Other Questions

Visa Agreements

Seán Ó Fearghaíl

Question:

6. Deputy Seán Ó Fearghaíl asked the Minister for Justice and Equality the steps he has taken to address visa issues with visitors to the Schengen agreement area who subsequently want to travel here; and if he will make a statement on the matter. [20768/13]

Ireland has not applied to participate in the Schengen arrangements to the extent that they deal with the abolition of border checks. This decision has been taken to maintain the common travel area with the United Kingdom which remains a priority for Ireland. The reality is that the common travel area could not continue to operate if Ireland were to remove border checks with Schengen states generally while the United Kingdom did not do so. To do so would result in a situation where the land border with Northern Ireland would become the border between the Schengen area and the United Kingdom. In such circumstances, land border controls would appear inevitable and this is obviously something that no Irish Government would seriously contemplate. The reality is that we cannot operate a common travel area with Britain and be part of the Schengen visa free zone at the same time.

The Government's focus instead is on doing what it can to maximise the potential of the common travel area as evidenced by the visa waiver programme for holders of certain categories of British visa, which this Government introduced in July 2011, and by ongoing talks with our British colleagues on the possibility of reciprocal CTA visa arrangements.

It must be first pointed out that the great majority of visitors to Ireland, over 98%, come from countries whose citizens are not visa-required, for example, Britain, the US and EU member states. Therefore, reforms of the visa regime can have only a limited effect on tourism and other visits. That being said, I have taken a number of steps to reform the visa system to facilitate business and tourist visitors from visa-required countries. The short-stay Irish visa waiver programme, launched by this Government on 1 July 2011, allows persons from 17 designated countries to travel to Ireland on the basis of a British visa. This programme has proved very effective in attracting increased numbers of visitors from emerging tourist markets.

The Government has also taken other steps to make the visa process easier including making greater use of multi-entry visas for regular tourist and business visitors from targeted markets, including China, the UAE and Russia. The Department has established six overseas offices in strategic hub locations to provide a better and more convenient service to visa applicants from the busiest locations. It is also in discussion with the Department of Foreign Affairs and Trade on steps to make the issuing of visas through Irish missions overseas, under delegated sanction from my Department, more efficient.

The Minister has outlined some of the schemes in operation. For the Olympic Games in London last year the visa waiver programme was in place but that was possibly a disappointment because there did not seem to a huge take-up of it. The Minister mentioned the Irish short stay visa waiver programme and there is also the start-up entrepreneur programme. I want to ascertain if there has been any positive impact. Has the Department carried out any assessment of the economic benefits accruing to the State? Can the Minister give us an indication of the numbers? Can he envisage the number of countries covered being extended?

The various schemes are continuously under review. Some of them have only started within the last 12 to 18 months so there is a need to let them bed down in particular countries so knowledge of the schemes spreads.

A statistic was published recently showing an increase in visitor numbers to the country of around 7% in the first quarter of 2013. I do not have a breakdown of the countries of origin for those visitors, which is a relevant factor. There is substantial interest in the emigrant investor and start-up entrepreneur schemes that I hope over a period of time will not only increase investment in this country but create substantial numbers of jobs. Many of the schemes started in the last 18 months and I am advised that the new visa system for the 17 countries that was mentioned, whereby a British visa will allow for entry to this country, is producing additional tourist numbers.

We are constantly monitoring the different schemes. In the context of the scheme for the 17 countries mentioned, we have added some countries to it. It is my recollection that it started off with 15 and we are looking at what other countries might be appropriately added.

Has the Minister a figure for the economic impact or can he undertake to furnish that?

The Minister may be aware of the case that has been reported in the media over the past week of two Chinese parents, Meijiao Yu and Xiao Shao, who are looking to have their daughter, aged almost four years, returned to be with them. They came here as students on student visas and now they are here with a business. They are exactly the kind of persons who we want to build their future here in Ireland. I hope the Minister can help resolve that issue.

The Minister might reply to the two questions.

The visa system is operated at official level and the Minister cannot deal with every visa application. I only learnt of that matter on Friday. The two young persons concerned are in employment in the State. They are lawfully here in the State. Upon learning of the matter, I directed that a visa should issue for their young child. I understand that the child, when a baby, went back to China to be cared for by the grandparents and the parents now wish to have their child returned to their care in Ireland. I am happy to say that I gave instructions that a visa should issue, they have been so informed, the legal practitioner representing them has been so informed, and I hope that happily resolves the difficulty that arose in respect of that family.

In response to Deputy Niall Collins, I do not have an exact economic analysis of the impact of the visa scheme. One of the issues is the extent to which it is contributing to the numbers of tourists coming to the State. I do not know individually how much each person is spending when he or she is here, and it would be impossible to conduct an economic analysis of that. On the other side of it, we are aware, for example, in the context of the visa investment programme, that investments in excess of €10 million have been achieved. I understand that within the processing system - there is an independent committee with representatives, among others, of the Department of Justice and Equality, the Department of Jobs, Enterprise and Innovation and the Department of Finance who vet applications and business propositions - there are a number of interesting propositions under consideration. I am hopeful that in 2013 we will see a considerable upsurge in the financial values of the investments that result from this scheme.

Can I ask a supplementary?

I am sorry, but we are out of time. There are many Deputies who want to contribute.

Garda Síochána Ombudsman Commission

Clare Daly

Question:

7. Deputy Clare Daly asked the Minister for Justice and Equality his views on the operation of the Garda Ombudsman; and if he has any plans to improve accountability of An Garda Síochána. [20714/13]

The Garda Síochána Ombudsman Commission was established under the Garda Síochána Act 2005 to provide independent oversight of complaints made against members of the Garda Síochána. It has approximately 90 staff, as well as the three commissioners, and a budget this year of just over €8 million.

The ombudsman commission directly investigates complaints involving allegations of criminality, and its investigative staff have full police powers to do this. It may also refer other complaints to the Garda Commissioner for investigation under the Garda disciplinary code, and it may maintain oversight of progress in those investigations.

It must also investigate any matter that appears to indicate that the conduct of a Garda member may have resulted in the death of, or serious harm to, a person. This is an automatic and mandatory requirement, no matter how innocent that conduct - for example, a straightforward car accident - appears to have been.

The ombudsman commission may also, even where it does not receive a complaint and where it appears to it to be desirable in the public interest to do so, investigate any matter that appears to indicate that a Garda member may have committed an offence or behaved in a manner that would justify disciplinary hearings. As Minister, I may also refer such a matter to the ombudsman commission for investigation.

There is also provision for the commission to investigate a practice, policy or procedure of the Garda Síochána with a view to reducing the incidence of related complaints. The commission has, therefore, a hugely important role in ensuring public confidence in the Garda Síochána is safeguarded, and has extensive powers to enable it to achieve that.

I will shortly be laying before the House the annual report of the ombudsman commission for 2012. That will provide an opportunity for further detailed discussion on its work. While I cannot go into detail on the content of the report prior to laying it before the House, I can say that it deals with, among other matters, issues relating to delays in the finalisation of investigations. I can also say that I recently met two members of the ombudsman commission and they expressed concern to me about such delays.

I regard full co-operation by the Garda Síochána with the ombudsman commission as an extremely important issue. There are agreed protocols in place provided for under the Garda Síochána Act 2005, which set down time limits for the provision of information by the Garda Síochána to the ombudsman commission, and I regard it as a matter of substantial importance that these protocols should be respected. I have asked my officials to pursue these issues with the Ombudsman Commission and the Garda Síochána, and I will look to see progress at an early date.

There are many issues to be monitored. The operation of the ombudsman commission has been an absolute and utter failure and it has not in any way given accountability and oversight of the Garda. This is evident from the fact that the level of prosecutions arising out of the complaints since its inception has been less than 0.5%.

I am familiar with a case where the protocols in place are being breached by the gardaí who are under investigation and the ombudsman's office has told me that this is normal, for example, where items such as requests for a duty roster for the station for that day have been outstanding for 48 days and require multiple requests from the ombudsman in order to get an answer, presumably leading to extra cost and delays. These are cases that go on for months.

It is clear from many matters that have been in the public domain, not least the penalty points investigation, that the idea of gardaí investigating themselves is a nonsense. We believe that the Minister received that report. We do not know where it is, but what is entered in the media is enough to let us know that it begins with, "Once upon a time," and ends up with, "happily ever after". However, we would like to see it. We would like to see the Minister engaging in real, independent scrutiny of the Garda because public confidence is at an all-time low.

As Deputy Clare Daly will be aware, the ombudsman commission itself conducts investigations. The protocols, to which the Deputy refers and which I regard as of considerable importance, should be fully and properly adhered to by members of An Garda Síochána to facilitate the ombudsman commission in undertaking its statutory work. If there are time failures to meet requests for information or for individuals to be made available for interview by the ombudsman commission, they should only occur in exceptional circumstances, for example, where an individual may be unwell for some reason, out of work and taking leave from the force for a short period of time.

I regard these protocols as crucial to the proper functioning of the ombudsman commission. As a consequence of concerns expressed by the ombudsman commission concerning such delays that were detailed in the 2012 report, into which I cannot go in detail until it is laid before the House but which I expect will be laid before the House next week after it has been taken to Cabinet, I met the commission and my concerns in this area have been communicated by my Secretary General to the Commissioner of An Garda Síochána.

In fairness to the work done by the ombudsman commission, if the Deputy even considers the 2011 report, it received 2,275 complaints, containing 6,230 allegations of misconduct by gardaí. Some 1,424 of these allegations were found to be inadmissible. Some 18 files were submitted to the Director of Public Prosecutions during 2011 relating to 19 Garda members. The DPP directed prosecutions relating to seven Garda members and two persons who were not gardaí. Of the 19 prosecutions which were heard before the courts in 2011, 11 gardaí were acquitted and five gardaí were convicted - three for assault, one for perverting the course of justice and one for careless driving which was overturned on appeal. One probationer garda had the Probation of Offenders Act 1907 applied. A civilian was convicted of assault and a further civilian was acquitted.

It is unfair to the ombudsman commission to state that it does not conduct independent investigations; it does. It is also unfair to state that there are not consequences of its investigations; there are. It is important - I want to be absolutely categorical and agree with the Deputy - that protocols should be complied with and where there are investigations being conducted by the ombudsman commission or on behalf of the ombudsman commission, they should be progressed with reasonable speed and always with full co-operation from members of the force.

I am glad the Minister has said the protocol should be adhered to because the reality is that it is not. When we get the report, will the House have an opportunity to discuss it? There are indications that the blue wall of silence is still alive and well. A body that has been set up, involving many gardaí, is not the best body to have independent oversight. The question was not just about how the Garda Síochána Ombudsman Commission operates, but whether the Minister had plans to go beyond that and introduce an improved system of independent oversight.

In the past six months we have received many complaints from members of the public expressing dissatisfaction at the manner in which the Garda Síochána Ombudsman Commission responded to their complaints. The general feeling among many people is that the Garda Síochána Ombudsman Commission actually protects Garda malpractice rather than holding gardaí to account much of the time. As the previous Deputy said, the impartiality element must be raised given that, as I understand, there are serving gardaí in the Garda Síochána Ombudsman Commission. I notice the Minister shaking his head.

On the previous occasion, I highlighted that some of the serious complaints are being sent back to the Garda for investigation, in some cases the Garda Síochána Ombudsman Commission supervises the Garda investigation and some cases it does not. I asked the Minister the number of cases that resulted in disciplinary processes against individual members by An Garda Síochána. He told me he did not have the information to hand but would get it to me. That was two months ago.

There are not serving members of the Garda operating within the Garda Síochána Ombudsman Commission's office because the ombudsman commission is a separate and independent entity with separate and independent investigators.

The Deputy is correct in one matter. It is open to the Garda Síochána Ombudsman Commission when certain complaints are made and they are deemed to be of a not very serious nature - albeit any complaint is serious for the person who makes it - to effectively ask the Garda Síochána to have it investigated by a member of the force unconnected with the member against whom the complaint is made. That is the architecture of the legislation. Some people voice concerns about that.

The reality is that if the ombudsman commission, through its own staff, was to conduct every investigation, its personnel resources would probably need to be tripled. When the Garda Síochána Ombudsman Commission asks that a complaint be directed back to the Garda Síochána for its investigation under the supervision of the ombudsman commission and that a report be made to the ombudsman commission on outcome, it is important that those investigations are conducted and concluded within a reasonable timeframe. I have a concern that on occasions the timeframe is far too long.

I assure the Deputy that the report on the Garda Síochána Ombudsman Commission for 2012, which I only received in recent days and resulted in me instantly wanting to meet members of the ombudsman commission, will be taken to Cabinet by me. I believe it will be taken to Cabinet on Tuesday - I do not want to mislead the House and it is possible it will not be on the agenda until the following Tuesday. Immediately thereafter it will be laid before both Houses and if Members want a debate on the report, we can have one. More traditionally if there is a debate, it takes place in the Oireachtas Joint Committee on Justice, Defence and Equality, but of course all Members can attend that sort of debate.

I have received the report on the penalty points issue. When it is published, I do not believe the Deputy will find it is a fantasy fairytale. There are issues relating to the Data Protection Act that are being addressed by the Attorney General. I am anxious that it be published and that we have the maximum transparency. However, I must comply with issues that arise under the Data Protection Act. They are being addressed between my Department and the Office of the Attorney General. I had hoped to have been in a position to publish the report by now - I must take it to Cabinet first. As soon as those issues have been addressed and resolved, I assure the Deputies the report will be published.

Garda Investigations

Caoimhghín Ó Caoláin

Question:

8. Deputy Caoimhghín Ó Caoláin asked the Minister for Justice and Equality if he will instigate a public inquiry into the death of Father Niall Molloy. [20854/13]

I am advised by the Garda authorities that the examination surrounding the circumstances of the death of Fr. Niall Molloy is almost complete and that a report of this examination is expected to be submitted to the Garda Commissioner some time this month. Upon receipt of a report from the Commissioner, I will review the situation.

I understand that the officers carrying out the examination are continuing to keep the family members of the deceased updated on progress. While I fully appreciate the concerns of the family, in any case where criminal behaviour is suspected, it is only through a Garda investigation and where evidence of criminal wrongdoing is available through the submission of a file by the Garda to the Director of Public Prosecutions that persons can be brought fully to account.

Therefore, I hope the Deputy will agree that, in the first instance, we need to allow the present Garda examination to proceed to its conclusion, which, I reiterate, I understand is almost complete. I understand it will result in a report being furnished to the Garda Commissioner this month, and I then expect the Garda Commissioner to report to me.

We will await the outcome of that report. The Minister will be very familiar with this case going back to the time when he was an Opposition spokesperson on justice. I have had a chance to review what is known about the case, most of which is in the public domain. Potentially it is one of the biggest scandals in the history of the State in terms of the range of people associated with it, including people in medicine, the Judiciary, policing and politics.

This was a remarkable scandal where a priest, Fr. Niall Molloy, who by all accounts was beloved in the midlands community he served, had his life taken. His family deserve answers. More importantly, the people of the State deserve answers. I believe it was a remarkable abuse of power by a range of people to deny information to the people of the State, the people of the community who loved him and, more importantly, his family. We will await the outcome of the report. Sadly, it is police investigating police. Owing to the seriousness of potentially one of the biggest scandals in the history of the State, we need an independent inquiry to examine all the allegations in the public domain, which are of the most serious nature and have serious implications for administration of justice.

Like the Deputy, I am very familiar with the case. I am familiar with all the allegations made. I was familiar with it when I came into office. Shortly after assuming my position as Minister, I requested that these allegations be investigated. The Garda Síochána was the appropriate body to conduct the investigation should evidence emerge that would justify the taking of any criminal prosecution. It has taken a substantial amount of time for this investigation to be concluded. In 2011, I did not anticipate that it would take until May 2013 to conclude it. I understand it is on the verge of being concluded. I have been assured the Garda Commissioner will receive a report this month.

I hope the Deputy will understand if I, as Minister, do not in any way comment on what he has said about the matter because it is very important I do not prejudge the outcome of the investigation, that I say nothing that might prejudice any matters arising from it. At present, I am not privy to the outcome of the investigation and do not know what conclusions have been reached. I am very conscious that the tragic death of Fr. Molloy took place very many years ago. Clearly, in investigating his death, there are certain evidential issues that may be a cause of difficulty, but I have no reason to make any presumption one way or another about that.

There is the issue of the investigation into his death. Then we come back to an issue with which we have engaged this afternoon. The matter was dealt with in the courts. The Judiciary is independent and, as Minister, I cannot, nor would it be appropriate for me, to comment on the manner in which the case was dealt with when it came to the courts. I await with great interest the outcome of the investigation. I hope we will be in a position to know this very shortly. As Minister, I must then consider what happens next.

I find it strange my Question No. 41, which deals with the same issue, was not grouped with this. The family was told on 11 March the report was with the Garda Commissioner. On Tuesday, the Minister told the House, through a reply to a question from Deputy Charles Flanagan, that it will be submitted some time this month, and the Minister has stated this again today. Who is wrong? Is it the Minister or the officer who is supposed to be briefing the family and explaining to them what is going on in this investigation?

Does the Minister not find it bizarre that the original Garda file was stolen, the coroner's file was destroyed, the State Laboratory's file is not available and now we find the review file is lost somewhere between Harcourt Street and the Phoenix Park? It is not acceptable to the family that this review is an ongoing issue when the Minister told me in the House almost 12 months ago that it was nearly completed at that stage. Will the Minister assure the House it will be with the Garda Commissioner by the end of this month and that he will, soon after this, receive a report on it and, on foot of this, take appropriate action?

The drama is clearly continuing with this and there is now so much controversy and unanswered questions that nothing short of a public inquiry will suffice. The information I have is that the head of the cold case unit, the person in charge of the investigation, briefed the family and stated the report the Minister said was not completed was completed at the end of February and given to the Garda Commissioner at the start of March. This is a fact. With regard to the Minister's statement that the family is being consistently briefed by the Garda, the family state this is not the case and they have not been kept in the loop. This is a further vindication of my opinion that this tragic case and the cover-up around it requires a public inquiry.

An independent public inquiry will probably be required to achieve any transparency and accountability in this episode. When the Minister was in opposition, did he at any stage call for an independent inquiry on this matter?

I am concerned that the confines of this re-examination and report will be limited to the immediate investigation. As the Minister knows, a range of issues flow from this case which are of the utmost concern. This case is truly shocking. I had a chance to review it in detail over the weekend and I am stunned at the extent of the scandal. The public will not be satisfied with police investigating police, looking only at the initial investigation and not at all the issues which have flowed from it in the decades since, which would be of massive public concern. The State must be held to account and there needs to be an independent public inquiry, not just of the initial death and investigation but of all the issues which have flowed from it in the decades since.

I will begin by telling Deputy Naughten I am not interested in political points scoring. I am providing the information available to me from my officials. The information is that the Garda Commissioner will have the report during this month. I assume that, as I have requested, the Commissioner will report to me. It is an issue I have regularly made inquiries about since being appointed Minister. I cannot interfere in a Garda investigation and I will not do so. It is important that operational issues are dealt with independently by An Garda Síochána. I will not draw conclusions.

I am aware of all the allegations and I am aware of all the concerns. I have been for some time, which is why in 2011 I requested this matter be investigated. Deputy Daly has a habit of coming to the House and making all sorts of allegations. I will not respond. I can only say I have had this issue raised out of a genuine concern of what I know and what I have been told about the background to this matter. As I stated, I expect to receive the report. I will give very careful consideration to what is in it. I will then consider what action, if any, is appropriate arising out of the report. I do not know at this time whether the report might indicate some papers should be forwarded to the Director of Public Prosecutions. It may be that it will and it may be that it will not. I simply do not know the answer to this. If it does, this brings about certain consequences. I cannot be certain as to what will be said in the context of the report. I will deal with it when it comes to me. We will then see where we go from that point. It is an issue I treat with a great deal of seriousness and no one should be under any illusion about it.

I say to Deputies Daly and Wallace, I am not engaged in, nor party to, nor will be party to, any cover up. This seems to be something they love jumping to accusing people of with great regularity. My only interest and commitment is to do this job in the public interest, and this is where my focus is. I will do this job in the public interest for as long as necessary. I will cover up nothing of any description-----

I never said the Minister would.

-----which could be contrary to the public interest. I have never believed in matters being covered up. I believe in transparency. I do believe where there is a suggestion of wrongful behaviour or a suggestion of criminality that these issues should be properly investigated. I will not prejudge allegations. It would be inappropriate of me to do so.

Written Answers follow Adjournment.
The Dáil adjourned at 5.55 p.m. until 10.30 a.m. on Friday, 3 May 2013.