Priority Questions

Cross-Border Co-operation

Niall Collins


1. Deputy Niall Collins asked the Minister for Justice and Equality the discussions he has held with the Garda Commissioner and the Northern Ireland Minister for Justice with regard to tackling cross-Border crime; and if he will make a statement on the matter. [6087/13]

I meet regularly with and am briefed on an ongoing basis by the Garda Commissioner on all aspects of policing, including cross-Border crime.

There is close and ongoing co-operation between the Garda Síochána and the PSNI on all aspects of policing. Notably, the two police forces operate a joint cross-Border policing strategy which aims to improve public safety throughout Ireland, to disrupt criminal activity and to enhance the policing capability of both police services on the island. The strategy includes sections dealing with operations, cross-Border investigations, intelligence sharing and security, information and communications technology, training, human resources, and emergency planning.

I meet regularly with the Northern Ireland Minister of Justice, David Ford, and we have developed a close working relationship which is of great benefit in addressing matters of mutual concern and in enhancing effective co-operation and co-ordination on all criminal justice matters. In this context, we discuss matters by telephone as they arise. Under the intergovernmental agreement on co-operation on criminal justice matters, we operate a structured framework to further develop this co-operation. Officials from our Departments meet regularly to assess and report to us on developments in a number of areas where co-operation is pursued.

The Department of Justice and Equality and its northern equivalent, the police authorities and the public prosecutors North and South have developed and put in place a joint manual of guidance for use in criminal investigations with a cross-Border element. The manual of guidance supports the police and prosecution authorities in both jurisdictions by ensuring that each side has an awareness of the needs of the other jurisdiction and can bear those in mind in conducting an investigation. The joint manual allows them to maximise the chances of a successful detection and prosecution.

Additional information not given on the floor of the House

My Department and the Garda Síochána, in conjunction with their counterparts in Northern Ireland, jointly organise and participate in an organised crime conference each year. The conference brings together law enforcement officers from each jurisdiction, including police, customs, the Criminal Assets Bureau and the Serious Organised Crime Agency, to address areas of mutual interest and to enhance the collective operational responses to organised crime in both jurisdictions. There is a shared determination, North and South, to disrupt, investigate, pursue and prosecute organised criminals and the terrorist gangs who are inextricably linked to them. The strength of that determination to work together could clearly be seen in the attendance last week by the PSNI Chief Constable, Minister Ford and Secretary of State Villiers at the funeral of Detective Garda Adrian Donohoe.

The involvement of a cross-Border criminal gang in the murder of Detective Garda Adrian Donohoe, as reported, illustrates the grave challenges posed by criminality in the Border area, where gangs criss-cross from this jurisdiction into the North of Ireland. We must focus on that in the light of last week's horrific events. It is worth bearing in mind that Retail Ireland has calculated the total loss to society and the Exchequer caused by criminality at €850 million per annum. That points to a need for an investment in the policing service that will yield a positive return for society.

Last week, we debated the closure of Garda stations and I will not go back over that in the short time available to me. It is worth putting on record, however, that there have been closures of police stations across the North of Ireland and that has had a negative impact on policing in Border areas. Keady, Middletown and Caledon in south Armagh, Aughnacloy in Tyrone and Roslea and Newtownbutler in Fermanagh were all closed. Has the Minister discussed with his northern counterpart the development of a fresh strategy to tackle cross-Border crime or is that being left to direct operational discussions between the Garda Commissioner and Chief Constable Matt Baggott of the PSNI? Is it being addressed at a political level?

I assure the Deputy that on the occasions when I meet with the Minister for Justice in the North, Mr. David Ford, we have addressed that as one of the important issues - dealing with subversive, organised and cross-Border crime. There is an overlap between them in a number of areas. There is a real determination to ensure everything necessary can be done and is done. We have had joint meetings with both the Chief Constable of the PSNI and the Garda Commissioner and the various officials. This is a regular feature of the co-operation that is ongoing. There is a shared determination, North and South, to disrupt, investigate, pursue and prosecute organised criminals and the terrorist gangs that are inextricably linked to them. The strength of that determination to work together could be seen clearly in the attendance last week by the PSNI Chief Constable, the Minister for Justice and the Secretary of State at the funeral of Detective Garda Adrian Donohoe. We were both there and many other Members of both Houses were present.

The pattern of criminality changes and the gangs change, with people in the gangs interchangeable. There is an ongoing review at both operational level by the PSNI and Garda Síochána on new initiatives that might be taken and ongoing discussions of policy issues continue at official and ministerial level.

Judicial Appointments

Pádraig MacLochlainn


2. Deputy Pádraig Mac Lochlainn asked the Minister for Justice and Equality his plans to introduce legislation to amend the operation of the Judicial Appointments Advisory Board and increase transparency and accountability in the appointment of members of the judiciary. [6082/13]

The Deputy will be aware that the Constitution provides that judges are appointed by the President on the advice of the Government. Applications are dealt with by the Judicial Appointments Advisory Board which submits to me, as Minister for Justice and Equality, the names of those deemed suitable for appointment. This procedure has been in place since 1995 and, at my request, my Department has been undertaking a review of the process. This review is informed by the ongoing need to ensure and protect the principle of judicial independence and includes consideration of eligibility for appointment, composition of the Judicial Appointments Advisory Board, the selection process, accountability in respect of the board's functioning and the need to promote equality and diversity.

I hope to be in a position to consider this further in the coming months. Any proposal to change the current system of appointment would require amendments to the current legislation and would, of course, be a matter for consideration by Government in the first instance.

From a broader reform perspective, the programme for Government undertakes to legislate to establish a judicial council and this commitment is being given expression in the form of the proposed judicial council Bill. As well as providing for the establishment of a judicial council and board that will promote excellence and high standards of conduct by judges, the proposed Bill is aimed at providing a means of investigating allegations of judicial misconduct supported by the establishment of a judicial conduct committee which will have lay representation.

In November 2011, the Judiciary decided to establish an interim judicial council pending the publication and enactment of the proposed Bill. Work on the drafting of the new Bill continues and publication of the Bill is expected later this year.

The Judicial Appointments Advisory Board has been in place since the mid-1990s. Since then there have been 160 appointments, with thousands expressing an interest so there is considerable demand among very capable candidates for these posts. It continues to be the case, however, that judicial appointments are made of people whose track record shows involvement in political parties. Around 30% of appointments at one point according to the Irish Independent were clearly active members of Fine Gael or the Labour Party over the years. We must put an end to that practice.

To promote debate around this topic, I have drawn up a Private Members' Bill where I propose the Judicial Appointments Advisory Board be reformed and would submit to the Minister a short list of three candidates for a post, clearly outlining the reasons that they have been chosen, and the Minister would then select one person, clearly outlining his reasons. That would restore complete faith in how judicial appointments are made and remove any suggestion of political cronyism or jobbery.

That type of culture must end.

I take on board the Minister's point on our previous exchange on this, that, of course, involvement in politics should not exclude one from the Judiciary, but if there was a more accountable system of appointment, it would remove any suggestion that somebody was appointed because of his or her political affiliation.

As the Deputy well knows, as I have said this on a number of occasions and I am not saying anything new, despite the way the media have written about them, the appointments that have been made during my period in office have been on merit and merit alone.

For some reason or other, on occasion I tend to be blissfully unaware of persons' political affiliations or which member of the legal profession in the Bar Library or the solicitors' profession might have been engaged with one or other political party. Some tend not to believe this because, apparently, everything we say in this House is supposed to be untrue. Sometimes, after appointments have been made on merit, I have opened the following day's newspaper to read an account of how somebody, of whose political engagements or involvements I had no knowledge, was either the relation of some Member of this House or had some time in the distant past apparently acted as an adviser to a Member of this House in some capacity on some particular issue. I want to state clearly that when the judicial appointments board makes a recommendation regarding appointments my policy is to look through the appointments, consult the Attorney General and make recommendations to Cabinet based on persons' capacities. The truth is on occasions it is difficult as to who should be chosen because often there are a number of persons eminently qualified for the job.

I do not know whether the figure the Deputy gives is correct. I remember reading in some newspaper it had decided, in the context of all the appointments this Government has made, that 30% of the individuals had some political affiliation or other. I do not find that surprising because some lawyers tend to be political active. If one could look at it the other way, if that figure is correct, presumably it was the 30% that would have got the headline, not the 70% of appointments that had no political affiliation. Unfortunately, it is the way it is dealt with.

I do not believe the current system is right. I believe it is time for reform. We must be careful how we do it. We need to ensure that, ultimately, there is accountability to this House for appointments made in the shape of a Minister being accountable, as I am, on behalf of the Government. We cannot have a system whereby, as has been suggested elsewhere, existing members of the Judiciary and representatives of the legal profession would themselves simply select the next lot of members of the Judiciary because there would be no political democratic accountability of any nature. The difficulty with such lack of accountability - I am not suggesting any current judge would do this - is that particular group making appointments may make appointments of persons whom they know better than others.

We must be careful in how we proceed. I am looking forward to getting the result of the departmental internal efficient deliberations and the suggestions that have come to me and I am giving thought to creating a consultative process around that before we move it forward. I am not sure simply producing a Bill like a rabbit out of a hat is necessarily the way to go because all sides in this House must be comfortable with any changes we might implement in this area.

Briefly, we are out of time.

I welcome much of what the Minister says.

Acknowledging, first, that the status quo is not acceptable, we need to get to the stage where the Judiciary is clearly fully independent and, in terms of the selection or appointment procedure, is fully accountable. I ask the Minister to take a look at my Private Members' Bill. It is merely a contribution. I do not volunteer that it has all the answers, but my party has engaged in consultation with NGOs and members of the legal profession on it. I would ask the Minister to consider our proposals as a contribution in this regard.

Let us not kick this to touch. As the Minister will be aware, in terms of the judicial council and in terms of the issue of a sentencing council, clear guidelines and a clear framework needs to be given to judges in the decisions they make, while making allowances for flexibility on a case-by-case basis. All of those matters can be addressed.

My party has put on the table proposals regarding the reform of the Judicial Appointments Advisory Board, such as narrowing the numbers that are to be short-listed for presentation to the Minister, providing clear explanations for decisions taken and likewise, that the Minister provide clear explanations for decisions he makes. Is that a way forward?

I am not saying the status quo is not acceptable because all members of the Judiciary who have been appointed have acted independently. The one good point is that no matter what is said about anyone having political involvement or not, the Judiciary in its decisions is independent. On occasions, members of the Judiciary cause angst by some of the decisions they make.

There should not be any suggestion that we need to change matters to ensure the Judiciary is independent. It is independent. It is a separate arm of the State and it independently makes its decisions.

However, I think we can do better than the current structure. The current structure, which, as Deputy Mac Lochlainn correctly states, dates back to 1995, has been in place for some considerable time. It was an improvement on what preceded it but I think we can do better. I can assure the Deputy, in the context of the review we are conducting, I will have regard to his Bill.

I have a final point on the judicial council Bill. This is a Bill that has been delayed for some time. The previous Government promised to bring it forward. For the information of the House on where matters stand, there was a sub-committee on the part of the Judiciary on that matter and its observations were confirmed to me by the Chief Justice on 8 May 2012. We gave substantial consideration to those observations within my Department following which I conveyed relevant drafting instructions to the Attorney General in November 2012. There was already a prepared Bill which needed improvement and the drafting instructions are to facilitate the completion of that work. Unfortunately, there is some delay in that work because priority must be given to the Legal Services Regulation Bill 2011 where there is substantial work under way on Committee Stage amendments. I hope we will be able to take, or at least start, Committee Stage before Easter. It is the same personnel in the Attorney General's office who would be dealing with these matters and the judicial council Bill is in a queue in that context. However, we will get there.

On the other matter, I can assure the Deputy I have a specific interest in seeing can we improve upon the 1995 legislation. In whatever way we go, it is all about ensuring there is an independent Judiciary and persons of appropriate calibre are selected to be judges.

Road Traffic Legislation

Mick Wallace


3. Deputy Mick Wallace asked the Minister for Justice and Equality if he will set out the specific legislation and specific Garda directives or circulars which detail the boundaries and limitations within which members of An Garda Síochána exercise discretion for the termination of fixed charge penalty notices; if the terms of reference of the internal review being conducted by the Garda Commissioner includes an examination of the legal basis for the exercise of discretion in addition to the processes followed and criteria used in the exercise of this discretion by individual gardaí; the monitoring and oversight provisions in place to avoid abuse of the system; and if he will make a statement on the matter. [6090/13]

Fixed charge notices are provided for under the Road Traffic Act 2002 and are an alternative to prosecution. They give a motorist the opportunity to acknowledge the offence, pay the fixed charge and, where the offence is a penalty point offence, incur the appropriate penalty points. While the issuing of such notice does not constitute commencement of legal proceedings, it normally leads to a prosecution if the charge is not paid.

There can be circumstances, however, where the fixed charge notice may be cancelled, in accordance with Garda procedures drawn up in the light of legislative exemptions and prosecutorial guidelines. Cancellation occurs where it is believed the evidence would not sustain a prosecution or a prosecution would not be appropriate, fair or proportionate. The procedures provide authority to district officers, or inspectors acting as district officers, and an inspector in the fixed charge processing office to cancel fixed charge notices.

Cancellation can occur in circumstances where, for example, exemptions apply to emergency vehicles or the wearing of seatbelts, or where there are evidential difficulties, such as where the registration number registered by a speed camera does not correspond to the vehicle in question, or where there are emergency medical circumstances such as, for example, a sick child being driven to hospital, an imminent birth, or a medical professional rushing to a sick or elderly patient. Access to cancel a fixed charge notice through PULSE is restricted to users with the rank of inspector or higher.

As the Deputy will be aware, allegations concerning the cancellation of fixed charge notices are being examined by an assistant commissioner who is due to report his findings shortly. I have received an interim report from the Commissioner, but I will not be making any comment on any of the allegations until the final report is available. What I would, again, say is this: these allegations are being taken seriously and are being thoroughly investigated. It would be premature and wrong to assume that all of these cancellations of fixed charge notices were inappropriate. I would caution against this continued rush to judgment before we know all of the facts. As the Garda Commissioner has said, this would be unfair, both to members of the Garda and the motorists concerned. Let us, therefore, await the outcome of the investigation which, as the Commissioner has said, will be both comprehensive and rigorous.

It is as if the rules are being made up in retrospect. A Garda circular, HQ45/09, outlining policy regarding termination of fixed-charge penalties was issued in 2009. It states that it applies only to a driver of a fire brigade vehicle, an ambulance or the use by a member of An Garda Síochána of a vehicle in the performance of the duties of that member, or a person driving or using a vehicle under the direction of a member of An Garda Síochána. That is a very different story from what we have just heard from the Minister.

The irregular patterns evident from the dossier and from the PULSE records clearly indicate that the application of discretion by some gardaí amounts to serious abuse of that power. The examples cited in the dossier suggest that this is a relatively common occurrence. Any discretion held by any civil servant must be exercised within cautious legal limits and subject to strict monitoring and oversight or else it becomes open to abuse. This is why we have called for an independent public inquiry to review the exercise of this discretion by gardaí.

I thank the Deputy.

As the dossier indicates, this discretion is exercised in a way which is non-transparent, non-reviewable, not subject to any appeal system, not subject to any formal recorded process evidenced by a paper trail, not subject to any formal examinable criteria and not subject to any oversight or monitoring. The Minister had a number of options for tackling this rather than through an internal inquiry with a body investigating itself. Under section 102 of the Garda Síochána Act the Minister could have requested the Garda Síochána Ombudsman Commission to investigate any matter that appears to indicate that a member may have behaved in a manner that would justify disciplinary proceedings. If the Minister considers it is in the public interest - as this surely is - he could also have requested the Garda Síochána Ombudsman Commission to examine practices and procedures of gardaí and report back under section 41.4, or under section 42 the Minister may order a special inquiry by an appointed person if he considers the matter one of public concern.

I thank the Deputy.

Did the Minister consider the issue to be one of public concern?

These are very long questions and we are nearly out of time.

I am aware of the Deputy's concern about this issue and of the various queries he has raised about it. However, it is important not to assume that members of the Garda Síochána are dishonest, corrupt or unable to carry out their duties properly. Unfortunately that seems to be an assumption he is making. I will again reiterate what I said. I take this matter seriously, as does the Garda Commissioner, and it is being fully investigated. I will not prejudge that investigation. The issue as to the rules applicable to cancelling fixed charges are as I stated and are not confined to the matter to which the Deputy refers.

I believe it is appropriate, as I believe most members of the House do, that members of the Garda Síochána can exercise discretion in the manner in which they deal with certain matters and apply a degree of common sense. The important thing is that no special favour is done for any individual, that nothing wrong is done in return for receipt of any moneys and that no individuals are prosecuted in circumstances that are unfair where others have been exempt from prosecution. It is important that the law is evenly and properly applied.

It is also important to be able to address fixed-charge notices mistakenly issued because the registration does not comply with the vehicle an individual owns. If, for example, a constituent of the Deputy's was taking his wife on the verge of giving birth to hospital and he was speeding, I believe the Deputy would be rightly outraged if such a person ended up with a fixed-charge notice in circumstances where there was no resulting accident and the wife was simply being taken to hospital. The same would apply to a parent taking a seriously ill child to hospital. Gardaí exercise a degree of common-sense discretion.

The Deputy asked me about section 42 of the Garda Síochána Act 2005. As the Deputy rightly says, under that provision I may appoint a person to "inquire into any aspect of the administration, practice or procedure of the Garda Síochána" or the conduct of members if the matter is of concern to the public. I do not intend to give consideration to so dealing with the matter in the absence of the full and final report of the Garda Commissioner into the allegations. I again urge the Deputy not to prejudge the outcome of that investigation. As I have done in the past, I again assure the House that I will inform it fully of the outcome of the investigation. If there are issues of concern, they will be addressed. If it arises out of the investigation that some further inquiry should be conducted, I assure the House that decision will be made. However, I will not prejudge an investigation that is taking place in good faith by an assistant commissioner into a matter that the Garda Commissioner and I regard as serious. I urge the Deputy to curb his enthusiasm for seeking to imply that honourable members of the Garda force are behaving in some inappropriate manner. We will see what the outcome of the investigation is. If something untoward arises from that, I assure the Deputy that appropriate steps will follow.

Question No. 4 in the name of Deputy Niall Collins.

I have not insinuated that gardaí-----

We have gone way over time. I told the Deputy that we had long questions and maybe long answers. We should try to keep them short because many Deputies want to ask questions. Does the Deputy wish to clarify a point?

I call the Deputy very briefly.

I have not insinuated that gardaí across the country are corrupt. We are talking about senior members terminating fixed-charge notices. Is the Minister not concerned that one superintendent terminates a handful and another terminates more than 1,000? No one is prejudging anything. However, if I want to judge it at all, should we not have an independent inquiry? Does the Minister believe it is good for a body to investigate itself? Is that good law? I do not believe the Minister believes that.

This matter arose and following its arising, the matter is being investigated. If that investigation does not comprehensively address all the issues, the matter will be dealt with further. I am awaiting the result of that investigation and I have been assured that I will get it relatively shortly and thereafter will consider the position.

Garda Strength

Niall Collins


4. Deputy Niall Collins asked the Minister for Justice and Equality if he will specify his plans for the total strength of the Garda Síochána by the end of 2013, 2014 and 2015; and if he will make a statement on the matter. [6088/13]

As of 31 December 2012, the latest date for which figures are readily available, the total strength of the force was 13,424 which is, in fact, 74 more than the figure of 13,350 proposed by Fianna Fáil in its National Recovery Plan 2011-2014. There are also approximately 2,000 civilian support staff and almost 1,000 Garda reserves in the Garda Síochána. The Deputy might be interested to know that a graduation ceremony for some additional reserves will take place shortly.

Garda numbers have been reducing owing to the moratorium on recruitment put in place by the previous Government as part of its plan to reduce the strength of the force to 13,000. My objective, despite the enormous financial pressures facing the Government is to ensure that Garda numbers will not fall below 13,000. At yesterday's Cabinet meeting, I informed my Cabinet colleagues that I am reviewing the position regarding Garda numbers in light of an estimated reduction to just over 13,000 by the end of 2013 and in this context I will be bringing proposals to Cabinet in the coming weeks.

I will be making these proposals as part of a wider determination to ensure that the Garda Síochána has the greatest possible resources made available to it, and that it is supported in making the necessary reforms to ensure that those resources are used to the greatest effect. In that context I have managed to secure a budget of €1.4 billion for the Garda Síochána for 2013, which includes a specific provision of €5 million for new vehicles for the force. This is in addition to the €4 million for vehicles that was provided last year.

I have also strongly supported the Garda Commissioner in the introduction of real reform, such as the piloting of new rosters, the closure of under-utilised stations and the consequent freeing up of gardaí for operational duties, and the merger of Garda districts which will bring about much greater administrative efficiency. These reforms are vital to ensure that the best use is made of Garda resources and that the most efficient and effective policing service is delivered to the public. These reforms should be supported by all Members of the House.

The Minister might address the following point in his supplementary reply. It has been widely reported, predominantly in the national print media, that the Garda Síochána budget for this year is not sufficient to meet the cost of paying the entire force, and that in this regard, the introduction of a three-year career break mechanism is being considered, which may result in a reduction in the force to approximately 12,000.

The Minister referred to the resources of An Garda Síochána. I agree on the need to modernise and find efficiencies. However, as agreed last week, Garda stations are being closed not for financial reasons but owing to the Minister's vision for policing, which differs from that of a broad coalition of people. Last night, I attended a public meeting in County Mayo attended by more than 200 people who are concerned about crime, policing and the closure of Garda stations. These people are worried at the direction the Minister is taking An Garda Síochána in terms of the closure of rural Garda stations. They do not want the Minister to break the link between communities and Garda stations. That is the message I was asked last night by people from Kilmaine, County Mayo, to convey to the Minister today. Perhaps the Minister will say if there is any truth or substance in, as widely reported in the media, members of An Garda Síochána being offered career breaks of up to three years and an upfront payment.

As I said earlier, and previously in public, the Garda Commissioner and I are ad idem on the strength of An Garda Síochána not falling below 13,000. That is my view, as expressed privately and publicly. As I said earlier to the Deputy, I will be bringing a proposal in this regard before Cabinet in the coming weeks.

On the closure of Garda stations, there has been much discussion and a little political points scoring on this issue in the House. The Garda Commissioner conducted an examination of the Garda station network during 2012, following which he made an operational judgment that 100 stations are of no operational advantage and, if closed, would result in more members of the force being available for community policing and front-line services. An estimate was also done of the benefits, one of which will be 61,000 additional patrolling hours during 2013. That is the effect of the closure of the stations.

The Deputy and I had an interesting exchange on this matter last Thursday evening on "Prime Time", at which time the focus was on rural stations. This is not only about rural stations. The largest station closing, in terms of Garda numbers, is in Stepaside in my constituency. It is closing on the operational advice of the Garda Commissioner. Dundrum Garda station is located approximately three miles from the Stepaside Garda station. It made sense to have two stations when the road network and motor vehicles and communications system were different. Some people want, for political reasons, to portray this as an attack on rural Ireland. I would like to remind Deputies that the two largest stations due to close this year under this consolidation process are in Kill o' the Grange in Dun Laoghaire, which is in the Tánaiste's constituency, and Stepaside in my constituency. In the past, Ministers wishing to avoid controversy in their constituencies would not have allowed that to happen. I believe we have an extremely good Garda Commissioner, on whose operational advice I rely.

The largest stations, in the context of numbers, closed last year were in Dublin, including Whitehall Garda station, Harcourt Terrace Garda station, another in Dún Laoghaire and Dalkey Garda station. Stations that are open for no more than three to four hours per day, the vast majority of which are manned by one member of the force, are being closed because the Garda Commissioner has determined they are of no operational value.

As regards the Deputy's comment that these stations act as a deterrent to crime, last week in Oldcastle a family was held hostage and a post office was robbed. Three doors away from that post office there is a Garda station which opens for three to four hours per day. It was no deterrent to that appalling event. We need to modernise policing methods which free up members of the force to engage in operational duties and community policing. I assure the people in Mayo, to whom Deputy Collins referred, that these changes will result in more gardaí being available for community policing, patrolling and crime prevention and detection.

This is not only an attack on rural Ireland, it is an attack on urban and rural Ireland. I have repeatedly made these points in relation to station closures across Dublin as well. The Minister fails to recognise that his policies are resulting in a disconnection between gardaí and communities and access to garda services on a satellite basis. The Minister and I differ in terms of our vision for policing in this country. The Minister, when discussing this issue, repeatedly refers to the Garda Commissioner, in respect of which I have also taken issue with him.

The Minister referred to what happened in Oldcastle. A pensioner in Kerry was robbed on the same day a local Garda station there was closed. One can be selective about the stories one tells. The point made by the Minister in support of the closure of part-time rural Garda stations was raised at the meeting in Mayo last night. People take issue with his statement that 61,000 hours will be freed up to allow gardaí engage in additional policing. Gardaí in the communities are already carrying out this function. There is nothing wrong with their being available in Garda stations to interact with the public. There is nothing wrong with an elderly person knowing he or she can go to the local Garda station to make a complaint and so on. The Minister fails to recognise this. This is part of a wider plan to remove other services from communities, towns and villages and centralise them in larger cities.

It is the difference between members of the force sitting in a station for three or four hours each morning or being out in the community.

They are not sitting around; they are interacting with the community.

We are not taking community gardaí out of communities. We are freeing them up to be more engaged with members of the community. These are operational decisions. I am not washing my hands of them. I support the Garda Commissioner. These are operational decisions made by the Garda Commissioner who has the statutory right and expertise to make them. I know some people are unhappy with change. A retired assistant commissioner has stated that he does not know what smart policing is and does not understand why we are doing all of this. I do not believe that in 2013 we need the station network we were handed in 1922 in colonial times. We all have smart phones and so on nowadays. Smart policing is about flexibility within the policing service to adapt policing to meet the exigencies that arise, to facilitate the putting in place of special operations and to ensure the availability of the transport and capacity to deal with mobile gangs throughout the country. Having members of the force unnecessarily engaged in administrative duties is not smart. I accept that members of the force do important duties such as signing passport forms and so on. However, we do not need 700 stations, which is what the Deputy wants, so that passport forms can be signed. We need trained members of the force engaged in the work for which they have been trained. We need them engaged in crime prevention and detection.

At the end of this process we will still have proportionately far more stations in our station network than any of the networks existing in neighbouring police forces. I keep giving the example of 340 stations in Scotland for a population of 5.2 million. With all of the closures implemented we will have 564 stations for a population of 4.5 million.

I want to make a quick point.

The Minister is giving the impression they are sitting behind their desks doing nothing-----

-----and that is not the case. They are providing a community service.

I will close this place down if we do not have order.

Magdalen Laundries

Maureen O'Sullivan


5. Deputy Maureen O'Sullivan asked the Minister for Justice and Equality if, in progressing the issues relating to the Magdalen laundries, he is considering an apology and a redress and restorative justice scheme; and if he will establish a dedicated helpline and outreach service to provide much needed assistance for the ladies of the laundries. [6093/13]

I announced yesterday the publication of the final report of the interdepartmental committee, independently chaired by former Senator, Dr. Martin McAleese, to establish the facts of State involvement with the Magdalen laundries. The report is extensive and detailed and, as has been stated in the House yesterday and today, runs to over 1,100 pages spanning the decades from 1922 onwards.

I thank Dr. McAleese for chairing the committee. In producing such a comprehensive report, it is fair to say that he brought integrity and independence to the work which was instrumental in having the full co-operation of all the agencies involved, the religious congregations, and the women affected.

I thank the many women who were able to tell their stories of what being in a Magdalen laundry meant for them, and the effects this had on their lives. I would also like to thank the religious congregations who gave their full co-operation and made their records available to the committee, and the many representative and advocacy groups who assisted the committee in every way possible. Finally, I thank the members of the committee for their work.

The report tells a complex story, spanning the decades from the establishment of the State onwards. We now know that approximately 10,000 women entered Magdalen laundries since 1922, through a whole range of different routes. These included State referrals as well as placements of women by many others, including significant numbers by their own families. We now also know that just over 60% of these women spent one year or less in the laundries and 35% spent three months or less there.

Much of the information in the report has never previously been made public. Among other elements, it records the stories of women entering the laundries over the decades and documents some past practices which had been long since forgotten. In this way, the report gives an extraordinary insight not only into the operation of the Magdalen laundries, but also into the social realities of past times.

I hope that publication of the report will be of comfort to the women directly concerned. I appreciate that many women have lived their lives under a cloud because of the stigma that has attached to their residence in the Magdalen laundries, irrespective of the circumstances which resulted in their admission and regardless of how much time they spent there. This stigma was undeserved and its removal is long overdue.

The committee's report clearly illustrates that the stigma derives from misconceptions relating to how women came to be in the laundries. The report also details that the laundries were cold and harsh places. I regret it was not until July 2011 that action was initiated on behalf of the State to undertake a comprehensive examination of the circumstances that applied in the laundries and the impact they had on many of the women who resided there. I am sorry the State did not do more and the Government recognises that the women alive today who are still affected by their time in the laundries deserve the best supports that the State can provide.

The report includes a significant amount of new information and it is important that time is given for it to be reflected on and for former residents of the laundries and others to give a considered response. As the Deputy knows, it is intended there will be a debate in the Dáil on the report in two weeks' time and, pending that debate, the report will be given full consideration by members of Cabinet who received it yesterday and who were briefed on its contents by Dr. McAleese.

It is interesting to note the first parliamentary question about the Magdalen laundries was asked in 1938. It has taken quite a while to get from 1938 to 2013, when we now know the facts and everything that has been established. The committee hopes the report "will be a real step in bringing healing and peace of mind to all concerned, most especially the women whose lived experience of the Magdalen Laundries had a profound and enduring negative effect on their lives". On the radio this morning Felice Gaer from the UN Committee against Torture stated the State must ensure the women obtain redress and have an enforceable right to compensation. The report is complex and the best tribute to it is to start acting on what has been found. There is no doubt there was State complicity. Will the Minister offer a dedicated unit in the Department to work with Justice for Magdalenes to address these issues and look for what the ladies have been looking for, starting with an apology?

I was on the radio this morning immediately after the lady from the UN Committee against Torture and I noted she told us she read the summary, which is a short chapter at the start, but she had not read the rest of the report. It would be helpful if individuals internationally, as well as everyone at home, read the report in full. I could not be oblivious to the fact that much of the comment made yesterday, because everyone in this new media age is supposed to instantly have an opinion on everything, was comment made by people who could not possibly have read the report. I know how many hours it took me to read it from start to finish. I reiterate people should read the report.

I am very proud of the fact that this Government, at the initiative of myself and my good colleague the Minister of State, Deputy Kathleen Lynch, established this inquiry. I had campaigned for a long time for the full story of the Magdalen laundries to be known. Previous Governments had not been prepared to have an inquiry. We owe a genuine debt of gratitude to Dr. Martin McAleese for the extraordinary work he did. It was very important it was an independent chairman and that there was no doubt about the independence of the report and its absolute integrity. This was of crucial importance.

It should be fairly acknowledged that publication of the report by Dr. McAleese yesterday was a major step forward because for the first time we have a comprehensive authoritative account. Groups and individuals have campaigned, groups who resided in the laundries have been telling their stories and there have been various publications, but the report contains information which was not previously published. We now know that 26% of the residents found themselves in the homes as a result of State involvement. This means 74%, the majority of those who were resident, ended up being residents in the homes for other reasons. Tragically, some were put there by their own families. Others, because they were in difficult financial circumstances and destitute, sought to reside there themselves. Others were referred by well-meaning people who had nothing to do with the State. We also know the length of residence is not always as understood. The aspect of the story which had been told was the story of the many women who had been living in the laundries for many years, and quite clearly a number had this terrible experience. It was never really understood that 61% of the residents resided in the laundries for a year or less.

In the context of State involvement on the criminal justice side, out of the 10,000 approximate residents that Dr. McAleese could identify, in excess of 600 came through the criminal justice system. Some of these were individuals placed on remand by the courts and in this context the courts had the choice of whether they spent a few days or weeks in a prison or went to a Magdalen laundry. The report shows a number of individuals were there for a matter of days or a short few weeks. The people about whom we should be genuinely concerned, in the context of the Government and my Cabinet colleagues considering how we deal with this very important matter, are the individuals who spent extended periods of time in the laundries whose lives have been blighted by this experience who felt because they were resident in the laundries that in some way it was a stigma and something they could not share or tell anyone about. These are people about whom we all have very real concerns.

I know this is an issue about which Deputy O'Sullivan has had a genuine concern for some time, as I and the Minister of State, Deputy Kathleen Lynch, had and as had many people on both sides of the House. This is a first step in dealing with this issue. The Government will give very careful consideration to how we proceed in a manner that is sensitive and of assistance to those who had the terrible experience of being resident in the environment so well described by Dr. McAleese. I believe a very important contribution to the discussion will be made by Members of the House in the debate that will happen in two weeks' time.

It is very difficult to accept what the Minister said with regard to this being the first comprehensive report. Perhaps it is, but on what basis then did the Minister make his comments when he was in opposition about barbaric cruelty and women being treated appallingly and irrefutable evidence of State complicity?

I will now refer to the apology. In 1999, there was an apology to the survivors of industrial schools before the inquiry or the redress scheme. There was a further apology in 2009. Why is it so hard to apologise now, not just on behalf of the Government but also on behalf of the citizens of this State? We are all complicit in this.

Will the Minister at least give a commitment to work with the unit in his Department? I do not know what a two-day debate will achieve. We will have more rhetoric and political footballs. It is much more important to work with the survivors and their groups to address the issues, rather than talking about it for another two days in here.

I am happy the Deputy has quoted what I said because it has proved to be right. I said there was a State involvement and that people lived in barbaric conditions. The report has established that 26% of the residents were referred by the State in various modes, whether it was through the criminal justice system, or individuals who were residents in industrial schools and who were released conditionally on the basis that they would go into the Magdalen laundries for some time. Therefore, my concerns were proven to be correct.

There were suggestions that individuals had not only been emotionally abused but had perhaps been physically or sexually abused. Former Senator McAleese's report establishes that there was not physical or sexual abuse, but there certainly was emotional abuse. The environment in which young women lived was not one within which any of us would wish to live. I am not happy that that is the case but my view of that has been vindicated. That is why, as a Minister, I was determined to establish an inquiry to get maximum information and in circumstances where the maximum records were available. Former Senator McAleese achieved that. He also achieved the co-operation of the religious congregations in getting crucial information. When Deputies read the report, they will see information from the congregations matched against State records. One can then identify the routes through which people found themselves in the laundries.

This is not just a State issue, however, because 74% of the residents came there without the State being engaged or involved. We must consider how we can proceed further. There is a particular issue in the context of how the State deals with that matter. It is different to the industrial schools. Nearly everyone who found themselves in industrial schools was there by virtue of court proceedings, either care proceedings or criminal proceedings. Here we have 74% of people who found themselves resident in laundries in circumstances where there was not a State involvement. This is not about dancing on the head of a pin, it is about examining what needs to be done for those people today, what is fair and how one approaches it. For example, I do not think there is a Deputy in this House who would take the view that someone whom the courts remanded to a Magdalen laundry and who might have lived in a laundry for two, three or four days should be paid compensation. They would have been there briefly and may otherwise have been briefly in prison. It is difficult to talk about these things in this way because it will be portrayed as being unsympathetic.

We set up this committee because of an absolute commitment by this Government, including myself personally and the Minister of State, Deputy Kathleen Lynch, that we would get the full story, following which we would have colleagues consider it and make serious decisions. In fairness to members of the Cabinet, including the Taoiseach, they would not have seen this report until yesterday. They first had a briefing from former Senator McAleese. We live in a world where everyone expects instant answers to everything. The alternative to publishing the report would have been for the Government to retain it for a number of weeks and then announce decisions on foot of it. Instead we took the view that the women had been waiting for many years to have their story vindicated. We also took the view that there should be transparency and that the moment former Senator McAleese completed it it should be published. It was published so quickly that the final chapter came to me on Monday morning. We were anxious to publish it for the women's sake, to give Members of the House a full insight into the background, and then move on to consider how we can deal in a humane, considered and careful way with the consequences of what people experienced. That is the Government's intention.