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Dáil Éireann debate -
Tuesday, 28 May 2013

Vol. 805 No. 1

Confidence in the Minister for Justice and Equality: Motion [Private Members]

I understand Deputy Niall Collins is sharing with Deputies Eamon Ó Cuív and Charlie McConalogue.

I am sharing with Deputies Eamon Ó Cuív, Charlie McConalogue and perhaps Barry Cowen.

He has not been notified to me but-----

We can have that rectified. I move:

That Dáil Éireann has no confidence in the Minister for Justice and Equality and Minister for Defence, Deputy Alan Shatter.

I want to make it clear at the outset that this motion is not a personal attack on the Minister, Deputy Shatter, nor is it personality driven.

For a long time I and my party have lost confidence in the Minister's ability to do his job, and we are reflecting the feelings of the wider public who do not support his actions or policies. A motion of no confidence is a grave matter. The country faces huge challenges, which are being actively debated day in and day out, but that is not a valid reason we should not hold the Minister or his Government to account, despite its massive majority.

The Minister holds what is arguably the most sensitive position in Government. That sensitivity arises from the roles and relationships the Minister has with some of the most important institutions of State. He is responsible for the Garda Síochána, he must provide for the Judiciary, and he receives important and confidential information, often pertaining to State security. This motion is the culmination of the fundamental policy mistakes and massive errors of judgment displayed by the Minister. It is about broken and damaged working relationships, flawed policies and the misuse of privileged information for political gain.

In addition to a series of strategic errors, the Minister has fatally compromised his integrity in that role by using this information that was not on the public record to gain a quick and cheap political advantage. Under the Minister we have seen 140 Garda stations lying idle in unprotected communities throughout the country. We have seen a poorly resourced Garda force hovering above 13,000 hit with additional budget cuts in the midst of an unprecedented morale crisis. We have a Judiciary so alienated by the Minister that the Chief Justice had to intervene to set up a remediation forum to restore confidence in the rule of law.

Under the Minister we have a new personal insolvency regime that has handed all the cards to the very banks that have fuelled the property boom. Under the Minister we have a Garda Síochána Ombudsman and Garda force which are in open conflict with each other. In addition to all that, the Minister misused his position for cheap political gain by jeopardising his relationship with the Garda Commissioner, which is one of the most important working relationships in the State.

I do not expect this damning list of failures to have any impact on the Government benches. They have already shown their true colours and what their new politics really mean, but for an Opposition party there is an obligation to hold the Government to account and ensure such mistakes and abuse of power do not go unnoticed. The disastrous policies, poisoned relationships, hypocrisy and arrogant abuse of power by any Minister will never be allowed go unchallenged in this House.

Regarding the personal insolvency regime, let us look at the record of the Minister, whom the Government has claimed is the most radical and reforming Minister for Justice and Equality ever. The mountain of debt facing home owners is a deeply personal crisis for those struggling to stay afloat in tough times and a national crisis that is dragging the economy into an ocean of debt. Instead of producing a Bill that gives home owners under pressure a fair chance to come to terms with their bank, the Minister has given the financial institutions all the power under the regime. With no independent arbitrator or appeals mechanism, the Government has created, through the Minister, a bankers' veto on progress in tackling debt.

The Minister has missed a number of deadlines in that regard. The delayed insolvency regime is due to get up and running during the summer. Hard-pressed home owners will find little relief in the new system that is biased towards the very banks that got them into the problems they have in the first place. Home owners will be left with only the final nuclear option of bankruptcy to save themselves if the banks wield their powerful veto over any arrangement. This is a missed opportunity to throw a lifeline to those drowning in debt and not the radical reform the Government points to in defence of the Minister.

It is fair to say the Minister has the most toxic relationship with rank and file gardaí ever experienced in the history of the State. That is due in no small part to the Minister's arrogant mismanagement. It is hostile and it has played out over the airwaves day in, day out, week in and week out. He engaged in megaphone diplomacy over the airwaves, and it was unseemly.

We must recall that only a few months before the last election, the Minister told this House that a reduction in Garda numbers would "obstruct the battle against crime" and that it would see drug gangs and their leaders "drink a celebratory toast" to the then Minister. What do those words mean now? Under the Minister we have witnessed the jaw-dropping closure of 140 Garda stations throughout the country announced on budget day by e-mail. The Minister is jeopardising the fight against crime by putting at risk the number of gardaí in the force, potentially lowering it to below 13,000. He has dropped their payroll budget by up to €36 million, and it is being openly stated by rank and file gardaí, right up the line to management in the Phoenix Park, that they will run out of cash in early December to pay the Garda payroll. The Minister can shake his head ruefully but we have raised this with him on many occasions. It has been reported authoritatively in the press but he continues to deny that. The day will come when there will have to be a debate about a supplementary budget but the Minister was happy to seek to fund a Garda force insufficiently to fight crime.

What is the Minister's position on Templemore? He promised he would re-open Templemore later this year but then did a spectacular U-turn on that. All of this is against a backdrop of rising burglaries, drug smuggling and serious dissident activity. The Minister expects to lead the fight against these headline crimes when he will not resource the Garda Síochána. He continues to recruit into the Irish Defence Forces but he will not recruit into the rank and file members of the Garda Síochána.

The Minister can huff and puff about it but Fianna Fáil has put forward, through our budget submission, our fully costed alternative budget proposal that would see Templemore reopened to recruitment and rural Garda stations, and many Garda stations across this city, opened. Instead, in the Minister's own words, criminals will be toasting his decision to dismantle the gardaí as the thin blue line is stretched even thinner across the length breadth of the country.

The Garda Síochána Ombudsman Commission was set up by an Act of this Oireachtas. If anything, it has proven that the Garda Síochána, in the main, carries out its functions with the highest integrity and professional standards. In recent weeks, however, we have witnessed a complete breakdown in the working relationship between the force and the ombudsman. The ombudsman is a vital component in keeping the force to account, and an effective working relationship between the two is a vital connection to ensure public trust in the justice system. The Minister is entrusted with ensuring that relationship is not neglected and that it does not break down to the point it has now reached. The public must know that the checks and balances in the system are maintained. It is the duty of the Minister to oversee that, but he has failed to do that. In recent weeks we have seen the chairman of the Garda Síochána Ombudsman Commission taking to the national airwaves to articulate his dissatisfaction with the way he is being received in his statutory role which was given to him by this House.

Separate to that we had another member of the Garda Síochána Ombudsman Commission articulate exactly the same and the Minister has done nothing about that. That is not good enough.

The gardaí are not the only stakeholders to be alienated by the Minister. The unseemly dispute that has erupted between two fundamental branches of government strikes at the heart of how we operate as a functioning, democratic state. The fact the Chief Justice was forced to intervene and establish a new forum to help smooth over the turbulent relationships between the Minister and the Bench reflects the complete disconnect the Minister has shown in his dealings with the stakeholders under his Department. A breach between the Judiciary and the Government that results in an open dispute undermines the separation of powers and the rule of law. That the Minister has allowed relationships to deteriorate to the point where judges felt the need to give public speeches criticising Government policy on the Judiciary was a fresh low. We have reached a dark moment where senior members of the Judiciary have called into question the strength of the rule in the State.

The past two weeks have brought these matters to a head. The mask has completely slipped and the arrogant, out of touch manner that we all suspected has been fully revealed. In a shocking abuse of power, the Minister used confidential information given to him by the Garda Commissioner to gain cheap political advantage over an opponent. This is not the time to talk about the rights or wrongs of Deputy Mick Wallace. What is at stake this evening is far more important than one person or incident; it is about a Minister who has reached a tipping point. The Minister has exploited personal, off-the-record information he acquired solely because of his Ministerial position to launch this personal attack. In a democracy based on the rule of law, every citizen, regardless of his politics, is entitled to due process. Betraying the responsibilities of his ministerial seal, the Minister took on the role of judge and jury himself for his own political advantage.

And executioner.

A half-hearted, conditional apology does not wash away that fundamental error of judgement and the irreparable loss of ministerial integrity it entails.

The Minister has poisoned the relationship between himself and the Garda Commissioner due to that misjudgement. An effective working connection between these two positions is one of the most important in the State. Confidential briefings containing highly sensitive information are a vital part of the job but the Minister has now lost that trust. He bought a quick jibe at Mick Wallace at the price of fatally compromising his connection with the Garda Commissioner. The Commissioner cannot say it but that bridge is another one that the Minister has burnt. His capacity to carry out his duties as Minister took another deadly knock with that short-sighted attack.

I wish to refer to the Minister's blatant acts of hypocrisy and his double standards. The Minister himself was a keen advocate of high standards when he sat on these benches. When Bobby Molloy inappropriately misused his position as a Minister of State in the Department of Justice, Equality and Law Reform in 2002, Deputy Shatter emphatically stated that such a monumental error of judgment might have been forgivable had it been made by a political novice serving a first term. In demanding the resignation of Deputy Willie O'Dea in 2010, he stated incorrectly that he willingly and publicly discussed for his own electoral gain confidential information furnished to him by a member of the Garda Síochána and that such conduct was unacceptable by any Minister in any Government.

The chickens are home.

They have landed.

Why does the Minister not apply the same standards to himself? That is a fair question because he applied those standards when in opposition but he does not apply them to himself now.

We have questions now about the missing Garda reports. The Minister issued a statement at 6.31 a.m. this morning where he said he asked the Secretary General to confirm with the Garda Commissioner if there was a report. The statement said that the Commissioner confirmed that he caused inquiries to be made by local Garda management as to whether a report of the incident was made at the time. Why can we not have a report today? Can Garda management not generate a report today after consulting with those who were at the incident on Pembroke Street? The fact a report was not generated at the time does not mean one cannot be generated now.

The ultimate issue is that we have lost trust in the Minister for Justice and Equality but, more importantly, all the key stakeholders under his Department have lost trust, as has the wider community. There is a growing sense of arrogance from the Minister and his colleagues and that is related to the huge majority they enjoy in this House. The Minister is trampling on people's right to natural justice and their good name.

I am judging the Minister by his own standards, no more and no less. We have no confidence in him and think he should resign as Minister for Justice and Equality for the reasons we have stated and for his failure to act.

I support Deputy Collins's motion of no confidence in the Minister for Justice and Equality tonight. It is not with pleasure that a party brings forward such a motion. We have been left with little choice by his actions, particularly in the last couple of weeks, following his performance in the last two years.

The Minister's Government colleagues and Deputies on the backbenches have concentrated recently on the difficulties people in the country are facing as a reason for us not putting this motion of no confidence before the House. Without doubt the country faces real difficulties but we would be in dereliction of our duty if the Minister could act as he has in the last couple of weeks, particularly the way he has handled the penalty points affair. To take confidential information that he got in private briefing from the Garda Commissioner and use it on national television as a debating point with a political colleague as Minister for Justice and Equality, the person who is supposed to act as an example of how justice should be administered and how police work should be done, and then refuse to admit he was in any way wrong in doing so, and for his Government colleagues to back him to the hilt, is unforgivable.

In recent days we have seen that a much more serious incident took place involving the Minister which he did not highlight and questions remain over that. It is vital tonight that the Minister addresses the points in this speech, particularly the developments today on coverage in the national newspapers, where the Irish Independent seems to have a source indicating what may have happened on that night. It is crucial that the Minister addresses that.

How does the Deputy have that information? Was that thanks to the Irish Independent?

I ask Deputy Byrne to refrain.

He is the only Labour man there.

It is good he is flying the flag for Labour on his own. Where are the rest of them?

What is the Deputy's position on drunken driving?

I never supported drunken drivers in my life.

He wants the farmers of the west of Ireland to be driving drunk.

I am here to chair a debate, not a shouting match.

He provoked me.

It sounds like a John Grisham novel from over here.

Is that a steamy one or not?

At least it is not an Alan Shatter novel.

There could be a bit of fornication in it.

The Minister could read John Grisham.

The Minister knows what happened and he will not tell us.

As an agricultural contractor, the Deputy knows all about muck-spreading.

Deputy Mulherin is not far away from it herself.

If I may continue, today's report in the Irish Independent states the Minister, "Said nothing about being asthmatic, preventing him from completing the test" which he was asked to do. It also indicates that Deputy Shatter, "Intimated to the garda that it was unconstitutional for them to stop him as he was coming from the Dáil and said: 'Check your law book'." The Irish Independent also claims he, "Appeared not to make a sufficient effort to complete the breath test", and "Drove off without being waved on by the officer" who had stopped him. All of those questions need a clear response from the Minister here tonight. I do not know the veracity or otherwise of them. All I can do is put them to the Minister because they are out there. They are questions which the public, having read those articles today, will have. They are questions to which it is crucial he has a clear answer and can refute.

It also has been found out that there is now no report with the Garda on that particular incident. This is in stark contrast to the report the Minister was able to give on Deputy Wallace's interaction with the gardaí, where he was not stopped and where the gardaí did not even get out of the car. It was merely a conversation which took place and their discretion was used, and yet a report on that incident was able to make its way up through the Garda ranks right to the Garda Commissioner and into the Minister's hands, and then was used by Deputy Shatter in a political debate with Deputy Wallace. That is in stark contrast to what we have before us here, where we can get no official evidence of something which would seem to have been a much more significant event and where it would seem that Deputy Shatter had informed the gardaí on the night that he was coming from the Dáil. As someone who has more legal experience than any other person in this Chamber, Deputy Shatter, more than anyone, would know the implications of stating that he was on his way back from the Dáil given the long-standing and archaic privilege that was put in place to exempt Dáil Deputies at the foundation of the State from arrest on their way to or from Dáil Éireann.

It is crucial tonight that the Minister addresses those issues and gives clear answers to them. Unfortunately, it may - I believe it will - not be enough in order for people to have confidence in him. The adage in law that justice must be done but also must be seen to be done is all important.

Likewise, no doubt the Minister has ability.

However, following what has happened, the Minister has not the ability to carry out with the confidence of the people and indeed of this Chamber and many of his own colleagues, the role of political head of the Garda in this country.

It follows on from an arrogant performance by the Minister of his duty over the past two months. In carrying out his role, Deputy Shatter has failed in many instances - as a rule - to acknowledge the difficulty with which the Garda force must carry out its job on a daily basis. He has got into conflict with the gardaí in a way that no previous Minister managed to. For the first time in the history of the State, a sitting Minister was not invited to the Garda conferences. He also was at loggerheads with the Judiciary. Indeed, a special committee has had to be set up in order to engage with and communicate between the legal and political arms of the State. In the past couple of weeks, by disclosing the information he did following on from a briefing he was given by the Garda Commissioner, the Minister has also damaged irreparably the relationship which needs to exist between the Minister for Justice and Equality and the Garda Commissioner in administering law and order in the State.

Some core pillars, of which the Minister for Justice and Equality must be at the head, have been irreparably severed by Deputy Shatter, leaving him in a difficult position and making it difficult for the public to have the type of confidence that is required in a Minister for Justice and Equality and in the justice system in the country. If there are question marks hanging over the way the Minister for Justice and Equality participated when he faced the same scenario, how, for example, can he expect rank and file members of the Garda, in carrying out their duty and in conducting mandatory breath-testing stations across the country, to be able to carry out their job in the way they would have previously and ensure that people can give them full co-operation? That leaves them in a very difficult position. It is an unenviable position for a force to be in in relation to the political figurehead who is in place.

I also want to remark upon the impact the Minister has had on Garda resources right throughout the country, where we have seen numbers reduced over his stewardship and stations closed, and the flippant way he threw out there that if Croke Park II had been passed, he may have reopened Templemore. Should Deputy Shatter remain in office, an office in which he should no longer remain considering the difficult position in which he has found himself as a result of how this role has been performed by him in recent times, I might ask him, now that it looks like the savings which the Government was seeking will be achieved, if he will commit to doing what he stated he would do should he remain.

I join my colleague, Deputy Niall Collins, and others in supporting tonight's motion. It is a motion, by its nature and type, that is not tabled lightly. It should never be personal, it should never be vindictive but, then again, we do not always get it right.

They sure do not.

A Deputy

Deputy Cowen can say that again.

There were 14 years of it.

They have nothing to sneer about over there.

The Ministry of Justice and Equality is being run as something of an economy at arm's length, from afar and dictatorial, in a manner that was never seen before. Members-----

Maybe Deputy Cowen could-----

Deputy Bannon might refrain from his usual outbursts.

A Deputy

That sounds very dirty.

Members of An Garda Síochána, no more than anyone else in the workforce or the Civil Service, have been finding it difficult and there was a fine opportunity in recent weeks and months for the Minister to take a leaf out of the option in the Croke Park agreement where there was independent representation for An Garda Síochána during the reviews of that agreement. It would have done the Minister no harm, and it would have done him much favour among the workforce within An Garda Síochána, if he had allowed a similar mechanism for those to have their voices heard during the recent Croke Park II negotiations. Their pay, allowances and premiums were being slashed by his colleagues in government in those proposals and those on lower pay and at the front line were being decimated in those proposals. There was an opening for the Minister to gain some credibility but, as usual, he lost it.

His colleague, the Minister for Finance, Deputy Noonan, stated on television the other night that Deputy Shatter is a great Minister, one of the most hard-working Ministers in Cabinet, a workaholic and a reforming Minister.

Closing stations is a hard job.

I will only take up the point that he is a reforming Minister. Deputy Shatter reformed Templemore by closing it.

One hundred and fifty stations.

He reformed 140 stations-----

Unfortunately, they brought the country down.

-----throughout the country by closing them. He reformed Garda vans, took the cages out and put slap-up tables and chairs in the back of them to use as offices for the force.

He is a good Minister.

He reformed the Courts Service, and continues to do so by closing District Courts throughout the country, taking gardaí from the communities they are supposed to serve for half a day. He sought to reform the mindset and the manner in which they carry out their duties by insulting them and stating that he wanted a better, smarter police force. That is the greatest insult of the lot.

What does that say about the Minister's impressions of past and serving gardaí and the commitment and dedication they give to the communities in which they live and serve? What does it say about the manner in which they carried out their duties on a daily basis, conversing with people in the communities and working to make those communities safer? What does it say about the knowledge and expertise they gained over time? That was thrown in the bin of the Government's perfect economy by the Minister and what he represents. He inflicted that insult on those people, their families and all who went before them by saying they were not "smart" and could not do their jobs effectively in the way they always had.

Hear, hear. It was condescending.

Never was any such thing said.

Check the records.

I have checked them.

The record is there Barry.

There might be a record but there is no report.

This is no radical-----

Never was any-----

Deputy Durkan, the Deputy has one minute remaining.

There is a record but if one looks for it, one will not find it.

Shove in behind him.

It started 14 years ago and we will keep reminding the Deputy about it.

The Deputy should keep reminding people of that.

Keep going before the electorate.

What has the Deputy delivered?

At least I will go.

As we did and as we will again.

I will not chicken out.

I am sorry but I did not realise Deputy Lawlor was here for that long.

Steady, Anthony.

The Deputy has not yet delivered a hen house for his constituency.

I did not realise Deputy Lawlor had been here that long.

Stick to the rugby.

The Minister is far from being a radical reformer. He has managed to get an Oireachtas inquiry referendum defeated.

He launched a botched personal insolvency regime that gives powers to the banks and allows a bank a continuous veto.

I would not mention the banks if I were the Deputy.

He has poisoned relations with key stakeholders in Departments.

If I were Deputy Byrne, I would keep my mouth shut the whole time.

The Minister has not even invited gardaí-----

There are two there now.

If that is the record of a radical-----

There is only one Deputy Healy-Rae.

-----reforming Minister in the Department of Justice and Equality, it is a sorry state of affairs.

It is interesting-----

I find it hard to restrain myself.

Unlike any other time.

Deputy Byrne should speak up.

I would like to hear the debate, Deputy Durkan.

Deputy Byrne should speak up if he wants to say something.

It is with a certain reluctance that I stand here today as I have never been one-----

The Deputy will get over it, I would say.

The Deputy will recover from that.

Somebody hand out the handkerchiefs.

Are they red handkerchiefs?

We will get a handkerchief for the Deputy.

I want to hear the debate, not the shouting match.

It will be hard to hear with all the crying.

The red flag is now a red handkerchief.

In my time here I have never been one to throw stones as they have a nasty habit - as we have seen in the past few weeks - of rebounding on those who throw them.

I am concerned that the Government is arrogant beyond belief.

I have three motions on the Order Paper and clear misinformation has been given to the House, including by the Taoiseach, in dealing with them. There has been an utter refusal to come here and correct the record; such action is totally unprecedented in my time in Dáil Éireann.

We can consider the penalty points issue. If the Minister was in opposition and information came to him about this process that not too many people knew about, he would have been the first to demand that the matter be investigated and that a clear, open and transparent procedure be put in place, with an examination carried out. It would also be fair to say that the Minister would have been first to say that when an investigation is being carried out, it is utterly wrong for the people being investigated to carry out the investigation.

We all know that the previous Government replaced the Garda complaints commission with the Garda Ombudsman Commission so as to remove the possibility of complaints about the Garda being examined by gardaí. It was reasonable to seek an independent inquiry into the issue. As we have a Garda Ombudsman Commission and an inspectorate, it would have been simple for either to carry out an independent inquiry into what went on. In such a position, one must try to attain public confidence but unfortunately, the Minister decided not to do what he would have done in opposition but rather to get people in An Garda Síochána to investigate themselves. That did a service neither to him, the country nor An Garda Síochána.

When people queried the process, the Minister tried to tittle-tattle about a trivial affair he heard about in some way. At times, all of us could blurt out something we would, on reflection, not mean to say. Echoing what happened with the three motions on the Dáil agenda, the Minister could not come out within 24 hours to say that his action was totally inappropriate, that it was a slip of the tongue and that he would sincerely apologise to Deputy Wallace for what he did and hope that the apology would be accepted. That would have been the manly and sensible course of action but instead, the Minister persisted in arguing that proper procedure had been followed and it was perfectly correct for a Minister who might come by information confidentially, but which is irrelevant in the public sphere, to put that information in a bad light in the public domain.

I doubt if too many people in the country have not at some stage been stopped by a garda for some very minor infringement. People might be told that they should not have acted illegally but they might be allowed to continue onwards. That does not mean there is anything wrong with the judgment of a garda in such a position. The Minister, Deputy Shatter, seems to think Deputy Wallace should have contacted the Garda and argued that he should not have been allowed to continue without being summonsed for breaking the law. This is part of a pattern from the Minister of fighting not on the substance of issues but trying to besmirch the names of others.

I hope that when the Minister rises to speak tonight, he will cut the knot of the mess in which he is embroiled, as there is no doubt the Government has the numbers to win any confidence motion; that does not mean he is right. I hope he will have the courage to stand up and state that he should never have said what he did on "Prime Time", that he will apologise sincerely for any hurt caused and that he will ensure in future never to use information inappropriately. If he did so, I for one would have a new-found belief in the integrity of the Minister and the Government and their ability to admit mistakes.

The one thing we must all learn about in life is that none of us in the House is perfect. Some people have been masquerading for a long time as if they had all of the wisdom and perfection.

We have a few who think they are perfect.

That is an open admission.

I would be the first to admit I am not perfect-----

Self-praise is no praise.

-----but the hallmark of the Government is that even when it is in black and white that it is wrong, it can never admit it in the House.

If the Minister goes around rural Ireland and asks a very simple question as to whether the people have confidence in him with regard to rural policing and whether he understands the first thing about what a local garda living in a community has meant, the people of rural Ireland would say what he is doing is destroying years of hard work. A local garda living in the community, even though he or she might have worked official hours, was seen in the community and provided a level of security which gardaí driving around in squad cars will never provide. Having lived for a long time in a rural community in the happy position of having a local rural garda, I know the reality of such a person living in a community 24 hours a day. It creates a policing situation which cannot be replicated by any other model. If the Minister wants to undo some of the damage he has done, I suggest he reverse this policy and revert to the policy of encouraging local gardaí in rural areas to live in these communities. If he wants to understand the real effect of this, I suggest we bring him to a rural community with local resident gardaí and they will show him the effectiveness of the work they do and that placing them all in district headquarters creates fear in rural Ireland which is unfair to people, particularly older people.

I have always wanted to be introduced to rural Ireland by someone from Dublin 4.

Or introduced to Dublin 4 by somebody from rural Ireland.

Deputy Rabbitte should not milk all of the cows together.

It is like the Mayo Deputy who thinks he knows a lot about Dublin.

I move amendment No. 2:

To delete all words after "Dáil Éireann" and substitute the following:

"commends the Minister for Justice and Equality and Minister for Defence, Deputy Alan Shatter, on the strong progress made in the ongoing programme of modernisation and reform of An Garda Síochána, in particular the consolidation of the Garda station network which will provide an additional 61,000 front-line Garda patrol hours in 2013 and the reform of the Garda roster system which better targets Garda personnel for duty at times of greater demand for policing services;

supports the Minister’s commitment to ensure that, to the greatest extent possible, An Garda Síochána is provided with sufficient resources to enable it to deliver an effective and efficient policing service; and notes that, despite the continued severity of the budgetary and economic conditions and the severe under-funding provided by the previous Government:

— the strength of the Garda force has been maintained above 13,000 members;

— Garda promotions have been ensured to maintain the balance in ranks;

— there has been continued investment in Garda equipment with, for example, €9 million provided for the Garda fleet in 2012-2013; and

— provision has been made for the construction of three new Garda divisional headquarters;

welcomes the overall reduction in recorded crimes in 2012 and acknowledges the ongoing initiatives of the Minister and the Garda Síochána in tackling crime and improving community safety, noting in particular the progress of Operation Fiacla in tackling burglary and significant reductions in many categories of crime including drugs offences and weapons and explosives offences, and the continued successes of actions taken against organised crime in the State, resulting in significant drug seizures and the return of revenue to the Exchequer by the Criminal Assets Bureau;

supports the Minister’s ongoing and significant programme of investment in, and reform of, the prison system and the sentencing and management of offenders, including:

— the provision of additional prison spaces and the upgrading of existing prison facilities to provide in-cell sanitation by 2016;

— continued reductions in payroll and operating costs across the prisons;

— requiring the courts to consider community service options for non-violent and less serious offenders;

— the improvement of the independent oversight of prisons and of prisoner complaints mechanisms;

— the establishment of the penal policy review group; and

— the introduction of an incentivised regimes scheme to incentivise better behaviour by prisoners;

commends the Minister’s ongoing engagement with his counterparts in Northern Ireland and Britain in maintaining resolute opposition to the criminal terrorists opposed to peace on the island and in developing and enhancing North-South co-operation in criminal justice and policing with the aim of improving community safety on the island of Ireland;

welcomes the reforms of the State’s immigration and citizenship procedures in order to support the State’s economic recovery and promote better integration for non-nationals resident here, noting in particular:

— the immigrant investor and start-up entrepreneur programmes;

— the new visa waiver programme;

— the clearing of the backlog of applications for citizenship;

— the new formal ceremony for new naturalised citizens; and

— streamlined immigration procedures;

recognises the importance of the historic and fundamental reform of the State’s insolvency and bankruptcy law in the Personal Insolvency Act 2012 and the establishment by the Minister of the Insolvency Service of Ireland, considering these are vital elements of the Government’s strategy to return the country to stability and economic growth, and measures which will provide much-needed, new supports for people genuinely experiencing severe financial difficulties;

commends the Minister’s initiative to establish the interdepartmental committee, chaired by Senator Martin McAleese, to investigate and to set out the facts of the State’s involvement with the Magdalen laundries, and his decision to establish a scheme to provide supports for the women involved;

supports the Minister’s major programme of reform to the criminal and civil law, including:

— the Criminal Justice (Withholding of Information on Offences against Children and Vulnerable Persons) Act 2012 dealing with the disclosure of information about serious offences committed against children or vulnerable adults;

— the National Vetting Bureau (Children and Vulnerable Persons) Act 2012 to provide a mandatory vetting system for persons working with children or vulnerable adults;

— the Criminal Law (Defence and the Dwelling) Act 2011 to make clear that a person may use reasonable force to defend themselves in their home;

— the Criminal Justice Act 2011 to provide improved powers for the Garda in combating white collar crime;

— the Criminal Justice (Search Warrants) Act 2012, which provides for the issue of search warrants by gardaí in exceptional circumstances of urgency;

— the Criminal Justice Bill 2013, which will provide a power to temporarily close down mobile phone transmissions where there is a serious terrorist bomb threat;

— the forthcoming Criminal Justice (Forensic Evidence and DNA Database System) Bill, which will provide for a DNA database and appropriate safeguards on its use for combating crime;

— the Criminal Justice (Community Service) (Amendment) Act 2011, which promotes the use of community service rather than imprisonment in appropriate cases;

— the Twenty-Ninth Amendment of the Constitution (Judges’ Remuneration) Act 2011, which enabled salary reductions to be applied to the Judiciary;

— the Legal Services Regulation Bill 2011, a far-reaching and overdue reform of the regulation of the legal profession;

— the Courts Bill 2013, which will enhance the role of the District and Circuit Courts and provide for the appropriate reporting of family law cases;

— the Criminal Justice (Spent Convictions) Bill 2012, which facilitates the rehabilitation of once-off offenders; and

— the Europol Act 2012 and the Criminal Law (Human Trafficking) (Amendment) Bill 2013 both of which give legislative effect to EU developments in the fight against international crime; and

looks forward to further legislative reforms;

commends the successful conclusion of discussions, as set out in the Haddington Road agreement, with the staff representatives in the Irish Prison Service, An Garda Síochána and the Defence Forces and looks forward to a successful outcome of the ballot on these proposals for the benefit of the country as a whole;

acknowledges that the Department of Justice and Equality and the Department of Defence have, over the last two years, delivered on their extensive remit while remaining within budget;

commends the Minister on the significant achievements made in the ongoing programme of reform and re-organisation of the Defence Forces taking account of the constraints imposed by the continued severity of the budgetary and economic conditions, notably in stabilising the strength of the Defence Forces at 9,500 and in the consolidation of military units and barracks;

recognises the important actions taken by the Minister to guarantee the stability of the Reserve Defence Force, including twinning reserve units with the Permanent Defence Force;

supports the renewed and enhanced role of the Permanent Defence Force in the UN international peacekeeping operation in Lebanon and also in the EU training missions in Mali and Somalia; and

expresses full confidence in the Minister for Justice and Equality and Minister for Defence, Deputy Alan Shatter.

I call the Minister for Justice and Equality, Deputy Alan Shatter, who is sharing time with Deputies Jerry Buttimer and Kevin Humphreys and the Minister for Health, Deputy James Reilly.

When I had the privilege of being appointed to the Government, this country was on its knees. The catastrophic failures of our predecessors had left the State on the verge of bankruptcy with a contracting economy, continuously increasing unemployment, unsustainable public expenditure, a collapsed property market, and with our people fearful of their future and with no sense of hope. Over two years we have substantially reduced public expenditure, maintained industrial peace, stabilised our banking system, stabilised the property market, put in place essential new structures to assist those burdened by unsustainable debt, substantially reformed the way Government works, restored the State's international reputation and the number of those unemployed is reducing. Moreover, by the end of this year, we should exit the troika programme and regain our economic sovereignty. We have taken Fianna Fáil's nightmare legacy by the scruff of the neck and our people can now have faith in the future. It is a privilege to be a member of a Government which has achieved so much in such a short period of time and to have had the opportunity of contributing to the work that has been done.

I have very important responsibilities in government and let nobody be in doubt but that I take them very seriously. My concern in government is for the citizens of the State and my priority is ensuring they live in a safe and secure environment.

With no Garda stations.

If this debate has any value, it provides me with an opportunity to detail some of the real issues being addressed and what is behind us. Fianna Fáil's no-confidence motion is particularly galling considering that one of my biggest problems upon entering Government in March 2011 was trying to unravel the expenditure ceilings for the justice and defence sectors contained in the Fianna Fáil national recovery plan of November 2010. If implemented, they would have led to devastating cuts which I could not and would not have stood over. Fortunately, I was able to secure necessary additional funding for the justice area in excess of €400 million for the years 2012 to 2014 and also to mitigate the shortfall in funding for defence.

Deputy Collins should consider where the Garda force would be today with an average of €90 million per annum less in the Garda budget, which is where we would have been with Fianna Fáil's 2010 plan. He speaks about Garda numbers but fails to acknowledge that, with the dedication and co-operation of the force, we have preserved them at higher levels than Fianna Fáil intended in 2010. He speaks about Garda resources. By effecting efficiencies in the Department, and with the assistance of the Commissioner and my Government colleague, the Minister for Public Expenditure and Reform, Deputy Brendan Howlin, we allocated approximately €4 million in 2012 and a further €5 million this year for the purchase of Garda vehicles, none of which was provided for in Fianna Fáil's 2010 plan. The truth is Fianna Fáil's no-confidence motion is both disingenuous and opportunistic.

In the two great Departments I lead, it has been a time of unprecedented dramatic change and reform. The achievements are not mine alone but of all in both the justice and the defence family who have travelled the route with me. The public owes a debt of gratitude to the officials in both Departments at all levels, many of whom work hours well beyond the call of duty. I also want to particularly acknowledge the contribution of the two Ministers of State, the Chief Whip and Minister of State at the Department of Defence, Deputy Paul Kehoe, and the Minister of State at the Departments of Justice and Equality and Health, Deputy Kathleen Lynch, each of whom makes an invaluable contribution. Also, of course, there is the very considerable commitment, expertise and dedication to public service in the Defence Forces, the Garda Síochána and the Prison Service. I also greatly value the crucial support of my Cabinet colleagues in the Fine Gael and Labour parliamentary parties.

For some, reform and change bring uncertainty and cause worry. However, through talk and discussions, we have together addressed problems and overcome very many of them. Together, we have implemented reform in the public interest through dialogue with the various representative bodies with the objective of resolving, in so far as is possible, the concerns of those who work in vital services. In the vital area of curtailing public expenditure, in the talks relating to Croke Park II, agreements were successfully concluded with the Defence Forces representative bodies and with the Prison Officers Association. Unfortunately at that time, it did not prove possible to engage in talks with the Garda representative bodies. This is now history and I am pleased that in the context of the Haddington Road agreement, there has been a successful conclusion to discussions with the staff representative bodies in the Irish Prison Service, the Garda Síochána and the Defence Forces, and I look forward to a successful outcome to the ballot on what has been agreed.

Deputy Collins, in all of his recent comments and again tonight, has chosen to ignore the fact that these agreements have been concluded and that the Garda representative bodies have concluded them also. It is appropriate that I list, without detail, some of what has happened over the past two years. We have completed the reorganisation of the Permanent Defence Force, PDF, into a two brigade structure from a three brigade structure. The strength of the PDF has been preserved at 9,500. We have consolidated Army barracks. We have made crucial financial savings through increasing efficiencies. Despite the very severe financial difficulties facing the State, we have continued our commitment to, and engagement in, vital UN peacekeeping and training missions. We have completed a value for money review on the Reserve Defence Force, RDF, and reorganisation of the RDF is taking place. The defence budget has kept within its allocated spend for each year in which I have been Minister. We have abolished unnecessary quangos. By thoroughly engaging through dialogue with the Red Cross, reforms in this great organisation have been effected. The Dáil has enacted a Second World War amnesty Bill with regard to deserters who fought the Nazis.

We have re-energized Ireland's engagement in the Common Security and Defence Policy. During the EU presidency we have taken the opportunity to provide leadership on a broad range of issues of importance to this country, and to Europe as a whole, relating to security and defence.

As Minister for Justice and Equality, I have brought the following legislation to the Oireachtas and seen it enacted: Personal Insolvency Act 2012; National Vetting Bureau (Children and Vulnerable persons) Act 2012; Criminal Justice Search Warrants Act 2012; European Arrest Warrant (Application to Third Countries and Amendment) and Extradition (Amendment) Act 2012; Jurisdiction of Courts and Enforcement of Judgments (Amendment) Act 2012; Criminal Justice Withholding Information on Crimes Against Children and Vulnerable Adults Act 2012; Property Services Regulation Act 2011; Civil Law (Miscellaneous Provisions) Act 2011; 29th Amendment of the Constitution (Judges Remuneration) Act 2011, on which there was a successful referendum; Criminal Justice Act 2011; Criminal Law (Defence and the Dwelling) Act 2011; and the Criminal Justice Community Service Act 2011.

And he closed down more than 40 Garda stations.

Good man, Michael.

All of these measures were enacted in the space of two years.

Innovation and bringing reforming legislation to this House has been a large part of my life's work as a TD over the past three decades, as well as tackling injustice and child abuse. It is what I do. With the expertise of Departments and the Attorney General's office working with me, a great deal more can be done than from the opposition benches. There is, of course, the additional benefit of a parliamentary majority.

Much of the work of Government is executive rather than legislative. We have addressed the plight of former residents of the Magdalen laundries - a matter ignored by our predecessors in government. I ensured that it was addressed. The Taoiseach has apologised in the Dáil.

We have reformed the approach taken to processing citizenship applications. Among the formalities of office which give me most pride and pleasure are the citizenship ceremonies which we have initiated and hold regularly. Through these, we fully embrace the many thousands from across the globe residing here who have become part of our Irish nation.

We are bringing enormous change to our prison system and we are taking initiatives to end slopping out and reduce recidivism and drug addiction.

Of course, there was opportunistic political play made on the consolidation of Garda stations. The truth is that criminals are mobile and a single member of An Garda Síochána in a station for three hours a day cannot leave the desk or prevent criminality generally in his district.

Everybody knew where he was.

That is why we have made available €9 million for the purchase of new Garda vehicles. Also, the long promised new Garda roster system is now operational. This is working, though members of the opposition choose to ignore that. Crime figures have been reduced across the majority of crime categories due to the success of targeted Garda operations and smart policing. Drugs to the value of over €100 million were seized in 2012.

A new visa investment programme from the Department of Justice and Equality has resulted in investments of more than €10 million, to date, and the visa waiver programme is contributing to an increase in tourist and business visits by non-EU nationals to Ireland.

We have brought in regulations extending recognition to single sex marriages and civil partnerships entered into in many foreign states.

As with the Department of Defence, the Justice budget has kept within its allocated spend.

The above is only a sketch of what has been happening - often quietly - beneath the surface of media noise and public discourse. Each one of those initiatives was made possible because we listened to those most closely involved. This was not done by press release. It was done by people who share a sense of the common good, meeting and working through the practical detail to overcome obstacles.

There is a process which I intend to see through, relating directly to the real needs of people. This is far removed from the sort of political circus we have seen over the past two weeks. In the coming weeks and months I will be dealing with the following: publication of a Green Paper on Defence; enactment of the Criminal Justice Bill 2013; Committee Stage of the Legal Services Bill and the Bill's ultimate enactment by the end of the year-----

Two years waiting.

-----enactment of the Landlord and Tenant (Amendment) Bill 2013; enactment of the Courts Bill before the summer vacation; signing into law shortly, regulations applicable to personal insolvency practitioners; publication of the assisted decision making (mental capacity) Bill; publication of the fines (amendment) Bill; publication of the DNA database Bill; publication of the human rights and equality commission Bill; publication of the Bill required for the forthcoming referendum to establish a court of appeal; and publication of the new immigration and asylum Bill.

Work is also continuing on the criminal justice (corruption) Bill, the mediation Bill, the gambling Bill, the family relationships and children Bill, and the creation of an integrated family court structure. That is the work on which I am currently engaged. I look forward to constructive contributions from all sides of this House on this stream of legislation.

On the EU front, this Government realised upon taking office that it had a huge task in restoring Ireland's reputation in the EU. It was felt in European circles that the previous Fianna Fáil government had become disengaged from the EU process. For example, Ministers failed to attend important Council meetings. This led important decision-makers at EU level to take an increasingly negative view of Ireland. One of the main priorities of An Taoiseach, Deputy Enda Kenny, upon taking office, was to restore Ireland's reputation which had taken a hammering during the previous Fianna Fáil government's term. He asked all Government Ministers to give their full commitment to rebuilding our reputation in Europe. I have committed myself wholeheartedly to this task since taking office as Minister for Justice and Equality and Minister for Defence. I have regularly attended Justice and Home Affairs Council meetings and meetings of Defence ministers. I have also regularly met bilaterally with my European counterparts.

As with all matters, personal contact is critically important. In this case the issue was our country's reputation abroad. Of course, there remains the final month of our EU Presidency in which I hope to achieve many of the objectives for our Presidency's term on a broad range of measures and issues.

In relation to Northern Ireland, I have been fully engaged with my counterpart David Ford and with the Secretary of State, Theresa Villiers, in ensuring continuing co-operation in tackling criminal terrorism and cross-Border crime.

The catalyst for this motion is nothing to do with my substantial work as a Minister. It revolves around two matters: the comment I made on Prime Time and Deputy Mattie McGrath's questions to the Tánaiste last Thursday.

Not answered yet.

It boomeranged.

I did not get the answers.

Because of concerns which arose, I addressed the House on the first matter last week and answered questions. I do not intend to revisit all of that again. With hindsight, do I think it was a mistake to mention the incident regarding Deputy Wallace? I explained my reasoning but put simply, of course I do. Is it something for which I owe Deputy Wallace an apology? It is and I have already apologised. Would I do it again? No, I would not.

The very particular circumstances in which the matter arose meant that it was absurd to contend that it had implications for the manner in which I deal with sensitive matters from the gardaí. No allegation can be credibly made of me ever having misused sensitive information or information relating to national security, nor of using such information for any personal political benefit.

I was asked the origin of the information and truthfully replied. Had I not done so, I would have been accused of covering up something. Once I did reply, I was accused of landing the Garda Commissioner in it. As the Commissioner cannot respond publicly to criticism voiced, it is important that I explain that I am advised that it was only in the context of the controversy involving the use of Garda discretion that Deputy Wallace's car phone incident was recalled by a member of the force and brought to the attention of the Commissioner who mentioned it to me. The Commissioner never suggested I mention the incident without Deputy Wallace himself first mentioning it publicly. So it is unfair for the Commissioner to be the object of criticism. Any criticism should be directed at me, not the Commissioner.

Hear, hear. We get the picture.

I now turn to the event raised by Deputy Mattie McGrath. Last Thursday, the Deputy used the privilege of this House to ask questions about an occasion when I stopped at a Garda checkpoint in early 2011, shortly prior to my appointment to Cabinet. I was involved in no such event at that time. He alleged this involved an offence under the Road Traffic 2010. The relevant provisions of that Act did not become operative until a ministerial Order was made on 27 October 2011, seven months after my appointment.

Despite these inaccuracies, I detailed in a statement last Thursday afternoon the facts of an event that occurred long before I became a Minister. The extent to which this matter grew legs and has been the subject of media comment and analysis has been extraordinary. Together with other motorists, I stopped at a Garda checkpoint, queued until reached and had my tax and insurance checked. I co-operated with a request to exhale into a breathalyser, attempted to do so but did not exhale sufficiently due to my suffering from asthma. I informed the garda that I was on my way home from the Dáil where I had been working all evening, had consumed no alcohol and that I suffered from asthma. I was subsequently waved on.

All of the commentary to date, whether it has come from my political opponents, appeared in articles, or in the context of broadcasters interviewing other broadcasters or journalists, has studiously avoided mentioning that, under the then relevant legislation, the Road Traffic Act 2006, which Deputy Mattie McGrath reverted to referring to on RTE's "Morning Ireland" on Friday last, there is an express provision which states that where an individual has "a reasonable excuse" for not completing a breathalyser, no offence is committed. This provision is replicated in the 2010 Act.

How was the Minister's behaviour on the night?

I stated this event occurred in either late 2008 or during 2009. It did not occur in 2011 as Deputy Mattie McGrath alleged. What is the issue? There is no allegation that I had consumed any alcohol of any nature whatsoever that day, but I presume this is what Deputy Mattie McGrath intended to insinuate.

How did he treat the garda?

That was a smear.

The simple fact is, there was no wrongdoing on my part and the law was not broken. While I can be accused of being a workaholic no one can truthfully accuse me of ever abusing alcohol or of driving over the permitted limit. I am not aware of any precedent for publishing Garda reports on incidents or events involving individual citizens.

Except for the Minister.

Nevertheless, last Thursday, following questions raised by the Deputy during Leaders' Questions, I asked the Secretary General of my Department to inquire of the Garda Síochána if it had any report on the matter.

It has to have a report on it.

Deputy Mattie McGrath should write it up.

My Department has been advised by the Commissioner that the Garda Síochána has not been able to locate any such report and that no report was generated by the Garda member involved which, given that there is no wrongdoing at issue, is hardly a surprise. Consequently, no report of the Garda member could have disappeared as alleged in a morning paper.

Now let us get back to conclude on what really does matter. Being in office just for its own sake holds no special, particular value for me. What I value as a member of Government is the opportunity it gives to implement reforms, many of which are long overdue, in the areas that fall within my personal responsibility. What I value is the privilege of making my contribution in Cabinet and working with talented colleagues committed to public service. It is a commitment we all share. What I value is the opportunity to make this State a better and safer place for all who reside in it. I assume this is something at least on which we can all agree. On occasions tough decisions must be taken which in the short term are unpopular and can make ministerial life uncomfortable. On occasions such decisions have been necessary but in making them I have always acted in the public interest, even where doing so made life politically difficult in my own constituency. As a Minister I have never shirked the responsibilities of my office.

As a Minister, I always carefully listen to well-motivated proposals that come from any side of the House that can improve Bills published or policies being implemented. I also welcome the use of Private Members' time and Private Members' Bills to propose necessary reforms to the benefit of people in this State.

Where is the scrap metal Bill?

As someone who has steered many such Bills through this House, as someone who fought many a battle with Fianna Fáil for the very many years it was in government in seeking to get its co-operation in processing legislation of benefit, I will always, as Minister for Justice and Equality and Minister for Defence encourage Members on this side of the House and opposite to produce constructive legislative proposals that are of benefit to the people in this country. I hope following the vote on this motion that we can get back to our real jobs as legislators and Members of Dáil Éireann, and concentrate on what really matters and affects the lives of those who have elected us to represent them in this House.

Let me be absolutely clear. I, again, reiterate my apology to Deputy Wallace.

What I said previously has been needlessly parsed and analysed. Despite the innuendoes I, again, repeat, I committed no offence at the Garda checkpoint that has been the subject of so much attention. Having consumed no alcohol, has it not struck anybody that if I could have fully exhaled into the breathalyser I would have done so? Why, in the name of God, would I not have done so if I had consumed no alcohol?

That is the question. How was the Minister's behaviour?

Deputy Mattie McGrath has no problem exhaling.

It is a very simple, straightforward position. I have a serious job to do in each of the briefs I am very privileged to be exercising. To be a Minister in this Government is a great privilege and something I do not take for granted. It is a particular privilege to be a Minister in a Government that is full of talented Cabinet Ministers and junior Ministers supported by the Fine Gael and Labour parliamentary parties.

The Minister should not get carried away. He is losing the run of himself.

He should stick to the script.

To anyone who doubts it, I intend to continue to the best of my ability with the job I have been privileged to be given and I intend resolutely to commit to the implementation of the reform agenda set down in the programme for Government.

As we have heard for the past 20 minutes, we have a reforming Minister who is leading a Department and changing how we do business as a Government and as a Minister. I express my full confidence in the Minister for Justice and Equality and Minister for Defence, Deputy Shatter, and commend him on the tremendous work he is doing thus far in his regime as Minister. I want to speak about a man whom I know, a man who is genuine, caring, decent and who has a vision for our country and the way our law and order operates. This is a man who is bringing about new policies on policing, our courts and the law.

I want to talk to the members of Fianna Fáil for one minute and ask them about dereliction of duty. The two men who were here earlier and who have left, Deputies Martin and Ó Cuív, were in government for 14 years and I have not heard one of the Fianna Fáil members speak about dereliction of duty to them when they were at the wheel of our nation's ship of state. Look what they did with it.

What was Deputy Buttimer saying then?

This Government and this Minister are bringing reform, and let us not forget that. Deputy Niall Collins went on the radio on Friday just after Deputy Mattie McGrath. He could not wait to get his motion of no confidence in. Deputy Martin promised an end to Punch and Judy politics. It is more of the same. Deputy Niall Collins talks like Rambo and acts like Bambi. It is time for real change in this country.

Deputy Buttimer should answer the questions.

Deputy Buttimer talks like Mickey Mouse.

This is a Dáil Chamber. We have privilege in this Chamber and every one of us should use that privilege judiciously. We have no right to abuse that privilege. Of course Deputy Mattie McGrath was implying wrongdoing by the Minister, Deputy Shatter, when in opposition, but takes refuge in the fact that he was only asking questions. Some Members of the House will be familiar with the story of President Lyndon B. Johnson, LBJ, in America in the 1940s when he was in trouble in an election campaign. He suggested to his aide-de-camp that he would use a scurrilous and unmentionable rumour that would be spread about a political opponent. When he was asked by his campaign manager whether it was true, he said, "Of course it's not, but let's hear the son of a gun deny it." This is Deputy Mattie McGrath's cynical game. For the sake of clarity, I am not making any further comparison between Deputy Mattie McGrath and LBJ. Woe betide.

This is a Minister in whom we can have confidence. He is bringing change to the Garda and law and order. Look at the crime rate in our country. It has gone down. Look at the budgets renegotiated by this Minister with the troika. They are increased. This is a political motion, a political distraction because Fianna Fáil is bereft of ideas and has no vision for the future. It wants to reinvent the past, but should not do so on the back of a man who is a decent, caring and genuine Minister.

From the beginning of this I have been very clear about my concerns about civil liberties and the possibility that gardaí were collecting information about politicians and high profile individuals and passing it on to the Minister for Justice of the day and the Cabinet. I have said very clearly that the Minister was wrong in the way he used that information on "Prime Time" about Deputy Wallace. I very much welcome this evening the absolute clarity of the Minister's statement. It is worth repeating:

Do I think it was a mistake to mention the incident regarding Deputy Wallace? I explained my reasoning but put simply, I do.

If more Ministers would respond with that kind of clarity, this House would be an awful lot better for it and I congratulate the Minister. I also accept the Minister's solemn assurances that he was never "in the business of receiving, seeking or maintaining confidential, sensitive information", as he said very clearly last Thursday. I tabled written questions.

The Minister has again provided a clear answer to these questions. If Fianna Fáil does not believe this is the case, let us put out the facts rather than quote the Irish Independent. All I heard in the earlier debate was people reading from this morning's Irish Independent, adding nothing new and probably wasting time.

I believe no politician should use confidential information from Garda sources for political purposes and I do not believe two wrongs make a right. I believe Deputy McGrath has questions to answer about where he received his misleading information. In my view, the charge he levelled against the Minister last Thursday during Leaders' Questions was an abuse of privilege in the House. It was an attempt to smear the Minister but it also smeared the Garda. Many gardaí were horrified at the way in which information has been used in this House in recent weeks.

I represent a working-class constituency in Dublin South-East. One of the hardest jobs I have is to convince people to give information to the Garda, telling them it will remain confidential. However, given the kind of issues we hear about from the newspapers in recent days, people are now saying to me, "Kevin, you told me that information that goes to the gardaí is confidential and it'll never be used. Look what we're reading about in the papers". Confidential information is coming out all the time.

The Minister, Deputy Shatter, outlined the work he has carried out during the past two years and I commend him on it. I have confidence in him, as Minister for Justice and Equality. He has proved himself to be a reforming and crusading Minister in modernising our laws and our justice system, while taking on vested interests. I found some aspects of this very difficult. Deputy Collins tabled a motion of no confidence even before the Minister came into the House. When this issue blew up on Friday, I asked the Minister to attend the House and explain the situation, which he did, and he gave further clarification. Deputy Collins tabled this motion of no confidence on the "Six-One News", without even hearing the Minister's response. The Deputy forgets what is in the DNA of Fianna Fáil. I remember very clearly Fianna Fáil putting taps on journalists' telephones, it is very much in the party's DNA.

I must ask the Deputy to conclude. The Minister for Health, Deputy Reilly, is due to speak.

I will conclude. I will vote confidence in the Minister for Justice and Equality and I thank him for the amount of work and reforming legislation he has put through this House in the past two years.

They squashed the Deputy's dissent.

I express my strong confidence in my Cabinet colleague, the Minister for Justice and Equality, and Defence. I wish to put on the record of the House my belief that the Opposition's motion is pure political opportunism. What will be apparent in this Chamber tonight and tomorrow night, as we discuss the Minister, Deputy Shatter, is his clear track record of hard work and his determination to bring about much needed reform. What some will not appreciate to the same degree, however, is that throughout his career the Minister has shown true compassion for groups and individuals, some of whom have been crushed by circumstance. Let us remember this is the man who fought for the Magdalenes. This is the man who appreciated that the extraordinary hurt experienced by these young women over the years could not be simply ignored. He commissioned the report that highlighted the scale of the injustice done to these women. He published it and is now implementing its recommendations.

This is the man who, while on the Opposition benches, constantly raised questions about the way we treat children in care and about the poor outcomes many of those unfortunate children experienced. He spoke about children in care and his fears concerning those children who died while in care. He was unshakeable in his determination to seek answers and was clear about the scourge of our neglect of children. It is significant that this Government is the first to have established a full Cabinet position of Minister for Children and Youth Affairs.

On another level, I wish to remind Deputies that while the leader of the party opposite is lauded as the man who brought in the smoking ban, it was Deputy Shatter who did much of the preparatory work on the health committee that led to the implementation of the ban and gave analysis of the need for the ban and its value. He cared deeply about the issue and about the unnecessary damage to people's health. We know the benefits that have followed.

The Taoiseach needs to understand-----

The Minister, Deputy Shatter, does much more than support those people who are swept to the sidelines of society, who were ignored, including by governments headed by Fianna Fáil, and who were damaged by inattention or worse. He fights for those people with a passion and is relentless in his insistence that society's responsibilities must be enshrined in national law.

One minute remains.

Since he became a Minister, Deputy Shatter's contribution to the Government's reform programme has been unstinting. He himself outlined the long list of legislation he has brought through this Chamber and the many Bills published that have yet to be introduced.

Let me tell Members something of the qualities of the man, Alan Shatter and as a Minister, the Alan Shatter that we, his close colleagues, know. He is impatient for change, as many of us are but he is also persistent. He speaks out but also listens. He concentrates on his portfolio but never loses sight of the human being his reforms will affect. He is committed, diligent, focused and supportive of every person around the Cabinet table. I cite, for example, the tremendous co-operation he and his Department gave to me in the Department of Health as we moved to set up an emergency aero-medical ambulance service, a first for the country and brought in during a time of deep recession, a service ignored by the previous government when money was flowing through the coffers. There were many complex issues involved in this but with the Minister's strong commitment and with the support of helicopters from the Air Corps, we set up the emergency aero-medical service based at Custume Barracks in Athlone. It has been an invaluable service and has saved many lives, in more than 200 completed missions. The helicopter has a reach across the west and many persons alive today owe their survival to the fact that the helicopter brought them from the scene of an accident or because of their health problem to the hospital where lifesaving care was given.

The Minister, Deputy Shatter, can rightly point to a long list of areas where he has implemented reform. He can point to a range of areas where that reform is ongoing. The Minister works hard-----

I must ask the Minister to conclude.

He gets results and has the full support of his colleagues - with good reason. I commend the Government amendment to this House, and offer absolute confidence in our Minister for Defence and Justice and Equality.

I call Deputy Pádraig Mac Lochlainn, who has 15 minutes.

This motion of no confidence will take a predictable path. The Government will read out a list that will present the Minister as verging on a saint; the Opposition will argue a case that tries to present him in as bad a light as possible. I will say something that may surprise the Minister. For the record, I believe he is an immensely hardworking Minister and somebody of immense capability, with the potential to do great good in his portfolio in the time ahead. Of course he will win this vote of confidence tomorrow. However, I will outline to him substantial concerns my party has in regard to policing, the present and the historical relationship between his ministry and senior police in this State, and the need for change. I ask the Minister to hear our case, which is made to him in sincerity. We acknowledge his strengths but he also needs to hear the weaknesses.

In terms of Garda morale, 140 stations will have closed across the State. The argument that has been made by the Minister and the Garda Commissioner is that it is all about efficiency, modernisation and smart policing. It is the way to go. The Minister has spoken about the 750 stations that existed in the time of the RIC and the fact that these police officers would have cycled around, and the need for modernity. The difficulty with his argument, however, is that he has reduced Garda numbers and presided over this reduction, by 10% in recent years from the previous Government until now. We see a net reduction of hundreds of Garda vehicles. Any Member of this House or the Seanad who talks to their local gardaí, from grass roots to senior level, will say they admit to us they are not happy with the changes, not because they are resisting change but because they see the impact in their communities.

The Minister and his Government colleagues must know that morale is genuinely low. As recently as last week I spoke to a couple of gardaí in this city who shared with me their concerns about how these cutbacks will affect their ability to do policing. They are immensely impressive people who want to provide a service to this State, but we are failing them.

For the first time in its 35 year history the GRA did not invite the Minister of the day to its conference. That is deeply worrying because nobody wins if front-line gardaí have such concerns about a Minister. I admit that the previous Minister, Dermot Ahern, had a similarly poor relationship, to the point that the former president of the GRA made a blistering speech which gave rise to considerable controversy. We need to deal with this issue.

A couple of weeks ago the Garda Síochána Ombudsman Commission published a seven page summary of a 500 page report that it had submitted to the Minister. The report expressed grave concern that the lessons of the Morris tribunal, which was the reason the commission was established, had not been learned. It found that contemporaneous notes had not been maintained and expressed concern about the handling of informants. The commission clearly felt it did not have the co-operation it should have received in investigating the Kieran Boylan affair and the serious allegation that an individual convicted of drug dealing found in possession of €1.7 million of cocaine and heroine had his charges dropped without reasonable explanation. The commission carried out an investigation in the public interest and put its concerns in the public domain but the Garda Commissioner dismissed the report by saying he did not have sufficient time to consider it. Two weeks later we still do not know the Commissioner's response. The Minister has stated that he wants to pull both sides together to address the issue but the Government needs to clearly outline what it intends to do to address the commission's concerns.

The penalty points debacle began when two honourable members of the Garda came across what they regarded as double standards in the administration of the law. They expressed their concerns to the appropriate Garda authority, that is, the confidential recipient, but nothing happened for months. They also raised the issue with the Comptroller and Auditor General in light of the financial implications and with the Road Safety Authority. I understand they also made contact with the Taoiseach, who passed their information on to the Minister, Deputy Shatter. These individuals were not hiding behind a cloak of anonymity; they were trying to change things for the good. However, the Minister chose to ask senior police to investigate senior police. That was the wrong decision. He should have requested the Garda Síochána Ombudsman Commission to investigate the issue because of the concern that senior police will not have sufficient independence or separation from the individuals they are investigating. The Garda Commissioner and the Minister then chose to criticise the Garda whistleblowers instead of commending them and implied they were acting anonymously when their identities were in fact known. In raising the matter with the appropriate authorities and putting it into the public domain when they felt they were getting nowhere with the internal structure, these two brave men have done a service to the people of this State because we will now have a new penalty points system that is accountable and provides a paper trail. It is acceptable in certain circumstances to rescind penalty points as long as citizens clearly understand the reason. These individuals should have been commended instead of criticised. That was the wrong approach on the part of the Minister. The overwhelming majority of gardaí, from the bottom to the top, are people of the highest honour who want to serve this State. There is nothing to fear in making the system better and more accountable.

The Government has indicated that it intends to introduce whistleblower legislation. I remind the Minister that we got into this crisis because too many people in the private and public sectors failed to blow the whistle or shout stop. For whatever reason, they did not speak out about what they knew to be wrong. We now want to create an environment in which people can feel comfortable speaking out. What encouragement will those who want to speak out get from this debacle? One of the aforementioned whistleblowers has had to resign from the force and I am sure the other one is seriously considering his position. That is in nobody's interest. The matter was badly handled in a way that goes against stated Government policy.

In regard to the Deputy Wallace affair, I think the Minister looks back on that moment and wonders why he chose to make his comments. It was wrong but it was not new. For too long the relationship between senior gardaí and the Ministers of the day was unhealthy. They were almost interdependent. The history extends back to the Seán Doherty affair, the Michael McDowell business and the issues arising for Deputy O'Dea. This unhealthy relationship needs to change. Our amendment to the motion calls for an independent police authority, a proposal which Fine Gael used to support. The authority would have independence in its budget and affairs, and would be insulated from political interference. As an independent policing authority, the Garda should be fully accountable to the Oireachtas and joint policing committees. Gardaí would also be required to co-operate fully with the ombudsman and the Garda Síochána Inspectorate. We need a new beginning to policing and the relationship between senior gardaí and Ministers. The information on Deputy Wallace came into the Minister's possession but he was wrong to use it. It was a huge error of judgment on the part of the Minister.

In regard to the issues raised by Deputy Mattie McGrath, the Minister put his own version of what happened at that checkpoint into the public domain and repeated it in the House tonight. He may be entirely correct in his assessment but there are different presentations of what happened that night. The only people who can shed light on the matter are the gardaí who were on duty. While the Garda Commissioner has indicated that no record exists of the incident, there must be a record of the checkpoint itself because a checkpoint with a mandatory breathalyser test can only be sanctioned by somebody at the level of inspector or higher. The record of the checkpoint would set out the number of tests administered and their outcome, when they took place and who was on duty. That information would be passed onto the local superintendent and to Garda headquarters. We call on the Garda Commissioner to speak to the gardaí who were on duty that night to confirm or contest the Minister's version of events in order to put the issue to bed. Checkpoints and stoppages are not the central issue in this affair. It is more important that the public have faith in the Garda and its accountability. The Morris tribunal found that a small minority of gardaí in my county of Donegal behaved reprehensibly and abused their power. We were supposed to have learned lessons from that tribunal. We subsequently established the Garda Síochána Ombudsman Commission, the Garda Síochána Inspectorate and the Garda Síochána Act 2005 to move us in the right direction. Let us take the next step by establishing an independent policing authority which would be completely free from political interference while remaining fully accountable to these Houses.

I have been marking the Minister from the Opposition benches and have seen many things that impressed me. I do not dispute his immense capacity or desire to introduce reform and improve matters.

He has waited most of his life to become Minister for Justice and Equality and I am sure he wishes to complete his term of office. If he survives this period, I ask him to learn lessons from recent events. If he manages to remain Minister for Justice and Equality for the duration of the Government, I ask him to introduce the reforms that are necessary. He should also allow the allegations by Garda whistleblowers concerning penalty points to be examined independently by the Garda Síochána Ombudsman Commission. There is nothing to fear from having a spotlight shone on this issue.

There are two certainties with regard to the Garda Síochána. First, morale among the men and women of the force is at an all-time low. Whether the Minister accepts, agrees or understands this, gardaí feel demoralised as a result of the recent plethora of cutbacks and the impact they are having. This is an important issue which must be addressed through engagement and by winning hearts and minds. This will require the reversal of some of the cutbacks the Government has made. The second certainty is that we must restore public confidence in how policing is carried out at senior levels and the manner in which it relates to the Department of Justice and Equality. Those are the two challenges facing the Minister.

The Minister will survive the vote of confidence tomorrow night as the Opposition will vote virtually en bloc in favour of the motion, while the Government side will fully support the Minister. That is fair enough but once the matter has been closed, we need to know that lessons have been learned. Neither the Minister nor I is perfect but we need to move on and make things better. That is the challenge arising from this debacle and I hope the Minister is up to meeting it.

I welcome the opportunity to speak to this important Private Members' motion expressing no confidence in the Minister for Justice and Equality. The motion is not driven by a personal vendetta. While I welcome the apology given by the Minister this evening, it is a pity he did not make it last week as it would have taken the sting out of this debate. The motion is about confidence in the Minister and standards in his important office.

I challenge the assertions made by the Government side on reform and change on the basis of the unprofessional manner in which the Minister has acted. He did not answer all the questions that have arisen and he should accept that his conduct on the "Prime Time" programme was wrong. In recent days, further damaging revelations have emerged and the Minister has serious questions to answer in the House. Fudging them is not an option.

The office of the Minister for Justice and Equality must always be characterised by justice, due process, respect for civil liberties and professionalism. The Minister has failed on many of these fronts. He has trampled on the rights of citizens and the civil liberties of certain Members of the Oireachtas. Many of us have serious concerns about the missing Garda report which would have cleared up any misinformation that may have emerged. The Dáil and citizens deserve a comprehensive explanation in order that we can all return to work and concentrate on other important matters. While the Minister and Government have blamed the media and Opposition for this issue, it was they who dragged out the process. Distraction politics, evasive answers and woolly explanations further fed the story. It is important, therefore, that the Minister quickly comes clean and fully addresses the issue.

The information emerging regarding the application and administration of the law by the Garda hierarchy is becoming most disconcerting for citizens. The independent Garda Síochána Ombudsman Commission has communicated its complete dissatisfaction with the manner in which the Garda hierarchy has been responding to its queries. It is obvious that the office of the Garda Síochána Ombudsman Commission is being treated in an arrogant and disrespectful manner by the Garda hierarchy.

The Minister stated he received information by way of an aside about a Deputy allegedly using his mobile telephone while driving. Two issues arise in this context. Either the gardaí who stopped the Deputy in question should have issued penalty points at the time and entered this information in the PULSE system or, having decided not to do so, it should have been the end of the matter. The Minister's explanation that he learned about this incident through an aside reminds one of the language used by dramatists such as the famous John B. Keane who, when writing his manuscripts, used to include asides to guide his stage actors and directors. The Minister and Garda Commissioner should behave as befits the holders of professional constitutional positions.

The Minister's explanation in response to Deputy Mattie McGrath's allegation that he failed to complete a breathalyser test does not answer the question people have been asking. The Garda Commissioner must state what procedure should be followed by gardaí when such circumstances arise. If it was or is the case that people are required to give blood or urine samples at the appropriate police station, why did this not occur on the occasion acknowledged by the Minister as having taken place three or four years ago? The Commissioner must speak with lucidity and clarify the position.

A former Garda chief superintendent, Mr. John O'Brien, who carried out an examination on behalf of the Garda Síochána Ombudsman Commission in 2008, states in today's Irish Independent newspaper that he highlighted many of the current issues, including individual Garda discretion, in his 2008 report. He states: "The idea that 13,000 gardaí could somehow operate individual discretion is not tenable." It is unfair to place the burden of responsibility on individual members of the Garda. Clearly, no action was taken on foot of the report produced by Mr. O'Brien, the former head of the Garda traffic policy division.

The dogs in the street know that appointments to the higher echelons of the Garda authority have been substantially politicised. Members of the public take the view that the ruling elite has become so incestuous in the making of appointments that unethical behaviour can be sometimes present. For this reason, when the current Garda Commissioner retires, he should be replaced by a head of police of a major city in another jurisdiction, for example, the United States, Canada or the United Kingdom. The appointment should be for a period of five years in order that the new Commissioner will not be contaminated by the politicised and incestuous culture under which gardaí have been forced to work. I ask the Minister to cleanse the system and, failing that, he should move on. As the former Taoiseach, the late Jack Lynch, stated in the 1970s, the law must be uniform in its application.

Debate adjourned.