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.