Priority Questions

Penalty Points System Investigation

Niall Collins

Question:

1. Deputy Niall Collins asked the Minister for Justice and Equality the timeframe for the completion of the Garda Síochána Ombudsman Commission investigation into allegations by Garda whistleblowers regarding the administration of penalty points; and if he will make a statement on the matter. [5571/14]

Pádraig MacLochlainn

Question:

2. Deputy Pádraig Mac Lochlainn asked the Minister for Justice and Equality if he will ensure that the Garda Síochána Ombudsman Commission has access to the PULSE system during the investigation it initiated last week into the administration of fixed-charge penalties. [5629/14]

Mick Wallace

Question:

3. Deputy Mick Wallace asked the Minister for Justice and Equality the precise circumstances which led him to request the Garda Síochána Ombudsman Commission to commence an investigation under section 102 of the Garda Síochána Act 2005; the reason he did not choose to initiate a wider investigation, under section 106, of policies, practices and procedures; the reason he considered the matter to have become one of public interest; if he consulted with the Garda Commissioner when choosing the relevant legislative provision under which the investigation would be conducted; and if he will make a statement on the matter. [5582/14]

Concerns about the administration of the penalty points system have been raised in the Oireachtas since the publication of the O'Mahoney report. The matter has been discussed by the Joint Committee on Justice, Defence and Equality, the Joint Committee on Public Service Oversight and Petitions and the Committee of Public Accounts. In the absence of its being conclusively dealt with, public confidence in the entire system will be undermined, if that has not already happened. Will the Minister give a timeframe for completion of the investigation into the matter by the Garda Síochána Ombudsman Commission? In addition, will he outline why he did not refer the issue to the ombudsman commission in the first instance?

It is clear, therefore, that a referral under section 102 of the 2005 Act, rather than under section 106, is the only way in which these allegations can be investigated.

The Minister outlined why he has now decided to refer it to the Garda Síochána Ombudsman Commission, GSOC. The Oireachtas Committee on Justice, Defence and Equality was united in its view that the matter should have been referred much sooner. Be that as it may, we have had a number of public utterances from current and former members of GSOC about some of the constraints and limits of powers afforded to them under the 2005 Act. It is important that this Act is revisited as soon as possible. The Minister mentioned access to the PULSE system. There has to be complete and unfettered access to PULSE.

Does the Minister agree that the Garda Commissioner in his role as chief of police should be subject to scrutiny by GSOC? In Northern Ireland and the UK, the heads of MI5 and MI6 are subject to scrutiny. Can the Minister confirm whether the Act will be changed to allow the referral of complaints by serving members of An Garda Síochána directly to GSOC? Can he also comment on the role of the confidential recipient? I think it has been proven conclusively that this role is not fit for purpose or up to standard.

I remind the Deputy that he is a member of the Oireachtas Joint Committee on Justice, Defence and Equality. The two reports to which I referred were referred to that committee and it was open to that committee to hold hearings, call in An Garda Síochána and raise any questions it sought to raise arising out of those reports with other individuals. What the committee did was send the matter to the Oireachtas Committee on Public Service Oversight and Petitions. The Deputy is aware of that. It was my understanding that it was passed on to the committee of which Deputy Wallace is a member. This committee questioned GSOC about the matter and the response it got was the one I referenced. It did not go any further with that committee either.

I intend, as I announced, to bring forward new legislation to amend the 2005 Act. We have been conducting a review of this Act for the past nine months in terms of how matters work and where difficulties arise. The confidential recipient was a creature created by my predecessor in 2007 for serving members of the gardaí to make complaints of alleged misconduct that would effectively be furnished to An Garda Síochána itself to investigate. Time has proved that this is a defective procedure. It is my intention in the context of a series of amendments to address other issues raised by the Deputy that need to be addressed with regard to GSOC to confer on it a remit to deal with serious allegations of misconduct made by serving members of the force. Following the enactment of the amending Bill, I do not envisage that the office of confidential recipient will continue.

The Minister has been critical of members of Committee of Public Accounts and has said that he referred the matter to GSOC in the public interest due to the direction in which it was going. He now says that the Committee on Justice, Defence and Equality should have dealt with it. That committee and the Committee on Public Service Oversight and Petitions were both of the view that GSOC was the best place to investigate this because, unfortunately, committees cannot make adverse findings of fact against individuals. That was the people's decision in a referendum. We felt that the only independent place to have a proper full investigation with the proper expertise was GSOC. Unfortunately, both committees were unsuccessful because GSOC said it could not investigate it because it came from a serving member of An Garda Síochána. That is for the Dáil record.

Over the past year, we have all have been dealing with the lack of co-operation on the part of senior members of An Garda Síochána regarding GSOC. That has been heavily criticised but is now moving in the right direction. There are proper guidelines with regard to the penalty points issue so the public can look at this debacle and say that things are improving. However, on the back of all this, we need fundamental change in terms of the powers of the Garda Ombudsman and the independence of An Garda Síochána. It is really important that we send out the message that the issues around penalty points and co-operation with GSOC do not affect the vast majority of serving members of An Garda Síochána. They have done no wrong and there is no question mark over what they do. The issues relate to senior management and some senior officers regarding penalty points. That message needs to go out. This is not a crisis for An Garda Síochána. It is a crisis for the management and structures of An Garda Síochána.

I have the transcript of what took place when the Garda Ombudsman appeared before the Committee on Public Service Oversight and Petitions. In response to a question raised, Carmel Foley of the GSOC addressed the matter and made references that correspond with what I said. She said that they were conscious that the whistleblower was a serving Garda and, therefore, they could not under the Act deem a complaint from him admissible. Of course they could not, and that was, unfortunately, the position with regard to the 2005 legislation and the creation of the confidential recipient. The legislation removed complaints from serving members of An Garda Síochána from the remit of GSOC and the 2007 provision sought to provide an alternative mechanism. I did not want to jump to conclusions about this at an early stage as Minister but I think it has been proved that the confidential recipient system does not work. It is unfair to those who raise issues of complaint and to the gardaí themselves because where the Garda fully and properly investigates a matter it is still open to question. I said all along that in the context of the fixed charge ticket issue, there was a need to tighten up on procedures and to ensure that the practice that was supposed to be followed was followed and that the decisions ultimately made even when the practice was appropriate were justified. I described some of those decisions as exotic, and deliberately so, because I would question whether proper procedures had been followed.

In the context of dealing with this overall issue, a legislative change is of importance, so that where serious allegations are made by serving members of An Garda Síochána, the GSOC can investigate them, there is no issue as to the independence of the investigation and the matter is dealt with once and for all. In the context of the issue we are dealing with, a range of allegations were investigated by Assistant Commissioner John O'Mahony which were referred to the Committee on Justice, Defence and Equality and the Garda Inspectorate. Since then, a series of additional allegations have been made. These are rolling, never-ending allegations, which is why it is appropriate that, as Deputy Collins said, we bring this matter to a conclusion where no further questions arise. That is why it was appropriate to refer it to the GSOC. I will come back to the issue of members of the Committee of Public Accounts.

I ask Members to watch the clock. That is what it is there for.

Despite the Minister's protestations to the contrary, if he was serious about investigating the penalty points issue he would have introduced section 106, because it would have allowed for a wider examination of the practices, policies and procedures of An Garda Síochána, which is necessary. Unfortunately, the GSOC's hands are tied unless the Minister introduces section 106. This legislative deficiency in our policing oversight mechanism was severely criticised by UN rapporteur Margaret Sekaggya in her report to the Government last March. The Minister recently refused our request in the Dáil to reconsider the GSOC's request for permission to investigate under section 106 issues surrounding Corrib and the delivery of a large amount of alcohol to Belmullet Garda station. We need a reassessment of the limited GSOC referral currently proposed; immediate publication of broad terms of reference focusing on whistleblowers' allegations and not just whistleblowers themselves, which seems to be the slant taken; and reform of the legislative structures of Garda accountability.

There is also a need to address the over-politicised relationship that exists between the Minister and the Garda Commissioner. That relationship is not healthy for our police force. An independent police commission must be established and must carry out a root-and-branch review of the Garda Síochána for the first time in its history.

Let us deal with a few matters. Deputy Wallace obviously read from a pre-prepared note and chose not to listen to what I said earlier.

I would not expect him to conduct himself any differently from normal in respect of these issues. As already stated, during the past nine months we have been conducting a review of the Garda Síochána Act 2005. I also stated that we will be bringing forward amendments in order to address matters with which the Garda Ombudsman Commission has been dealing in order to address some difficulties with and anomalies in that legislation. I explained to Deputy Wallace why section 106 is not the appropriate vehicle for a referral. Obviously, he paid no regard to what I had to say on that matter. The Deputy is also ignoring the fact that this report was referred to the Garda Inspectorate, the role of which is to examine the procedures and approaches taken by An Garda Síochána with regard to fulfilling its obligations in addressing and deciding how best to deal with matters. I expect to receive the report of the Garda Inspectorate shortly, which might provide further enlightenment and insight in the context of any additional changes to be made.

As Deputies on all sides have acknowledged, procedures have been tightened up in the aftermath of the report of Assistant Commissioner O'Mahony. At the end of August last year, the Garda Commissioner issued new directions to members of the force to ensure the prescribed procedures will be fully and properly complied with and that an audit will be conducted to ensure that this occurs. I am sorry that Deputy Wallace does not choose to accept that matters are being properly addressed. This seems to be a single-issue obsession of his.

The matters in question have not been properly addressed for two years.

In fairness to them, Deputies Niall Collins and Mac Lochlainn-----

We are over time.

-----acknowledge the very important and substantial work done by members of the force. I wish to congratulate the force on very important arrests that took place in the past 24 hours.

I do not want to say anything further about them but they are the subject of reports in today's newspapers.

Stick to the subject.

The arrests in question relate to individuals who, it is alleged, committed a number burglaries across the country. Perhaps the Deputy might, for once, acknowledge-----

Perhaps the Minister might, for once, answer the question.

-----that, regardless of procedural and other difficulties that arose on this issue-----

The Minister is not answering my question.

-----we have a police force-----

The Minister is over time. Will he please adhere to the rules?

(Interruptions).

-----of which we can be proud. The members of that force are doing their duty and in the past 24 hours many of them have been out in the floods helping to ensure the safety of members of the public.

I ask the Minister and Members to adhere to the clock, that is what it is there for. We have run out of time on these questions and I must move on.

I request that an exception be made.

I am sorry-----

This is a very important issue.

-----but a time limit applies.

I am sure all the Members present would agree to an extension of the time.

We are obliged to adhere to the rules. However, I will take a very quick supplementary from each Deputy.

I thank the Ceann Comhairle for that. I may not have heard his initial reply clearly or correctly so will the Minister provide confirmation in respect of three issues for me? Will the Garda Commissioner come under the remit of the Garda Ombudsman Commission in the aftermath of the proposed changes? Will the legislation be amended in order to allow serving members of An Garda Síochána to refer complaints directly to the Garda Ombudsman Commission? Will the Minister be amending the position in respect of section 106 procedure and practices?

The Minister should reflect on the events of the past 18 months, particularly in terms of the relationship between the Government and senior members of An Garda Síochána dealing with legitimate complaints. I reiterate that vast majority of serving members of An Garda Síochána have done no wrong. However, they are hurt and affected by the issues under discussion. When gardaí are on duty and performing difficult tasks - for example, giving out speeding tickets - they are likely to get a bit of aggro in respect of this issue. That is not fair because they were not at fault. It is important that the Minister acknowledge at some point that this was an issue for senior management and that changes need to happen in order to make the latter accountable to GSOC. There must be a better response to any criticisms that are levelled or any allegations of malpractice that are made in the future.

The Minister has been dragged, kicking and screaming, to the point where he is making a few changes. Despite his claims to the contrary, it is almost two years since the Minister first heard about this matter. He has been dealing with it for all that time and he states that he is dealing with it in a proper manner. If this was Britain, the heads of the Minister and the Garda Commissioner would have rolled long before now.

A question please.

However, even that would not be enough. There is a need for a complete culture change in the context of how the force operates. What is happening is unfair to all the honest members who are serving on the force. The Minister has undermined confidence and trust in the force. We are not responsible for that.

On every occasion on which he has something to say about An Garda Síochána, Deputy Wallace appears to be engaged in a campaign to undermine public confidence in the force.

No, the Minister is doing that.

The Deputy is incapable of acknowledging in any shape for form the good work done across a broad range of matters-----

-----and the substantial reduction in crime rates across the vast majority of areas. This is an issue in respect of which he is also incapable of acknowledging that even some of the allegations made have been established to be incorrect.

The Minister has been dealing with this for two years.

Other questions were asked.

As the Deputy knows, Assistant Commissioner O'Mahony's report only became available in May 2013. It was then referred to the Oireachtas Joint Committee on Justice, Defence and Equality-----

The Deputy is at it again. Is there any aspect of that report he accepts to be true or accurate?

Why did the Minister-----

The Deputy is at it again.

The Minister is way over time. Will he please deal with the supplementary questions that were asked? We are four minutes over time on these questions.

Deputy Wallace is making a career out of blackguarding the Garda Síochána.

Will the Minister please resume his seat for a moment?

The Minister will not deal with the facts.

That is exactly what the Deputy is at.

The Minister should deal with the supplementaries that were asked. We are four minutes over the time allocated for these questions.

In the context of the questions he posed, I hope Deputy Niall Collins will understand that I must formally bring to Cabinet the proposals for the heads of a Bill to amend the Garda Síochána Act 2005. I do not, therefore, want to discuss in detail what will be those proposals. However, I can confirm - as I did not Monday evening last - that where serious allegations are made in respect of misconduct on the part of a serving member of the force, that the matter would be referred to the Garda Ombudsman Commission. There is no difficulty with the latter being the case. I also wish to confirm that when the relevant amendments are enacted, the statutory position will effectively be that the office of confidential recipient will be rendered redundant. That office was created by my predecessor and it gives rise to all sorts of difficulties, allegations and conflicts, which are unfair to members of the force in general and to any individual members who have valid complaints to make. Such individuals do not have full visibility of what happens in the aftermath of a complaint being made.

Deputy Mac Lochlainn referred to accountability. In the past debates have taken place on whether we should have an independent policy authority or whether the relevant matters should ultimately remain the responsibility of the Minister. Under statute, the Garda Commissioner has full independence in making operational decisions. He is the Accounting Officer of the force and he reports to the Committee of Public Accounts. Ireland is a small country and the system we have in place allows for this type of discussion and debate in this Parliament. Ultimately, I am accountable to the House in respect of issues regarding or questions that arise in respect of the police force. The UK created a very complex structure in this regard some years ago and the authorities there have since discovered that it does not work very well and that there is a lack of accountability within it. I am of the view that, no matter how difficult it may be for a Minister for Justice and Equality of the day, Deputies should be able to raise direct questions or concerns with regard to the workings of our police force. I also believe that the Minister must be accountable. If we created a separate entity, we would not have that level of accountability which I believe to be important.

Judicial Appointments

Niall Collins

Question:

4. Deputy Niall Collins asked the Minister for Justice and Equality his plans to reform the judicial appointments process; and if he will make a statement on the matter. [5572/14]

The Minister is in the middle of a consultation phase at present, although I accept that this may have concluded on 31 January last. In view of the fact that there will be anything between ten and 15 retirements from the Judiciary during the coming year, will legislation to reform the judicial appointments process be brought forward? We discussed this matter in the House on a number of previous occasions.

The Deputy will be aware that, under the Constitution, judges are appointed by the President on the advice of the Government. The current process for the appointment of judges is set out in sections 12 to 17, inclusive, of the Courts and Court Officers Act 1995 which established the Judicial Appointments Advisory Board. Under the existing system of judicial appointments, the board submits to me, as Minister for Justice and Equality, the names of the persons who have applied for appointment and whom it recommends as suitable for appointment. This procedure has been in place since 1995 and, at my request, my Department is undertaking a review of the judicial appointments process. This review will consider how best to ensure and protect the principle of judicial independence and includes consideration of issues such as the appointment process, eligibility criteria, the role of the Judicial Appointments Advisory Board and the need to promote equality and diversity.

In December I initiated a public consultation process which involved not only members of the Judiciary and the legal profession generally but also engaged the broader public who benefit daily in innumerable ways from the protection of an independent Judiciary. A number of submissions have been received to date and they will be considered within my Department and by me. The consultation process sought submissions within the current constitutional provisions. Any proposal to introduce a new system of appointments which would require statutory amendments would, of course, be a matter for consideration by the Government in the first instance.

As the Deputy may be aware, Deputy Shane Ross has published a Private Members' Bill relating to the system of judicial appointments. A debate on the Bill will afford a useful opportunity for Members of the House to discuss what they would consider to be an appropriate reform. It was always my intention that we would have such a debate after we had the opportunity to review the submissions received. Unfortunately, on the designated date for the discussion of Deputy Shane Ross’s Bill, 21 February, I will be in Greece on Government business in my capacity as Minister for Defence attending the informal Defence Ministers’ Council which is part of the Greek EU Presidency programme. Despite contact with the Deputy’s office with a view to changing the date for discussion of the Bill in order that I could be present to hear what Members had to say and participate in the debate, as of today I am disappointed to note that it has not proved possible to agree an alternative date for discussing the Bill, but I hope it will be possible to do so.

There is no doubt that all members of the Judiciary have acted independently since they were appointed. Nobody has ever offered to me, or anybody else of whom I am aware, any evidence that there have been examples of political bias exercised by members of the Judiciary. There is a debate around the appointments process. We need to look at it and possibly consider shortening the number of names that come from the Judicial Appointments Advisory Board to the Government for consideration. There is merit in that proposal.

When we discussed this issue last May, the Minister, rightly, made the point that up to two thirds of the Judiciary had no political affiliation. I do not think the debate should be crowded around the notion that, because somebody was politically affiliated at one point in his or her life, this should automatically disbar him or her. Are we to go down a road where it will be a crime to engage politically during one's life?

Am I right to suggest the Minister does not envisage any constitutional change in terms of the appointments process for members of the Judiciary and that, following his consultation and proposals, when published, the status quo will continue in terms of the Government asking the President to appoint? In other words, it will be a process of nomination by the Government but that the preceding process undertaken by the Judicial Appointments Advisory Board will be looked at, revamped, modernised and made more fit for purpose.

The Deputy is right that we are not proposing any constitutional change. The great merit of the current position is that it is the Government or the Minister - it would end up coming to me, as Minister for Justice and Equality - who is ultimately accountable to the Dáil should an appointment be made that clearly is not appropriate. I want to repeat what I have said previously, that every appointment to the Judiciary made by the current Government has been of an individual furnished on the list provided by the Judicial Appointments Advisory Board of appropriate individuals to be so appointed, or, alternatively, has involved the promotion from lower courts of other members of the Judiciary already appointed.

I have been reading the submissions as they have been coming in and found them very interesting, although there are some I have not yet had an opportunity to read. I note that members of the Judiciary in their submissions have stated that, despite their wish to see reforms implemented - they are addressing possible reforms - there is no evidence of any description since the foundation of the State that members of the Judiciary are politically partisan in any shape or form in the manner in which they determine proceedings. That is as it should be and as it has been. It is important, as the issue is discussed, that we look at how we modernise the system in a careful and responsible way to preserve judicial independence. However, I do not believe the debate should be contaminated by a suggestion that any current or past judge has ever, at any stage, made a decision based on a political commitment he or she may have had prior to his or her appointment to the Judiciary.

This is an insider's debate. This is not an issue people queue up in our clinics or stop us in the street to discuss. However, it is a very important one to try to uphold the independence of the Judiciary. For some-----

Will the Deputy, please, put his supplementary question as we are over time?

For some, there is a view that people who have a political affiliation are somehow fast-tracked. We need to find a mechanism to stamp this out.

With regard to the Judicial Appointments Advisory Board, I make the point that for the two judges who were removed and are no longer on the Bench, namely, former Judge Brian Curtin and former Judge Heather Perrin, no pre-screening process could have blocked out their activities. The Judicial Appointments Advisory Board needs to be reformed to remove the perception that judicial appointments are fast-tracked politically.

Under the legislation in place since 1995, the Judicial Appointments Advisory Board has had the capacity to interview applicants for judicial appointment. It has been said judicial appointments should only be made on merit. I totally agree and it has been my view for many years, well before I was appointed Minister. In government we have sought to make appointments based on merit. The capacity of an individual to act as a member of the Judiciary and his or her legal background are issues at which the Judicial Appointments Advisory Board can look based on the criteria for eligibility detailed. Even in the context of current legislation, it would be beneficial if arrangements were made by the board, where appropriate, to interview potential candidates for the Judiciary, as this would provide an additional insight. It would also be of assistance to lay members of the board who have no personal knowledge, generally, of any of the applicants, whereas members of the professions who sit on the board and the presidents of the courts may well know some of the applicants and what their capacities are when they appear in the courts system.

I thank publicly those who made submissions. I hope we can have a good discussion in the House on possible reforms before I proceed to make proposals to the Cabinet. Some reform in this area is in the public interest. I will come back to the issue.

Garda Oversight

Pádraig MacLochlainn

Question:

5. Deputy Pádraig Mac Lochlainn asked the Minister for Justice and Equality his plans to introduce amending legislation to ensure the independence of An Garda Síochána based on other policing models on this island or elsewhere in Europe. [5630/14]

As I said earlier, the events of the past 18 months give us cause to engage in real reflection. As the Minister knows, the Garda Síochána Act 2005 emerged after the Morris tribunal when there was a need for huge change. The 2005 Act certainly represented considerable change, but we are in a period when we again need to look at that model. What are the Minister's thoughts in terms, for example, of the policing model in the North of Ireland where the ombudsman and the criminal justice inspectorate have stronger powers in the case of the PSNI? Has the Minister looked at that model as one we could consider here?

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.

We certainly need to get the balance right between having a genuinely independent police service and democratic accountability. That is a given. We can achieve that. The Policing Board model in the North is a good one. There is no doubt that the PSNI is accountable not just to the Policing Board but to the Assembly. With the right will we can achieve that.

Members of the Garda Síochána want an independent police service. The difficulty they face now is that the Commissioner is enforcing cutbacks which he presents as modernisation, smart policing and efficiency, which distances him from the grass roots gardaí who tell us a very different story. We need to make a clear separation from Government in respect of budgeting, and the present relationship, which people would argue was the reason it took so long to refer the penalty point allegations to an independent ombudsman. The relationship is too close between Government and the police. We can bring in changes that make the police more independent and deal with the Minister's legitimate concerns about democratic accountability. If we put our minds to it we can make it better. What does the Minister think of that?

I find it ironic that the Deputy should continue to advocate a structure that has been removed in England and Wales.

I am talking about the North of Ireland.

When I was spokesperson on justice, one of the issues in the debate about whether there should be a separate police authority or police board was substantially influenced by the approach taken in the United Kingdom. That has proved to be an approach in which there is a lack of democratic accountability. The Policing Board in Northern Ireland has been created for particular and unique circumstances. I presume that it has been left in place and that the reforms that have taken place in England and Wales have not been transferred to or been taken on in Northern Ireland because of the unique background circumstances and the Deputy is as familiar as I am with the requirements for eligibility for membership of that board because of the need to ensure there is a balance on the board between the different communities in Northern Ireland and that both communities have confidence in policing. That was necessary.

On the issue the Deputy raises I do not see how interposing an undemocratic layer between the gardaí and the Oireachtas will assist in increasing accountability. Internationally, there is now a move away from independent policing authorities. In any event, such a structure would not be suitable for this jurisdiction, which has a single police force, which incorporates national security and border control within its remit. The Deputy has not addressed the issues surrounding that particular area in his proposal.

I accept there are two challenges, ensuring that democratic accountability continues, and the fairly unique situation that the Garda Commissioner has control over policing and intelligence. The Minister should keep an open mind and engage with the need to have a truly independent policing authority, as seen by the people, separate from Government in terms of budgets and so on, and which deals with the Minister's concerns. Does the Minister accept that it is possible to achieve that balance if we put our minds to it?

I have no idea how we can provide funding for our police service that is separate from Government, does not take account of budgetary issues and does not appear in the Estimates that can be carefully examined, as they were only a few days ago at the Oireachtas Select Committee on Justice, Defence and Equality. The Deputy is saying that a police authority could magic up from some unidentifiable source whatever resources it believed it needed, without any decision of Government or accountability to Parliament. That does not and cannot work.

That is not what I am saying. The Minister is wilfully ignoring what I am saying.

The Deputy has made the case that the Commissioner conceals cutbacks in smart policing. Smart policing, the careful use of resources in circumstances where the strength of the Garda force has unfortunately been reduced because of the economic difficulties of this State, has resulted in a substantial reduction in crime in 12 out of the 14 categories of crime. Targeted policing has produced the type of arrests I mentioned earlier today, resulting in substantial reductions in a broad range of crimes including burglaries, and in many individuals engaged in gangland crime being brought before our courts, where their hearings are pending, or successfully convicted so that they are now guests of the State within our Prison Service. The Deputy should not deride the concept of smart policing. It means targeted, specialised approaches to the different areas in dealing with every type of crime that arises, from fraud to burglary and a whole range of other issues.

The Minister is the most skilled man I have ever seen at answering a question that was not put.