I thank all Deputies who contributed to the debate on the report by Mr. Seán Guerin into the actions taken in relation to the allegations made by Sergeant McCabe. It has been a wide-ranging debate. Many Deputies have commented on the challenges of the current situation. I accept that there are many. Issues of morale have been raised. I agree it is important that morale within An Garda Síochána is strong and that this is a challenge at this time.
Some of the narrative we have heard this evening and some of the assumptions being made about events are premature. Issues raised in the Guerin report are being referred to the commission of investigation, where everybody will have his or her say and all sides will be heard. That is what a commission of investigation is about. It is about hearing all sides and everybody having his or her say. As stated by Mr. Guerin, his report does not contain findings of fact. However, it is an important report which has led to the Government decision to establish a commission of investigation. All of the issues raised in the Guerin report, of which there are many, have been referred to that commission, including 11 of the 12 cases examined by Mr. Guerin, issues with regard to the management of the Garda Síochána and others. Everything that Mr. Guerin has suggested should be referred to a commission will be referred to it. As I said, the purpose of the commission of investigation that is being established is to hear all sides of the story.
The Government takes seriously what is in the Guerin report. For this reason, a range of actions and initiatives will follow. I take Deputy Cowen's point that we do not have to wait for the end result of the commission of investigation in order to implement change. That is true. The interim Garda Commissioner, the Department and I have work to do as we await the outcome of the commission of investigation. There is no question of that. I have taken note of the range of individual cases mentioned by a number of Deputies this evening. It is extremely important that the details of the cases raised by Deputies Creed and Healy-Rae are forwarded to the Department and the other relevant authorities who can deal with the allegations.
There are appropriate organisations and there are examination procedures in place. I will be examining and discussing mechanisms to ensure some of the cases raised in the House can be investigated further in a variety of ways.
I thank everyone who has contributed. I have listened carefully to what Members have had to say. I will take on board, in so far as I can, the various suggestions made by Deputies as I proceed with the programme of criminal justice reform which is now under way.
Everyone who read the report by Mr. Guerin would agree that reform is necessary and urgent. While the report does not make findings of fact, it concludes there are wide-ranging concerns in regard to the way in which serious allegations made by Sergeant McCabe were investigated.
There has been considerable discussion tonight about whistleblowers. Clearly, Mr. Guerin makes very insightful comments on whistleblowers, and his pertinent points were quoted in detail by number of Deputies tonight. I have said before that, as a society, we are developing in a much more coherent way our responses to whistleblowers. Organisations have a lot to learn about the best management of whistleblowers and putting procedures in place not only for the whistleblower but also for the personnel against whom allegations are made by the whistleblower. It is important that we have such procedures in place. Every organisation, including An Garda Síochána, has work to do on that.
We have established the commission of inquiry. In that regard, we have not yet received the Cooke report. It clearly will have implications for the terms of reference of the inquiry because its authors are examining some linked issues. We need to address the underlying legal, organisational and structural issues that have contributed to these difficulties. There are cultural issues to be addressed. As everybody knows, challenging and changing what are broadly termed cultural practices is not easy. However, if we take action in this area, it will begin to change the culture. What is really important in cultural change is the motivation to change. Deputies have asked tonight whether the Government has the motivation and political will to move forward with these reforms. There is absolutely no doubt about it. The actions that have been taken to date demonstrate strong political will in terms of changing. It is essential that we change because public confidence has to be restored. It is critical for our democracy that there be a strong Garda Síochána; there is no question about that. A strong Department of Justice and Equality is a cornerstone of democracy and it is critical. Every Deputy in this House acknowledges that.
The wider programme of reform is a top priority for the Government. It is being overseen for the first time by a Cabinet committee on reform. This is both new and good. There have been Cabinet committees to deal with many issues over the years but there has not been, or has not been for some time, a Cabinet committee on justice reform chaired by the Taoiseach. We have had a number of meetings already to make progress with the reform agenda. It is important to have the committee.
One of the reforms already under way is the establishment of an independent Garda authority. Deputies Martin and Creed made the extremely good point that we need to consider very carefully the issues concerning the establishment of an independent Garda authority. There is no question but that this requires care. It involves a major change and there are serious issues to be addressed in regard to the move, including security issues and membership of the board.
Baroness Nuala O’Loan said today that it is extremely important that the new independent Garda authority not be politicised. There are issues in this regard that we need to be very vigilant about. An initiative I will be taking is the holding of a round-table discussion on the establishment of the new authority. There will be a very wide group of stakeholders. I intend to hold the discussion in the coming weeks. It will present an important opportunity to hear about the challenges inherent in establishing a new, independent Garda authority.
The authority will represent one of the most significant developments in the oversight and governance of the Garda Síochána since its foundation. It is extremely important that we get it right, but it is not simple. It has been achieved in other countries. A variety of models have been used and the justice committee has been discussing them but we must get it right for our particular circumstances, especially in regard to security issues. We need to consider the authority's powers, functions, membership, relationship with the Government and lines of accountability. This is urgent because we want to have the authority in place by the end of the year.
I intend to advertise the appointment of the Garda Commissioner in July and to ensure that the independent Garda authority will have a role in that appointment in whatever way is feasible. This role will depend on the timing because we do not want to unduly delay that important appointment.
Another important issue raised by a number of Deputies concerns the right mechanisms through which Garda whistleblowers and members of the public can make complaints if they need to. It partly involves strengthening the powers and remit of GSOC, which is critical. The Cooke report is due shortly and it may inform the legislation. The justice committee is engaged in hearings as we speak and will be preparing a report. That will be very helpful in arriving at conclusions on how precisely we should be strengthening GSOC. I will obviously consider this when finalising the legislative proposals.
I have indicated to the House already some of the changes that are necessary for GSOC. I will not go into great detail on them tonight. I spoke about them last evening in respect of the Private Member's business. They include, for example, the inclusion of the Garda Commissioner within the remit of GSOC, as mentioned by Mr. Guerin. That would be important. It is desirable that GSOC be able to initiate reviews of Garda practices without having to get the permission of the Minister.
There are certain questions that arise that might well have been factors in some of the cases that were examined in the Guerin report. What are the thresholds for the referral of cases to GSOC? Many people have said that all complaints should be accepted by GSOC rather than having referrals back or out. It is interesting to note, when one examines cases referred to GSOC, including those examined by Mr. Guerin and those referred to taoisigh and the Department, that there was quite a mixed pattern of acceptance by the commission. This has an impact on whether people believe they have received justice and feel there has been a proper investigation. That is an important point. The issue of the threshold for the referral of cases to GSOC generally and by the Minister, and the extent to which complaints to GSOC are currently referred to the Garda Síochána for investigation, emerged in the Guerin report.
This matter certainly merits further consideration. I will be introducing legislation this term to deal with certain aspects of strengthening GSOC. We will not be able to do everything this term but we will begin the process with a Bill before the end of this term.
I have referred the Guerin report to the Garda Inspectorate. I met representatives of the inspectorate some time ago and had a very detailed discussion with them. The inspectorate has published at least nine reports on various issues concerning the Garda.
It is doing some major work at the moment in regard to crime investigation. I have asked the inspectorate to look at the operational procedural issues that arise from the Guerin report. That is something it can do immediately and it has accepted the referral I have made to it in that regard. I have asked it to report as soon as possible.
It is important that all the lessons of the report be learned. I believe the Garda Inspectorate, with its independent expertise, can play an important role in that. I noticed that one Deputy tonight expressed concern about that but I do not believe his concern is well founded. If one looks at the international experience of the three members of the Garda Inspectorate, and if one looks at the reports they are already doing and their independence, I believe that was the right decision and I expect that some important recommendations will come from them on some of those basic policing issues which emerged from the Guerin report.
I have also said that I am putting in place an external review of the administration and management of the Department of Justice and Equality, and I will be making an announcement on that very shortly. I believe it is important, given the central role of the Department of Justice and Equality, and given the concerns that have been expressed, that we look at best practice for the Department and ask some key people to look at management issues and performance and administrative issues. That process will shortly get under way.
The Bill which has been brought forward by the Minister for Public Expenditure and Reform will also provide a robust and supportive environment for all whistleblowers in both the public and private sectors, which is in line with the very best international standards. That will effectively mean that Garda whistleblowers will, from now on, have a strong legal framework in which to report concerns, strong legal protection against penalisation and the opportunity of a fully independent examination of their concerns. That should mean that the situation faced by Sergeant McCabe will be faced by no other garda.
Of course, we all know that while we can have all of that in place, what actually matters is the practice and culture. The way to ensure that the practice and culture are in line with such structures is by constant monitoring and proper management, and gardaí themselves need to be committed to that.