Garda Síochána (Amendment) Bill 2014: First Stage

I move:

That leave be granted to introduce a Bill entitled an Act to amend the Garda Síochána Act 2005 in order to make the Garda Commissioner responsible to the Garda Ombudsman Commission, to allow the Garda Ombudsman Commission investigate complaints concerning any conduct of a member of the Garda Síochána made by another member of An Garda Síochána, to remove the requirement of consent in order for the Garda Ombudsman Commission to reach informal resolution of complaints, to grant the Garda Ombudsman Commission access to the Garda PULSE computer system and to permit the Garda Ombudsman Commission to examine any practice, policy or procedure of an Garda Síochána in order to prevent complaints arising.

I thank the Ceann Comhairle for this opportunity. We all appreciate that the Bill is timely given the controversy which has been raging in recent days and the quite apparent divergences between the Garda Síochána and the Garda Síochána Ombudsman Commission, GSOC, in recent months.

There is something very disturbing about the fact that while we discussed GSOC and the independent inquiry again this morning during Leaders' Questions, the Minister for Justice and Equality was touring with a group of constituents around the environs of the Dáil and Leinster House 2000. He should have been here in the Chamber listening to what the Taoiseach, my party and other Deputies had to say rather than giving a bunch of visitors to the House a guided tour of the premises. It speaks volumes about the Minister's cavalier approach to this.

The Bill seeks to close the gap which exists between An Garda Síochána and the Garda Síochána Ombudsman Commission. We have had unsightly scenes whereby members of the Garda Síochána Ombudsman Commission had to take to the public airwaves to air their concerns about the shortcomings of the legislation which enables them to carry out their functions. The Bill, which was published yesterday, seeks to address a number of issues, including by ensuring that Garda Commissioner, as chief of police, will become subject to oversight by the Garda Síochána Ombudsman Commission. We have been seeking this for a long period. Commentators from outside the world of politics have contributed to the debate, including Nuala O'Loan and Conor Brady, who is a former member of the Garda Síochána Ombudsman Commission. It is not logical or consistent to think that the chief of a body such as the Garda Síochána, which is subject to oversight, is not subject to the same degree of oversight. There is a disconnect and this gap needs to be closed.

There is also the issue of providing GSOC with access to PULSE. This is a no-brainer. There is much common ground among Deputies on providing GSOC with unfettered access to the Garda PULSE system to allow them do their job. At present they have access to PULSE only under the supervision of a seconded Garda superintendent, which is hardly good enough.

The legislation would allow serving members of An Garda Síochána to refer internal complaints to GSOC. This issue has crystallised with regard to the whistleblower controversy discussed in the Chamber this morning, the Maurice McCabe transcripts and his dealings with the confidential recipient. The Taoiseach informed us that he had been removed or had resigned - we do not know which. I wish to put the Taoiseach on notice that we will table a special notice question on this, because there are many unanswered questions on the appointment of the confidential recipient, the operation, how the person took to the role and what he said to the whistleblower, Maurice McCabe, which was totally unsatisfactory.

The final piece of the Bill would empower and enable GSOC to inquire into the policies, procedures and practices adopted by An Garda Síochána and allow it to review and comment on them and recommend changes to improve the policies and procedures and try to prevent complaints from arising in the first instance.

This is the intent of the Bill, which we think is very timely. There is much agreement throughout the House and outside it on the provisions set out in the Bill. We should process the Bill as quickly as possible to be seen to support GSOC. Part of the public concern since the controversy arose more than ten days ago is the perception that GSOC is not supported. The Government stated that it intends to do some work on this and give it to the Oireachtas Joint Committee on Justice, Defence and Equality, but the four main provisions I have outlined in the Bill are absolutely agreed among all the players. The Government should take this legislation and run with it.

Is the Bill opposed?

Question put and agreed to.

Since this is a Private Members' Bill, Second Stage must, under Standing Orders, be taken in Private Members' time.

I move: "That the Bill be taken in Private Members' time."

Question put and agreed to.