. I assume the complaints made to public representatives are also made to the gardaí working in such communities, but such matters are not being resolved.

It seems that community gardaí are often transferred as they are about to get fully engaged with local communities. It may take some time for a community garda to find out who the culprits are, to determine the best way of tackling such people, ascertain which families should be targeted and access the supports which are needed. Just as they are becoming familiar with such matters, they are moved to another community or another Garda station. Those involved in police administration should understand the importance of basing young gardaí, in particular, in certain locations for a sufficient length of time. There is a need for such gardaí to be allowed to do their jobs in local communities in the way they should be done. I hope this Bill will bring about such a change.

I have said in this House during debates on other Bills that it is pointless to introduce legislative provisions without also providing the necessary funds. That is what it boils down to. If one does not have a sufficient number of gardaí and the appropriate level of facilities — a Deputy mentioned the need for fast Garda cars — we will be trying to combat crime from the back foot. That is what is happening in areas where such resources have not been put in place. People in the community are being pestered as a result. Elderly people, for example, expect somebody to call to the door after they telephone a Garda station, but they feel vulnerable when that does not happen.

When a man was shot in Dublin recently while driving a truck, there was an inadequate response from the Garda after the complaint was made. I do not wish to blame the Garda, or to pass the buck, because it simply does not have enough resources. We have to take responsibility for that in the House. The Garda has served the State well throughout its history. It is doing an excellent job, but it could do much better if its structures and its level of funding were much different.

Many complaints are made each year about individual gardaí and about the handling of individual cases. Frustrated constituents have made serious complaints to me about the handling of particular cases. In some instances, they do not complain about the manner in which the authorities responded to their complaints, but they make the point that they did not receive a response to the complaints. Some people who made serious complaints were not engaged with in a suitable manner.

One constituent continues to approach me to complain about the investigation into a road death. The constituent has made complaints to all and sundry, including the Garda Commissioner and, recently, the Minister for Justice, Equality and Law Reform. I will not name names, but I ask that the complaint be considered by the Minister in the context of this Bill. There is a need for somebody within the justice system — in the Garda Commissioner's office or the Minister's office, or within the existing complaints procedures — to recognise the complaint to which I refer, which relates to County Kilkenny, and to deal with it in a constructive manner. It needs to be dealt with. I came to the House today specifically to claim that the case in question is not being dealt with. If something is not done to deal with the issue, I will name names and make the details public in this House in due course.

I have received numerous complaints from constituents, but little response from the Minister, unfortunately, about the handling of missing persons cases. I have tried to highlight such cases since I was elected to the House. I have asked for a special unit to be established with the Garda, to be supported by those who are involved in best practice in this area in the United States, continental Europe and the United Kingdom.

Having travelled to the United States some time ago to investigate these matters, I explained to the previous Garda Commissioner at a meeting of an Oireachtas committee what was being done there. I was amazed to learn that the Garda was in possession of knowledge we thought was fresh and new, but it had not acted on it. The idea for a website,, resulted from dealings with the International Centre for Missing and Exploited Children in Washington. It took more than two years for the centre and the Garda Commissioner’s office to conclude their negotiations on putting the website in place. That delay is particularly regrettable when one considers that the website’s success rate has been simply incredible.

When I was in the United States, I learned of the case of a child who went missing at the age of four and was found at the age of 14. Success was achieved in that instance because the authorities' approach to the investigation was consistent — they simply would not let the case die. Police enforcement agencies in various parts of the US have helped with, which represents a small step in the long process of developing a search protocol that will operate in the cases of those over the age of 18. Such a protocol has not yet been put in place, however.

If one listens to any of the radio programmes or media reports about the families of missing persons, one will learn that such families believe that nobody engages with them. They do not think they receive any support from the health authorities or the Garda Síochána to assist them with their trauma. Nobody seems to be dealing with such cases. I appreciate that a major effort, Operation Trace, took place but it was just a paper exercise. It was merely a review of the files. I hope on Committee Stage the Minister will visit the issue of missing persons to ensure that greater numbers of gardaí are trained through the exchange programme operated with John Jay College in New York by the Jerry McCabe fellowship. We must engage far more constructively if we are to ensure that people are trained properly. Our willingness to engage must reflect the fact that the authorities in the USA are prepared to co-operate with the Garda and the limited nature of the costs involved.

The FBI posts three officers to the International Centre for Missing and Exploited Children in Washington whose dedicated function is to work with the organisation which is sponsored by both the Government and private sectors. The centre was prepared to make technology and personnel available to us. Senator Hilary Clinton's office said she would make her adviser in this area available to the Garda to explain the systems employed, the amber alert protocol, a code Adam and the way in which searches are conducted in the USA. The offer was never taken up.

If legislative change is necessary, why not make it? Perhaps, the changes can be implemented through the Bill before us. We know the support we need is available. Why not appoint a number of properly qualified people to engage on a regular basis with the families of missing persons to ensure that searches remain ongoing? No Member will have seen a photograph of Jo Jo Dollard since 1995, the year in which she went missing. In the USA, a photograph is updated with the co-operation of the family of the missing person and published in the media, on leaflets, on the Internet and on the backs of milk cartons. Private enterprise co-operates with the process. Files are continually updated and the public is kept informed.

We do not do these things. This debate represents the only opportunity I have had to appeal to the Minister to reconsider his position and effect a change in legislation. It would not cost a fortune. I have come to the House from a meeting of the Committee of Public Accounts where I was made aware of the number of fortunes to be saved in the context of what goes on in public spending. It is possible to source the funds to facilitate missing persons provisions in the legislation, establish a Garda unit and implement technology based on the website to address the cases of persons who are 18 years of age and over.

Legislative provisions are also required to clarify how and when a search should be conducted and to establish what should be the Garda response when a person goes missing. If the required changes cannot be made in the Bill, I urge the Minister to bring forward special legislative provisions. We must examine Garda resources for community policing, traffic duties and administration in the context of the prolonged search for a missing person whose body was eventually discovered on her next-door neighbour's property. In another instance, a body was found on the other side of a wall which gardaí had passed 100 times during their search. I do not believe the area of Castledermot in which Jo Jo Dollard went missing was searched to the extent to which it would be searched had she gone missing today.

All of these cases can be related to those of Holly Wells and Jessica Chapman a couple of years ago in the United Kingdom. Police were brought in from other constabulary areas as were other professionals. They searched until they found the missing persons.

They missed out in the search. It was badly conducted.

I am making a comparison and I ask Deputy Durkan to do likewise. I ask him to compare the search in the United Kingdom, despite its flaws, with the search conducted here in 1995 and then to tell me what he thinks.

I will tell Deputy McGuinness. The search in the United Kingdom was not a good police search.

Deputy McGuinness, without interruption.

I will gladly debate the matter with him at any time.

I studied the case very carefully too. The search was appallingly bad.

The Deputy should make a comparison with the search conducted in Cork in more recent times. The response of the general pubic was overwhelming. I call on the Minister and the Garda to try to harness through this and other legislation some of that public support and energy and to establish protocols and a proper approach to the search for missing persons. While I may appear to focus on a single issue, Members would also be encouraged not to let it drop were they to witness the sadness and trauma families experience every day after a person goes missing.

I am disappointed that every effort by me and the family of Jo Jo Dollard to discuss with the Minister the information available from the USA and possible approaches to the issue has failed. I have asked the Government to set out a policy in this area and to coax or cajole the Garda Commissioner to adopt its point of view. I am also disappointed that I have waited for 12 months for an appointment to meet the Garda Commissioner to discuss this matter without result. While he has not failed to respond, he has yet to set a date for a meeting.

We are a long way from implementing best practice. I encourage the Minister to take on board my comments which are constructively meant. While I wish him well with his legislation, I ask him to respond positively and without delay for the sake of those people who have had people go missing.

I dealt with a case in my constituency which was similar to the one outlined by Deputy McGuinness and involved a young woman who went missing. While her phone was eventually found beside a canal, it was a number of days before her body was discovered at the same location. It was very frustrating for the family. The father of the young woman went to the canal and knew that it was not very deep yet the search party did not look in it. The failure added to the family's trauma. While I accept what Deputy McGuinness said about good practice, it would not encourage the families of missing persons. The experience of the family in my constituency and many others raises many questions. It is only when a person one knows goes missing that one is really affected.

Other Members spoke of anger and frustration in communities, which is not to detract from the positive elements of the Bill. A significant problem in my area is the difficulty of getting through to a Garda station by phone. Despite the fact that it is the 21st century, people speak of it taking 15 or 20 minutes to get through to a station. Whatever about faster cars for gardaí, it is necessary to address basic infrastructural needs. I share the concerns of Deputy McGuinness about drug and drink problems. Parts of my constituency have a higher than average incidence of drug and alcohol misuse than is the case nationally. In many instances, these problems were not addressed until local community interests got together.

Debate adjourned.