I begin by reiterating an important point that was made by our party spokesperson on justice. Despite what some Members on the Government side of the House have said, Sinn Féin does not see the Garda Síochána in the category as the RUC-PSNI. We acknowledge the Garda as the State's legitimate police service and recognise and applaud the good work done by many gardaí in our community over the years.
Garda Síochána Bill 2004 [Seanad]: Second Stage (Resumed).
Does that include Detective Garda Jerry McCabe?
Yes, it does. However, confidence in the Garda is diminishing in many working class communities and the case for fundamental reform is well-established and timely. Sinn Féin has published detailed reform proposals to restore community confidence, which we submitted to the Minister for Justice, Equality and Law Reform for his consideration prior to this Bill's publication.
My colleagues will go into more detail on our proposals to establish a policing board for civilian oversight and community policing partnerships at district levels for local community accountability, which differ from the Minister's proposed Garda inspectorate in Part 5 and the joint policing committees in Part 2, sections 30 to 34.
I turn to our proposal to establish a Garda ombudsman for this State to investigate allegations of Garda misconduct and abuse of power and to end the culture of impunity which is quite different in several major respects from the ombudsman commission proposed by the Minister in Parts 3 and 4 of the Bill.
Sinn Féin recommends the establishment, on a statutory basis, of a fully independent Garda ombudsman to investigate police misconduct. Impunity for police misconduct is a major human rights issue around the world. It is not limited to the Six Counties nor to this State. Last year, an Amnesty International report on Europe revealed that impunity is endemic in most European jurisdictions. We accept that the level and extent of misconduct here is not equivalent to that of the RUC-PSNI but that does not mean people in this jurisdiction do not deserve the same standard of protections as their Northern counterparts. Indeed, Strand Three of the Good Friday Agreement stipulates that equivalence is an obligation on the Irish Government.
Sinn Féin's proposals for a Garda ombudsman are based on the Patten reform model which is consistent with UN and Council of Europe standards on policing. While Patten was, and remains, a compromise for Sinn Féin, we have accepted it as the absolute minimum acceptable standard for a human rights compliant and accountable policing service. The ombudsman element of the Sinn Féin Garda reform package is, therefore, consistent with the Good Friday Agreement in that it relates to harmonisation of human rights protections which, as set out in Strand Three, must be at least equivalent in the two jurisdictions on the island. The Minister cannot extract himself from his obligations in this regard.
This is not only our view. We welcome the growing consensus that only an ombudsman can provide an effective complaints mechanism and that nothing less than an ombudsman can command full public confidence. Leading human rights groups in this State, the Human Rights Commission, the Irish Council for Civil Liberties and Amnesty International have endorsed this as the most appropriate model for the gardaí. Amnesty International went further, advocating it as a model for police services throughout the EU. Other progressive political parties, such as the Labour Party and the Green Party, have also accepted it.
Consistent with the recommendations of the Irish Human Rights Commission, Sinn Féin proposes that a Garda ombudsman must be an open, merit based appointment selected on the basis of published criteria. It must be established separately from any body charged with a Garda management function or with a mandate to review Garda efficiency and effectiveness. It must be adequately resourced and staffed full time. It must be granted the necessary legal powers and resources to conduct independent investigations. It must be allowed a scope of investigations that include the special detective unit unless and until that unit is disbanded.
It must be authorised to question witnesses, compel document disclosure and access locations at will. It must be granted the same legal powers as gardaí to arrest and hold criminal suspects related to its own investigations. It must be empowered to determine breaches of Garda disciplinary code and to refer evidence of criminality on the part of gardaí to the Director of Public Prosecutions. It must be empowered to resolve appropriate complaints informally with the complainant's consent or to resolve complaints formally by assigning penalties and remedies, including recommendation for disciplinary action, dismissal, changes in policy or procedure or compensation to the complainant. It must be empowered to investigate systemic problems, including policies and practices, and make general recommendations to eliminate causes and classes of complaints. Where determined necessary by the ombudsman, this should include matters of national security.
The Garda ombudsman must be empowered to conduct independent investigations on matters of public interest on his or her own volition or on the request of the Minister without the need for a complainant. Investigations should be compulsory in the cases of certain violations involving loss of life, excessive force, ill treatment in custody, discrimination and political interference. Of critical importance for justice in this State and necessary for a real end to impunity, it must have retrospective investigative powers. Any information that becomes available to the Director of Public Prosecutions, which indicates Garda misconduct, should be automatically referred to the Garda ombudsman. Gardaí under investigation should be afforded the full protection of due process rights. Both parties should be afforded equal treatment before the law, including full disclosure and access to legal aid in cases where there is need and an opinion of sufficient merit.
The Garda ombudsman must be required to produce an annual report for publication, including statistics, identified trends or patterns, analyses and recommendations. The Government must establish a mechanism for effective interaction, sharing of information and collaborative investigation that enables the Garda ombudsman and the Police Ombudsman for the Six Counties to work together.
As the Irish Human Rights Commission has argued to the Minister, this reform is not only necessary to respond adequately to the criticism of the existing complaints system and recommendations raised repeatedly by the UN human rights committee and the European committee for the prevention of torture over ten years, it is also required to conform with both the European Court of Human Rights jurisprudence on standards of independence and impartiality in police conduct investigations and the Good Friday Agreement provisions on equivalent human rights protections between jurisdictions.
We welcome the Government's recognition that internal investigations and the Garda Complaints Board have proved totally inadequate. Both Governments' commitments to establish an independent complaints procedure date back to 1973. This issue must be resolved in the proper way without further delay. We have an opportunity now to shape the policing of the future for the people of Ireland and it is critical we get it right.
I recognise and welcome that since Sinn Féin made its submission to the Minister, he has moved away from his fundamentally flawed earlier Garda inspectorate model which wrongly combined investigatory with management functions and, in many ways, replicated the flaws of the current system. I acknowledge that he has taken on board several of our recommendations. However, the newly proposed ombudsman commission still does not get it right. The Minister's new model has also been criticised again by the Human Rights Commission. It has raised the following concerns which we share.
The appointment and dismissal processes are still not fully independent and transparent. Complaints can still be referred to the Garda Commissioner without the complainant's consent. Six months, the general time limit for complaints, is unreasonably short and restricts access to justice. The Garda Commissioner retains too much power over the investigation process and we could still end up with ineffective internal investigations where the outcome was less than death or serious harm. There is no obligation whatsoever on the commission to formally investigate serious cases involving allegations of torture, sexual assault or other abusive behaviour on the grounds of race or sexual orientation or political opinion if the end result was less than serious injury or death. Investigations can still be restricted in the name of national security and the commission still lacks the power to initiate investigations into individual incidents or systemic patterns of misconduct or abuse. These are the main concerns. There are others which my colleague, Deputy Ó Snodaigh, will treat in greater detail on Committee Stage.
I hope the Minister will accept Sinn Féin's constructive amendments to strengthen this aspect of the proposed legislation as I very much want to be able to throw my party's support behind this reform effort when the Bill returns to the House on Report Stage. I do not want ministerial intransigence to force me into a position of voting against this Bill.
I urge the Minister to go the extra mile and accept the consensus on the ombudsman issue and the broader issue of the validity of the Patten reform model for this jurisdiction. If he does so, he will have introduced legislation which commands all-party support. I urge him to take this opportunity to make genuine policing reform his positive lasting legacy as Minister for Justice, Equality and Law Reform.
I welcome the Bill and the debate which deal with the fundamental issue of how the Garda operates and how the service can be improved and the service that we, as politicians, think ought to be provided. Listening to the last speaker I am delighted Sinn Féin is talking about human rights. Sinn Féin and its fellow travellers in the IRA have a dismal and appalling human rights record North and South.
The Deputy should not kid himself, they are only talking about it.
I am not kidding myself. This is the party that has a baseball bat in one hand and an election poster in the other. It is time for them to make that step from the gun and the baseball bat to democracy. If they do that it will be welcome and overdue. To sit in a democratic Parliament and mouth the words it has just mouthed is insincere and hypocritical in the absence of such a commitment and decision from the party and its different organisations, which are all the one.
The issue of the Garda is one on which the Government campaigned strongly. InThe Irish Times of the election date on www.ireland.com the security correspondent wrote that the significant difference between Fianna Fáil and the Labour Party, Fine Gael and others was on the key issue of the Garda, and the fact that Fianna Fáil promised to recruit an extra 2,000 gardaí two years ago. This was the first time that had been proposed and it was an important and significant development. Obviously it was expected that would happen within weeks or months. We are two years down the road and still waiting for a fundamental change in the number of gardaí on our streets in towns, cities and communities. It was a con job by the Government in the general election campaign but we intend to hold it to that promise. We will continue to push for more and a better resourced Garda capable of providing a 21st century service to which the public is entitled.
An issue that arose recently was the number of gardaí on duty on St. Patrick's Day. We read in the national newspapers prior to the day that more gardaí would be on duty in Dublin and in cities and towns and everybody thought that was great. When it was over we heard there were more gardaí on duty on St. Patrick's Day around the country than ever before. However, when one tables a Dáil question and asks specifically about County Louth and how many gardaí were on duty in the towns of Drogheda, Dundalk and Ardee on St. Patrick's Day one is told that information is not available, that it is a reserve function of the Garda Commissioner to keep secret as an operational matter.
Where is the transparency and openness on Garda policy? What PR stunt is being pulled by the Department of Justice, Equality and Law Reform in the context of the number of gardaí on duty post the event? I do not want to know how many will be on duty tomorrow in Dublin city or any of those operational matters which it is important should not become public. After the event, surely the political system and the public are entitled to know if we are being protected or if it is all rubbish and PR stunts from the Government and, particularly, the Minister for Justice, Equality and Law Reform. I am appalled at the lack of information on a basic fundamental issue of how many gardaí are on duty, where they are and what they are doing post the event. I hope this will be covered in the Bill.
I note the Bill refers to changed fundamental approaches between the Garda and the local community. One of those changes is important and useful as it involves local authorities in local police issues. Recently in Dundalk an important public meeting was attended by the Garda and local authority members which was fully reported on in the local newspapers. This was the first indication of a new move between the Garda and the community, led by the political system. This is the type of policing the people need in their local communities — transparency, openness and co-operation between the Garda and the community. The local elected representatives are the proper people to debate the issue and inform Garda opinion. I welcome that move which is welcome also by the Garda who do a good job.
One of the key issues in Ireland is the lack of CCTV in many towns and cities, although it is in some of the major cities. In regard to modern policing, the Garda superintendent in Dundalk made it clear that is what he wants. He was photographed in the newspaper with approximately 16 screens behind him. People in Dundalk feel safe and secure, and rightly so, because they have CCTV. However, when one moves down the road to Drogheda there is no such CCTV system in place. The Garda superintendent in Drogheda wants it also. When I tabled a Dáil question to our wonderful Minister for Justice, Equality and Law Reform asking what was happening in regard to CCTV in Drogheda, the response was to wait until the end of 2006 and, if one was lucky, it might be available in 2007. There are 17 such applications before the Minister, but none of the towns is as large as Drogheda, and all will have CCTV in place. However, the Minister is lightening the burden on the Garda Síochána by seeking a new method of tendering for this equipment.
Let us get the facts right. The biggest town in Ireland is Drogheda and it does not have CCTV in place. Under this Government it will not have it until 2007. That is not acceptable. I have written to the Minister asking him to meet with a deputation from our community to make a strong case to him in person. CCTV has to be at the heart of modern policing.
A change in policy is needed from the top on where and how we do our policing, particularly late at night. There is no point in having Garda stations manned successfully from 9 a.m. to 5 p.m. when at night, particularly at weekends, there is only a limited number of gardaí on duty. The reality is that public disorder occurs mainly on Friday and Saturday nights. That is when we need a greater number of gardaí and their presence on the streets. If one speaks to the Garda, some of its members express the fear that if there are inadequate numbers on duty they will be personally exposed to assault and attack which, sadly, has happened.
It is a legitimate fear.
It is a real fear. Why are more gardaí not rostered for weekend and night duty? Is it a question of the Government not being prepared to pay the overtime? Clearly it is not prepared to recruit the gardaí. That is the nub of the issue in regard to public order offences throughout the country. CCTV in not in place in enough towns and cities nor are there enough gardaí on duty at night.
I refer to a photograph which appeared in theDrogheda Independent recently. It was of mounted gardaí on horses in the town. The next week I looked at the Dundalk newspaper and saw the same photograph. I wondered whether the horse had galloped up and down during the week or if the horse was on a PR course around the country. I welcome the fact that mounted police were on duty on at least one occasion in Drogheda and that the same horse appeared in Dundalk. I do not know what the facts are but I thought it was funny. I welcome it and I would like to see more. Let us be modern.
Let us look at what has happened in America, New York and Los Angeles where the whole police organisation was changed to put them on duty on rota when one knows there will be trouble. Why have a Garda station full of gardaí from 9 a.m. to 5 p.m. and few on duty at night?
When travelling to Dublin during the past few days I have noticed an increase in the number of gardaí on patrol on the motorway. That is good, helpful and constructive. While the Garda may be on duty the number of cameras for the purpose of catching speeding motorists is inadequate. There ought to be hundreds more cameras on motorways and on the approaches to towns which are high risk accident areas without the necessity to take a garda from other work to do that job.
This morning a wonderful gentleman suddenly decided to skip down the bus lane to get into town earlier, leaving the rest of us motorists stranded in a queue, which has become longer since this Government took office. I suggest that speed cameras be used on the bus lanes in place of gardaí. It would be a practical and cost-effective measure, even though I acknowledge the worth of a Garda presence.
I wish to highlight the difference in Garda numbers in different towns with which I am familiar. I will not name the towns. One town may have no garda on street duty at 8 p.m. or 9 p.m. while in other towns many gardaí are on duty. Different policies regarding the number of gardaí on the beat seem to apply in different areas. I am not suggesting that gardaí are moved from area A to area B but rather that the numbers in the main towns should be augmented.
The link between the community and the gardaí has been broken by that wonderful invention, the Garda car. The garda on the beat is a key element. I noticed on a recent visit to America that police bicycle patrols are used. These are cost-effective and efficient. I was a member of the Garda Síochána and the exercise would have kept me slimmer. Modernisation in the form of a rapid response unit is required. More gardaí on the streets give a sense of security.
I was in Philadelphia at a waste management conference which was not a junket in the political sense. I noticed that at 6 p.m. all the major city intersections had a police patrol in place. Everybody knew they were there and it was a deterrent. I was aware of the efficient and low-key presence of the police on the streets of Philadelphia which is not apparent in Dublin or in other cities and towns because gardaí are not doing those jobs.
I question why the Garda is not provided with more resources and why there is not a fundamental change in their operational methods. I urge the Minister of State to take these points on board in a constructive manner. People must feel safe. I presume everyone in this House brings their car keys upstairs at night — unless one is a Minister. In my constituency many people are robbed at night. Thieves can remove double glazing panels, enter the house, take the car keys and drive off into the night. What is being done about this? People do not feel that their cars are safe outside the front door. That professional thieves are travelling from the cities to commit these crimes. As a benchmark of how this Government is not working and of the lack of proper policing, I ask the public to judge the effectiveness or otherwise of the policing system and in particular its level of resourcing by the Minister for Justice, Equality and Law Reform. People judge it according to whether their car will still be there in the morning. This crime is becoming endemic and I ask the Minister of State to examine strategies for dealing with it. One strategy would be to have more gardaí on duty at night and to have greater vigilance on the motorways in order to intercept the speeding thieves.
My constituency colleagues and I are fully supportive of the Garda. The Garda Síochána in County Louth are extremely helpful to us and will help solve any problem in a constructive manner. I do not mean we interfere with the business of the Garda but rather we identify problems which have arisen in the community. The biggest problem of all in our society is anti-social behaviour. I would like to see many more community police on duty in urban communities. I have put down a parliamentary question today to the Minister on this matter.
Poorer communities which experience unemployment are also more likely to have a drugs problem. It is essential to have a better link between the people and the Garda. In Drogheda a Garda sergeant has been nominated to deal with the issues arising in one part of the town. People know the community gardaí and therefore they respect them. When I was young everybody knew the local gardaí. They were leaders in the community and their families were known. It is too impersonal now and contact has been lost. I do not wish to hear people complaining that the Garda response to calls is slow or non-existent. Part of the duties of the Garda Síochána is to build up strong links with the community. The juvenile liaison officers have a positive interaction with schools and young people.
I welcome the Bill and look forward to the Minister changing the operational procedures of the force and investing in better resources, particularly for the communities which most need this support.
Like other speakers, I welcome the Bill and I am pleased to have the opportunity to speak on Second Stage. Before dealing with the detail of the Bill, I wish to pay tribute to the Garda Síochána. It has a very proud record of service to the country since its foundation and it has evolved into quite a modern and well-developed police force. Some members have given great years of service to the force and some have given their lives to protect us. A school colleague of mine, Tony Hickey, who retired as Assistant Commissioner a few weeks ago, was one of the greatest policemen of our time. I wish him a very long and happy retirement.
I listened to many speakers because I was Acting Chairman for some of the debate. I listened to Deputy Crowe extolling the virtues of the Patten report. I regard the Patten report as a very good report. However, the Patten Commission was set up to reorganise a fundamentally dysfunctional police force. To cut to the chase, if Sinn Féin and Deputy Crowe are so enamoured of all the provisions of the Patten Commission's recommendations, why then are they not members of the policing boards and of the district policing partnerships, of which they are such great fans? To be frank, the Chief Constable and his management team has done a really good job. A police force must have the confidence and the co-operation of the community. The PSNI is working towards this goal and the Chief Constable is doing a good job in achieving this.
The Garda Síochána has been policing with the consent and co-operation of the community in this Republic. I acknowledge that improvements need to be made, that deficiencies exist and that reforms are required. It gives me no pleasure to listen to re-enactments of the Morris tribunal activities on night-time radio programmes or to read about them in the newspapers. It is not pleasant to hear about miscarriages of justice which arose due to inadequate or faulty Garda investigations or instances where the Garda has been at fault and has not been prepared to admit its failings.
However, we are not comparing like with like. The Garda Síochána polices with the support of the vast majority of people in the Republic. There are models in parts of the United Kingdom and the United States which we can usefully consider. However, to suggest that everything proposed in Northern Ireland should be replicated in this State is to miss the point. I urge Sinn Féin in the strongest terms and with whatever authority I might have in this House to join wholeheartedly and unreservedly in policing in Northern Ireland. This would be one of the greatest confidence-building measures it could make.
An issue that is constantly raised with me is that of Garda numbers. Two places in which police numbers are tightly regulated and controlled are Northern Ireland and South Africa. I would hold neither of these models as example of good policing. There is no doubt Garda numbers must be increased and the projected expansion to 14,000 is probably inadequate. I presume those involved in strategic management in the Garda and the Department of Justice, Equality and Law Reform are examining the census figures, which indicate not only a rapidly increasing population but the development of a very diversified population.
Garda recruitment policies should be modified so that the different community interests and ethnic groupings are allowed to contribute to policing. For example, the requirement that gardaí must be competent in Irish must be reconsidered in a thoughtful manner. I am reluctant to discard the Irish language requirement but such issues must be examined if we are to have a police force that reflects all aspects of the community.
We should discuss the provisions of the Bill in a spirit of constructive appraisal of the Garda Síochána. Our objective is to improve policing and we all want to facilitate the modification and fine-tuning of structures devised in different times and social conditions to suit the circumstances of the new century. Several Members observed that emphasis is placed on different aspects of policing in different areas. There may be significant emphasis on community policing in one locality, for example, because there is a senior garda who is driving that almost as a personal interest. Gardaí in another area might concentrate on tackling drug abuse. We must devise a mix of structures which will ensure a coherent form of policing that is fine-tuned to society's needs.
In this context, it is important to note that this legislation is introduced not to undermine but rather to underpin the Garda Síochána and the work it carries out to protect our freedoms as individuals and as a society. The Bill undoubtedly contains the most comprehensive and possibly the most important legislative provisions on policing ever to come before this House. The importance of the legislation, its aims and functions heighten the need to get it right and necessitate the time we have taken to have a comprehensive debate and to receive submissions from interested parties.
I compliment Dublin City Council and the Lord Mayor of Dublin, Councillor Michael Conaghan, on the establishment of its commission on policing. The recommendations of that commission will contribute to a further enlightenment in respect of the provisions of this Bill. I was in Ballymun earlier this week for a meeting of the local safety forum at which the Lord Mayor outlined his vision of policing and the interaction between local authorities and the Garda. This consultation represented a model of best practice in that it involved the Garda chief superintendent, the superintendent, an inspector and a sergeant from the Garda drugs squad, together with an assistant city manager, the local area manager, representatives of residents' associations and delegates from the Health Service Executive.
The main recommendations of the Lord Mayor's commission have been well rehearsed elsewhere. The Minister has taken on board many of them in the area of engaging with local authorities by giving them a say and inviting them to be partners in the development of a consensus policing arrangement in their communities. This is the way forward but it is important that we get this process right. A similar forum I attended in another locality last month turned out to be a very unfocused discussion which lacked coherence. In effect, it was a whingeing forum for those present.
One key difference between these two experiences was that the Ballymun meeting was attended by the most senior representatives responsible for the allocation of resources from the local authority and the Garda. The other meeting was attended by members of the excellent community policing unit but nobody more senior than the sergeant and inspector. The Minister should bear this in mind when framing statutory instruments and secondary provisions in the Bill. It is important that we ensure the provisions in this regard are adequate if we are serious about engaging local authorities and community interests.
The Bill's proposals reflect the outcome of a review of the Garda Síochána carried out under the Government's strategic management initiative. In doing so, it aims for greater clarity, democratic accountability and transparency within the force. It is fair to say we are experiencing a period in which confidence within the Garda is diminished because of lack of transparency. The implementation of this Bill can effect a change in this regard provided it enjoys the goodwill of all those involved. We can enact as many legislative provisions as we desire but without the support of the Garda authorities and staff representative organisations, the three-legged stool of policing will not work.
The encouragement and receipt of submissions from interested parties over a period was an important element of the development of this Bill. It is to be hoped that during the debate on Committee Stage some further refinements will be possible. The Bill sets out for the first time in law the functions and objectives of the Garda. The roles of and relationship between the Minister and the Garda Commissioner are defined openly and transparently. For example, it provides that the Minister is entitled to set policing priorities. In addition, it puts in place new and comprehensive reporting requirements for certain matters, including the plans of the Commissioner for the year ahead and his or her assessment of the previous year.
There is an argument that there should be an independent Garda authority. The Minister has contended that this would preclude this House's role as the forum to which policing is directly accountable. I am not certain I agree with that argument and hope it might be possible to review it. It is possible for this Parliament to have an oversight function in policing without being in any way restrictive in the negative sense.
The Bill brings the management structures of the force into the 21st century, particularly in respect of staff appointments and reviews. The Garda Commissioner is being assigned new powers and responsibilities regarding the distribution of the force, financial matters and civilian support staff. These new powers are balanced by more comprehensive accountability measures, including the establishment of a statutory audit committee with independent members. Why does such a committee not exist already? It should be a given in any organisation, be it a policing organisation or commercial body. Nonetheless, if we must set such provisions in stone to have a policing force in which we all can have confidence, let us go down that route. I recall few enough examples of questionable practices in terms of management or accountability. There may be examples from earlier times.
The most fundamental and welcome development in the Bill is in section 31. It provides for the establishment of joint policing committees with Garda and local authority representation. I referred to this already. This measure will probably be the one that will win the confidence of the public.
Many Members have referred to Garda visibility. I do not want to quote extensively from the findings of the Lord Mayor's commission on crime but some of the quotations from the submissions of the focus groups that met the commission are constructive. Many communities reported that they are under-policed. They identified an apparent lack of interest on the part of local gardaí in what is considered to be minor crime. Some stated there was no visible police patrol in their area. The lack of a consistent visible police presence in the community is a continual complaint. The focus groups also contended that the need for Garda foot patrols is a must. People want to see a visible Garda presence on the streets, both day and night, and believe a squad car driving around occasionally does not solve or prevent the problems.
There is no doubt that the issue of Garda visibility is critical. I am not pretending that seeing one or two gardaí will transform people's perception of the need for a proactive police force, but I believe it makes a considerable difference. The very fact that gardaí can be seen is important. Many have adverted to the fact that it results in fewer groups congregating around shopping centres, for example. It can influence the problem of young and not-so-young people drinking in public, both day and night. There seems to be an epidemic involving people racing around our parks and streets on micro-motorcycles and scrambler bikes. When people ring up a Garda station about this, they are told the gardaí can do nothing because a squad car is not available. This undermines people's confidence in the Garda.
There is no doubt that there are examples of good practice by gardaí. Deputy O'Dowd reminded me of the use of bicycles by gardaí. This initiative began in Tallaght and Clontarf and has now been adopted elsewhere, including in my constituency.
It is very good.
There is no doubt that it has made a considerable difference. That gardaí on bicycles can cross footpaths and go down alleyways means they can arrive at their destination without being spotted. One of the downsides of the use of very colourful Garda vehicles in urban areas is that they can be seen from a great distance. They are spotted before they come anywhere near the point of criminal activity and, by the time they arrive, the perpetrators are long gone. Addressing this aspect of Garda visibility is acutely important.
There is no doubt that there has been much development in co-operation with residential bodies and communities to fight crime more effectively. We started off on a bad footing with anti-drugs marches and other such initiatives. In some cases, it may have been a calculated objective of the organisers to present themselves as an alternative policing force. However, we have surmounted this problem. Through good leadership in the Dublin metropolitan area and through the work of successive assistant commissioners, we have made good progress. We have recognised that crime and anti-social behaviour need to be dealt with by society as a whole. We do the police a great disservice by lumbering upon them responsibility for everything dysfunctional in society.
The level of co-operation must be enhanced. Society's problems will not be solved by greater policing but would certainly be reduced by it. There are examples of good practice. The crime diversion projects have been in existence for a long time and have been very low-key but they are now well-integrated into the youth service.
It is a pity people talk about anti-social behaviour as if everybody is involved in it and as if every young person on the street walking in a group of five or six is guilty of it, whatever it might be. It is uncomfortable to have a group of seven to ten teenagers playing football on one's street or leaning against one's garden wall but, from my experience in youth work, I note that the vast majority of them are only up to what youngsters generally get up to, namely, talking rather loudly, playing rather loudly——
They could be up to much worse.
They could be up to an awful lot worse. There is an onus on the Government to provide creative and constructive alternatives for young people. To be fair, it is beginning to do so. Alternatives include all-weather soccer or football pitches, skateboard parks and youth clubs which they can use should they wish to do so. It is important that we continue to invest in our youth services so the young will have alternatives to anti-social behaviour. If they do not avail of the alternatives, it is fair enough to come down hard upon them with a series of community-based sanctions.
In my constituency of Dublin North-West there have been incidents of anti-social behaviour which caused serious problems. There is no doubt that because of the lack of action by the estate manager, Dublin City Council, and a lack of engagement by the Garda, people have taken the ultimate step of leaving the area. It is a pity. It happens regularly that older people, many of whom are widows, simply cannot cope with rowdy behaviour on their street. On one road in particular, which has 26 houses, three requests have been made in the past month by residents asking the local authority to buy back their houses so they can live out their older years in peace and quiet in a more secure environment.
I compliment the Minister on introducing the Bill. I had intended to address the issues of the Garda ombudsman and inspectorate but, unfortunately, I have run out of time. Perhaps there will be another opportunity for me to ventilate some of my reservations on these issues.
I was pleasantly surprised to be in the House when Deputy Crowe from Sinn Féin delivered a panegyric on the Patten report. The Minister of State was not present to hear it.
I felt as if I was sitting in the Reichstag in 1930 listening to a member of Hitler's Nazi Party praising the contribution of the Jewish community to German culture over the previous century. The level of hypocrisy and cant he enunciated, in the course of which he conceded that Garda Jerry McCabe made a positive contribution to policing while being murdered by members of the Sinn Féin organisation — otherwise known as the Provisional IRA — was a democraticdénouement such as I have not experienced in a long time. I bring it to the attention of Members who were not here at the time and refer them to the written record in case they do not believe me.
In principle I commend this measure which has been a long time coming and contains some positive elements but does not go far enough. One of the great achievements of the new State in the 1920s was to introduce unarmed "civic guards", as my mother called them, against the background of the politicisation of the RIC as an instrument of an oppressive State prior to 1920, and during the War of Independence and the Civil War. Many people perceived the RIC as an embodiment of armed state terrorism.
One cannot praise highly enough all the people who made that a reality. Deputy Costello cited Commissioner Michael Staines, the first Garda Commissioner, "The Garda Síochána will succeed, not by force of arms or numbers, but by their moral authority as servants of the people." This quote also features on our policy document of 2000. The perception and wisdom behind that observation, uttered so many years ago, is as relevant today as it was then.
On occasion I have had to work closely with members of the Garda Síochána whom I admire as individuals and as an organisation. I admire the way in which they have consolidated their own working arrangements and shown solidarity with one another, through support systems such as their credit union, medical scheme and sporting facilities. This is testimony to an extraordinary level of energy, skill and creativity which has endowed their members and the wider community.
My criticism is constructive rather than denunciatory. Of all the institutions of State the Garda Síochána is the only one that has not been significantly reformed since 1923-24. We have reformed political parties, amended the Constitution and overhauled different areas of society. This Bill attempts to go part of the way to renew the Garda Síochána but it does not go far enough. The Bill contains two core elements, the creation of an ombudsman and an inspectorate.
I do not agree with Deputy Carey that the Patten report was intended for a different kind of social institution. Chris Patten brought together a group of internationally respected consultants and authorities in the area of policing, including a person deeply involved in the reorganisation of the New York Police Department, and a Member of the Oireachtas, Senator Maurice Hayes. Mr. Patten had varied political experience, having been Governor of Hong Kong and prior to that a member of the British Cabinet.
The report contained 175 recommendations of which between ten and 15 related to the peculiarities of the divided society of Northern Ireland. At least 150 of the recommendations were consultancy advice for what constitutes good policing practice in a modern state. We need good policing practice because bad policing practice is synonymous in the minds of many with oppression by a "police state".
Citizens must have a sense of comfort, ownership and equality with their local police. In general, that has been our experience but as our society changes that relationship will change too. The police must respond to reinstate the balance that existed hitherto. This Bill will not achieve that.
The Labour Party wish to see a Garda authority included in the Bill. This should comprise representatives of civic society, drawn either by nomination from this House or through the social partners but in an objective manner. For example, An Bord Pleanála has been depoliticised and the Minister no longer appoints its members.
The relationship between the Garda and the Department of Justice, Equality and Law Reform is not sufficiently open, comprehensive or pluralist to restore the balance of trust between the Garda Síochána and the citizen. There are historic reasons for that. The Minister argued in the other House, and Deputy Carey repeated the argument today, that because he is accountable to this House for the police force the establishment of an authority alongside him, the Commissioner and the operational force would diminish that reporting relationship. The logic of that, when carried to its conclusion, is to suggest that because the board of the Industrial Development Authority is responsible for the operation of the authority its existence in some way diminishes the accountability or reporting relationship between the Minister for Enterprise, Trade and Employment with this House. That comparison reveals the weakness of the argument by the Minister for Justice, Equality and Law Reform.
The authority would have a broader social composition and a different relationship with the Garda Síochána from that of the Department. It would therefore be able to say many things that need to be said to the Garda Síochána in private at a monthly board meeting. The revelations of the Morris tribunal show that all is not well in the Garda Síochána. I regret that the Minister has not taken up the proposal we and others made for a Garda authority in 2000.
Ordinary law-abiding citizens experience horror at the prospect of making a complaint to the Garda. For example, recently I received a telephone call from a constituent in his late 60s whose son had got into trouble with the Garda. He said his son was no saint and probably was at fault in this incident. The gardaí beat up his son and when he went to complain about this he could not find anyone with whom he could talk in the local Garda station. There was no one available to sit down and discuss what happened, even when he was prepared to accept that his son had contributed to the late-night fracas. Instead his complaint resulted in a series of summonses and charges against his son. This man, who attempted to go to the complaints board, got absolutely no satisfaction whatsoever. However, to go back to my first point, his sense of the positive relationship he felt he had with the local gardaí had been forever irreparably damaged. If we do not reform radically and ensure the processes of resources and transparency are provided for the new inspectorate and complaints system, the erosion of that relationship, which has commenced, will continue to do great damage to the fabric of our society. I urge the Minister to elaborate on Committee Stage how he intends the provisions of the complaints procedure to function.
I have some reservations about the ombudsman structure. I like the idea of it being a three-person body rather than a single individual. There is a certain strength in that, even though our proposal was for a single ombudsman. Unless it has the resources and objectivity to investigate complaints in a manner similar to Nuala O'Loan in Northern Ireland, it will not restore the sense of trust which is necessary in Ireland to get the kind of relationship citizens, the State and the gardaí as an organisation need. For example, if the structures that exist in Northern Ireland were transposed to here, when the unfortunate incident occurred in Abbeylara — it was an unfortunate incident for all concerned — the police authority in Northern Ireland would have arrived on the scene and preserved it independently of the local gardaí, which did not happen. There must be operational independence if the ombudsman structure is to be effective. I hope the Minister will outline precisely how he proposes to do that.
The second area to which I want to refer is management efficiency, that is, the access we have to the gardaí and the gardaí have to society. Perhaps the Minister of State will correct my interpretation if I am incorrectly informed. My understanding is that when the Garda Síochána was established, the Dublin Metropolitan Police organisational structure was effectively butt-jointed to the RIC provincial structure across the rest of the State, and the number of Garda stations in the Dublin area, which provide a 24-hour, seven days a week service, has not changed since then.
The cost of running a 24-hour, seven days a week service is enormous and extremely inefficient. Dublin South East does not need six Garda stations within five kilometres of each other, open 24 hours, seven days a week. These stations were provided at a time when the gardaí's mobility was determined by how fast they could cycle a bike. It is no longer necessary to provide a 24-hour, seven days a week service. There is a need for a presence in the areas where the current Garda stations exist, but many people just go to the Garda station to get an application form or a passport form signed, which is a nine to five type service. This service does not have to be provided on Saturday and Sunday. Having spoken in the past to two Garda Commissioners, there are great internal difficulties in getting management and work practice changes within the Garda. If a Garda authority had the capability to discuss these matters, many of the necessary reforms in terms of the perception of the gardaí would be capable of being implemented and would have a positive effect. Many of the personnel who are tied up servicing these Garda stations could be out on the beat.
Is there a need for gardaí to retire at 57 years of age? On what basis is that positive? What was the original reason for gardaí being required to retire at 57 years of age? Given the collective wisdom these people have accumulated in the Garda force, including their knowledge of their local community, why are they forced to retire at 57 when they could be retained? They could move to a nine to five type operation. They could become community gardaí and carry out many of the duties that can be done by someone with that wisdom and experience. The cost of putting one on pension at the age of 57 is expensive. Someone of that age is likely to live much longer, because they may take up a second career, than someone who retires at 60 or 65. I would like the Minister to address why these gardaí, with their level of expertise and experience, cannot be kept within the service.
Questions must be asked about the number of gardaí who are tied up in courts for whole sessions. Is there a better way of dealing with this issue? Is there a way in which this garda resource can be pooled? There may be reasons of natural justice and legal requirement which would render that suggestion non-viable. For people like me, and others, who have some management experience of examining different operations, it appears there are many practices in the Garda that need to be addressed. The wage structure is distorted in that the basic salary of a garda is quite low but the take-home income is augmented substantially by a whole set of provisions, allowances, overtime rates and so on. This is all fine and dandy when one is working, but when one retires, one's pension is based on the basic salary, which is far less attractive. Perhaps it is time for a major review of that structure so that the flexibility of working practices, which is clearly required, could be obtained.
The third point I would make on that aspect of policing is similar to the point made earlier by Deputy O'Dowd, namely, the need to examine the rostering structure. Does the timetable have to remain as it was 30, 40 or 50 years ago in light of the patterns of behaviour, particularly at week-ends. As many as 2,000 people could be in Camden Street at 3 a.m., many of whom may be obnoxious, unruly, drunk and terrifying to any young garda or couple of gardaí who may be sent to try to stop some ruckus developing into a major incident. This aspect of policing would terrify me. If there is occasional over-reaction by individual gardaí to threatening circumstances, while I do not condone it, I can certainly understand it. There is nothing more frightening than such a large crowd, particularly at that hour of the morning.
Is there a need to maintain the existing levels of rostering and patterns of deployment of gardaí, which were established in a much different time, to deal with patterns of social behaviour at week-ends, not just in Dublin but throughout the country, as Deputy O'Dowd said in regard to Drogheda and Dundalk? I do not think so. I do not know if the Bill will give the Minister and the Commissioner the power to bring about these changes. A Garda authority would have the capability to raise these issues. Perhaps in the comfort of a dialogue between it and senior Garda management, it could put forward proposals that would bring about the changes that are clearly needed.
I support Deputy Carey who praised my colleague and friend, the Labour Lord Mayor of Dublin, Michael Conaghan, for his initiative in setting up the commission on policing in Dublin and for taking the comments and submissions of people from across the city. It is a very good report which I commend to the Department, the Commissioner and the Garda Síochána. The report has many insights, some of which are not comfortable to hear. However, these are the insights we must listen to the most whatever our organisation or walk of life. Michael Conaghan and his team have done a particularly good job in putting together a report which reflects the concerns of the people of this State at the turn of the century.
There is a serious mismatch between the necessity to have good community policing and the way in which the community garda is treated by middle and senior management within the Garda force. This issue arose at a Labour parliamentary party discussion some weeks ago. For example, there is an impression that the community garda is moved on once he or she gets to know the people in their locality, that there is no accumulation of knowledge, wisdom or expertise and that the job is regarded as temporary to move in and out of on to something else. I would like to know if that is an incorrect impression. Perhaps a coherent management case could be made for a permanent section of community policing within the Garda Síochána. It would be a wider specialised group than the special detective units and others. People could make a career in community policing within the force, not necessarily moving from one set of duties to another.
The Garda Síochána will provide professional argument and statistics to disprove my next observation. The sight of gardaí on the street provides a level of comfort for many people who do not need the gardaí and are not at risk or being robbed. This is particularly true for those who feel vulnerable, which is half the population of this country. Most women feel vulnerable on frequent occasions when out on the street or on their own. Most men find this hard to hear, but I invite them to talk and listen to women. Seeing a garda on the street provides a level of comfort. It is irrelevant whether one needs the services of the garda. Seeing a fire escape in a building also provides a level of comfort, but how many people have ever had to use one? However, it is comforting to know that the provision and safeguard is there.
The Deputy should conclude.
The deployment of gardaí, the role of community police and the relationship between our modern society, with its increasingly varied cultural mix of people from different backgrounds and countries, should be reflected in the structure of the Garda Síochána. There should be a restored relationship between gardaí and the public at large. This relationship has been damaged, and this Bill goes some way to repairing it. However, it does not go far enough and the Minister should rethink some of his proposals.
I welcome the opportunity to speak on this important legislation. This Bill replaces various Garda Acts dating back 80 years while providing the reforms necessary for the efficient and effective operation of a modern police force for a modern Ireland and is cognisant of our ever-changing society.
I congratulate the Minister for his commitment to legislative reform to ensure that Ireland has the justice and policing system it needs and deserves. I welcome the extensive consultation process which preceded the introduction of the Bill and, in particular, the input from Garda management and associations, the Human Rights Commission and the Oireachtas Joint Committee on Justice, Equality, Defence and Women's Rights which contributed in no small way to this legislation.
The Minister for Justice, Equality and Law Reform has time and again demonstrated his and the Government's commitment to the people. His work rate, steadfastness, legislative programme and forthrightness are leading to the greatest ever reform of the justice system. Yet he still takes time out to demonstrate his obvious interest in improving citizens' quality of life and visited my constituency last week.
The Minister is proceeding with the expansion of the Garda Síochána, but is acutely aware of the greater demands for Garda resources and has restated his confidence that the Commissioner, who is responsible for the distribution of personnel across the country, will ensure that places such as Longford will continue to benefit from increased manpower in line with ever growing demands.
The Minister also took the opportunity last week to review plans for the decentralisation of the Irish Prison Service and I welcome his reaffirmation of his Department's commitment to the programme and his message to those who suggest that the commitment to roll-out the project is not there. The Department now has control of the relevant site and is about to tender for the contract. Some 170 people will work in the new headquarters, attached crèche, stores and logistics section.
I also welcome the progress made by the Minister with regard to the Longford courthouse. The entire county is delighted that the project is going well, that the adjoining buildings have been demolished and that one of the finest buildings in Longford is being conserved for its original purpose.
I am grateful to the Garda Síochána. No matter what discussions we have regarding reforms, accountability and transparency, I still have the utmost faith in and respect for our police force. This State was born out of conflict and civil war and we are indebted to every person who has served as a garda since its foundation, putting their lives on the line in its defence. This State would not have survived without the service and protection of the Garda Síochána.
I had a very positive experience growing up beside the old Garda barracks in Longford and this experience is true for the vast majority of our citizens. It is important that brave and dedicated members of the force hear us state this fact.
Our discussions of this and other Bills in the House must not lead to the demoralisation of any honest serving member of the Garda. They must know that we admire and appreciate their work, dedication and commitment to the State in a society that is more aggressive and less respectful of authority.
Last Monday, one such dedicated garda apprehended a person in the process of robbing €5,000 from a post office. He received a knife wound to the stomach but successfully detained the thief and the money was recovered. We must acknowledge the courage and dedication of members of the force when proposing legislation.
As a former local authority member I warmly welcome the provisions in this Bill for the involvement of local councillors and elected representatives in dealing with specific local issues. The issue of policing at local level on local issues has been contentious and it is gratifying that the Minister has taken those views on board. Its inclusion in the Bill will have a fundamental impact on public confidence in community policing.
There is an impression that the provisions in the Bill are merely a duplication of provisions pertaining in other countries, with particular reference made to the UK. It is inevitable that certain similarities will exist with regard to policies implemented in other countries. It would be negligent not to study successful models prior to drafting Bills and amendments. However, the measures proposed in this Bill reflect the specific situation in Ireland and do not, as suggested, merely replicate those of other countries.
Ireland has a single national police force responsible for all policing matters and the intelligence and security functions relating to the security of the State. Members have borne this in mind in their deliberations and debate on the Bill.
A review of the Garda Síochána took place under the Government's strategic management initiative, and Part 2 of the Bill sets out provisions in this regard. I welcome the clarification of the role and objectives of the Garda Síochána and the definition of its relationship with the Minister and Government of the day.
Two other elements of the Bill, namely, the mechanisms for dealing with complaints against members of the force and the means of improving democratic accountability for their actions, have clearly drawn much attention. Parts 3 and 4 will provide welcome reform of complaints procedures against members of the force. It establishes a new independent body, the Garda Síochána ombudsman commission, to replace the existing complaints board. It is the duty of this House to do all it can to ensure citizens have the utmost confidence in those in whom we entrust extraordinary powers. In light of this, I welcome the provisions of the Bill. It is clear that the current system does not command the full confidence of the public in light of recent inquiries. It is imperative for gardaí that this be addressed. It is welcome that the ombudsman commission will be able to act on its own initiative in cases or on a referral from the Commissioner or the Minister. It is a positive development that the commission will not have to wait for a complaint to emanate from the public before instituting an investigation.
I reiterate, contrary to spurious claims of gardaí investigating gardaí, that the Bill does not provide for that. Irrespective of the method chosen by the commission to investigate complaints, ranging from the most serious allegations, including possible criminal offences, to those at the lower end of the scale, including breaches of discipline, it will retain total control and direction over the whole proceedings. I stress it will retain total control. Furthermore, the commission will be able to enter into arrangements with members of other police forces or any other bodies to engage police officers or other persons on a temporary basis to assist it in carrying out its investigations.
Part 5 reforms existing accountability arrangements. Again, this is most welcome. In a time when our democracy and the political institutions of the State are topics of contemporary discussion among the public and media, we must ensure there is a proper separation of powers. We must also ensure that those charged with oversight of the force have correct information at their disposal.
Part 5 provides for the establishment of an independent Garda Síochána inspectorate as a means of improving democratic accountability for the actions of the Garda Síochána. The main functions of the inspectorate will be to ensure that the Minister for Justice, Equality and Law Reform of the day will have objective information on which to base comments made before the Houses of the Oireachtas. That is only right and proper. This will have a welcome and positive impact on the relationship between the Executive, the Legislature and the justice system, as well as the ombudsman commission.
The inspectorate proposed in this Bill will take a thematic approach to policy issues. Standards, practice and performance will be benchmarked to comparable international policing experiences. This can only be welcomed by all Members of the House. The key objectives of the inspectorate will be to ensure and promote efficiency and effectiveness in the Garda Síochána and to provide advice and support to the Minister. It is common sense that the Department with a statutory oversight role in regard to the Garda Síochána, namely, the Department of Justice, Equality and Law Reform, is empowered by knowledge.
The Bill contains provision for significant reform of the Garda Síochána. We must not underestimate the duty upon us when exercising our power in this regard. It is fundamental to the security and proper democratic functioning of this State, yet the fundamental point remains that members of the public must have total confidence in the transparency and accountability of the force we empower to police them. It is for this reason that I welcome and endorse this Bill.
I extend a welcome to this Bill but not without some misgivings and reservations. The Garda Síochána has served this nation extremely well as an unarmed Garda force over the past 83 years since the foundation of this State. It has a proud record of service to the people since the formative years of the State when its future was anything but assured.
The introduction of this legislation at the outset of this century is particularly timely and appropriate since it is generally accepted that Garda reform is a necessity given the changing circumstances of Ireland today. In the past, a famous garda used to patrol Baggot Street and dispense his own form of justice. Many people welcomed that. It was an effective form of garda patrol but today we cannot have the luxury of a garda patrolling the way that garda used to patrol Baggot Street some 30 years ago.
The force is seriously undermanned and there is unfinished business in terms of the recruitment of an additional 2,000 gardaí promised in the 2002 general election and in the 2002 programme for Government. Promises were made at that time and the people expected that extra gardaí would be recruited. The Garda expected that additional gardaí would come on stream and hopes were risen only to be dashed. The promise of an extra 2,000 gardaí indicates that the force is understaffed by 18%. That must have a serious effect on morale and on the force's ability to man different events, police towns and be at the beck and call of the public at all times. Even if the number of gardaí were doubled, that would not cure all the ills in society because it has changed. The behaviour of society has changed dramatically in recent years. What people feel they can get away with has also changed.
Another factor that cannot be overlooked is the notion of parental control. Parents have a role to play. More often than not, if a garda knocks on the door of a family home concerning a child who has misbehaved, it is more likely that the garda will get a barracking rather than the child. While there should be a balance, gardaí should have the support of the public which they do not always have. Effectively, much of the time gardaí try to perform their duties while looking over their shoulders. A garda may wonder whether to arrest a child for doing A, B or C or may think that if he or she does so, his or her life will not be worth living. That is not a good way of doing business.
We also have the concept of neighbourhood watch. When driving through a community area a number of years ago one would see signs for the neighbourhood watch scheme. I am not sure that the scheme is as effective as it should be. It is based on the notion of neighbours looking out for each other. The signposts are there but that does not mean action is being taken. There are displayed to warn off criminals and to let them know they are being watched, but I doubt if the scheme is as effective as it should be. Members of the public have a role to play in that regard. They must be additional eyes and ears for the gardaí and pass on information to them that they consider relevant.
I live in a Border constituency and crime, particularly cross-Border crime, is rife there. The Garda and the PSNI know the offenders involved in stealing and other criminal activity but unless the offenders are caught in the act of stealing or in the possession of stolen goods, little or nothing can be done about it. Special Garda task forces have been assigned to these Border groups but it is well nigh impossible to apprehend them. They are basically opportunists who walk past a car and if they see a key in the ignition, they hop into it and drive it across the Border. They will generally find a mobile number of the car owner and will contact him or her and demand money for the safe return of the car. Such incidents have happened.
There was an incident where a four-wheel-drive jeep was stolen and driven across the Border. Money was to be delivered for its safe return and when the amount handed over was not correct, the criminal almost drove the people who handed over the money off the road in an effort to point out that a certain amount of money was demanded and the owner was not prepared to pay up.
Some members of the public almost present on a plate an opportunity for criminals to steal by leaving a door unlocked or a key in the ignition of a car. The public must co-operate to a greater extent with the Garda. Gardaí need the assistance of the public. That cannot be stressed enough.
We have got into the habit of minding our own business. There was a time when people would know that if a stranger came to an area, he or she would watched or if a person called to his or her neighbour, he or she would be told that A, B or C had called to his or her house. That time is gone. We do not know what is happening in the lives of our next door neighbours. Society has gone that way.
Society should be more aware of people who might call to neighbours' houses, particularly neighbours living on their own, because there are many chancers and criminals on the move who are impossible to catch. They can move about with impunity and call to a house and if they find somebody home, they will come up with a silly excuse such as looking for a dog. Society and neighbours have a major role to play in this regard.
While I know the Garda comes in for criticism over various matters, the criminal has a new way of operating. A criminal is more likely to inform a garda of his rights thanvice versa. While the Garda might know an individual is guilty, until he is caught in the act it is impossible to do anything. This reflects the type of society in which we live. The Garda needs the public’s help in this regard, which cannot be underestimated.
Current recruitment appears to be barely sufficient to replace those retiring from the force, which is another bone of contention. I know of many gardaí, who are much younger than I am, who qualify for retirement but do not necessarily want to retire. As morale is low in the force and because they know they must retire at a particular age, some gardaí decide to leave and the level of early retirement can become a problem. We are losing some very experienced members of the Garda, particularly detectives who have built up a role and are well respected in society. They might have just reached the pinnacle in the performance of their duties and are told they have done their service and must go, which is very frustrating. In addition to recruiting an additional 2,000 gardaí we should also consider retaining very experienced gardaí in the force. The haemorrhage taking place is not good. If the chief executives of a business were forced to retire at the age that gardaí retire, many companies would have gone to the wall. This matter needs to be revisited.
To combat today's crime levels and the changing nature of crimes, the Garda needs to be fully resourced with state-of-the-art technology and retraining may also be required. In the past gardaí were trained in observational skills. However, gardaí now need many more new skills and some of them may need to be retrained to deal with today's criminal.
The establishment of the Garda ombudsman commission receives two cheers. An office along the lines of the Police Ombudsman for Northern Ireland would be less unwieldy. Ms O'Loan has discharged her duties with equanimity and no little skill, and has engendered considerable respect from all sides in the North. The Police Ombudsman for Northern Ireland has proven to be most effective in investigating police complaints and building public confidence. It is generally perceived that the Garda complaints board has had problems with accountability and there was a deficit in public confidence. I do not believe an ombudsman commission of three individuals is necessary when the Northern ombudsman has had such an impeccable record since her appointment. However, it is welcome that the new ombudsman commission will enjoy complete independence from the Garda in that none of its members will be gardaí, and this should help gain public confidence. There will no longer be concern over complaints against the Garda being investigated by gardaí.
One of the functions will be to investigate certain practices, policies and procedures of the Garda Síochána, thus ensuring that no lower-ranking garda is made a scapegoat. This practice happened in the past and was not healthy. It is evident that the provisions for the ombudsman commission have been influenced by the recommendations of the Patten report. A major recommendation of that report was the establishment of a police authority. This could have been adopted to advantage here by the establishment of a Garda authority. In the all-party negotiations in the North, strenuous efforts have been made to get Sinn Féin to join the Northern Ireland Policing Board. However, having an equivalent authority here seems unacceptable.
Appointments in the upper ranks of the Garda are still carried out on a political basis, which can be seen as a type of political patronage. For many years the allocation of State briefs was done on a political basis and was finally taken out of the hands of politicians in the late 1970s when the last gravy train had rolled out of the four goldmines. Subsequently, judicial appointments were partly de-politicised by their transfer to a commission which submits a shortlist to Government for final selection. Similarly, senior Garda officer appointments, from superintendent up to Commissioner, are still in the gift of the Government of the day, which is hardly satisfactory. While I do not cast any aspersions on the individuals appointed, it does not send the right signal. A Garda authority should have exclusive responsibility for such appointments, thus bringing real change in the manner of appointment and promotion in the upper ranks of the Garda Síochána. Appointments and promotions throughout the force should be free of political influence and should be made independently, transparently and purely on merit and overall suitability. In legal circles it has long been the perception that young barristers and solicitors needed to align themselves with one of the main political parties to progress in their chosen calling. Rightly or wrongly, this is a general perception, and we have all seen prominent examples in the main political parties.
It is perceived that a garda needs to be well connected to particular Garda officers to progress on the promotion ladder to the pinnacle of the force. By placing such promotions in the hands of a Garda authority, the Minister would strike a major blow for the concept of promotion solely on the grounds of ability. The notion that promotions were carried out on political grounds would also be dispelled, with a consequent boost for morale within the force. A Garda authority would also be in a position to organise transparently independent interview boards to provide for promotions within the force at levels lower than superintendent. It is here that the independent nature of such a Garda authority would come into its own with wide representation from various community organisations.
The proposals for volunteer Garda reserve members or "generic gardaí" are ill-considered and not fully-thought out. Considering the amount of training over three years that applies to full-time gardaí in the Garda training college, it would be impossible for these part-timers to perform full-time policing duties. What criteria would be laid down for them and how would they relate to the public? How would they be selected and resourced? Would the Garda have any responsibility to the family of a volunteer who was injured or even killed in the line of duty? We have had occurrences of Garda recruits being killed in the past having been brought out of Templemore at short notice and one must ask what would happen in the event of a lack of training. Would their medical and other bills be taken care of in a period of protracted illness or injury?
I submit that the proposals for volunteer gardaí amount to an attempt to recruit replacements for the 2,000 extra gardaí that the Government has failed so far to deliver. The period of training cannot be overlooked. Putting in people who are not properly trained or resourced does not send the right message and would create a second-rate member of the Garda. To whom would they be accountable? If they only perform a few hours' duty per week, it would be necessary to sign up many more than 2,000 to provide adequate coverage, which would not be good for the morale of the force. Why should we believe that 15,000 or 20,000 suitable recruits would volunteer for a police force? The spirit of volunteering is hardly alive and well in post-Celtic tiger Ireland to that extent. Many issues remain to be teased out. This proposal was tossed out without a full exploration or discussion of its consequences with the proper authorities. It is always healthy to discuss proposals of this nature with representative bodies, in this case the Garda Representative Association, which have useful contributions to make. Before appointing a new force without adequate training it would be useful to listen to the views and ideas of members of the force, but I understand this did not take place.
With a current complement of 12,000 Garda members, Ireland's ratio of police to 100,000 population is still well below the European average. The raw fact is that we do not have the necessary numbers. Many rural barracks are being closed down, specifically in my area where stations have hitherto been well manned. This development has not gone unnoticed among criminals who are well aware that the only available police resource in large areas of north Monaghan at night is a single Garda car.
Gardaí must think long and hard before apprehending a person committing a minor public order offence. They must consider the time, resources and effort required to take the person in question into custody, given that no gardaí will be available to look after the needs of the community while the case of the individual in question is being processed. Criminals make hay, so to speak, during the periods when the Garda is under-resourced. It is common in my area for crime to be committed during daylight hours when Garda resources are stretched. These problems must be addressed.
With rising levels of violent crime and a growing culture of drink, drugs and violence, the promised 2,000 additional gardaí are needed more than ever. The Government has barely two years left in which to implement its commitment, which means an additional 1,000 gardaí will have to be recruited this year and next if it is to keep faith with the public. My reservations notwithstanding, I intend to support the Bill.
I trust the Minister will take on board some of my suggestions. I appeal to members of the public not to stand back, point a finger at the Garda and argue it must do more. Instead, we must ask what we can do to make life easier for gardaí and assist them in the performance of their functions.
With the permission of the House, I will share time with Deputy Tony Dempsey.
Is that agreed? Agreed.
I welcome this timely and necessary Bill. I have full confidence in the members of the Garda Síochána. As a person who has been in public life since 1995, my experience, virtually at all times, has been that the gardaí whom I have met in the discharge of my duties have acted with diligence and integrity, on many occasions, to their own detriment. We are lucky to have men and women of the highest calibre in the Garda. The question which arises, however, is not the integrity, general ability and dedication of individual members of the Garda Síochána but the management, direction, policy, philosophy and effectiveness of the force as an organisation. We must make this distinction.
There are caveats to my first statement. As with all sections of society, not all gardaí have covered themselves in glory. In every walk of life, there will always be people who do not adhere to the highest standards. Like many others, I read the first interim report of the Morris tribunal which deals with the explosives module. It opens one's eyes to learn that in one part of our island Garda practices were not of the highest standard.
I commend Mr. Justice Morris for the excellent work he is doing. The position in which Mr. McBrearty finds himself demands attention. Although I am not necessarily calling for a precedent to be made in his case, the House must recognise that the McBrearty module is the cornerstone of the Morris tribunal, which will find it difficult to continue with the level of probative excellence required, evident in the explosives module, unless Mr. McBrearty is provided with proper legal representation. I understand the position in which the Minister finds himself and I am aware the matter has been the subject of a High Court decision. For this reason, I do not wish to be pre-emptive as there may be good policy reasons for the Government's inability to assist Mr. McBrearty at this stage.
Nevertheless, some mechanism must be found to address the issue because if the current module of the tribunal were to continue without proper representation for Mr. McBrearty, questions regarding the fairness of its hearings could well arise under the European Convention of Human Rights. I do not wish to interfere in the process. Mr. Justice Morris is doing a good job and is constrained by the fact that he must implement the law. While we must respect the decision of the High Court, the Government needs to closely examine this matter. I apologise for digressing but debate on legislation on the Garda Síochána is an appropriate forum for placing on record my views on the matter.
While the vast majority of members of the Garda Síochána are of outstanding integrity, the force as a whole and its effectiveness, training and so forth need to be scrutinised. When the spotlight has been placed on the Garda, it has been found wanting in several areas and continues to face major challenges. In recent days, for example, several Deputies have raised the issue of anti-social behaviour, about which, as a Deputy, former councillor and Lord Mayor of Dublin, I am well aware. In addition, the Garda must contend with organised crime, white collar crime, international drug and people trafficking gangs and crime cartels. It is not equipped, trained, organised or engineered to face up to these challenges with the same degree of professionalism as the criminals and must go further in pursuing a vision of excellence. I welcome the legislation in so far as it will advance this process.
While the Bill contains several important features, sections 11 and 13 on the appointment of the Garda Commissioner are critical. The Commissioner should be appointed by the Government and, with his or her assistant commissioners, held ultimately responsible to the Government because it is responsible to the House. I do not believe in establishing immutable quangos with no responsibility to anybody, including this House, as we have seen in other sectors.
I ask that consideration be given to establishing a policing board or authority. Why is such provision missing from the Bill, given that the need for a policing board has been recognised in Northern Ireland? Why do we not have a board of seven or 11 people, even on a consultative or advisory basis, who could reflect minority interests, the urban-rural divide or gender divisions? Such a board, consisting of people from different backgrounds, could consult, advise, monitor and assist the Garda Commissioner and his staff. Without some form of board or authority, the Commissioner acts on his or her own. The Minister, the Commissioner and then the Garda Síochána operate a kind of vertical transmission of power and authority without, for want of a better phrase, any horizontal involvement by the stakeholders in society. This is missing from the Bill. Perhaps the Minister might consider the insertion on Committee Stage of some form of advisory or consultative board for the Commissioner, much as the RTE authority assists the director-general of RTE. Such a board should not become part of the chain of command, but should be there to be of assistance.
I strongly support the idea of volunteer members. I am glad to see the new idea of joint policing committees and the involvement of local authorities. Since the foundation of the State, this has been the biggest gap in our policing. This was not always the case and if one looks back to the 18th and 19th centuries, one sees much greater involvement by local communities with magistrates and local policing. For some reason, when we adopted our model in the 1920s and 1930s, all local involvement was eradicated. As an aside, we also had real meaningful local involvement in the health sector, in local health committees until they were abolished in the 1970s. At present, we again see the evolution of a superstructure system without the real involvement of local communities. I welcome the section which will involve local authorities. Local authority members are in the best position of anyone to know what is happening in local authority estates. Councillors are the people who genuinely know what is going on at street level. It will be of enormous benefit to have them, along with officials from the county, city and urban councils, politicians and police officers sitting together.
Section 41 is very important. It pertains to the liability of members of the Garda Síochána while performing their duty. I am not certain that this is covered by the Bill. I do not believe that the Garda Síochána should be fettered in the performance of its duties. It would be a bad day if every time a garda lifts his or her baton or tries to move someone on, he or she would be amenable to being sued or complained against. There is a danger that we will reduce the Garda to an inefficient force that is afraid to assert itself. Sometimes the Garda Síochána has been afraid to assert itself to the correct degree. Naturally, if an individual garda breaks the law, he or she must be amenable to the law. The Garda Síochána is not above the law and gardaí must work within it. That said, there is a very fine balance between doing so and the avoidance of fettering or restraining the Garda Síochána If one crosses that line, one might end up with an ineffective Garda force. I am somewhat concerned that this is not covered by section 41 of the Bill.
The Garda Síochána ombudsman commission is cental to this legislation. It is overdue and has been relatively well drafted in the Bill. I applaud the fact that no past or serving member of the Garda Síochána can be a member of the commission. It is important that the commission should be an independent body that will exercise its powers independently of the Garda Síochána. The power of search of Garda stations is too cumbersome. The idea of being obliged to give notice to the Garda Commissioner and the Minister rules out the possibility of emergency raids on Garda stations where bad things might be happening. Given the subject matter of the Morris tribunal, it appears they were. There must be a facility whereby the Garda ombudsman commission can enter a Garda premises quickly in an unfettered way without providing the Garda station with advance notice. This facility is available elsewhere in that the High Court can order what is known as aquia tenet injunction or an Anton Pillar order to search a premises. The European Commission has the power to do so under the competition rules. European Commission officials can enter any business in the State under EU competition rules. Why must a Garda station be sacrosanct and above this sort of examination? I agree that such searches should only be carried out in exceptional cases.
Section 105 pertains to the proposed Garda Síochána inspectorate. In general, this section is too weak and needs to be beefed up. There are only a few paragraphs on the matter. It does not appear to take the idea of an inspectorate seriously. An inspectorate is an essential part of any large organisation, leaving aside the Garda Síochána. It is very important in terms of keeping up standards within a force or 12,000 or 14,000 officers.
In a general sense, I welcome this Bill and its main thrust. We need an efficient workmanlike Garda Síochána which is fully equipped to meet the crime and public order challenges of the 21st century. We do not need the Garda Síochána to be constrained, shackled or fettered. It should be able to go about its business without fear or favour and without the fear of being sued over the slightest matter. Gardaí should not be subject to frivolous or vexatious complaints and I notice that this is one of the grounds on which complaints may be overruled. However, where gardaí transgress, they must be amenable to the law and of all the sections in the Bill, the ombudsman commission is particularly important. This will go a long way to restoring public confidence in the Garda which, on an individual basis, is very much deserved. It contains some of the finest public servants in the country.
Gabhaim buíochas leis an Teachta Mulcahy as ucht ama a roinnt liom. Tá áthas orm seans a fháil labhairt ar an mBille seo. Fadó, ní raibh baint ar bith le hobair na Gardaí leis an gnáth-dhuine. An lá atá inniu ann, áfach, toisc go bhfuil fás ar choireanna ar fud na tíre, tá dlúthbhaint le saol an ghnáth-dhuine ó lá go lá le hobair na nGardaí. When canvassing in the general election, the recent by-elections and the local elections, the subject of crime was continually raised by those whom I canvassed. I can understand this because we have evolved into a society where many people, particularly in isolated rural areas, feel afraid living in their own homes.
I congratulate the Minister on bringing forward a framework that will allow the Garda Síochána operate in the new circumstances. Criminals and their work can only be defeated when parents, teachers, gardaí and ordinary people co-operate in the ambition to defeat them. The old Irish saying, "Ní neart go chur le chéile", was never more true. In short, community policing is what the new world requires. The Garda Síochána will rely on the community and the community will interact with the Garda Síochána.
I saw a wonderful example of this in Cyprus last week in a little village called Piale where the gardaí working for the United Nations use community policing without recourse to sanctions. I witnessed at first hand and heard the muktar from the Turkish Cypriot community and the Greek Cypriot community pay an incredible tribute to the work of our gardaí as members of the United Nations. The people placed the gardaí ahead of any other country in the world in their efforts to involve themselves in community policing.
The role of neighbours will be extremely important in the future, irrespective of what legislative framework is introduced. People no longer know who their neighbours are, which is probably the result of urbanisation. I am interested in new directives on planning introduced by the Minister for the Environment, Heritage and Local Government yesterday because we need to repopulate rural Ireland so we have more neighbours and more community involvement.
I am interested in the objectives of the Bill. The Bill has three main objectives, the most interesting of which states that a new legislative structure for the management of the Gardaí will be introduced. That legislative structure recognises for the first time the changed communities in which gardaí operate. Like Deputy Mulcahy and other speakers, I congratulate the Garda on their hard and continuous work in very changed and straitened circumstances. Another of the Bill's objectives is the establishment of an independent Garda Síochána inspectorate, which will provide independent advice to the Minister for Justice, Equality and Law Reform on the efficiency and effectiveness of the Garda. This is a very important measure. The operational responsibility does not stop with the Bill.
I congratulate the Minister of State, Deputy Parlon, who is here, on opening a new Garda station in New Ross and on progressing a new Garda station for Wexford. The location of Garda stations will be extremely important in the future. I know that Deputy Parlon will probably empathise with that sentiment. We must build Garda stations in the centres of communities. I know it is uneconomical and not feasible to have two or three stations in a provincial town like Wexford. If it was feasible, I would recommend that we had two stations in Wexford town rather than one. However, I am a realist and there is only a certain amount of money available. I am glad that Wexford is getting a new station. The location of that station in Wexford and the location of other stations will be very important.
Putting gardaí back on the beat and releasing them from the bureaucratic office work they appeared to be engaged in, which could be done by someone with different training and not necessarily a law enforcement training background, is extremely important. The training of the gardaí is extremely important. Courses in the Garda College in Templemore must take account of the new need for the gardaí to be involved in the community, whether it is with the GAA, rugby clubs or soccer clubs. It could be any aspect of community life where the gardaí can be involved and get to know the people and the people get to know them. I would like to see the day when gardaí would help in training a local school team. I know this is happening in many areas. A former Garda in Wexford, Séamus Keevans, who is involved with organising school GAA leagues has played a very important role in the community.
Deputy Mulcahy spoke about the need for effective policing and I agree with him. The Bill will enhance the level of democratic accountability and that is very important.Quis custodiet ipsos custodes is an old Latin saying. Who will guard the guards? The vast majority of gardaí excel at their duties and have nothing to fear from democratic responsibility. This should not be seen as challenge, rather it should be regarded as a form of assistance to gardaí. Justice must be seen to be done. It is important that justice is seen to be done at the Morris tribunal. It is also very important that people have recourse to the full protection of the law even when they do not have the money to afford it.
I congratulate the Minister on the level of consultation because community policing is about consultation and I know he consulted with approximately 15 bodies and personnel. Tá áthas orm tacaíocht a thabhairt don Bhille.
I welcome this legislation which seeks to carry out additional reforms in the Garda Síochána. I wish to acknowledge the work done by the Garda since the force was established in 1922. Any democracy of which we can be proud requires an independent police force so we can have full confidence in it in the performance of its duties. The necessary resources should be prioritised to ensure that citizens are protected to the greatest extent possible from criminality and subversion. When one examines the history of An Garda Síochána and the manner in which it was established in very difficult times for this State, one can see that the force has come through turbulent times in an independent way and has protected people of all shades of opinion, including political opinion. The force can stand the test of time, without fear or favour, through the great work it has done over those years, which is a testimony to the force's importance in our community.
This Bill contains many important initiatives, particularly the one relating to the establishment of a Garda inspectorate. Over the last number of years, certain individuals in the Garda Síochána have besmirched the good name of the force. I suppose that is inevitable in every occupation. There is often a temptation to overstate these issues but in the interest of the Garda Síochána, the establishment of a chief inspectorate is important so that citizens can continue to have full confidence in the Garda and to aid the further development of personnel in it. This will ensure people can continue to say the force is operating to the best quality standards and has the best training appropriate to its duties.
Various Deputies reflected on the changing population patterns and the changing requirements for the police force. Garda numbers do not reflect the enormous contribution required to police new suburban estates and rural areas. We need more gardaí living in communities rather than being centralised in various other locations. The decision some years ago to downgrade and close local rural Garda stations and centralise Garda personnel in geographical areas was mistaken. Efficiency is one thing but the effectiveness of a police force is more important from the citizen's perspective. The effectiveness of any police authority can only be judged by the goodwill of the community and the effectiveness of the Garda in solving and preventing crime. I am thinking of examples in my constituency in places like Castlecomer and Thomastown, which were identified as the right locations for centralising Garda personnel to cover a particular geographical area. I do not expect that if a crime is committed in a rural area ten or 12 miles from those locations that the Garda will be there in time to deal effectively and quickly with it. The Garda should revert to the traditional pattern of living as close as possible to the people they are serving and being engaged with the community. That is why community policing is essential for the future in expanding estates in urban areas around the country. Many communities have lost contact with the Garda and the Garda has lost contact with them. That is part of the problem we have with current crime levels.
Anti-social behaviour was mentioned. This is not a new issue but very little has been done to address it. The role of parents, people in authority and the Garda Síochána is important in this regard. There will not be an improvement in juvenile delinquency or anti-social behaviour issues until such time as parents are penalised for not having knowledge of the whereabouts of their children. That must be addressed urgently in this House.
The issue of accountability is important and I welcome the enshrining of joint policing committees in this Bill as it will allow local authority members and Members of the Oireachtas to engage more fully in the Garda Síochána. There is a temptation for some gardaí to operate independently without dealing with the representatives of the people. That is a mistake they made over the years and it is essential that the Minister for Justice, Equality and Law Reform explains the precise reasons and criteria as to how the Garda Síochána should engage with public representatives. We were elected by the people. Police authorities expect to get the resources to carry out their work from this House. It is only prudent that the Minister insists on the fullest possible accountability through public representatives about the manner in which policing duties are carried out.
Drugs and organised crime are growing issues of serious concern, not only in major urban centres but throughout the country. I often fail to understand why the Garda are not resourced to target the drug barons and chief architects of criminal gangs on a 24-hour basis, seven days per week to put them behind bars. The State's resources should be targeted in a more concerted way to ensure people are protected, which is not the case currently.
The Garda Síochána has made a significant contribution to the protection of our citizens and this Bill is essential in ensuring better standards of accountability in our police force. I urge the Minister to implement as soon as possible the community policing aspects he has commented on. I would err on the side of the citizens' protection from subversion and criminality as a priority in a democracy. It is important that power is not abused and the role of the chief inspectorate will be critical in maintaining the public's confidence in the Garda Síochána.
I welcome the opportunity to speak on this Bill. I had notes prepared but they are not to hand. One must soldier on regardless in such circumstances.
I am sure the Deputy will find enough to say.
I welcome the Bill. It purports to re-examine the administration of our police force. It is timely to update the administration of justice and policing in every country on a regular basis. The original legislation in this respect dates back to 1925. There have been many changes in Ireland in the intervening period, including in the area of crime. I listened to many of the contributions and people tend to stand in awe of some of the horrific crimes that have taken place and the surge in anti-social behaviour, disorderly conduct etc.
Two issues come to mind. First, it is necessary to have the people's confidence in the administration of justice. They must be on the side of the law and must see that the administration of justice, prevention and detection is open, even-handed, transparent and in accordance with the law. A number of arrests took place in certain parts of the country after a recent festive weekend. I do not know whether that information is true or false as the number of such incidents tends to be exaggerated. We should never kill the butterfly with the sledgehammer. If something must be done, do it, but do not exceed what is needed.
I think back to about 20 years ago, to the time Jack Charlton's famous "army" travelled all over the world and was hailed as a jovial bunch of friendly, law-abiding citizens who, according to themselves, were able to drink everybody else under the table while remaining friendly and courteous. This was one of the new wonders of the world, but I do not know where it has gone in the meantime. Without any shadow of a doubt, there is now total disrespect for authority, other people's property and attempts to suggest that people stay within their own areas without imposing their ways and wills on other citizens.
We have all encountered residents in local authority and other estates who, having appealed to people who are young and not so young to be a little quieter and so on, receive abuse. Many people who have lived all their lives in residential areas now want to leave, to be transferred, as they cannot live there any longer. That is a sad reflection on our society and on the way we have become. Regardless of the supposed Celtic tiger, a little bit of respect for the rights of others and law and order goes a long way. This Bill may deal with this matter.
However, I worry that we rush for more legislation every time there is a crisis in the justice area. This presupposes that the existing legislation is incapable or insufficient to deal with the job, but that is untrue. The oldest way out in the book is to say when something goes wrong, "why do we not have more legislation?" Legislation does not enforce the law. That is a matter for the Minister for Justice, Equality and Law Reform. It is not useful for Ministers to say, as is the habit in this House, they have no responsibility over an area and that it is a matter for someone else. We have devolved responsibility to a series of people to such an extent that eventually no one will have responsibility. The roots of many of our problems can be found in this practice. No one expects the Minister for Justice, Equality and Law Reform, Deputy McDowell, to get involved in the day-to-day running of the business, such as transferring people, but when something goes wrong the Minister is bound to his responsibility. He must call in senior Garda officers immediately and ask them what is happening.
In the past few months there was a major robbery in Belfast that should have set off alarm bells all over this country. The Minister should have called in all senior police officers and laid down certain guidelines in the circumstances arising from that robbery and the likelihood of others taking place. Two or three more occurred in the meantime, yet nothing happened. Only a week ago, in the face of another such atrocity, the Minister finally decided to call in the Garda Síochána and private security firms to discuss the matter with them.
I do not know what he was thinking about for the past two or three months — this is not a political point but a fact of life — but if there was a real intention to do anything about this matter, it would have been done then. As soon as the first of these robberies took place, it was well known that there would be more and that the same technique would be used, and so it happened. Why was something not done about this? The production of legislation is only a camouflage in these circumstances. It does nothing, good, bad or indifferent, other than act as a pretence of going through the motions.
The daily escalation of gun crimes, organised crime, drug-related crimes, paramilitary crime, money laundering, racketeering and protectionism in recent years is unacceptable. The Minister for Justice, Equality and Law Reform used to tell the House that he knew what he knew and he saw what he saw, that he had the information, but if he had all this information, why did he not do something about it? What was tying his hands? I am tired of listening to the excuse "My hands are tied, I can do nothing about these things." It is about time somebody started to take responsibility. That simply means the Minister for Justice, Equality and Law Reform taking responsibility and giving directions and instructions and not being afraid to stand over them. That is important.
If what happened here occurred in a banana republic, one would excuse it by saying it was a banana republic. We do not have the bananas except to skid on them from time to time. The major heists we have seen would put the professionals of bygone years in Chicago to shame because those here do a more professional job and with impunity. We have an unarmed police force, which is good although it has its disadvantages. I heard noises recently in the undergrowth to the effect that legally held guns were about to be monitored and that more restrictions were to be introduced on how they should be stored and dealt with. It would be much better if the authorities were employed looking after the illegal guns which are used regularly. What really took the biscuit a few weeks ago was when an unfortunate bar employee was shot with a sawn-off shotgun. It was reported in the newspapers that the situation was not life-threatening. Whoever wrote that a volley from a sawn-off shotgun was not life-threatening did not know what they were talking about.
There are no situations in which a sawn-off shotgun or a shotgun is discharged other than in life-threatening situations. How many people have lost their lives already? How many people have lost limbs? Not so long ago a well-known publican in this city lost a limb as a result of such an attack. Will somebody do something about the use of guns and violent crime? A proper sentence must be imposed, even if it must be a mandatory one. People do not take out a sawn-off shotgun to comb their hair or stir their tea but rather to blow somebody's head off which they do on a regular basis. It is about time we copped on, stopped pussy-footing around and did something about this issue. Something can be done if there is a will. If there is no will or if the Minister is afraid he will upset somebody, then that is a different ball game and he should tell us that. Unless something serious is done about gun crime, it will get worse. The introduction of this Bill will in no way affect it.
I have tabled a series of parliamentary questions over recent years to the Minister and his predecessor on money laundering, the laundering of drug related money and the proceeds of robberies. I have also asked about the number of organised gangs and where they are located. However, the Minister was coy in many of his replies — he is coy much of the time — to the extent that he said it was almost impossible to assess the size of the criminal fraternity in terms of organised gangs and that it would not be possible to establish how many operate as a unit and as independent entities. I find that very hard to believe. Almost every time we read a newspaper we read about somebody who is known to the Garda and, I presume, to the Minister. Surely the Minister speaks to gardaí and asks them an odd question from time to time. Surely he asks them how many of these people there are and what they are doing.
It appears money-laundering is big business and is working well. I tabled parliamentary questions some time ago to the Minister for Finance on this issue. With quite low interest rates in the banks, in terms of investment in the legitimate marketplace, it is much more lucrative to be involved in money-laundering. Journalists in this city who write about crime seem to know much more about how the system works and how lucrative it is than the Minister for Justice, Equality and Law Reform.
The Minister is a very nice fellow. I believe he may have injured himself when he swung off that telegraph pole in the course of the last general election and that a low flying aircraft may have buzzed him and disorientated him because, leaving aside his geniality and joviality, he seems to have difficultly addressing the tough issues. He complains about them as if he were a bystander or a pedestrian passing comments on the terrible events that happen under his watch.
He blames everyone but himself.
Correct. This is new because when the Minister was in opposition, he used to point the finger at the then Government and ask it what it was doing.
That was a long time ago.
To give him credit, the only thing the Minister has not done so far is come across to this side of the House to point the finger at the Government. However, he has done almost everything else, including complaining in public and telling the media and the public how awful the situation is and that something must be done about it.
The greatest laugh of all time is that after the most recent horrendous armed robbery which netted a cool €2 million — the national lottery is not in the same league in that this is a much more lucrative business — the Minister called in the private security firms and gave them 105 days to get certain security measures in order. What was he thinking? What were the 105 days for? Must more robberies take place in the meantime? Is there another reason the Minister gave them that length of time? Why did he not call those people in immediately after Christmas when it was obvious there was a serious problem of organised crime? If he had done so then, it would have been much more beneficial.
Legislation is necessary and provides the basis on which a police force or a Minister may take action. However, unless there is a will on the part of the Minister to take direct action rather than blame somebody else, then the legislation is of no benefit or use.
In recent years I have listened to various experts talk about a part-time police force. There is no place for such a force. There is no way other than to have a full-time, properly paid and equipped police force under the control of the Commissioner and the Minister. Unfortunately, that costs money but that is how it has been since the foundation of the State, even though it had no money. I do not accept the notion that we can have cheap policing on the side.
I refer to another issue which I have brought to the attention of the public and this House. I was glad to note that something said by a retiring chief constable in the UK approximately ten years ago was referred to at the conference of the Association of Garda Sergeants and Inspectors. On the chief constable's retirement — he could not say this before it because he would have been fingered — he said a huge wall was being built between the public and the police force although the British people were generally very supportive of and co-operated with their police. He said that as a result of the need for the police to continually enforce traffic laws, there was antipathy towards the police and it was not receiving that same degree of co-operation. I have said that several times over the years but nobody paid any attention. I was glad to note gardaí said that at their conference because they know what they are talking about.
Traffic management and traffic law must be enforced by the Garda so far as it can be done. The way to make friends is not in enforcing it on a straight road or dual carriageway when the road is clear given that most of the time one can travel at only five or seven miles per hour because of traffic jams.
In recent years I have tabled parliamentary questions about traffic accident black spots all over the country. Lo and behold some Minister decided to put cameras on the black spots. I would have thought it would be better to identify what was wrong with the road in the first place, and why so many were killed in a particular area. In one part of my constituency 21 people were killed over an 18 year period on the same road, at the same intersection and there was a reason. It should be a simple matter to deal with issues directly rather than indirectly.
The Garda Síochána has a difficult job to do. Some of its members have fallen by the wayside, like some politicians, some medical practitioners and some religious. No organisation is perfect. If anybody wishes to point the finger it can be pointed everywhere. It is not sufficient to say that because one falls by the wayside that everybody is guilty. We should never allow that to be accepted in respect of any profession. It is important that the Garda has the full support and confidence of the general public. The best way to do that is to ensure the administration of the law is above board, that it is clear, accountable and transparent and in accordance with the legislation. I hope this legislation will be of some benefit but it will be of little benefit to anybody unless the Minister gets involved in addressing the issues that confront him.
I am delighted to have the opportunity to welcome the Garda Síochána Bill 2004. Although my party will table some amendments, the Labour Party broadly welcomes the Bill. I congratulate and commend the Garda Síochána on the service it has given to the State since 1924. The last comprehensive legislation in this area was the 1924 Act. It is timely that the Minister is coming forward with this far-reaching legislation for the purpose of modernising and upgrading some of the structures of the force.
During the 80 years the Garda Síochána has served us, generally it has done a splendid job. While all professions are important and play their part in the civic and economic structure of the State without security one has nothing, and this includes the Government or a senior citizen who, alone at night, is terrorised by a gang. Throughout those decades the Garda Síochána has served us well. The Acting Chairman will join with me in commending the local gardaí in Dublin North-East and the districts that serve the division, particularly the force under Superintendent Noel McLoughlin, Superintendent Nicholas Conneally and Inspector Eddie Hyland who run the three stations in our constituency. Throughout the year, and especially at Hallowe'en when there was significant disorder, it has always responded faithfully to the urgings of the general population and has carried out its work diligently.
I am delighted to have been facilitated in meeting with the senior Garda staff in our three stations on numerous occasions. I welcome that level of co-operation. Our part of Dublin city has been well ahead of the legislation in regard to local involvement. Six or seven years ago I proposed to Dublin City Council the establishment of a joint Garda-local authority committee with the support of our superintendents and local government staff under manager Declan Wallace. That committee is in operation for the past three or four years with the last two city councils. It is always helpful for colleagues, local representatives and national representatives to turn up to Darndale village centre and put across to the superintendent and his staff, face to face, the issues we think should be dealt with. In our constituency we have foreshadowed much of the development we welcome today, such as local accountability, policing plans and so on.
In the past the major problem in my local Garda station and other areas was the serious lack of resources with, perhaps, only 25 people to man a major urban station and only one patrol car available. The Government has still not addressed those deficiencies. As my colleague said, we are still getting the same mantra about crime as we heard three years ago. From last Saturday it appears the Progressive Democrats Party is a caring party, like those in Opposition. The Minister has had three years to address the grave problems of anti-social behaviour, Garda modernisation and so on which Deputy Rabbitte articulated yesterday morning. So far, the Minister for Justice, Equality and Law Reform, Deputy McDowell, has failed to do so. We saw the spectacle of him on media last week and the previous week berating security companies and every Tom, Dick and Harry except the person who is responsible for the whole situation in regard to armed robberies and the use of firearms, namely himself. He needs to look at his own track record which is not good.
The input of my party into the gestation of the Bill has been important. I tabled a number of justice Bills particularly in regard to the plague of joy-riding. I welcome the fact the Government has implemented some of my proposals. It is fair to say that for the generation of Labour politicians, of whom I am a member, from the late 1980s and early 1990s, even before the Prime Minister of the United Kingdom came up with the phrase "tough on crime and tough on the causes of crime", that was precisely our policy. If one looks through Labour Party documentation of the past ten or 15 years, it is clear that we did presage some of the key features of the Bill, particularly our proposals for legislation for a Garda authority and Garda ombudsman as issued by Deputy Howlin in November 2000. It is prefaced with an interesting quote from Michael Staines, the first Commissioner of the Garda Síochána who said that the Garda Síochána will succeed not by force of arms or numbers but by its moral authority as servants of the people. In that document we put forward some seminal reforms.
Obviously, the issue of a Garda authority has not been dealt with — things are still centralised in the Minister's office. That is an issue that should be addressed in the future. I commend the Minister on bringing forward the county policing liaison committees. While the Bill provides for a Garda ombudsman, we would have gone further but the ombudsman commission includes some of the basic proposals we suggested more than five years ago. Similarly, we stress the role of human rights in the work of the Garda Síochána.
It is fair to say the Labour Party foreshadowed many of the issues in the Garda Síochána Bill. The Taoiseach issued a challenge to us to support aspects of legislation which are prepared to be tough on crime. The Labour Party and I have no problem with that because we have always been tough on crime. We know the situation at first hand because being a smaller party we work hard on the ground and we know what is happening every day and night.
Crime prevention is the key element of policing. I refer to the National Crime Council which was an interesting initiative of the previous Minister for Justice, Equality and Law Reform. It was chaired by the distinguished former public servant, Pádraic White. It issued its crime prevention strategy for Ireland. Many of its recommendations on crime prevention are as valid today as they were when the strategy was published a few years ago, particularly in respect of the necessity for local involvement, local crime prevention plans and youth diversion. Valuable work has been done on the youth diversion schemes in the past decade. I commend the Garda Commissioner and the Minister for continuing that programme. Speaking from experience in my constituency and the north side region, the work done by the youth diversion programme has played a significant role in turning a number of young men away from a life of crime and desolation.
Unfortunately, the overall track record of the past three years is disappointing, particularly with respect to the plague of anti-social behaviour. My party leader graphically outlined the problem about which I have been in contact with the Minister on numerous occasions, which is the situation of the person who is regarded as different, very often living in a corner house in a local authority or a private estate. They are often tormented night and day. It is disappointing that the incidence of robbery of goods in transit and the discharge of firearms has increased year on year by over 50% during the Minister's time in office and to which he must give serious attention in the coming months.
The Minister has stated that this Bill is the most far-reaching legislation since 1924. In his contribution to the Second Stage debate in the Seanad he commended Senator Maurice Hayes for his contribution to the legislation. I welcome the provisions in section 19 for a strategy statement and the setting of priorities by a Minister. I also warmly welcome the establishment of local policing plans. The Minister may recall that the first such plan was in the Kilmainham area approximately four or five years ago under Commissioner Byrne. I am informed by colleagues in Dublin South that this was outstandingly successful.
I warmly welcome the annual policing plan which allows the Minister invigilate the performance of gardaí while not interfering in operational matters. I welcome everything to do with the independence of the Garda Síochána in respect of its financial responsibilities and the management and structure of the force. I particularly welcome the provisions in section 31 on the local policing commissions, one of which was established in the area of Dublin North Central and Dublin North East four or five years ago and has proved to be important and valuable. I also welcome the provisions for the service of the Garda Síochána in other forces, including the PSNI, and the Minister's initiative in providing for volunteer members of the force.
In the United Kingdom the local knowledge of constables plays a significant part in bringing about a direct and local response to issues. In Japan the force has a local tier which knows every family in the district and there is no need for continuous re-education of the force. I ask the Minister in his remaining period in office to properly resource community gardaí. They have been the Cinderella force for the past eight to ten years. We are all familiar with members of the force who have done heroic work in that role but were then sent on Border duty and this was a problem. They are pulled away from work they are doing very well, such as meeting young people in youth clubs and football clubs. I ask the Minister to consider putting a senior Garda officer in charge of community policing because this would be deeply appreciated.
Deputy Mitchell and I share the view that a regional police force should be considered. The idea of having a regional Dublin force was to provide a level of continuity in order that new members did not need to become educated about particular districts. Community policing needs to be strengthened.
I welcome the proposed replacement of the Garda Síochána Complaints Board by the independent Garda Ombudsman Commission. Citizens have complained about the length of time it takes to deal with complaints. In one case a complaint was made to the Garda Síochána Complaints Board by Mr. Kevin Tracey, 11 Park Lane, Chapelizod, Dublin 20. He called to my clinic and that of the Minister and effectively asked for a complaint he had made to the board to be dealt with and reported. He made that complaint approximately two or three years ago. I have a file containing quite serious allegations which he has made. It is disappointing that the board did not report on his complaint. It is unfair that no report is available on serious allegations made. In the case of Mr. Tracey's complaint, the new Garda Ombudsman Commission would have the resources and the structures to deal with it in an efficient manner.
There are some aspects relating to time limits which may require examination. The Garda Síochána Complaints Board is an independent body which does not report to the Minister and certainly does not report to me, but what happens when it takes on a case and just sits on it, as is alleged in this case? For the sake of the family of the complainant, Mr. Tracey, and everybody else, the complaints made should be dealt with and laid to rest. I mention this case because I had no other opportunity to do so. I ask the Minister to ensure the case is addressed.
I welcome the provisions in respect of the accountability of the Garda Ombudsman Commission, in particular in respect of offences which may have been committed as a result of the misbehaviour of a member of the force. I welcome the powers granted to it, including the power to investigate and examine records and documents in a Garda station. It is a positive development that the provisions of the Garda Síochána (Complaints) Act 1986 will be replaced by a more accountable and transparent structure.
The Taoiseach challenged the Labour Party earlier this week on the type of measures that might be introduced to tackle the plague of anti-social behaviour. Public representatives have received much correspondence on this issue. Before Hallowe'en last year, I asked the Minister for Justice, Equality and Law Reform to examine the problems arising in communities during what should be a wonderful festival for one or two evenings. However, the Acting Chairman and I are aware that in some parts of our constituency, it becomes a two or three-month period of horrific noise and mayhem. On certain nights, some localities have been compared to the first nights of the US invasion of Baghdad because of the constant booming noises.
The Minister has told me it would be difficult for this House to introduce radical measures on fireworks. At his party conference last weekend, however, he seemed to make a great virtue of taking difficult decisions. The Progressive Democrats Party has become caring like the Labour Party and its members seem to be hedging their bets when it comes to potential partners in a new Administration. It is time for the Minister to take action on fireworks bearing in mind that the Hallowe'en period is less than five months away.
I commend the Minister on the introduction of the Bill and the examination of some fundamental policing structures. The Labour Party's 2000 policy document included a proposal for an independent Garda authority, and this is an issue that should be considered in regard to the administration of the force. The Garda Síochána has served our country and our communities very well. I commend the men and women of the Garda who have done their job so well, particularly in my constituency on the north side of Dublin in recent decades. We must acknowledge the heroic contribution of many gardaí, some of whom lost their lives in the service of the State. In addition to this Bill, I appeal to the Minister to provide the funding to ensure that superintendents have the necessary resources in terms of manpower, equipment and other support mechanisms, especially in hard-pressed urban stations throughout the country. In this context, I wish the Bill well.
I wish to focus on several aspects of the Bill. It is to be generally welcomed because it consolidates previous legislation dating back to 1924. At a time when many feel overloaded with information, it is helpful that the legislative provisions can be simplified in this manner. A positive development is that the issue of human rights is built into the Bill in several places. A significant feature of section 7 is that the Garda Síochána will be statutorily obliged to have regard to the importance of upholding human rights in the performance of its functions. It is to be hoped that an awareness of this obligation will be incorporated into Garda training and that there will be opportunities on an ongoing basis to focus on that aspect. This obligation will add to the authority of the force.
We can only have confidence in our police service if it performs to the highest standards. It is not only in the public interest but in the interest of the Garda itself that this should be the case. The Bill represents a serious attempt to ensure such standards prevail. The proposed code of ethics provided for in section 16, which will be incorporated into the disciplinary framework, is critical. It grounds the conduct of the Garda within the terms of the European Convention on Human Rights which represents a good foundation stone for legislation on this matter.
The Garda human rights audit highlighted the perception of community members that insufficient resources were devoted to community policing and that community consultation was minimal. I support the provisions of section 32 for enhanced co-operation between the Garda and the local authorities through the establishment of joint policing committees. However, I have serious concerns that this measure may be inadequate in practice. The joint committees must be capable of producing a response. What is required is not another layer of analysis but rather a practical response.
The formal relationship between the Garda and local authorities is positive. As a member of a town council for 17 years, I was witness to some useful co-operation in this regard. It was clear people wanted to be reassured that local gardaí were aware of the issues and concerns in the community and to be confident they would focus on areas of heightened concern. However, it was difficult to deliver information to the public because gardaí were, understandably in some cases, reluctant to release information into the public domain. This information might relate to ongoing issues such as complaints about groups of youngsters frequenting a particular location, for example. If gardaí have devised a plan of action to counteract such problems, it is not desirable that it should be outlined in the local newspaper.
Satisfying public expectation in terms of information, therefore, was not always possible. Notwithstanding the difficulties I have outlined, there seemed to be a particularly conservative attitude to the provision of information on the part of the Garda. It would have been helpful if gardaí had been more forthcoming in this regard. In this context, we should bear in mind that section 45 of the Local Government Act 2001 provides that the public and media should normally be permitted to attend local authority meetings unless such access is not in the public interest. Does this provision have any bearing in respect of the joint committees and could difficulties arise in this regard?
The establishment of the joint committees will introduce an entire layer of additional bureaucracy at local government level, albeit some of it very productive, including the new county development boards, strategic policy committees and community and voluntary fora. It may take some time to see a result from these new strata of administration because, by their nature, they represent a focus on the long-term view. They also require a significant additional level of administration in terms of costs and staff resources. Such commitment of resources cannot be bypassed in respect of the functioning of the joint committees. There must be some transfer of funds to local authorities to enable the committees to work in practice.
There may be an expectation that the committees will represent merely a feeding of information to the Garda. However, such consultation may involve a dialogue in both directions.
For example, I chaired a county development board and noted that issues were raised by the Garda. Some of its proposals were resource-dependent. It is difficult to respond if there is not a transfer of funds to deal with the issues raised, including traffic-related issues. For example, a very good suggestion to reduce the time gardaí spend addressing traffic back-up, making reference to filter lanes into housing estates or off major roads, had resource implications. It had such implications for the Garda because the necessary infrastructure was not in place; thus it was investing time doing something that could have been done in a different way. Unexpected issues with resource implications may crop up in the context of the relationship between the local authorities and the Garda. These need to be dealt with.
I know from experience that members of the public raise issues associated with vandalism and anti-social behaviour. They do so right across the spectrum, irrespective of the community in which they live. Often they are reluctant to draw attention to problems in an area close to where they live because they are seriously concerned they will be intimidated if they are identified as having drawn attention to the problems. This is partly why such problems are under-reported. I have seen people being singled out for reporting anti-social behaviour. This makes difficult circumstances very much worse.
The relationship between the local authorities and the Garda could be of assistance regarding the closure of laneways and lighting up dark spaces, for example. Often assistance merely involves moving the problem on and, therefore, the cause is not dealt with. I know policing is part of the solution but it does not represent the total solution.
While canvassing for the local elections last year, I had time to listen to the electorate. Many raised concerns about anti-social behaviour and vandalism and linked the problem to the inadequacy of facilities. Over and over, they talked about the kind of place in which they wanted to live and in which they wanted their children to grow up. I felt their message was very hopeful but it will only remain hopeful if it is delivered upon. Policing is only one aspect of this matter. We must consider the others.
In the developing county of Kildare — the only county of which I have direct experience — there has been a population increase in the order of 50,000 in the past ten years. This substantial increase amounts to one third of the population. An increase in Garda resources has not matched population growth. There should be a relationship between population growth and the provision of facilities and services, including gardaí. When I refer to resources, I do not refer solely to personnel but also to physical infrastructure.
During almost every election campaign the electorate in Leixlip, the town in which I live, draws attention to the need for a Garda station in the town. It was promised during the term of the Government before last but has still not materialised. People become fairly cynical when promises are made at election time and not delivered on. There should be accelerated delivery of such basic facilities as a desk for people to work from and a place to which people can call to make their complaints and raise concerns. If such a premises only allowed for form filling, it would still represent a Garda presence and be important. For example, there is a Garda office in Leixlip that opens for two hours a day. I am focusing on Leixlip but the resource issue is prevalent throughout the constituency. I have no doubt that the message of the electorate is similar in all other developing areas.
Section 14 of the Bill establishes a basis in law for the resources of the Garda Síochána to be supplemented by providing for the appointment, by the Garda Commissioner, of persons as volunteer members of the force. I will be amazed if many volunteer. I have some concerns about this approach to policing. If one offers a service voluntarily, one can also withdraw it voluntarily; thus we may not have the continuity we need.
We all know gardaí do a difficult job and often put their lives at risk. Under section 14, we will be asking people to do the same in a voluntary capacity. I have serious concerns about the protection they will be offered. What protection will be offered to their families in the event of their receiving a serious injury, or worse?
Consider the level of training required and the specific reference to the need to have regard to human rights which will lead to this training being further developed. What level of training will the volunteers in the force receive? Will they be trained to the same standard as other members of the force? It is difficult to believe they will be trained to the same standard, given the time it takes to train an officer to such a standard.
I am concerned there will be disproportionate numbers of volunteers in certain areas and staffing issues in others. What impact will this have in the assignment of new gardaí? There could be considerable resistance to the initiative if it is regarded as too much part of the solution such that the professional full-time force will not comprise the dominant part of the organisation. What will be the practical impact of voluntary policing? I do not believe a significant number will volunteer.
The proposal for a Garda ombudsman represents an improvement. While it is important to have improvements, the proposal does not go far enough. We have a tendency in this country to go 50% of the way in respect of many measures. I would have preferred if this matter had been dealt with fully rather than in an incremental way. I am concerned that the proposal does not represent the whole solution.
The Morris tribunal must be a deep source of concern to members of the Garda. It is probably of most concern to the most honourable members of the force which comprise the dominant group. In recent years I have had an opportunity to interact with members of the Garda on behalf of constituents. I have the highest praise for some of the work they do which often goes unnoticed. Often gardaí have interacted positively with others at flashpoints. They have found imaginative ways to deal with them.
I understand time is required to train extra gardaí but the delay in deploying the extra 2,000 gardaí is such that the casualty of the service has been in the area of community policing. This is a positive development in which interventions can be imaginative. In that regard, the quicker those 2,000 gardaí are available, the better. A Garda presence gives people a great deal of comfort.
Policing is not the only solution to anti-social behaviour. A societal issue must also be addressed, as must a resourcing issue in terms of how we construct our communities. It is not just a question of building more and more houses, one must provide the necessary facilities and services. If one examines the studies carried out in prisons, one will note a direct relationship between anti-social behaviour and prisoners not being members of sports clubs or other community organisations. These issues must be dealt with. This will require investment in communities. While the Bill does not cover this specifically, it will produce the results we seek only if investment is made in remedying the cause of problems as well as in policing.
I welcome the opportunity to speak on this wide-ranging Bill. The debate too has been wide-ranging. The Bill replaces all Acts in this area since 1924 which is a sweeping and courageous initiative that merits serious discussion. No matter who we are or where we live we depend on the Garda Síochána. We need a well-manned, well-equipped police force to make us secure in our homes, on the roads and in our daily lives. As our society develops, problems increase and there is more pressure on the Garda Síochána to deliver a better service and inspire confidence in the community.
The key objective of the Bill is to establish an independent Garda Síochána ombudsman commission to replace the existing complaints board. The current system for dealing with complaints against members of the force does not command full public confidence. The complaints board has pointed to the problems of the current arrangement. A new mechanism is needed to ensure openness, transparency and public confidence in the investigation of complaints against members of the Garda Síochána and the method of that investigation.
Many people have cited problems with the Garda in their areas but the number of complaints against the Garda Síochána in my clinics and constituency office is small. When I follow these up I find more often than not that the complaints do not stand up, and that is a good sign. Transparency, however, is the key to this Bill because it inspires the public with the confidence that it has a police force that supports it in its daily life.
I welcome the Minister's decision to dissolve the complaints board and opt for the ombudsman model which Fine Gael has advocated for some time. I welcome in particular the power given the ombudsman in section 94(4) to initiate an investigation. That is welcome but the scope of such an investigation should be widened considerably so that the ombudsman can examine more general policing practices.
We have one national police force, while many countries have several giving rise to a need for very different structures. Britain, for example, has over 40 regional police constabularies and several national law enforcement agencies including its intelligence services. In addition to being a police force the Garda Síochána functions as an intelligence service, which is important in dealing with the drug culture that has developed throughout the country and determining its source.
The Bill also provides for a joint policing committee involving Garda and local authority representation. This year there is a focus on local authority membership, functions and local democracy. For the first time committees will provide fora where the gardaí and local authorities can co-operate to address local policing and other issues under the management of the local authority. It is important that the Garda representatives put a strong case for their interests to be taken into account.
The strategic policy committees feed into local authorities and members of local authorities are active on the ground, thanks to the abolition of the dual mandate. This increased focus on the community can add knowledge to meetings of strategic policy committees, county development boards or county councils. There is scope for expansion in this area with the knowledge these local representatives can share with the Garda Síochána. The feeding of information between the Garda and the local authority is a welcome development.
Some years ago, soon after I became a Member of the Seanad, some concerned business people spoke to me about the crime level in Tipperary town. It seemed from their account of the problem that there was very little policing in the area. There was only one way to address that. I set up a meeting with the local superintendent. Since then we continue to meet on a regular basis to keep each other informed. That was one of the best things I did because bringing together concerned people and the authorities in the town made an impact. The results have all been positive. Both sides understood how much work was being done by the Garda Síochána as an organisation and the gardaí on the street.
As I go about my daily business I am struck by the lack of police on the ground. There is a need to get more police officers on the beat. The presence of gardaí walking the street, keeping an eye on and being involved in communities gives people a sense of security.
The Garda Síochána is undergoing serious change to which it devotes time and effort. Gardaí spend a great deal of time at their desks writing reports. We need more gardaí on the street where their role should be more focused.
The condition of some rural stations throughout the country is not satisfactory. The Minister should examine the closure of Garda stations in some of the smaller towns and villages throughout the country in light of the development which is taking place in these areas. People are crying out for these stations to be re-opened. Whatever about the way Garda resources are divided in different Garda divisions, the local man on the beat and local stations have stood the test of time. This brought gardaí into contact with the local community and resulted in mutual respect. I do not think the public has the same respect for the gardaí they had when I was attending school. The proposal to have gardaí in local stations must be discussed. It will be stated that stations are not being closed. However, the truth is that most of the Garda stations in my constituency are either closed or there is no one in them, which is a poor reflection on the Government. This issue needs to be addressed so that people can become more integrated with the Garda force.
There are enormous problems with crime in society. Crime figures have increased. The Minister may say the problem is in hand and crime figures are decreasing. This is not what I witness in my constituency. There is also the problem of anti-social behaviour among young people, and there are not sufficient gardaí to deal with these problems. Now is not the time to be overly political but the truth is that 2,000 gardaí were promised during the last general election campaign. People expected more gardaí to be put on the streets, which has not happened. The Minister should deal with this issue in the forthcoming budget, and not wait until the next general election campaign. It should be dealt with over a certain timescale. Given the increase in the population, immigrant figures and problems in society, a genuine effort should be made to put more gardaí on the streets.
If the requests I have made are dealt with, there will be more confidence in the force. I welcome this broad-ranging Bill. We all depend on the gardaí. The security of the State depends on the gardaí. My party established the Garda Síochána, of which we are proud. However, there needs to be improvements and adjustments to the force. I commend the Minister for bringing forward the Bill. I ask him to take on board the points I made on behalf of the public. I spent much of my time in County Meath during the recent by-election campaign and I witnessed at first hand the concerns of people living in communities at the lack of Garda activity throughout the county. There is a need for more gardaí in communities.
I am pleased to have had an opportunity to contribute to this debate. I ask the Minister to take on board the points I made.
Before speaking on the Bill, I want to deplore comments made by Deputy Quinn who used this opportunity to make scurrilous remarks about the contribution of my colleague, Deputy Crowe. I will defend absolutely my right, and that of each Sinn Féin Deputy, to speak on the Bill and the issue of policing. The communities we represent, both North and South, have just as much right to a proper policing service as those represented by Deputy Quinn. Sinn Féin has made a constructive contribution to the policing debate in this House. I commend my colleague, Deputy Ó Snodaigh, on the work he has done.
Sinn Féin aspires to establishing an all-Ireland police service which is among the best in the world. It must be fully modern, efficient and effective, able to respond to evolving challenges, representative of the population, accountable to local communities and working in partnership with them, underpinned by a human rights and community service ethos, meeting or even exceeding international best practice standards for policing. We are ambitious to create real security in our communities and we have positive policy alternatives to offer.
We now have a police force in the Six Counties that has not severed itself from its legacy of human rights violations and which is still ultimately controlled by the British Government. Meanwhile, the Garda Síochána in this jurisdiction has been undermined by under-resourcing, lack of proper oversight, lack of local and public accountability, corruption and a culture of impunity for misconduct. Present oversight mechanisms in particular are very poor. It is not acceptable that neither the Garda Commissioner nor the Minister for Justice, Equality or Law Reform could answer my colleague, Deputy Ó Snodaigh, when he asked the total number of serving gardaí who have been charged with or convicted of a criminal offence, and the number for each type of offence. No wonder an MRBI poll from one year ago found that more than 50% of young adults had no confidence in the Garda.
We need to be positive, not negative in our approach to this issue. What is needed now is comprehensive reform and strong legislation to change the culture of impunity and the lack of oversight and accountability in the future. We are committed to engaging constructively in the process of change until such time as an all-Ireland service can be established in the future. I am, therefore, pleased to have the opportunity to comment on this long overdue Garda reform Bill, to point out some of its shortcomings and to encourage the Minister for Justice, Equality and Law Reform to accept the constructive proposals and amendments that will be tabled by Sinn Féin.
Earlier, my colleague, Deputy Crowe, dealt with the aspects of the legislation regarding the need for a single Garda ombudsman, in keeping with the Good Friday Agreement strand 3 commitments to equivalence in human rights protection between both jurisdictions. I will deal primarily with the need to establish a policing board for civilian oversight — a mechanism that would provide much stronger accountability and transparency to the public than the Minister's proposed Garda inspectorate based on the British model in Part 5 of the Bill.
The Minister will say it is untenable for Sinn Féin to boycott the policing board in the Six Counties, yet call for the establishment of an equivalent body to oversee the Garda in this jurisdiction. Let me clarify this. There is no contradiction whatsoever in our position. The establishment of a policing board is an essential element of the Patten police reform package. The Patten model is widely recognised as representing international best practice in policing. It is also consistent with UN and Council of Europe standards on policing. It was developed in the context of the peace process for application in the Northern context as a necessary element of conflict resolution. Patten was put together by a team of international experts, including a Canadian who helped to guide police reform for post-apartheid South Africa. The Patten report is still considered by many to be state of the art and to have international relevance and application. Sinn Féin believes the Patten package is far from optimal, but we accept it as representing an appropriate minimum standard. We could not accept anything less than the full Patten report.
We do not find the Patten's policing board model objectionable, rather the PSNI. While we maintain that the Garda Síochána is in need of comprehensive reform, as both Deputies Ó Snodaigh and Crowe have previously stated, we also believe it is a legitimate police service. The same cannot be said about the PSNI which continues to retain human rights violators on active duty, block access to the truth about collusion, retains its political policing arm, the special branch, and plastic bullets.
Sinn Féin recommends the establishment on a statutory basis of a fully independent civilian policing board, separate from the Garda Síochána and the Garda ombudsman's office. Its purpose would be to hold gardaí fully to public account.
The policing board would act as the civilian body to which the Garda Commissioner was accountable. In this way it would fulfil the other aspects of the remit of the Minister's proposed inspectorate, providing management oversight on issues of recruitment, qualifications, training standards, equipment, accommodation, organisation methods and best practice.
Sinn Féin proposes the policing board be independent of Garda management and representative of the population served by the Garda. We recommend it be composed of one third cross party elected representatives, one third representatives of statutory bodies and one third representatives of community and voluntary sectors. It should have at least 50% female representation and take into account the need for other social and economic representatives. Members of the board must be selected by a transparent, merit-based appointment process independent of the Garda Síochána, and members and the chair must be selected on the same basis as the ombudsman. Elected representatives should be disqualified from holding the office of chairperson.
The policing board should be empowered to appoint senior gardaí on the basis of a transparent process to review their performance and hold them accountable. The board should be required to meet monthly and in public with the Garda Commissioner and to receive his reports on operational management. It should be able to request and receive all manner of information from the Commissioner. If it is in the public interest that such information be kept confidential, the board should be allowed to holdin camera sessions to deal with specific matters.
The policing board must have the power to request a report from the Garda Commissioner on any matter pertaining to policing. It should have the authority to establish short, medium and long-term strategic priorities and objectives together with the Commissioner as part of a process of agreement on strategic and annual policing plans. It should be responsible for monitoring performances as well as budget management against the agreed policing plans or any other indicators it regards as suitable.
The board should have the power to make recommendations on resource allocation and policy change to the Minister who would be obliged to take due regard of such recommendations. It should also be able to refer matters as appropriate to the Garda Ombudsman or Comptroller and Auditor General. It should be able, if necessary, to establish an independent inquiry into any matters it regards pertinent. Provisions for such inquiries should be framed to emphasise the board's independence.
In the interest of full public transparency and accountability, the board should be required to publish annual reports of its activities.
We welcome the emerging international consensus regarding a need for independent, civilian oversight in order to establish full police accountability. However, the Minister's proposals in this Bill will not deliver the full independence and civilian oversight the Irish people deserve and should be revised to include provisions for an independent, civilian policing board.
We welcome the Minister's recognition that Garda oversight and investigation functions should be separate, as argued by Sinn Féin, the Human Rights Commission and others. I also welcome that the Minister has, in Part 5 of the Bill, altered his original proposal of a Garda inspectorate which wrongly combined investigatory and management functions and, in many ways, replicated flaws of the current system. He has taken several of our recommendations on board. However, the newly proposed Garda inspectorate is still not right and is not quite up to the standard set out in Sinn Féin proposals.
While former members of the Garda will not be allowed sit on the inspectorate, the Government is still allowed to appoint former police officers from other states according to section 107. This means, theoretically, that former RUC members could be appointed to the board. The appointment process is merit based, but it is still not transparent. Despite claims in section 109(7), the inspectorate will not be independent of the Minister, who retains overall control of its work, according to section 109(2)(a). Provisions in section 109(5) allow the Minister to suppress the publication of inspectorate reports at his discretion. Furthermore, in section 112, the chief inspector shall not “question or express an opinion on the merits of any policy of the Government or a Minister of the Government.” The inspectorate is also not required to meet in public.
The Minister's new model has also been criticised by the Human Rights Commission and the Irish Council for Civil Liberties, which have raised several concerns which we share. The Human Rights Commission objects to the retention of the existing system of political appointment of senior officers within the Garda, the broad discretionary powers granted to the Minister with regard to the operation of the force and, in particular, section 23 which specifically directs the Garda Commissioner to have regard to Government policy as well as to the law and relevant regulations. This is not a formula for a policing service that is accountable to the public it serves, but for a police force that is accountable to Government parties first and foremost. This is not acceptable.
The ICCL agrees the Bill does not go far enough to address the management crisis in the Garda Síochána or the culture of denial and lack of accountability. It further states that in granting broader ministerial powers of oversight and direction, the Bill "runs the risk of overcentralisation and politicising" of the force and "would ultimately undermine its independence". We would say it further politicises the force. The ICCL rightly observes that "no other public body in Ireland composed of more than 10,000 individuals can utilise as broad a range of discretionary powers with serious implications for human rights ... it is unacceptable to allow one ministerial position to exert such influence over the gardaí". I welcome the ICCL endorsement of the policing board model offered by Patten.
Independence is not optional but a fundamental cornerstone of democratic policing which is why Sinn Féin is concerned about the Minister's failure to use this opportunity to establish a policing board for accountability and oversight.
I have issues in my constituency of Kerry North. I refer to a statement from Deputy Hayes regarding the Garda Síochána Complaints Board. He states that very few complaints have been made. How many successful complaints have gone before the complaints board? In my experience it is a waste of time, which is regrettable.
I must also bring to the attention of the Minister that Deputy Ó Snodaigh wrote to him on four occasions on 13 October 2002, 12 November 2002, 28 February 2003 and 29 May 2003 seeking that he meet Sinn Féin Deputies concerning a serious injustice to a person in my constituency, James Sheehan. He was arrested on the grounds that a gun was allegedly discovered in his car. In a subsequent search of his house 12 rounds of ammunition were discovered. A file was sent to the DPP. Seven years later he received a letter from DPP informing him that the charges against him had been withdrawn even though he was never charged.
Many Deputies raised a question on that case with the Minister and all referrals in that respect were to the Garda Complaints Board. This case represents a denial of equality of treatment. Is it because we are Sinn Féin Deputies that we are not entitled to a response from the Minister? Is it because the man in question was a Sinn Féin member that we did not receive one? From 1988 to the present day he has carried the stigma of a gun having being discovered in his car, which he said was not there. He was never brought before the courts.
Is it a stigma for the Deputy to have a gun in his possession?
I am making a point even if the Minister does not want to listen to it.
The Deputy brought a boatload of guns into this country.
How is it a stigma to have a gun in a car? The Deputy never apologised for doing that.
Deputy Ó Caoláin and other Sinn Féin Deputies asked the Minister to meet them and he denied them that. He has denied our equality of treatment in this House in terms of a meeting to raise this issue with him.
Does the Deputy think there is a stigma in having a gun in his possession? He brought a boatload of guns into this jurisdiction.
I bring to the Minister's attention the case of the late John O'Shea who died tragically when a Garda report influenced an inquest carried out by Professor Harbison who said that his judgment was formulated on what he was told by the gardaí, namely, that the man died from hypothermia. Yet under cross-examination from Michael Finucane he admitted that under oath, and he also changed his verdict. We and the family of the late John O'Shea have asked the Minister for a proper independent investigation into his death. Is it again because he is a member of Sinn Féin that his family was denied that?
We need accountability not only from the Garda Síochána but from the Minister to the people I represent and who democratically elected me. It is the people who decided to elect me and the other Sinn Féin Deputies, and the Minister has no right to treat us as second class citizens.
I have a right to point out that people like the Deputy get elected under false pretences.
I challenge the Minister to meet me and my colleagues concerning the two issues I raised.
The Deputy never told the people that he was a member of the army council.
I regret that I have to bring these issues to the floor of this House to get a response from the Minister. He has denied me and my colleagues a response.
The Deputy will get a response.
The Minister has denied and refused us a response. He has abused his office in denying us a response. I ask him to facilitate us by having a meeting. I ask him as Minister for Justice, Equality and Law Reform and as a public representative of the people of this country to facilitate the people of this country who have been abused. I challenge him to do that.
I hope the Minister will accept Sinn Féin's constructive amendments to strengthen the oversight and the management aspects of the proposed legislation, as this will be necessary if our party is to support the Bill, which we very much want to do. We want a policing service that is accountable, that has as its core equality and that represents all our people equally. We want a policing service like the one in the Six Counties with which all the people feel comfortable.
I sincerely hope we will not find certain equipment in the back of Sinn Féin election workers' vans.
I ask the Minister to consider the proposals we have put forward. He should listen for a change. He is not infallible. He does not know everything.
I know a lot about the Deputy.
The Minister should listen to the people who are talking to him. He should listen to the relatives of the late John O'Shea. As of yet we have not had an account from the gardaí of what happened that man on that night. The Minister should read James Sheehan's submission and his letter to him which stated what happened to him. As of yet, the Minister has not given him justice.
Reference should not be made to individuals.
I challenge the Minister to give justice equally to all the people.
It is always more fun when the Minister is here; we are able to have much more of a debate on such issues.
I am pleased to have this opportunity to speak on the Bill. I wish to focus on some relevant issues at national and local level which I hope will add to the Bill.
The Bill is badly needed. Its main objectives are to reform the law relating to the administration and management of the Garda Síochána and to set up the ombudsman commission and the Garda inspectorate. All three objectives are needed to bring clarity and inspire more public confidence in the force. I receive very few complaints about gardaí, as I am sure do most Deputies. The force is a big organisation with up to 14,000 members and there are bound to be a few bad eggs. They are found in every organisation, be it politics, the church, or the GAA. We must accept that. In general, gardaí do an outstanding job and the force has much to be proud of. We owe its members a great deal and everybody is aware of that.
It is important for us to put laws in place which will help restore the utmost faith in the Garda Síochána to give people confidence in its members and to give gardaí, including new people entering the force, confidence to stand tall and proud. They do a tremendous job and we should back them up. This legislation will go a long way to bring clarity and to restore confidence in the force. It will make it easy for a person with a complaint to have it dealt with rather than depending on Deputies to ask questions, being afraid to make a complaint or having a doubt about doing so. The procedure for dealing with a complaint will be clear. While I receive few complaints about gardaí it is important that there is a proper structure in place in which everyone has confidence.
The existing structure for dealing with Garda complaints is not old, it was set up in the 1980s and it has worked quite well. This structure is being put in place to affirm people's faith in the system. The ombudsman commission will be a positive measure in that respect.
Since the foundation of the State the Garda Síochána has played a pivotal role in safeguarding the public in the ever developing society in which we live. In recent years the geographic and demographic make-up of Ireland has changed considerably. This Bill must provide the framework for appropriate changes within the Garda Síochána. By adequately reforming the law relating to the administration and management of the Garda Síochána, this House can allow the force to meet the changing needs of society. To do so we must look to society and bring the experiences gained here to the gardaí and elsewhere. The Minister and the rest of us are guilty of quoting figures, comparing figures for various years. We must realise that life in 2005 is very different from life in 1996, 1997, 1981 and 1982. We have come a long way. There is no point saying there are more gardaí now than there were in those years. The circumstances are different. We need more gardaí now. The Minister's party and the other Government party pointed out that we needed an additional 2,000 gardaí three years ago. I presume we need even more than that now. Everyone is aware that society has changed. We need to adapt the force in terms of numbers and how its members do their job if we are to properly serve and protect citizens and ensure they have confidence in the system. There is no point in comparing current figures with figures for previous years and I will not do that.
This Bill paves the way for community policing and for local authorities to become involved in that. I and others dealt with gardaí when organising the St. Patrick's Day parade and festival in Navan, with which the Minister might not be familiar. Like many other towns on that day last year, problems arose in Navan due to the abuse of alcohol by young people. That was partly the fault of the organisers because we probably had the wrong band playing in the wrong place which drew the wrong crowd and other things happened which contributed to the problems that arose. Many of the problems arose from a lack of communication between the festival committee, the Garda and other groups organising events.
We decided this year to make sure that we got it right and the gardaí had the same approach. We met three months in advance with the local superintendent, Sergeant Gerry Smith, Sergeant Seán Farrell, Sergeant Pat Gannon and a few others. I commend the excellent job they did. We met and discussed what would happen on the day and the week of the festival. There were three or four meetings following that and everyone was very clear about what had to be done, where problems might arise and how we could solve them without using brute force or muscle power but by simply having a presence and doing things right. We followed the advice of the gardaí and they listened to advice we gave them.
On the day four or five times more gardaí than last year were present, which made a major difference. The whole event went off without trouble. I believe three arrests were made, which is expected during a normal weekend. This was down to co-operation and everybody recognising they had a job to do. In the heat of that activity the Garda foiled a robbery which otherwise might not have been caught. A few gentlemen decided to come from Dublin to rob the local bookie and were caught in the act as a result of the greater Garda presence. This shows it can help in running an event smoothly, protecting a town and avoiding trouble on the streets while at the same time solving other crimes. This does not necessarily need to involve gardaí. The proposed volunteer force could also get involved in running such events as well as protecting the area from crimes such as robbery.
Freeing up Garda resources to work on the front line is of vital importance and we need to recruit more civilian staff, for example, a psychologist or press officer, to take over from Garda officers who are qualified specifically to tackle crime. I do not see why the force needs a garda as its press officer. The political parties have press officers who were not politicians before becoming press officers. There are plans to redeploy 300 or 400 gardaí, who are tied up doing specific duties, to work on the streets. The sooner this happens the better. While the Bill may pave the way for such change it is not spelt out. It gives more power to the Commissioner to consider introducing more civilians. Having trained members of the force carry out tasks that members of the public could do makes little sense.
In general the State boasts of an excellent workforce who have received a first-rate education. It is now time to mobilise the people in assisting the Garda Síochána in its duties. I recently spoke to an Irish person who graduated with a master's degree in criminal psychology in the UK. She now works in the police support staff there having not been trained as a police officer. More than half if not two thirds of the police workforce in the UK is made up of support staff. While I understand they are still called policemen and policewomen they are not trained as police officers. This goes a long way towards freeing up the police to do the task for which they have been trained. It can be seen that considerably more scope exists for freeing up trained Garda personnel to tackle crime on the front line. The woman I mentioned, who is the same age as I am, could not get a job in the Garda Síochána despite her qualifications. She would have to train in Templemore, serve some years on the beat and work her way up. We are losing such people who could fit in at different levels of the Garda Síochána.
Even if we recruit such people, I understand they would need to complete an induction course. However, to expect someone of 33 with two children to leave a job and take a very low wage for up to two years is not sustainable. It is not a viable option for many people who would like to find a role in the Garda Síochána. We should find a way to make it possible for people to enter at different levels of the Garda or to move career into the force. While it is acceptable for students on leaving school to go to college for three or four years without being paid, this does not work later in life. Perhaps scope exists for some of the educational institutes to run a diploma or certificate course in preparation for joining the Garda. The Department of Justice, Equality and Law Reform does not need to organise all the training and the Minister may have some ideas on the matter. I presume the Bill will open the door to such change.
While the new 35-year age limit for joining the Garda Síochána is a significant improvement it is still too low and could easily be set at 40 or 45. I know that to get value for having trained gardaí we want to get 20 or 30 years service from them. They could continue to work until 65 or even 70 and repay the State for their training. On the subject of training, how much retraining and continual training and assessment of gardaí is carried out? While some people might question the ability of some gardaí fresh out of training, 20 years later they might not be as active and might not have received scenario training etc. Other professions need to update their training and employees need regular retraining.
We need to recruit more civilians to carry out particular tasks in the force. Many clerical workers in the former health boards tell me they have no work to do and could be put to better use elsewhere. Without sacking anybody we could move people to different positions and get better use from them. While it might not be possible to get them to move immediately they could do so after completing a short course. This would free up gardaí to go and do the job they want to do and for which they have been trained, which is working among the people solving and preventing crime.
Section 29 provides that the Garda Commissioner shall have direct responsibility for the distribution and stationing of members of the Garda Síochána. This is probably the way it was, which might have been acceptable in the past. However, we need to debate the provision of funding for the development of new and existing Garda stations. I wrote to the Minister about the Garda station in Laytown, which is manned on a part-time basis. The population along the east coast has exploded and what once were small rural villages are now sprawling urban centres. Residents demand a full-time and more dedicated presence from the Garda in this area. Will the Commissioner be given the resources to properly police these areas? While Garda stations are being closed in some areas, will new ones be provided in areas of population growth? The infrastructure needs to be established to allow for the stationing of gardaí in such centres of growth before crime gets out of control there. Often we act too slowly and by the time we realise we need to appoint more gardaí to an area the damage has already been done. This could have been prevented by having gardaí in place from the start. While I understand we do not have an endless number of gardaí to move around, we need to consider taking some action in this regard.
When the Commissioner is deliberating as to where to station the gardaí the Minister might point out to him the following information on my county. In 1996, Navan had one garda for every 270 people, which was the same as it had been in 1981. We now have one garda for every 450 to 500 people. While I know people will say it is not necessary to have gardaí everywhere, people want to see a Garda presence and we need to realise we are short on personnel. The Louth-Meath division now has seven fewer sergeants. With the population increasing some criminal elements have moved from Dublin into the region. We should be reacting to this by having more criminal units. The counties of Meath and Louth have insufficient PULSE computers for the gardaí to do their job and they spend much time travelling to stations with a computer, which seems strange in this modern day and age.
Chapter 4 of the Bill addresses co-operation with local authorities and arrangements for obtaining the views of the public. Earlier I referred to our experience in Navan with the St. Patrick's festival. I fully support the concept of local authorities working with the Garda in committees and forums. The Bill suggests that the sergeant does not necessarily need to act on the outcome of such meetings. While we cannot expect these forums to tell a sergeant what to do, he or she should be strongly encouraged to act on the recommendations of those committees. The local authorities and voluntary groups involved in those committees will want to see results. There is no point in turning up every few months for a chat, shaking hands and going off again — that will not work. If we want community involvement it must deliver results and people must see action.
The Minister asked for comment on who should be involved in policing committees. Membership should not be confined to those involved in local authorities but should include members of community organisations. While making these arrangements will present a major problem, it is vital that membership is drawn from a broad spectrum. Given that members of local authorities, for example, can become conditioned and may miss the point, the policing committees and fora must have a broad membership mix.
Section 32 requires local authorities to take action when requested to do so by the Garda for the purposes of facilitating the force in patrolling a certain area, prevent and solve crime and so forth. Issues such as the provision of lighting and pedestrian walkways will need to be addressed to allow the Garda to act, react and move around. Certain Government policies, however, will prevent local authorities from taking the necessary action. Pedestrian walkways between adjacent estates, for example, are often the location of trouble and anti-social behaviour. These and certain corners or end rows in estates tend to become the local hang-out area. Planning rules requiring pedestrian access points, therefore, cause disputes between local authority members and planners.
As a local councillor, I argued, for example, that certain access points would cause major trouble because to push people from other parts of a town through an estate is to ask for trouble, given that people from different estates do not often mix well. Planners are able to throw back the argument that no changes can be made because an alleyway or access point is stipulated under planning rules. There is scope for change in this regard to enable community gardaí to identify minor problems and request local authorities and community policing committees to take action.
Community policing is a brilliant initiative which does not enjoy the prestige it deserves. In addition, community gardaí do not always receive the respect or opportunities they deserve. My local area has several community gardaí who do excellent work in solving and preventing crimes. For example, they are involved with young people through a range of organisations. At a recent committee meeting, members were informed that a senior garda once described community policing is an "unaffordable luxury". This form of policing is not unaffordable when one takes a long-term perspective because it will solve and prevent problems. Furthermore, it is a necessity, not a luxury. We need gardaí who are involved in all aspects of community life.
The debate about community policing tends to focus on towns. Community gardaí are also required in rural areas and villages to mix with people and prevent crime among all groups, not only young people. For example, a community garda should step in and warn those whom he or she suspects may be drink driving or driving a car with technical faults that he or she will be caught. The pat on the shoulder and warning to cop oneself on used to be common crime deterrents and should be one of the features of community policing.
The proposal to introduce a volunteer reserve force reflects a similar move in the United Kingdom. It is an excellent idea which should proceed. The Minister's target is to recruit a force numbering 1,400. He will have to consider whether background checks will be required because retired members of other organisations may wish to volunteer. While the establishment of a new force will be a considerable task, I hope a pool of expertise will become available and the volunteers will be free to do a range of duties. I am not convinced they should have the same level of responsibility as members of the Garda Síochána. It could create problems if volunteers with less training and pay were allowed to perform the same role as fully trained, full-time gardaí. The new force offers a way forward in that it will add to current resources and provide more people on the ground to do policing work.
Many Garda duties could be carried out by other bodies. I support the decision to privatise the operation of speed cameras, for instance, but I do not understand the reason that, under law, the number of people permitted to direct or control traffic is so restrictive. Will the Minister consider allowing staff of local authorities to be trained to direct traffic? Many of our towns suffering from infrastructural deficits could make good use of local authority personnel, rather than gardaí, during heavy traffic periods, for example, at rush hour or in the event of breakdowns or oil spills. Traffic wardens could be trained for this purpose. A little imagination is required. Will the Minister confirm that the Bill leaves a door open for alternatives to be explored and, where necessary, implemented?
I will make a few brief points on the Bill in the short time available to me. It is a pity no consultation or discussion process, such as that undertaken by the Patten Commission in Northern Ireland, was carried out prior to the drafting and publication of the Bill. People must buy into law and unless they are involved and engaged there is a strong possibility they will be more suspicious than is warranted when the legislation is finally produced. While the Minister could contend that appointing a commission before producing legislation would cause delay, the exercise would be worthwhile, not only in terms of getting the Bill right but also in cultivating a sense of ownership which is important in terms of the interplay between the citizen and the institutions of the State in regard to law.
The Bill does not provide for the appointment of an ombudsman but proposes to establish a three-person commission. The weakness of this proposal is that essentially the buck will not stop with a specific individual. A similar problem is evident in the case of children presenting in schools with anti-social behaviour. In such cases, many agencies will become involved in dealing with the child but the weakness is that there is no bottom line co-ordination and no single individual has ultimate responsibility for the child. Children in these circumstances will then go through the education system, being passed from Billy to Jack, so to speak, and will leave school without being properly prepared for the world outside.
I tabled a number of parliamentary questions to the Minister recently regarding a statement by the Governor of Mountjoy Prison, Mr. John Lonergan, that he believes there is a significant level of ADD among prisoners. I have heard of research carried out in the United States which appears to indicate that a large proportion of the prison population suffers from ADD. Treatment is available for ADD, ADHD and ODD, which are learning disabilities with an anti-social base.
There are many elements to crime. The manner in which individuals develop in the system can be conducive to later involvement in crime. A great deal can be done in this regard.