Other Questions

Corrib Gas Field

Mick Wallace

Question:

6. Deputy Mick Wallace asked the Minister for Justice and Equality in view of the renewed concerns and requests of Afri and Archbishop Desmond Tutu regarding policing issues in Corrib and the wider examination of police accountability issues here, if he will now order an independent inquiry in this regard in view of the fact that he has already refused in December 2013 to exercise his ministerial power to order a practice, policies and procedures GSOC review under section 106 of the Garda Síochána Act 2005. [19268/14]

The last time I raised this issue in the House in December 2013, the Minister denigrated citizens exercising their legal and constitutional right to protest at the Corrib gas project as tourist protestors intent on sabotaging jobs. Archbishop Desmond Tutu does not share the Minister’s opinion in this regard. He, along with the former UN assistant secretary general Denis Halliday and Afri, have recently called again for an urgent and comprehensive independent inquiry into the policing of the Corrib gas project. Will the Minister finally bow to political public pressure and order an independent GSOC inquiry under section 106 of the Garda Síochána Act 2005 or will he wait until the matter escalates into another full-blown wholesale fiasco as he did with the penalty points and other issues?

The Deputy can never resist the opportunity to be personal.

I have never been personal yet, unlike the Minister himself.

Significant protest activity over a number of years has occurred in the north Mayo area connected with the development of an important natural resource. This has necessitated the temporary redeployment of large numbers of gardaí, including specially trained personnel, from throughout the western region into the Belmullet district. It is deeply regrettable that so much Garda resources have to be tied up in the policing of protest activity at this location. However, this is absolutely necessary in view of the actions of some of the protestors, many of whom, as I have said previously, are not from the area and engage in acts of public disorder, as well as damage to property. Indeed between 2011 and 2013, 38 defendants were brought before the courts for public order offences, criminal damage and assault on gardaí. Such actions cannot be tolerated. The aim of the policing measures in place is to prevent public order offences and to ensure people can go about their lawful business.

Regarding my powers under section 106 of the Garda Síochána Act 2005, I must point out that GSOC has investigated 124 complaints against members of the force arising from policing at this location and that other matters remain under investigation by it. The Deputy may wish to note, however, that in excess of 100 of these complaints have either been found by GSOC to be inadmissible or not to have disclosed breaches of discipline on the part of the members complained of. Those that did indicate a breach of discipline on the part of the Garda member concerned related to the behaviour of the individual member rather than practices, policies or procedures within An Garda Síochána. Given these circumstances, I do not see a necessity for an independent inquiry into the policing operation in north County Mayo.

The total cost of policing these protests has now reached in excess of €16 million. This does not include the significant cost of the basic salaries of the members of An Garda Síochána who have performed duties at the Corrib gas project as these arise in the normal course. Such expenditure comes at a time of economic difficulty for the State and when such resources could be put to far better use elsewhere.

We can talk about the cost of it - we would all prefer if there were no costs - but that is a separate issue. GSOC is currently involved in a section 98 investigation into the delivery of alcohol to Belmullet Garda station in 2007. Section 106 was drafted to address the precise type of systemic policing issues relating to practices, policies and procedures that have arisen in Corrib. Rank and file gardaí would get due process and fair procedures under a section 106 investigation. Individual gardaí would not run the risk of being scapegoated for implementing the aggressive and targeted policing policy that is being pursued in Corrib. The policy to which I refer was decided on at a much more senior level within the Garda and the political structure. A section 106 investigation is the only type of investigation that has the potential to get to the bottom of this issue at all levels of the force. There is no point in hanging the foot soldiers. The decision makers who sent decent gardaí to behave in a poor and aggressive manner need to be held to account. Only a section 106 investigation will do that.

It seems the Deputy is generally in favour of hanging everyone who does not share his opinions on various issues. The Garda Síochána Act 2005 sets out the various mechanisms that are available to examine or inquire into malpractice in the Garda. As the Deputy knows, GSOC can initiate an investigation of a general nature if it considers it appropriate to do so. As I have indicated to the Deputy previously, the Garda has passed the allegations relating to alcohol to GSOC, which is entirely independent in the context of investigating these matters. It is not for me to express a view on the various public comments that have been made about policing in this area. All I can say to the Deputy, who dismissively said that money does not matter, is that Garda expenditure of €16 million on overtime matters considerably.

Deputy Mac Lochlainn spoke earlier about Garda resources. In the three years prior to my appointment as Minister, the outgoing Government contributed €5 million towards the purchase of Garda vehicles. During the three years I have spent as Minister, we have made €18 million available for the purchase of Garda vehicles. We could purchase twice as many vehicles for the Garda Síochána if it were not necessary to maintain a continuing Garda security operation at this location.

The Deputy mentioned complaints that have been made about misbehaviour or alleged misconduct by members of the Garda force. As the Deputy knows from the information I have given, a substantial number of complaints have been considered by GSOC. A great many of them have not been upheld. If GSOC's investigation of a complaint validates the allegation of misconduct, I am sure GSOC will reach that conclusion. More than any of us, GSOC has an insight into the nature of what is being alleged against members of the Garda Síochána. GSOC could initiate a general inquiry under section 102 if it determined that such an inquiry was appropriate, but it has not sought to do that.

I will conclude by mentioning that when the Deputy comes into this House, he constantly throws out a whole range of allegations. The complaints that have been made substantially relate to the rank and file members of the force whom the Deputy pretends to wish to protect in this House. The Deputy should substantiate or withdraw the wide-ranging allegation he has made against senior members of the Garda force with regard to the tactics being deployed at Corrib.

Deputies Daly and Mac Lochlainn want to ask questions. I appeal to Deputy Wallace to be brief because we do not want to run out of time.

No problem. The Minister seems to love misquoting me. I did not say €16 million did not matter - I said it was "a separate issue". The Minister has loved misquoting me for nearly two years now. Can the Minister explain why GSOC asked to be allowed to investigate the Corrib issues under section 106? Can he tell me why 111 complaints were received from one area? He has said that most of them were inadmissible. In how many of these cases did gardaí investigate themselves? All of this keeps going back to the lack of oversight and proper monitoring of any kind of external opinion.

While out of one side of his mouth the Minister says GSOC is wonderful, he keeps undermining and challenging it and refusing to allow it the extra power to use section 106 to investigate practices, policies and procedures. The Minister is limiting GSOC. It is he who cowed it into backing down on the bugging allegations with his outrageous misreporting.

The Minister's response is incredibly poor. It is typical that he has circled the wagons. Although he said he did not want to comment on public order, that is precisely what he did. His answer was completely one-sided on the protestors. He said nothing about the alcohol situation. Could the Minister address the fact that alcohol delivery by a business and Shell to gardaí is being investigated now but has already been the subject of two internal Garda inquiries, which reported that there was no case to answer? The only reason it is being investigated now, despite the fact that the evidence was given to the Department a long time ago, is that an English journalist has put the spotlight on the situation. Again, external pressures are the lever to call the Minister and the Garda to account rather than a genuine question of reform.

Deputy Mac Lochlainn has a brief question.

I am concerned at having three different questions. Perhaps we could give Deputy Mac Lochlainn a little extra time and I can respond to Deputies Wallace and Daly.

I can only regard Deputy Wallace's onslaught as of a regular nature. I missed it over the couple of weeks of the Easter break. There is always an onslaught, drama and allegations about all sorts of things. However, his onslaught about GSOC is extraordinary considering Deputies Wallace and Clare Daly delivered to my Department last October a series of complaints against 24 individuals, mostly concerning the manner in which GSOC had dealt with a broad range of complaints it had received.

The Minister did not give GSOC the power to deal with them.

Let the Deputy not accuse me in this House of undermining GSOC when he is running around the place with a series of complaints about the manner in which GSOC has dealt with complaints. Let us have some honesty about these issues.

That is the problem.

On the specific question the two Deputies raised, GSOC has investigated approximately 124 complaints against members of the force arising from the policing of the Shell to Sea protest. Of these complaints, GSOC deemed 37 to be inadmissible. That left 87 admissible cases of which 85 are closed. The following is a breakdown of 57 complaints directly linked to the Shell to Sea protest. There were 33 allegations of assault; 17 cases of abuse of authority; three of discreditable conduct; two of discourtesy; and two of neglect of duty. The remaining 30 complaints do not appear to relate directly to the protest, for example, a person driving home having participated in a protest at the Corrib gas site who was stopped by a garda and who subsequently made a complaint about the manner in which he or she was dealt with. There were no adverse findings in these cases. Some seven files out of the 124 were forwarded to the DPP for consideration, and the DPP directed no prosecution in all seven. These are all GSOC investigations. Disciplinary proceedings were recommended in 16 cases under section 95 of the Garda Síochána Act 2005.

How many were investigated internally?

There was one adverse finding as a result of which the member received advice.

By any objective analysis, the policing of the Corrib gas debacle was a sad episode in the history of the Garda Síochána. Many of the people of Erris suffered during that period for standing up and confronting a profound injustice to the people of that community and this State in terms of the revenue that was obtained from it. The Minister is aware that the UN special rapporteur on human rights, Archbishop Desmond Tutu, among many others, is part of an increasing call for an investigation into these matters. GSOC found that the superintendent in charge should face disciplinary measures. The Garda Commissioner failed to enact that, without any explanation.

We are considering GSOC powers and looking to amend the Garda Síochána legislation, which is coming before the Oireachtas Committee on Justice, Defence and Equality, so does the Minister believe it appropriate for complaints to be investigated by officers who have served with other officers under investigation? Is it appropriate for GSOC to refer complaints to officers who have served with officers under investigation? Would the Minister recommend that this be changed with the ongoing reviews?

It is open to GSOC to determine whether it should investigate a complaint or use the mechanisms provided under the Garda Síochána Act 2005 to ask that a designated officer of An Garda Síochána investigate the complaint. This is a matter on which GSOC, as an independent investigative oversight authority, makes decisions. It is not for me to interfere in its independent oversight, and if I criticised individual decisions of that nature, either Deputy Mac Lochlainn or Deputy Niall Collins would accuse me of undermining the independence of GSOC.

GSOC makes those decisions. In the context of the review of the Oireachtas Joint Committee on Justice, Defence and Equality, there are a range of worthwhile reforms which could be made regarding statutory revisions in respect of GSOC. It was created under the Garda Síochána Act 2005 and we have almost nine years of experience of GSOC's operations. I look forward with expectation to what the Joint Committee on Justice, Defence and Equality may propose. One of the key issues is whether GSOC would conduct all the investigations that arise when it receives a complaint. It is an issue that is not divorced from the matter of resources and the number of individuals who may be employed by the commission to investigate matters. I invite the committee in its consideration to estimate the financial implications for resources of making such a proposal in light of financial circumstances in which the State remains. In an ideal world I would agree with the Deputy, as it would be preferable for all investigations of complaints to be conducted by a body with oversight. That is not what the statutory provision provides for, but ultimately it is for GSOC to determine which complaints it has received pursuant to the statutory provisions it should investigate and which complaints it should request to be investigated by a member of the force.

Thank you. We must get to the next question.

I have a final important comment. When GSOC receives the result of an investigation, that is not the end of the matter. It is open to GSOC, under statutory provisions, to request that a matter be further examined or to raise issues regarding the outcome of any such investigation. It is not that GSOC gets a result and it is the end of the matter.

I must call Deputy Daly.

GSOC exercises an oversight of those investigations, which is frequently forgotten in the context of this issue.

Proposed Legislation

Clare Daly

Question:

7. Deputy Clare Daly asked the Minister for Justice and Equality in view of the fact that a number of civil actions being taken against News International refer in detail to hacked material being sourced by their Dublin office, if he has any plans to introduce legislation to ensure that hacking and blagging by any media operation based in Ireland will result in serious penalties. [10847/14]

The background to this question is the Leveson inquiry in Britain, which was the British response to the very serious issues of phone hacking and information being obtained by media outlets in a manner which breached privacy and caused major concern. It is acknowledged at this stage that large amounts of the hacked material were either sent to or commissioned from News International's Dublin office. In light of that, what will the Minister or his Department do to investigate these very serious concerns and protect Irish citizens?

I am, of course, aware in general terms of information which is in the public domain relating to the organisation named and which I understand to have been the subject of a public inquiry and also criminal prosecutions in the United Kingdom. Such a prosecution is still taking place and it would be entirely inappropriate for me to comment on matters which are the subject of proceedings, either civil or criminal, in another jurisdiction. If the Deputy has any information regarding unlawful activity in this jurisdiction, the appropriate course of action is for her to furnish that information to the Garda Síochána, which can then properly assess and act on it, as appropriate.

With regard to future legislation, a criminal justice Bill is included in the Government's legislative programme which will transpose EU Directive 2013/40/EU on attacks against information systems.

The Bill will create a range of offences to protect information systems and data from illegal access and interference. The definition of ‘information system’ in the directive is extremely wide and will encompass modern communications systems. The directive also provides for the liability of bodies corporate in relation to the offences created.

The Bill is at an advanced stage of preparation and I hope to be in a position to publish it in the autumn.

I am a little bit shocked at the Minister’s flippant response to a very serious situation. He should be aware that shortly after he took office the “Panorama” programme furnished serious information which revealed, without any question or doubt, that substantial amounts of information were emanating from the Dublin offices of News International. The office was presided over by a Ukrainian individual, Alex Marunchak, who had MI5 clearance and operated with MI6. He was very close to Fianna Fáil and the previous Government.

This individual is now the subject of criminal charges of phone hacking in Britain. The evidence is unequivocal that he has employed a network of hackers to gain information illegally to be presented in a slanted way, and, in the Irish context, a politically motivated way, targeting Mary McAleese and Peter Hain. If the Minister does not think it is a matter for investigation that this news outlet operated in this city, around the corner from Leinster House, and had very close relationships with the previous Government, particularly Bertie Ahern’s Administration, he needs to look more deeply into it because these matters involve massive breaches of privacy. The Minister must contrast his non-response with the response of the British Government in that regard.

The Deputy constantly confuses the investigative and operational roles of An Garda Síochána and my role as Minister for Justice and Equality. I am advised the Garda received no complaint regarding the matters the Deputy raises.

I take with great seriousness the breach by any news media of individuals’ privacy, and any action that could detrimentally impact on the lives of individuals, particularly where the information is false or is obtained and contrived to be put into a narrative to do individuals down. I take that with the greatest of seriousness, as I do, in particular, aspects of information that might impact on people’s private family life, or tragedies that occur in their lives.

In the context of matters being criminally prosecuted in Britain I will not say anything – and I ask the Deputy to be cautious in how she articulates these matters in this House – that could prejudice issues before the British courts, and which could be interpreted as so doing, to the benefit of individuals who are facing serious criminal charges. I will not say anything in this House that could be so interpreted.

If there are issues of illegality and if there is an investigation that An Garda Síochána should conduct in this context, a formal complaint needs to be made to the Garda. If the English authorities are investigating issues effectively, with the result that appropriate individuals are being brought before the courts it is for the Garda to determine whether to leave these matters to the British police or if there are matters to be investigated separately in this jurisdiction.

If the Deputy has information about News International or any media outlet in this State infiltrating the telecommunications systems, e-mail or telephone, of any individual in this State I ask her to furnish it to me and I will furnish it to the Garda and request that it consider the matter with a view to its investigation.

I have no problem in doing that but we did furnish information to the Minister about Travellers going on the PULSE system over six weeks ago and have not received a reply from him. I will furnish this information. It is not my understanding that no complaint has been made. Very serious information has been given to the relevant authorities.

It is without dispute in my mind. The Minister is deliberately confusing matters because we are saying without fear of contradiction this individual, who is before the courts in Britain, was a well-known figure in media circles in Dublin. He was known to the Garda special branch and connected with senior politicians and alleged security journalists. He had a string of informants who were also used by the Garda. It is relevant to ask for an examination of News International's database here, including its payments records, for details of who was paid and who was hacked, and to establish the nature of the relationship between News International and its informants. There is a crossover with Garda informants and it is relevant to ask whether or how the Garda was involved in this.

I am delighted that the Minister wants the information because he will get it, although I am surprised he asked because I think his Department already has the information.

The Deputy is addicted to conspiracy theories. I have a particular view of the world, which is that if an illegality takes place of a criminal nature, it should be investigated by An Garda Síochána if the illegality is clearly a criminal offence in this jurisdiction. I have a simple view of the world. I do not know why the Deputy thinks my view is more complex than that.

Why has it taken six weeks to get information?

If the Deputy is suggesting, without substantive evidence, that An Garda Síochána should simply present to the offices of the print media and demand access to all of their computers and information, and violate the print media's right to freedom of expression, to write articles and to report information, I would disagree with her. We have seen in Britain, and rightly so, that an effective investigation into conduct that was outrageous produced a detailed report, with which I am sure the Deputy is familiar, in regard to the manner in which the privacy of public and private individuals was invaded. These are different issues and if the Deputy is in a position to furnish substantive evidence of criminality in this jurisdiction, I will pass it on to An Garda Síochána. She is clearly aware of the fact that prosecutions are currently before the courts in the United Kingdom and I am going to say nothing that might in any way prejudice the outcome of those prosecutions.

I regret that Members are not staying within Standing Orders. If they want to change Standing Orders, I would only be delighted to facilitate them.

Proposed Legislation

Bernard Durkan

Question:

8. Deputy Bernard J. Durkan asked the Minister for Justice and Equality the extent of the progress to date in preparation of legislation to amend the law in respect of bail with particular reference to the need to ensure the eliminating of situations whereby persons reoffend while on bail; and if he will make a statement on the matter. [19272/14]

This question relates to the need to update the legislation appertaining to the availability of bail, which is predicated on a judicial decision from the 1960s. I ask whether preparations are in hand, or are likely to be put in place in the near future, to bring amending legislation before the House.

The drafting of the general scheme of a bail Bill to modernise the law on bail is at an advanced stage in my Department. I intend to bring proposals to Government on the matter in the first half of this year, if possible, having regard to other legislative priorities. It has unfortunately not been possible to progress this legislation as quickly as I had hoped due to other legislative imperatives.

A decision to grant bail in a particular case is a matter for the courts which are, subject only to the Constitution and the law, independent in the exercise of their judicial functions. There is a constitutional presumption in favour of bail because in the eyes of the law a person is innocent until proven guilty. The provisions of the European Convention on Human Rights also restrict the extent to which the right to bail can be limited. Of particular importance is section 2 of the Bail Act 1997, which gave effect to the Sixteenth Amendment to the Constitution and provides for the refusal of bail to a person charged with a serious offence where it is reasonably considered necessary to prevent the commission of a serious offence by that person. In exercising its jurisdiction under section 2 of the Act, a court is required to take into account any conviction of the accused person for an offence committed while he or she was on bail. In addition, section 6 of the Act provides that every bail recognisance is subject to the condition that the accused person shall not commit an offence while on bail.

I am conscious of public concern about the extent to which offences are committed by persons on bail. I share that concern and believe that bail law must be continually reviewed to ensure that all possible avenues are taken to protect the public against the commission of crime, particularly serious crime, by persons on bail. While the primary aim of the proposed bail Bill is to consolidate and update bail law, I am taking the opportunity in this legislation to seek, as far as is possible within the constraints of the Constitution and the jurisprudence of the European Court of Human Rights, to restructure the law so that it has a focus on the protection of the individual and of the public. The intention is that the new proposals will provide better guidance to the courts on how such protection might be provided.

I thank the Minister for his reply. Does he accept there is general concern about the adequacy of bail laws to do the job for which they were intended, particularly in the context of modern crime and the degree to which organised criminals appear to be able to circumnavigate the bail laws? Is his Department concerned about the degree to which people who are on bail have managed to reoffend, in some cases more than twice?

To give the Deputy a straight answer to his final question, there is concern within my Department. I have concerns about the number of occasions on which some individuals find themselves before the courts while they are on bail pending the hearing of their cases. There are individuals who commit a series of offences between the time they are first charged and granted bail and when they are finally prosecuted. The courts have within their armoury mechanisms for dealing with that issue because it is also frequently the case that subsequent prosecutions are initiated against individuals who have offended while on bail prior to their first charge being determined. The courts have within their armoury the possibility of imposing consecutive sentences rather than concurrent sentences. This is a matter for judicial discretion. The courts are independent in the manner in which they approach these issues. Some people take the view that if the Judiciary used the option of consecutive sentencing more frequently where individuals commit offences while on bail, it might reduce the incentive for some individuals to continue to offend. However, that is a matter for the courts and the Judiciary, which is independent in making these decisions. It is a matter for judges to consider when dealing with individual cases involving a multiplicity of prosecutions against individuals who have committed alleged offences while in the community on bail.

I ask the Minister whether it might be concluded that bail should not be made available in certain circumstances, particularly where the history of a case indicates an abuse of the bail system.

There are certain restraints under the Constitution and the European Convention on Human Rights. The fact that someone has previously abused his or her position while on bail, as I understand it, cannot under our constitutional system and the European Court of Human Rights lead a court automatically to the conclusion that he or she should be automatically denied bail if charged at a later stage because it is assumed he or she would again offend while on bail. We are examining the bail laws with a view to deciding what we can do within the constitutional parameters and the jurisprudence of the European Court of Human Rights to ensure those who offend while on bail are not given an incentive at a later stage, should they be criminally prosecuted, to commit a series of offences on being granted bail a second time. However, there are constitutional and human rights constraints in these areas and there is a narrow dividing line along which we can operate. I hope we will be able to address some of these issues in a satisfactory way when the new Bill is published.

Written Answers follow Adjournment.