1. Deputy Niall Collins asked the Minister for Justice and Equality if he will provide an update on the status of the Guerin and Cooke inquiries; and if he will make a statement on the matter. [19467/14]
Vol. 839 No. 1
1. Deputy Niall Collins asked the Minister for Justice and Equality if he will provide an update on the status of the Guerin and Cooke inquiries; and if he will make a statement on the matter. [19467/14]
I ask the Minister for Justice and Equality to provide an update on the Cooke and Guerin inquiries and, in particular, to indicate the timeline involved because when the inquiries were established they were asked to report prior to or around Easter. Perhaps he will also outline his view on whether they should proceed to full independent inquiries under the Commissions of Investigations Act 2004.
On 18 February 2014, I gave the Cabinet my assessment of the seriousness for both the Garda Síochána Ombudsman Commission and the Garda Síochána, and more widely for public confidence in the enforcement of law, of the ongoing controversy relating to reports of unlawful surveillance of GSOC. The Government subsequently appointed retired High Court judge, Mr. Justice John Cooke, to conduct an independent inquiry into this matter. The terms of reference for the inquiry were agreed by the Government, with the advice of the Attorney General. Mr. Justice Cooke was asked to report within eight weeks or as soon as may be thereafter. On 27 February 2014, the Government appointed Mr. Sean Guerin, SC, to conduct an independent inquiry into certain allegations made by Garda Sergeant Maurice McCabe. The Government, again with the advice of the Attorney General, agreed the terms of reference for this independent inquiry. Mr Guerin was asked to deliver a report within eight weeks or as soon as may be thereafter. The reports of both Mr. Justice Cooke and Mr. Guerin are currently awaited. Their finalisation is a matter exclusively for Mr. Justice Cooke and Mr. Guerin, but I expect that they will be received shortly.
As Deputy Niall Collins is aware, the Government at its meeting of 25 March 2014 reiterated its commitment to the reform of Garda oversight and accountability, which will include the establishment of an independent Garda authority appropriate to Ireland’s needs and which will maintain appropriate democratic accountability to the Oireachtas. The Government will bring forward the full detail of its comprehensive reform proposals in the coming months following the completion of the current inquiries by Mr. Justice Cooke and Mr. Guerin, the forthcoming hearings by the Oireachtas Committee on Justice, Defence and Equality on the law relating to GSOC, and the review of the Garda Síochána which is currently under way under the Haddington Road agreement. That process will be assisted by the new Cabinet committee on justice reform, which had its first meeting on Monday.
I ask about the scope of the Guerin inquiry. On a number of occasions the shocking case of Ms Cynthia Owen has been raised in the House. The legal representative, Gerry Dunne, wrote to the Taoiseach on 24 February and I believe that correspondence has been referred to the Minister. Having listened to some of the circumstances in detail it possibly merits its own independent inquiry. Should Mr. Guerin recommend a commission of investigation, does the Minister believe the circumstances of the Cynthia Owen case could be examined under a broader independent inquiry under the commission of investigation, be it a separate one or one which emanates from the Guerin inquiry?
Separately, I received the Minister's correspondence relating to Ms Lucie O'Farrell. I put a note of thanks on the record in that regard. I have noted his response stating that he will meet her later.
The matter relating to Ms Cynthia Owen is not a matter that was referred to Mr. Guerin. I cannot and will not prejudge the outcome of the inquiry being conducted. The whole purpose was to refer the issues that were raised by Sergeant McCabe, about which the Deputy and his party leader made a variety of comment, for independent examination. Mr. Guerin will conduct that independent examination.
Regarding the very tragic background and circumstances of Ms Cynthia Owen, I believe that is the subject matter of a parliamentary question before me today. If I am not correct in that, I know for certain it is the subject of a Topical Issue debate to be taken at approximately 4.15 p.m. or 4.20 p.m. this afternoon. I will address that matter appropriately when it arises.
2. Deputy Pádraig Mac Lochlainn asked the Minister for Justice and Equality the reason he did not ensure that a replacement Minister attended the recent AGSI conference on his behalf; and his views on the reason he was not invited to the GRA conference. [19612/14]
The Minister has given a reason as to why he could not attend the AGSI conference, which is fair enough. However, why did he not send a Minister of State or another Minister to engage with the Garda sergeants and inspectors who were present? Why for the second year in a row did the Garda Representative Association not invite the Minister to attend its conference?
As the Deputy may be aware, I was not in a position to attend the AGSI conference on the evening of Monday, 14 April for personal reasons. I was also scheduled to attend a meeting in Luxembourg on Tuesday, 15 April regarding my duties as Minister for Defence. My difficulties were explained to the general secretary of the AGSI and, while he was understandably disappointed, I believe he understood the position in which I found myself. Officials from my Department attended and the question of arranging for a replacement speaker to make an address on my behalf did not arise. I also wrote to the general secretary of the AGSI expressing my regret at not being able to attend and also recording my appreciation for the service that his members and indeed all gardaí provide on a daily basis in countering crime and maintaining the security of the State.
I greatly value continued engagement with the AGSI and the other Garda representative bodies on a wide range of policing issues. In this context I have since received a very constructive letter from the general secretary of the AGSI on the case for the widest possible level of consultation on the review of the Garda Síochána, and I will carefully consider his views.
I did not receive an invitation to attend the GRA conference in Killarney this week. I did not receive an invitation to attend its conference last year either. It is of course entirely a matter for the GRA to decide whom it wishes to invite to its conference and how it should conduct its business, but again I want to make clear that I favour positive engagement with the Garda representative bodies on policing issues. I would be more than happy to meet representatives of the GRA or the other Garda associations at any time. We certainly should be able to have a frank, open and constructive discussion on policing matters, particularly at a time of significant policing reform, and I look forward to that engagement.
It is a time for review and reform in respect of An Garda Síochána and pursuant to the Haddington Road agreement issues relating to the efficiency, effectiveness, structure organisation, staffing and deployment of An Garda Síochána are being addressed. I look forward to the positive and constructive engagement of the Garda associations in that process.
The Minister said the possibility of sending a replacement Minister or Minister of State did not arise. Can he give me further information on how it did not arise? When was he invited? On what date did he receive the invite to attend the AGSI conference? When did he become aware of a clash? What arrangements could he have made to send another Minister? Apparently, many years ago, the Minister of the day could not attend but another attended in his place. Yesterday the GRA president made the point that what really got to its members was the spin where the Government announced it had put in place hundreds of new Garda vehicles, but what it did not say was that hundreds more had been taken off the road. The GRA president spoke about the fact that there was no real consultation with its members. Does the Minister agree that it is now at crisis point where not only has he not been invited to engage with the GRA for a second year in a row but when the ASGI invites him, he does not even send a replacement Minister?
I think there is a need to de-politicise the debate on Garda matters. His concern is very touching, but it is also hypocritical as he spent most of the first four months of the year denigrating members of An Garda Síochána in this House.
The Minister is the one who did that.
When interviewed yesterday on "Morning Ireland", I noted that a member of An Garda Síochána attending the GRA conference rightly criticised gardaí being used as political footballs by some Members of the House. He was clearly referencing Members opposite. I said and say again that I welcome constructive engagement with various Garda associations. Since becoming Minister, I have attended the 2012 and 2013 AGSI annual conferences. I have attended all of the annual conferences of Garda superintendents and attended one GRA conference until in the midst of the issues of controversy that arose relating to Croke Park II, it determined not to invite me. I regret that I was not invited this year. However, I draw to the Deputy's attention that in August 2012 I invited the GRA to discuss issues of mutual interest, but this invitation was not taken up. In January 2013 my Department asked by e-mail if the GRA proposed to send a request for a meeting in advance of the annual delegate meeting, but the GRA did not respond to this e-mail and, subsequently, it determined not to invite me to the conference. I met the AGSI in October 2012. Earlier this year we received a request for a meeting from it which I hope will take place in the not too distant future; therefore, I am quite happy to engage with the Garda associations on a constructive basis.
I reiterate that we are in a time of political change and, when it comes to An Garda Síochána reform and renewal, it is of particular importance that there be direct engagement. I am presuming the Garda associations will, as I know they will, all contribute to the review under the Haddington Road agreement. I will write to them to ask them to furnish to the Cabinet sub-committee dealing with justice issues which is focusing particularly on the establishment of a police authority their submissions on the creation of a police authority, its structure and powers and appointments to it. I look forward to constructive engagement in the coming months and hope each of the Garda associations will approach matters in a similar way.
After all the crises and given the problems he has caused for his colleagues in knocking on doors every day across the State, the way he has managed all of these affairs and how he has summarised the role of the Opposition as denigrating members of An Garda Síochána, at times the Minister takes no responsibility whatsoever for his mishandling of all of these affairs. It is everybody else's fault but his - everybody else is denigrating members of An Garda Síochána.
Nobody buys that. Gardaí at the coalface have lost confidence in the Minister. They have listened to the spin around efficiency, modernisation and smart policing to justify all the cutbacks and failures to engage. The situation has reached this point and still the Minister looks over at the Opposition benches to try to find blame. The Minister should look in the mirror. That is where the blame lies. He should deal with that.
The Deputy's difficulty is he cannot make up his mind, depending on which day of the week it is, whether he should come to this House and excoriate members of the Garda force or make a pretence of being supportive of members of the Garda force. In the meantime, the Deputy stayed extraordinarily quiet when one of his colleagues, who sits behind him in this House, greeted some of those members with whom his party was associated upon their release for being involved in the death of Detective Garda McCabe. The Deputy should make up his mind what the narrative is, whether he is critical on a daily basis of the gardaí, supportive of them or just willing to spin whatever line he thinks will get him on the broadcast media or get a headline. The reality is we need to take the politics out of An Garda Síochána. If there is a problem with morale, it is because of the daily onslaught in this House by members of the Opposition on members of the Garda force where there have been difficulties within the force. The Garda Inspectorate report set out those difficulties. It was a report I sought, but when the report was published, Members opposite me sought to smear every member of An Garda Síochána with having been engaged in wrongdoing, and then they accused me of behaving in a manner that impacts on the morale of the force.
I thank the Minister.
One of the great advantages of creating a police authority is that, in the atmosphere that has been created purely based on political opportunism by Opposition Members of this House, we take the Garda out of politics.
We must go on to the next question.
That is the great benefit of us putting in place legislation for a police authority.
3. Deputy Mick Wallace asked the Minister for Justice and Equality his views on whether there is adequate external oversight and monitoring of Garda covert surveillance; the steps he has taken to address the level of internally authorised surveillance by gardaí under section 7(3) of the Criminal Justice (Surveillance) Act 2009; if he will provide an itemised list of communications and-or correspondence methods that he and An Garda Síochána agree require authorisation or monitoring under the current legislation; and if, and to what extent, this includes e-mail and-or Internet and tracking devices. [19557/14]
In light of the fact that at least two of the recent Garda controversies - the Garda Síochána Ombudsman Commission bugging allegations and the Garda tapes - have their roots in Garda covert surveillance practices and, arguably, both could have been prevented or minimised if covert surveillance had been properly overseen and monitored, the Minister needs to clarify to the House the precise devices and communication methods he and the Garda believe are regulated by the relevant legislation and to provide statistics and figures to demonstrate how widespread and frequent Garda covert surveillance practice is, in particular in regard to internal approvals which are not supervised by a judge. The information is not provided in the annual report of the designated judge which was laid before the House.
I thank the Deputy.
The request for statistics does not threaten in any way or reveal any Garda methods or operations as they are general figures and do not relate to specific operations. I would appreciate it if the Minister would just answer the questions, please, and did not tell us about the legislation, because we have a good knowledge of it.
The Deputy will be aware that the legislative basis for the carrying out of covert surveillance in this State is the Criminal Justice (Surveillance) Act 2009. From the outset I should clarify that as Minister for Justice and Equality, I have no role in authorising surveillance under the provisions of the 2009 Act. Under the Act, authorisations for surveillance are granted by a judge of the District Court on application by a superior officer of An Garda Síochána, the Revenue Commissioners or the Defence Forces in circumstances described in the Act.
The Act provides that a member of the Garda Síochána, a member of the Defence Forces or an officer of the Revenue Commissioners shall carry out surveillance only in accordance with a valid authorisation. In that regard, an application for a valid authorisation must be made by a superior officer of An Garda Síochána to a judge of the District Court where the officer is of the opinion that, as part of an operation or investigation being conducted by the Garda Síochána concerning an arrestable offence, the surveillance being sought to be authorised is necessary for the purposes of obtaining information as to whether the offence has been committed or as to the circumstances relating to the commission of the offence, or obtaining evidence for the purposes of proceedings in relation to the offence; the surveillance being sought to be authorised is necessary for the purpose of preventing the commission of arrestable offences; or the surveillance being sought to be authorised is necessary for the purpose of maintaining the security of the State.
Exceptionally in accordance with section 7 of the Act, an authorisation may be granted without recourse to the District Court in very limited circumstances described in the Act where grounds of urgency exist. In this regard the designated judge appointed to oversee the operation of the Act under section 12 has noted, in his most recent report to the Taoiseach, that the specific procedures in place within An Garda Síochána for dealing with section 7 concerning urgent applications provide that the use of that section should only be availed of where an authorisation cannot be obtained from a District Court judge.
The report of the designated judge, which must be submitted on an annual basis to the Taoiseach, is laid before the Houses of the Oireachtas.
In the performance of his statutory role, the designated judge has unimpeded access to all documentation and personnel relevant to this legislation. In his most recent report, he commented favourably on his experiences in his dealings with An Garda Síochána and particularly in respect of the standard of record keeping where these matters are concerned. The designated judge concludes that the use of the legislation remains an important asset in the fight against criminal and terrorist activity.
We have heard that reply on at least two occasions previously from the Minister. He has not answered the questions that were tabled. A judgment in the Court of Criminal Appeal in January 2014 in the case of DPP v. Idah gives us one worrying example of Garda abuse of this section 7 power to internally authorise itself to undertake covert surveillance. As a result of an invalid approval provided by the garda in question in inappropriate circumstances, which were not urgent, the evidence obtained was deemed inadmissible and the conviction was quashed by the court. Has the Minister any intention of introducing legislation to reform this area and, in particular, to provide for proper oversight and monitoring to ensure the rights of citizens under the Constitution and under Article 8 of the European Convention on Human Rights, ECHR, are adequately protected? Will he consider extending these covert surveillance powers to GSOC in order that it may be on an equal investigatory footing with the Garda? The principle was set out as far back as 2001 in a British case, Jordan v. UK, taken in the European Court of Human Rights under which oversight bodies must have the same powers as those they are trying to investigate.
The big issue for the Irish Human Rights Commission, IHRC, and the Irish Council for Civil Liberties, ICCL, in the context of covert surveillance is there is not sufficient external oversight of what gardaí do. They are a law unto themselves and the current legislation provides for this. The system is open to abuse because it is not properly checked or monitored. There is no external monitoring worth talking about. The Minister needs to legislate to reform the present structure.
The Deputy is wrong when he says there is no external monitoring. I have only referenced the role of the designated judge and the reports that are published and laid before both Houses of the Oireachtas. He may also wish to note that in addition to independent judicial oversight by a designated judge of the High Court, a complaints mechanism is provided for in the legislation whereby any individual who believes he or she has been the victim of improper use of the legislation may have the complaint investigated by a complaints referee. Finally, I wish to advise him in the context of the original question he raised that there are considerable sensitivities around the provision of technical information of the nature sought by him and that it is not the practice for obvious security reasons to reveal details of equipment in use by An Garda Síochána in tackling serious crime and terrorism.
Should there be in the light of the case law of our courts any need to amend the legislation in any respect, I have no difficulty, in the context of the legislation that will clearly be required in implementing any reforms arising out of the deliberations of the Cabinet committee on justice dealing with the police authority, the deliberations of the Joint Oireachtas Committee on Justice, Defence and Equality dealing with matters relating to GSOC and the deliberations being undertaken pursuant to the Haddington Road agreement on the structure and operation of An Garda Síochána, incorporating any required reforms in a new Garda Síochána Bill that may be published later this year.
The Minister referred to the complaints referee. We do not even know if that system works. We asked how many complaints have been made under it. People cannot complain unless they know they are being bugged and they do not have access to the information that the other side has. The Minister cannot prove this system is functioning unless he gives us the statistics. We are not looking for information that will expose the Garda. The use of tracking devices under section 8 of the 2009 Act never requires external authorisation or judicial oversight. I do not think e-mail surveillance is covered by the legislation. Will the Minister confirm whether it is or not? The IHRC has said gaps in the legislation relating to Garda covert surveillance have significant implications for the protection of the right to privacy. Citizens do not know what gardaí are allowed to do in the area of surveillance.
The Government has an obligation to provide legal clarity. There is such a thing as providing legal certainty, foreseeability and accessibility for Irish citizens. Does the Minister insist on keeping people in the dark and not having any oversight or monitoring of how the force works? The force is going one way in terms of credibility with the public, which is downhill, and the Minister is not addressing the issues.
The Deputy raised issues about the complaints referee. As I said to the Deputy, the Act provides for the appointment of the complaints referee to investigate applications from persons who believe they might be the subject of an authorisation under the legislation. The Act does not require a person to know if he or she was in fact the subject of an authorisation but only that he or she might have been.
The function of the complaints referee is to investigate, unless he or she believes the application is frivolous or vexatious, whether an authorisation was used and if so whether there was contravention of the Act. Carrying out these functions the referee will have access to any relevant cases, authorisations or other documents. If the referee finds there has been a contravention he or she will notify the applicant accordingly, report the findings to the Taoiseach and may quash the authorisation and recommend the payment of compensation.
In the context of engaging in regular police work there are substantial provisions for oversight. Let me extend an invitation to the Deputy. If there are particular legislative changes he believes are required, in the context of the review now taking place and having a new Garda Síochána Bill before the House by the end of the year, I have no difficulty in inviting the Deputy to furnish to me the particular amendments he would like to see made to the legislation where he states it falls short of providing adequate oversight.
It is of particular importance to remember in the context of dealing with organised crime, gangland crime, international crime and a range of areas in the context of subversion and terrorism that An Garda Síochána has available to it the best possible technical assistance to ensure those who engage in criminality and pose a serious threat to the community and to life and limb can be fully and properly investigated, appropriate preventative action can be taken and, where a crime has been committed, matters can be fully and properly investigated.
The Deputy should never forget or lose sight of one particular issue, that ultimately one of the bastions of protection of citizens of the State are the provisions contained in the Constitution and the oversight exercised by our courts with regard to these matters. Should the Garda fail to properly comply with powers conferred on it and violate people's constitutional rights the courts provide substantial oversight to ensure the protection of citizens in the country. On occasions this has been lost sight of in the debates which have taken place.
That is a serious exaggeration. They are a law unto themselves.
4. Deputy Niall Collins asked the Minister for Justice and Equality the steps he has taken to counter the recent surge in gangland shootings. [19468/14]
Will the Minister comment on the ongoing scourge of gangland crime which is having a huge effect on society? Apart from the fact that those involved are taking each other out in broad daylight, often in front of children, it impacts along the food chain. We see the activities taking place on O'Connell Street in Dublin, on the Luas and along the boardwalk, including drug dealing. It goes down along the criminality food chain emanating from gangland. In addition, we had another example in my constituency this week in Kildimo on the N69 in County Limerick, where a body was thrown from a car in broad daylight and unfortunately the car coming along behind it rolled over it. Will the Minister comment on where we are going?
I can assure the Deputy that violent and organised crime is being tackled aggressively by An Garda Síochána with all necessary resources deployed to the investigation and prosecution of those involved. While any shooting incident, or an incident such as that the Deputy illustrated, is a cause of great concern, to speak of a surge is misleading and alarmist in the context of falling crime rates, which the Deputy chooses to ignore, and the ongoing impact the Garda is having on organised crime. In particular, the organised criminal activity which gives rise to this violence is being targeted by An Garda Síochána across a number of fronts, including through the use of focused intelligence-led operations by specialist units such as the serious and organised crime unit and the work of the Criminal Assets Bureau.
While the challenges posed by gangland and organised crime remain clear to all, week in week out An Garda Síochána is making arrests and bringing persons before the courts with substantial sentences handed down in many instances. In recent weeks, there have been significant outcomes from a number of Garda operations against criminal gangs including a carefully planned and co-ordinated strike to dismantle a major drugs gang, which led to the arrest of nine persons and the seizure of drugs with an estimated value of more than €5 million.
These law enforcement operations are underpinned by a comprehensive framework of criminal law measures that are being fully utilised by An Garda Síochána. I have, however, made it clear repeatedly that I will look positively at any legislative suggestions the Garda Commissioner may wish to make that would render the efforts more effective. I also draw Members' attention to the legislation currently before the Oireachtas to provide for the establishment of a DNA database to assist the Garda Síochána in tackling crime. This is an initiative of huge significance and will substantially assist the Garda in the investigation of a wide range of crimes, including homicide and firearms offences.
The crime figures show that those involved in criminal gangs are being opposed robustly. I am determined that these efforts will be vigorously maintained and the Government and I will continue to provide every possible support to An Garda Síochána to confront criminals and keep communities safe.
While I am the first to acknowledge that the Garda is doing a tremendous job in this area, unfortunately the level is too high. It must be kept as a priority and Members must keep a focus on it in this Chamber. In his reply, the Minister made reference to the Garda Commissioner and he earlier referred to the fact that the new Cabinet sub-committee has met. Leadership of An Garda Síochána, in this area in particular, is most relevant and with regard to the recruitment process for the Garda Commissioner, it was announced in this Chamber that it would be an open competition. The Minister should outline when it will commence. The Minister also stated it would be worldwide. Who will conduct the search and who will screen the applications? Who will conduct the interviews and when will the appointment be made? The leading person in the Garda Síochána in the fight against gangland crime and all crime obviously is the Garda Commissioner. Can the Minister provide Members with information on the recruitment process? In an allied issue I have raised with the Minister previously regarding the current vacancies at deputy commissioner and assistant commissioner level, that interviews were held in which the former Garda Commissioner was central. Does this interview process still stand as valid? In other words, will the recommendations of that interview process still hold or will it be conducted subsequent to the recruitment of a new Garda Commissioner?
The issues the Deputy raises are separate matters from the question he has tabled to me. The context of the question he has tabled to me deals with the issue of homicides. While even one homicide is one too many and consequently, none of us ever should be complacent in those areas, it is interesting to consider the background reality, that is, the context of the alarmist presentation the Deputy makes. As the Deputy is aware, in 12 out of the 14 crime categories, the level of crime has fallen on an annualised basis and is down on a year-on-year basis. This applies equally in the context of homicides generally. It is worth noting that in 2006, there were 138 homicides in the State while in the annual period ending 31 December 2013, there were 80 homicides in the State. There has been a considerable reduction in the numbers of homicides. This is not to state that any homicide or any murder of any individual is acceptable, even if it occurs in respect of individuals who are known to be engaged in criminality. While the Garda investigates these matters to great effect, as the Deputy is aware there are considerable difficulties in the context of dealing with gangland crime. There are gangs engaged in this State in the drug trade that are at war with one another. There are subversive organisations that have fragmented and that are at war with one another and, as a consequence and tragically, life is being lost. However, the Garda is committed to and dedicated to investigating each and every such event. However, I implore the Deputy to please not be alarmist and opportunistic in this area for political reasons.
Thank you Minister.
It is unfair and unfairly alarming to the public to make the type of presentation the Deputy repetitively makes, which suggests that crime is on the increase and murders are rampant. The reality is there has been an enormous reduction in homicides between 2006 and 2013. Moreover, there has been a substantial reduction in every area of crime when it is examined in the context of the very statistics that are being produced.
I thank the Minister and will come back to him.
In the two areas I have mentioned in which there has been an increase, it has been of an extremely small nature.
Sorry, Minister, I must call Deputy Niall Collins now.
Not that any particular crime is acceptable but could we get away from the alarmist political rhetoric?
While we will come back to the Minister, let us make some progress.
The Minister is again reverting to type and he is trying to play the man rather than the issue. The business community in this town has extended an invitation to the Minister to step out of his ivory tower, to walk down O'Connell Street and the side streets off O'Connell Street, to take a trip on the Luas, to walk along the boardwalk and to witness what is going on. There is no point in being in denial about it and trying to throw it back at me by saying that I am being alarmist. I am articulating what I have been told factually and I am not making it up. The Minister may quote statistics and I agree they are trending in the right direction. He should move away from trying to play politics with the issue. He should come out of his ivory tower, step out of his Department and bring some of his officials with him, the guys who would not go down and talk to the GRA. He should step out into the real world and take a look at it. He might educate himself and he might come to realise that what we are saying is the case. We are not playing politics with the issue and we are legitimately raising it here.
My question to the Minister about the recruitment process for the Garda Commissioner is linked and is relevant. I will ask him another related question about gangland behaviour because members of An Garda Síochána are targeted. A bomb was laid at the door of a garda in Leitrim. Members of An Garda Síochána have been assaulted. The GRA has reported up to 1,000 assaults. My party tabled a Bill to provide for a minimum mandatory sentence of five years for anyone who seriously assaults an emergency worker and the Government rejected the Bill. The Minister said at the time that the Government intended to bring forward proposals. What will the Minister do to protect the Garda Síochána against assaults by gangland people and figures and by those engaged in criminality?
In response to the last issue raised by the Deputy, everyone recognises the dangers that can be faced by members of An Garda Síochána in the line of duty and the risks they undertake. Unfortunately, this has been an issue for members of An Garda Síochána since the foundation of the force. The criminal law includes specific legislation to deal with assaults or threats to assault emergency workers, including gardaí, and this is contained in section 19 of the Criminal Justice (Public Order) Act 1994. Strong penalties are provided for these offences, including fines and prison terms of up to 12 months on summary conviction and up to seven years on indictment. This is worth noting in the context of these provisions.
The CSO figures for the number of recorded instances of offences under section 19 against all emergency workers was 330 in 2012 and 309 in 2011. Not all such instances would be recorded as section 19 offences. It is important that the risks faced by gardaí are managed and mitigated through appropriate operational procedures and supported by training and effective equipment. I assure the Deputy that these concerns are fully appreciated and subject to ongoing monitoring and development by the Garda Commissioner and her management team. Specific operational arrangements are a matter for the Garda Commissioner in the first instance.
5. Deputy Pádraig Mac Lochlainn asked the Minister for Justice and Equality the action he has taken in relation to the Ms Sophie Toscan du Plantier case since the Supreme Court refused to extradite Mr. Ian Bailey to France to face questions. [19613/14]
In late 2012, the 44-page report by the Director of Public Prosecutions was provided to Ian Bailey's legal team. On the basis of the report and other matters, the Supreme Court adjudicated that he should not be extradited to France. We have since learned that tapes have emerged as part of a discovery order and these tapes are damning and very serious. They will form part of the Fennelly commission of investigation. I ask the Minister to state what action he has taken since early 2013 when the Supreme Court refused to extradite Ian Bailey.
As the Deputy knows, mutual legal assistance provides for states to seek and afford assistance in relation to matters which are the subject of criminal investigations or proceedings. This assistance is usually sought and provided on a confidential basis, as any public comment relating to a request for assistance may prejudice or impair the investigation giving rise to the making of a request. However, in this instance, given that a certain amount of information is already in the public domain, I think it appropriate to make some comment in the matter. While the European arrest warrant proceedings were before the Supreme Court, on 25 October 2012, the Office of the Director of Public Prosecutions wrote to the central authority of my Department enclosing a copy of an analysis prepared in the DPP's office of the evidence gathered in the investigation and directions in the matter from November 2001.
This matter was raised immediately with the Attorney General, who advised that copies of the documentation should be furnished to both the legal representatives of Mr. Ian Bailey and the French authorities, and this was done. Separately, on 4 November, the Director of Public Prosecutions, at the request of the Attorney General, forwarded some other records to Mr. Bailey's legal representatives. At the request of the DPP's office, the central authority forwarded this documentation to the French authorities. I was subsequently informed that, prior to the completion of the European arrest warrant proceedings before the Supreme Court, the documentation in question had formed the basis of a complaint on Mr. Bailey's behalf to the Garda Síochána Ombudsman Commission. It was not necessary for me, therefore, to use my powers to refer the material to the commission on the conclusion of the Supreme Court case as it was my understanding that the matter was already before it.
I should also mention the issue of assistance being afforded to the French authorities in the investigation they are carrying out into the death of Ms du Plantier. This has been provided on an ongoing basis in the light of Ireland's legal obligations, reflected in various international co-operation instruments and domestic legislation. The French authorities have sought further assistance and this is under consideration at present. Correspondence has been received from the legal representatives of a person regarding the continued provision of mutual legal assistance in this case. The French authorities were informed in early April, including through correspondence between me and my French counterpart, that material - the tapes to which the Deputy referred - had emerged in the context of a related civil case. Given these circumstances, legal advice has been sought on the request for further assistance.
I assure the House that should new evidence come to light in relation to the brutal and tragic killing of Ms du Plantier, it will be pursued fully. The Deputy will also be aware that the Garda investigation into her death is part of the terms of reference in the commission of investigation to be conducted by Mr. Justice Fennelly.
After the Supreme Court made its ruling, the Minister stated publicly that he would consult the Attorney General on the matter. On three subsequent occasions, the legal representatives of Mr. Ian Bailey corresponded with the Minister on the failure of An Garda Síochána to fully co-operate with the Garda Síochána Ombudsman Commission in respect of documentation. As the Minister is aware, a similar issue arose the following year when the Garda Síochána Ombudsman Commission expressed grave reservations in its public interest investigation into what became known as the Kieran Boylan affair. The Minister subsequently pulled together the Garda Commissioner and Garda Síochána Ombudsman Commission and introduced new protocols for co-operation. Why did he not take similar action in the Ian Bailey case when Mr. Bailey's legal representatives raised these matters with him the previous year? The Minister stated at that point that he would consult the Attorney General. When the Attorney General learned of the tapes in the Ian Bailey case in November 2013, why did she not immediately inform the Minister about them?
I assure the Deputy that at all stages I dealt appropriately with matters relating to Mr. Bailey in the context of both information that was furnished prior to the hearing of the Supreme Court and where matters stood thereafter. I dealt with the matter as was appropriate and correct in the context of the legal position. I will not reprise matters now that will be fully dealt with in the commission of inquiry that is being conducted.
I note that the Minister failed to answer both my questions, neither of which is immediately relevant to the Fennelly commission of investigation. According to media reports, the French authorities with an interest in the Bailey case have requested permission to visit Ireland again. I understand the Minister has received correspondence from Mr. Bailey's legal representatives which sets out three grounds on which he should refuse the request. They also ask that the Minister respond by outlining his position on the matter. Is it not outrageous that a damning critique is available which tears apart the Garda investigation and shows no evidence that Mr. Ian Bailey was connected to the tragic murder of Ms du Plantier? I refer to evidence from the Office of the Director of Public Prosecutions and a decision by our highest court, the Supreme Court. Despite this, the Department continues to defend a case and will not give an assurance that the request by the French authorities will be refused.
If this were permitted, it would show contemptible disrespect for our criminal justice system. Will the Minister state categorically that he will not permit the French authorities to come into this jurisdiction, considering all that has emerged about this case and is in the public domain?
The Deputy is being disingenuous. I have already explained to him that within days of the document from the DPP - that apparently was created in 2001 - becoming known to me and becoming available, it was furnished to both Mr. Bailey’s lawyers and to the French authorities. The French authorities are aware of the content of that document. I explained to the Deputy in my initial response that the State has certain legal obligations with regard to matters that arise in the context of the form of investigation being conducted by the French authorities. I have explained to the Deputy that, in light of developments that have taken place and in the context of correspondence I have received, legal advice is being sought. I have to act as a Minister lawfully with accordance with legal advice that is furnished to me.
I am also conscious, as the Deputy is aware, that matters relating to the manner in which An Garda Síochána dealt with issues concerning Mr. Bailey are before GSOC, the Garda Síochána Ombudsman Commission. There are also civil proceedings, taken by Mr. Bailey, currently before the courts. Accordingly, I cannot say anything in this House that impacts or impinges on those proceedings. I assure the Deputy that I am conscious of all the issues he has raised. I have to act as Minister on legal advice that I obtain. I have sought legal advice and am awaiting receipt of it with regard to the correspondence most recently received and referenced by the Deputy.