It is of crucial importance that the Garda Síochána be operationally independent but also democratically accountable. The Garda Síochána Act 2005 seeks to achieve these objectives by specifying the functions of the Garda Commissioner and the force, on the one hand, and the Minister for Justice and Equality, the Government and the Houses of the Oireachtas, on the other. The Act provides that the Commissioner has the function of directing and controlling the Garda Síochána and that he is accountable to the Minister for the performance of that function. The Commissioner is responsible for recruitment, training, discipline and the distribution of members and for all other aspects of the management and administration of the force. The Act also made the Commissioner the Accounting Officer of the force and liable to appear before the Committee of Public Accounts in that capacity.
In addition, the 2005 Act established the Garda Síochána Ombudsman Commission, which is empowered to carry out independent investigations into Garda conduct, and also the Garda Síochána Inspectorate, which provides expert advice on achieving the highest levels of efficiency and effectiveness in the operation and administration of the force. The accountability of the Garda Síochána has, through these measures, been significantly strengthened.
There are those who advocate a police authority, as the Deputy mentioned, but the onus is very much on them to explain how this would improve accountability. Until recently, England and Wales would have been two of the main examples of comparable jurisdictions with police authorities. However, police authorities there were abolished in 2012 and replaced by directly elected police and crime commissioners, precisely on the grounds that the police authorities were not sufficiently democratically accountable.
It is true that Northern Ireland retains a police authority - the Policing Board - and it does a good job, but most people understand that the need for the Policing Board arises from the unique requirements associated with the need for confidence building in a cross-community environment.
Another important point often overlooked by those who advocate a separate authority is that the Garda Síochána is not only the police service in this jurisdiction, but is also the security and intelligence service of the State. This makes it even more appropriate that the Garda Síochána should be accountable to the Government and ultimately to the Oireachtas.
I am perfectly willing to listen to legislative proposals on accountability, but it is important that they deal with all of the issues involved in a sensible and convincing way.