Garda Síochána (Amendment) (No. 2) Bill 2014: Second Stage (Resumed) [Private Members]

Question again proposed: "That the Bill be now read a Second Time."

People say a week is a long time in politics and refer to how circumstances can change. I recall when Deputy Wallace introduced this Bill last year, it was resisted and it was seen as wishful thinking, ill thought out and so on. As recently as February this year, I asked the former Minister for Justice and Equality about an independent policing authority and he robustly rejected the notion. All his Government colleagues voted against this Bill last year but it is good to see the conversion on the road to Damascus. An independent policing authority was not included in the programme for Government because it was not considered important enough. As the various scandals emerged, something rotten in the culture among senior managers in the Garda and in the Department of Justice and Equality and the former Minister for Justice and Equality was revealed and, with that, a glaring need for change. I commend Deputy Wallace for tabling the Bill again. The Government says it will support the legislation now subject to amendment on Committee Stage. It is a good Bill, which is well thought out. We disagree on a number of small issues but I commend the Deputy and his team for putting it together.

When the Garda Síochána Bill was enacted in 2005, my party colleagues in the House at the time said that it did not go far enough and that the Garda Síochána Ombudsman Commission, GSOC, did not have the powers to carry out its responsibilities. For example, the office did not have the ability to oversee the Garda Commissioner. In recent times, we witnessed the limitations of the powers of GSOC when it could not access the PULSE system directly. In addition, serving members of the Garda worked for GSOC and complaints made to the office were referred to officers to investigate who knew or who had worked with the officers under investigation. This was not acceptable.

As I speak, the Secretary General of the Department of Justice and Equality, Mr. Brian Purcell, is appearing before the Joint Committee on Justice, Defence and Equality and he has shown contempt for the committee. He has refused to answer questions about his role in the events that led to the resignation-retirement-sacking of the Garda Commissioner and the issues around the correspondence between the Commissioner and the former Minister and why it took 12 days to bring matters of serious importance, which have led to the automatic granting of a commission of investigation by the Government, to the Minister. The Government initially rejected such a commission in the context of the matters that led to the Guerin report and it also rejected a commission of investigation into allegations that GSOC's offices had been bugged. They are the subject of a review rather than a commission. The Government jumped immediately to establish a commission of investigation into the Garda tapes. When these issues were brought to the attention of the Department, it took 12 days apparently to let the Minister know and we could not get answers as to how that happened during the committee hearing. We also could not find out what happened on that famous Monday night when the Taoiseach, the former Minister for Justice and Equality and their two Secretaries General met. We know the Secretary General of the Department of Justice and Equality was given a job and he met the former Garda Commissioner but we do not know what was said or intimated. We also know the former Commissioner announced that he had retired, resigned or was sacked.

Sources close to the former Commissioner say that the following morning he rang the Secretary General of the Department of Justice and Equality seeking an update but he did not get any positive news and then made his announcement. Perhaps I am a little simple but the resignations of a Garda Commissioner and a Minister for Justice and Equality within months of each other are matters of profound public importance, particularly given the circumstances that led to them. The fact that the Secretary General of the Department of Justice and Equality thinks it is acceptable to appear before our committee and to answer no questions about many of these matters and to give a prepared statement that was a rebuttal of the Guerin report, which led to the resignation of his Minister, is evidence that despite all the positive assurances from the new Minister and the Government, things have not changed. Utter contempt was shown to the committee and these Houses. I will seek a response from the Minister to the performance of her Secretary General before the committee. She will be asked again whether she has confidence in her Secretary General but I wonder whether she will express confidence, given she has held back on a number of occasions. What happened earlier is evidence that despite all the assurances, it is business as usual among important and senior people involved in the administration of justice in this State.

To suggest that commenting on these matters would prejudice a commission of investigation is utter nonsense. The commission will be led by a retired Supreme Court judge. The sub judice rule applies to juries and not to Supreme Court judges. They are capable of making their own findings. No Oireachtas committee would sway them in the context of whatever findings they make. The commission cannot be prejudicial and the public will ask why the meeting that led to a visit to a Garda Commissioner's home and to his resignation the following day is not important enough to be discussed by an Oireachtas committee. Serious questions must be asked of the Taoiseach. He could have taken every opportunity he has been given to lay out the events of that night and to be clear about all the circumstances. Sources close to the former Garda Commissioner allege that he was advised by departmental officials not to retract his infamous comments where he described the actions of the two Garda whistleblowers as "disgusting". Various briefings were given by sources close to the former Commissioner but the people cannot get the facts. We are told there will be change but there was no evidence of that today. I will let the people judge what they think of the contempt shown to the committee.

Last Tuesday, my party launched our contribution based on our experiences of all the submissions made in this State and the experiences of our team who negotiated the changes to policing in the North. We do not have all the wisdom and I do not say that the former RUC is comparable to An Garda Síochána but there are lessons in the North in the context of the new beginning there, the policing board, the police ombudsman and the criminal justice inspectorate, which could be a useful contribution to reforms in this State. Our document was circulated to all Oireachtas Members and I invite those who have not had an opportunity to take a look through it. It is our considered contribution but it is not definitive. I would combine many aspects of Deputy Wallace's Bill with it and I even heard submissions earlier today from the former Police Ombudsman for Northern Ireland, Baroness Nuala O'Loan, and the Acting Garda Commissioner in this regard.

There are many pieces of wisdom and experience that can be combined.

Well done to Deputy Wallace. He has soldiered on this for a long time and it appears that his message has been received. Somebody had a Pauline conversion on the road to Damascus. They realise the Deputy's greatness and his contribution, hard work and determination. I say to him, "Fair play, and keep her lit".

I am sharing time with Deputies Anne Ferris, Dara Murphy, Michelle Mulherin and Alan Farrell.

The Bill is line with the policy of the Minister. The Government is not opposing the Bill on Second Stage but is proceeding with its legislative proposals relating to the new Garda authority and GSOC. The Government is currently actively progressing a number of important legislative developments relating to the Garda Síochána Ombudsman Commission and plans to introduce legislation to establish the new Garda authority by the end of this year.

In addition, the areas in question are being examined by the Oireachtas Joint Committee on Justice, Defence and Equality. It is also examining the majority of issues dealt with in the Bill. On 6 March last, the committee sought submissions from interested parties and members of the public on the oversight of the Garda Síochána. This was at the request of the Dáil. Specifically, we sought views on the effectiveness of the provisions of the Garda Síochána Act 2005 and the regulations made under that Act in so far as they relate to the oversight of An Garda Síochána, particularly including the powers and remit of the Garda Síochána Ombudsman Commission. We set 4 April as the deadline and received a total of 21 submissions, and a large number of the people who made submissions have been invited to committee hearings. All of these submissions and hearings will help to inform the report the committee will eventually bring forward. We hope this process will be concluded and a comprehensive report finalised by the committee before the summer recess.

On 14 May, we commenced hearings in the morning session with attendees from the Irish Human Rights Commission, the Irish Council for Civil Liberties, Transparency International Ireland, the Irish Traveller Movement, Amnesty International Ireland and GSOC. We were given very broad presentations dealing with the human rights and equality aspect of the role of the Garda, which is crucial. In the afternoon, Dr. Richard O'Flaherty, the Association of Garda Sergeants and Inspectors, the Bar Council of Ireland, the Garda Inspectorate and the Association for Criminal Justice Research and Development made presentations to the committee. A number of issues arise from this, such as the role of the confidential recipient, which is quite central, the role of the Garda Inspectorate, GSOC and an overarching Garda authority, coupled with the relationship with the Garda Commissioner, the Minister and the Oireachtas justice committee, the Committee on Public Oversight and Petitions, chaired by Deputy Mac Lochlainn, and the Committee of Public Accounts. A number of bodies and agencies will be linked together and we must ensure that the links are correct and that the Act is amended to ensure we have the most effective policing possible.

We continued the hearings for two and a half hours today. Baroness Nuala O'Loan and the Acting Garda Commissioner, Nóirín O'Sullivan, along with Ronan Brady, lecturer in journalism at Griffith College Dublin, appeared before the committee. The presentations were very interesting. In particular, Mr. Brady spoke about the issue of freedom of information, policing and the Garda, which was very instructive. We were very pleased that Nuala O'Loan agreed to address the committee, given her experience over many years in Northern Ireland. She made a number of points that are worth repeating. They included the need for the ombudsman to be impartial, totally independent and properly resourced, with the power to initiate its own investigations into policy and practice and to make recommendations for changes in both. In addition, the fact that the Garda Commissioner is not under its remit at present must change - the Garda Commissioner must be under the remit of the new Garda Síochána Ombudsman Commission.

She also believes there must be a complete separation between the State and GSOC, which includes not being staffed by civil servants or serving members of the Garda Síochána. That is important. We cannot have a situation where there is a perception or reality in which the police are policing or investigating themselves. Other points she made included the need for GSOC to have an immediate right to search police premises, the need to remove the provision in the Garda Síochána Act which enables the prosecution of a person who makes false or misleading complaints, as it could deter genuine complainants, and the need to remove the veto held by officers against whom complaints are made of informal resolution.

Many of her views were echoed by the Acting Garda Commissioner, who highlighted the importance of public trust, respect and confidence in the Garda, and the need for reforms that have already commenced and future reforms to ensure accountability, transparency and professionalism. The Acting Garda Commissioner also expressed her support, and that of the Garda Síochána, for the establishment of the Garda authority to oversee the Garda Síochána. Issues will arise relating to how this authority will be established and who will establish it. We already have experience of establishing an independent Human Rights and Equality Commission. The Oireachtas committee was involved and instructive in overseeing the appointment of the independent panel that appointed the commissioners. This model is one that might be considered. There are other models as well, such as the Commission for Public Service Appointments.

This is the reintroduction of a Bill that Deputy Wallace introduced some time ago. Nobody would dispute that what was requested at the time, and did not happen, needed to have happened. After the local elections most of us, particularly on this side of the House, probably feel bruised from the experience, but perhaps it allows us to speak in more blunt terms than we have used in the past.

As most of my colleagues and the Minister have said, virtually all of what is included in this Private Members' Bill has been taken on board by the Minister and the Government. However, after canvassing and meeting gardaí on the ground, one line in the Guerin report, which is an extremely disturbing report, must be reiterated. It occurs before Mr. Guerin proceeds to his recommendations for the Garda, the Government and the Department and speaks about maintaining the confidence the Irish people have in our gardaí. Given that the procedures the Deputies opposite requested are now being introduced, we must also introduce a note of caution into the debate, because I believe the Irish people have not lost confidence in our gardaí or in most of the management of the Garda.

I met some interesting people when I was canvassing, including a person who was involved in the establishment of the Criminal Assets Bureau and a detective who investigated in the arrest, charge and conviction of a current Sinn Féin councillor in Cork City Council. Some of the language from the Sinn Féin Party, in particular, about our gardaí is extremely disturbing, upsetting and, it must be said, subversive. The confidence we have in the Garda is absolutely vital to the security and safety of the State. While I can acknowledge the bona fides of Deputy Wallace, after meeting gardaí in my county who have investigated murders and crimes committed against gardaí by members, families and supporters of Sinn Féin and the IRA, I believe we must continue to point out to the Irish people that Sinn Féin and the politburo that runs that party continue to have a vested interest in destabilising the security of this country. We in the Fine Gael Party and members of other parties and other Independent Members know that the agenda in this House from Sinn Féin is different from that of everybody else.

We have been too polite in our language and in how we have dealt with the Sinn Féin Party in the past. It is about time that everybody involved in the House accepted the reality that, as has been the case for many generations, what is in the interests of the Sinn Féin Party is not in the interests of the Irish people. It is not even in the interests of that party's councillors, Deputies or Senators. There is a controlling political group that runs the Sinn Féin Party and we must be very careful in this republic that we do not march towards a point where that politburo is hiding behind the doors and buildings of Leinster House, as it currently is in opposition, trying to run the country. In that regard, we have a shared ambition. The group is starting in particular by trying to undermine the one group that has always stood between the people and their security on the one hand and Sinn Féin and the IRA on the other, that is, our gardaí.

While there was anger from the gardaí about how the Garda was politically handled, the one thing that angered them most was the continued hypocrisy we have heard from members of the Sinn Féin Party. There was certainly anger about other issues as there was with all public servants over the last years. In supporting the cause they have had to date, I urge the Deputies opposite, whose Bill I find it hard to disagree with other than to note that everything in it is already happening, to realise that it remains the case that the vast majority of gardaí and the Irish people have huge confidence in each other. Above all else, this process must have within it the ambition to maintain that confidence. I urge Members to engage fully with the processes, of which there are several, and to acknowledge that we have a new Minister. The principal job she has is to restore that confidence. I urge Members to work with her because we may have disagreements in the House on economic and ideological matters, but we must unite behind the ambition to ensure that we continue to have what has existed since shortly after the foundation of our State, namely, absolute confidence in our Garda Síochána.

I welcome the opportunity to contribute to the discussion on the Garda Síochána (Amendment) Bill 2014, which has been introduced by Deputy Wallace. The Joint Committee on Justice, Defence and Equality, of which I am a member, is reviewing the action taken in regard to the reform and oversight of An Garda Síochána. There have been a great many mishandlings in the past which must be taken into account when moving forward to reform the Garda. It is important for us not to focus on these alone. Past mistakes must act as a catalyst from which we can move forward and through which we strengthen An Garda Síochána, the oversight of the force and the procedures for establishing investigations into the force where necessary.

While the Bill largely shares the same objectives as the Government's priorities in this area, I share some of the concerns outlined yesterday by the Minister for Justice and Equality, Deputy Fitzgerald, with regard in particular to the inclusion of office holders on the board of the proposed independent authority set out in the Bill whose functions potentially include the scrutiny and activities of the Garda Síochána. I also have concerns about the possible conflict of interest which may arise between the functions they hold due to the office they hold and their membership of such a board. Would it not be better to avoid such a scenario where a conflict arises by not including these persons and, as a result, protect the credibility and independence of such a body?

I also have some concerns regarding the timing of the introduction of the Bill. We must first facilitate the ongoing discussions and significant work which is being undertaken by the Minister for Justice and Equality and the Joint Committee on Justice, Defence and Equality. Several members of the committee are travelling to Northern Ireland and Scotland in the very near future to review the procedures they have in place with regard to their oversight boards. If it is within the Deputy's ability, I encourage him to attend. It might be something he would find useful in our later deliberations in the Chamber and Seanad. Of course, that is a matter for the Deputy. We must hear from all parties and take their views into account when shaping the future of Garda oversight and the investigations process. This should include the examination of international best practice to develop a structure which will stand the test of time and work in an effective and efficient manner. In regard to the scope and jurisdiction of an independent policing board, we must be careful to protect sensitive issues which relate to the security of the State. Therefore, the scope of such a body is something we must further examine and discuss. It is not a decision we should rush into but one we must consider carefully, taking into account the necessary protections for the State and its citizens and the past mishandling which we must not allow to be repeated.

I welcome the fact that Deputy Wallace's Bill shares broadly the Government's priority objectives in this area. This is surely a sign that this is an issue on which we will all be able to build consensus. The Minister, Deputy Fitzgerald, has stated that the Government will introduce two Bills to the House, one focused on the establishment of the independent Garda authority and the other focused on the enhancement of the powers and remit of the Garda Services Ombudsman Commission. I look forward to seeing and contributing to the proposals on a new, independent Garda authority when they are introduced to the Dáil before the end of the year.

Reform is something we must embrace. The Government has already initiated a programme of reform, the purpose of which is to address the systematic failures identified in the Guerin report. The issues to be tackled include, inter alia, matters of basic policing, communication, and statement-taking within the force, the role of whistleblowers and oversight. All of the relevant topics must be addressed in co-ordination with one another and it is essential that we tackle the root cause of all previous issues instead of simply attempting to treat problems as they arise. It is only in this manner that we will be able to implement the comprehensive reform required. It is very positive to see that the Government has already initiated a reform programme and that the Minister intends to establish a commission of investigation to examine the findings in the Guerin report. I am sure the terms of reference will be published very shortly.

With regard to the ongoing discussions on the oversight and scrutiny of the workings of An Garda Síochána, we must be wary of undermining confidence in gardaí and their important work. It is of the utmost importance that we trust the members of the Garda to uphold the laws of the State and to protect all of us within it. We must acknowledge that the men and women of An Garda Síochána have provided and continue to provide a fundamentally positive service to the State. Throughout the history of the force, its members have worked tirelessly to protect the security of the State, which is a fact we must not forget. I am very proud to say that my grandfather was a member of the Dublin Metropolitan Police in 1918 and he served until the 1950s when he retired at the rank of detective inspector. It is something many families can tie themselves to, going back to the foundation of the State and the struggle which occurred at the time, whatever role their family members played. That is why the Irish people have such high regard for An Garda Síochána.

The last months have had a detrimental effect on how Irish people perceive the Garda. Having spoken to very senior members of the force just this afternoon, I know that is something of which gardaí are acutely aware. I welcome any opportunity the Oireachtas has to restore confidence in An Garda Síochána and the administration of justice.

I welcome the Bill in the sense of the propositions it sets out regarding the strengthening of the functions of GSOC, which would be fully empowered to conduct its business, and the establishment of an independent Garda Síochána board with monitoring, oversight and supervisory functions.

We live in a democracy and we require transparency and accountability and we need systems in place to ensure it happens. We must learn when there is a breakdown, as set out in the Guerin report. Many of the objectives are in the pipeline in terms of the Government actively progressing some of the propositions. I welcome that Government work is moving in tandem with this Private Members' business.

I will confine myself to comments on front-line policing and to looking at the point before a complaint is made and where the system is breaking down, aside from the proper adjudication on an allegation of misconduct. Front-line policing it is not a black and white matter. Many laws can be blunt instruments and there can be a disjoint between the law and what we perceive justice to be. People experience that all the time when the law deliberates and cases are adjudicated upon in court, but people do not feel that justice, or the general sentiment of what we consider to be justice in our gut, has been achieved. Members of the Garda Síochána are law enforcers but the law can be a blunt instrument if we do not allow for discretion. Considering the recent furore, debate and revelation, the vast majority of people have the sentiment that gardaí should not have the discretion they currently have. That is not my view. What is wrong with the Garda Síochána exercising discretion in the case of a juvenile or someone who is between 18 and 20 years who has committed a minor offence? What is wrong with intervening so that the person learns the error of his or her ways without a conviction? In many cases, gardaí do so and have assisted many young people under the juvenile offender system. This gives young people and young adults a second chance.

With regard to discretion, there is an example in statute of discretion working well. The adult caution has been set down in statute. Gardaí are entitled to give adult cautions to people over 18 years where they have committed minor crimes such as a minor assault or minor criminal damage. Gardaí can take everything into account, including the victim, and then must clear it with the superintendent, which is the nub of the matter. The superintendent must consider, validate and sign off on the decision. There is a real problem in front-line policing with supervision of gardaí. Gardaí in many units throughout the country do not have a sergeant. The sergeant is vital in monitoring and, to maintain proper checks and balances, someone more senior should sign off on matters of discretion. These matters must be considered. There is a resourcing issue but it is part of the problem with the abuse of discretion. Discretion is a powerful thing and, human nature being what it is and gardaí being no different from anyone else, if it is unfettered, we will have the problems we have.

The Guerin report makes for disturbing reading about systems failures and the lack of independent investigation of serious allegations of misconduct within the force. It is something that does not assist the force and the confidence required from the public to co-operate, observe the law and have the respect we require for our democracy. We need people to subscribe to the rule of law. We do not have a garda on every corner so there must be respect and confidence that there is fairness and justice. If our law enforcers cross the line, there must be confidence they will be reprimanded for it.

I have some misgivings about the Guerin report, which the Chamber debated earlier. We are talking about setting a right course in respect of the Garda Síochána and accountability. Mr. Guerin did not examine the GSOC files. He said he ran out of time but he could have asked for more time. He made serious findings against the former Minister for Justice and Equality but did not interview him. The only person interviewed was Mr. McCabe. Mr. McCabe should have been heard much earlier, in which case Mr. Guerin may not have had to conduct his report.

When Deputy Shatter announced his resignation as Minister, a cheer rang out throughout the Law Library. We know that he was not flavour of the month in many Departments because he did not court favour. Due process and justice, which we all advocate, did not happen in the Guerin report and this can undermine the confidence we have in its findings.

I propose to share time with Deputies Richard Boyd Barrett, Shane Ross, Catherine Murphy and Joan Collins.

It is interesting that the majority of people in the country have given a mid-term verdict on the Government. I do not want to rerun what happened in local elections over the past week but from speaking to people on the ground, as many of us have, much of it had to do with not trusting and not believing the Government and the absence of accountability within the Government. Austerity, medical cards, disability, social welfare and the lack of sustainable jobs were issues. One might think this issue, what was happening in the Garda Síochána, was not important, but leading up to the local election it was the big issue in Ireland. It resonated with people. I was astounded that how big an issue this was seems to have gone past the Government.

I compliment Deputy Mick Wallace on introducing the Bill but I suspect the Government will not support it for the reason I gave. People have lost faith and the Government has lost touch with the majority of people who know what is happening in their communities. Before speaking in the Chamber, I spoke to a number of members of the Garda Síochána. There are decent people but they are despondent, despairing and saddened at what has happened. There are many decent and honest gardaí and they want reform, openness and fairness. They want to be accountable and they want the respect of the community but they know they must earn it. Throughout Ireland, everyone will rely on the Garda Síochána at some stage. Sometimes, the Garda Síochána is the last recourse for people in extreme difficulty through anti-social behaviour. People want to know they can trust the Garda Síochána and that they will get what they ask for with no strings attached. They want to know they will get accountability, fairness and honesty. No matter how much the Government dresses it up today, we could go into matters such as the whistleblowers, Terence Wheelock, Brian Rossiter and the penalty points scandal.

An Garda Síochána has been a fortress shut against outsiders for 90 years. These are not my words. Opposition to oversight is not new to the Garda. Commenting on the force in 2012, former GSOC chairman Conor Brady stated: "An Garda Síochána has been a fortress shut against outsiders for 90 years." What more do we need to know? Denis Bradley, former vice chairman of the Northern Ireland policing board, stated that in most modern societies and democracies something was always placed between the Department of Justice and the police service to ensure a certain distance and involve as much of society as possible. If we dig deep into the Bill, that is what it is about. It is about accountability for An Garda Síochána. It is not about gardaí policing or looking after themselves or about political interference or political selection of gardaí. These practices must stop as they are no longer acceptable to the people and communities of Ireland. We need to establish a powerful police authority, with members drawn from all sections of society and with the power to appoint and remove senior police officers. We need to strengthen GSOC to ensure no garda or retired garda is employed in investigations, to extend its power of investigation to cover the Garda Commissioner and to ensure it has access to all Garda records, including the PULSE system. We must establish local police partnerships, the members of which should include community activists and civic leaders, with the power to call gardaí before them to explain operations, and see the immediate removal of gardaí found to have been involved in systematic misconduct.

These are simple and uncomplicated proposals. Anybody who had to go through what happened in this unbelievable scandal or any good garda would agree with them. I have read the Bill carefully and shown it to some gardaí and they see no problem with its proposals. Decent and ordinary people and those with no axe to grind or no political affiliations see this as a good Bill. However, it seems obvious that it will be rejected, just like the restorative justice Bill I brought forward. I was told by the Government I should introduce the Bill for debate and that it would support it. That happened, but because it was an Opposition Bill, it was not really supported. I suspect that is what will happen in this case.

I do not have as much time as I would like to go through the Bill. I compliment Deputy Mick Wallace on bringing it forward and hope the Government will consider supporting it.

As Deputy Richard Boyd Barrett will not be here, perhaps we might redistribute his time among the rest of us.

I am astonished at the attitude towards the Bill, particularly that of the Government. I know that it is accepting the Bill, but its grudging acceptance is something I do not welcome. I understand it is a very difficult issue for it, having instinctively and blindly backed up An Garda Síochána for decades, only to find that those on whom it had pinned so much faith, without question or challenge, have feet of clay. Accepting the Bill presents a cultural difficulty which, in the wake of the Government's electoral defeat, is even harder. It would have been better if it had come out and welcomed the Bill with enthusiasm and acknowledged that the exposé of what had happened in An Garda Síochána was due to the work of some great whistleblowers, Messrs Wilson and McCabe. It was due to the fact that some great people in the media had gone where others had feared to tread and that one or two Independent Members of the House had pursued the Government and those at the top of An Garda Síochána with great enthusiasm, energy and courage. Their persistence was resisted by the establishment and there was a pact between the Government and the Garda to the last in not accepting the truth that there was a gross injustice and that it was emanating from the top of the Garda in collaboration with people at the top of the Government. That is the reality and the truth. This is not something I say easily or happily. I am not the type of person who knocks the Garda, but I believe that when people at the top hold so much power and when the Government is an unquestioning accessory, we are living in a dangerous place. We were living and are possibly still living in that dangerous place.

My recent experience of the Garda, as both a journalist and a Deputy, has been extremely distasteful. Some months ago I contacted the office of the Garda Commissioner and asked a simple question regarding how much it cost to run the office. I asked one or two more specific questions about costs. Three months later I had not received so much as an acknowledgement of my request. Obviously, it had been binned. When the Garda Commissioner appeared before the Committee of Public Accounts, it provided me with an opportunity to ask him what had happened to my correspondence. He said it would be dealt with. As far as I know, they could not find it and I resubmitted my questions. Because the Garda Commissioner had given a public pledge, his office had to respond and it responded in the most insulting and condescending terms, pleading inaccurate excuses such as reasons of security for not being able to provide any useful information and refusing to answer questions which might have been embarrassing. The replies were those of people who obviously felt they were not only not accountable, but that they had political protection. This was true on both counts. They had political protection at the highest level of the Government and they were not accountable to anybody.

I submitted a further question and received a similar response from both the Garda and the Department of Justice and Equality which is equally contaminated by this culture of arrogance. I submitted a question one Friday asking for an early reply on how many of the top gardaí had been politically appointed. I was given the run-around. The question had to go to head office, not go to the press office. Those in head office then had to go all over the place. I said the issue was urgent, but I received no reply. I then made five or six further calls and eventually received a written reply in which I was informed that some 200 of the top gardaí were politically appointed. This means that the top 200 are appointed by the Cabinet and that promotions within that sphere are also decided by it. Could this be one of the reasons for the great sickness at the top of the Garda and the contaminated relationship between the Department of Justice and Equality and the top of the Garda?

It is completely and utterly unacceptable that any garda should be politically appointed. Such a practice is obviously open to abuse. In the recent crisis we saw the result of such political closeness between the Minister and the Garda Commissioner and the refusal of the Government to acknowledge this until it was exposed by an independent reporter. What the Government must do now is not just respond to the Bill by accepting it and doing as it always does and burying it; rather, it must produce its own Bill which must be radical and convincing. It must give up the power it so jealously guards to appoint the Garda Commissioner or anybody else at the top of the Garda. This power must be given to an independent body, one which cannot be accused of appointing people for political reasons.

It is quite obvious that the gardaí at the top have not been appointed on merit which does a great disservice as it means that people the whole way down are affected by this flaw that exists at the very top of the Garda.

As many speakers have said, the criticisms that have been made of the Garda here by Deputies Wallace and Clare Daly, who have done a great job in exposing this, do not apply from top to bottom. I do not speak for them, but that is my view. There are wonderful people working within the Garda but the people at the top have not done them proud and have not done them a fair service. So it is most important that one of the clauses in the Bill is enacted immediately, which is that the Garda Síochána be subject to the Freedom of Information Act. That should be done straight away without controversy. I accept that in the case of security, we can take those reasons out, but otherwise it should be subject to the same scrutiny as every other State body.

I thank Deputy Wallace and his staff for their hard work and diligence in introducing this comprehensive legislation. In July 2013 when the Bill was first put forward, none of us would have predicted we would be here tonight with the Bill not being opposed, with the former Minister gone, with the former Commissioner gone and with the two whistleblowers being hailed for what they are, heroes. That is down to the diligence, hard work and determination of a very small number of people, including Deputies Wallace and Clare Daly.

This is comprehensive and wide-ranging legislation designed to overhaul fundamentally accountability in An Garda Síochána, which if enacted would lead to a cultural shift in our police force and might turn it into a police service, which Deputy Clare Daly said is what we require. If it is not perfect - no Bill is ever the finished product when we debate it on Second Stage - there is ample opportunity to make changes on Committee Stage. I want to see this legislation taken seriously on Committee Stage rather than parked until the Government can put together its legislation.

Some years ago one might have asked if such a radical overhaul was needed. When we consider the findings from the Morris tribunal, the Smithwick tribunal and the Guerin report, we can come to only one conclusion - it absolutely was and is needed. The recent revelations from whistleblowers have shown that much greater public scrutiny of the force is required. The link between the Commissioner, which I believe has been abused and has been unhealthy apart from anything else and open to abuse even if it was not abused, needs to be separated, as provided for in the Bill. In addition there is very little oversight of how the Commissioner does his or, as in the current case, her job.

As I have said on numerous occasions, any Deputy whose constituency is as underrepresented by gardaí as mine is would be jumping up and down on this issue. I sought to find out how Garda resources were distributed. I sought to meet the Minister and the Garda Commissioner. I was given an absolute run-around. County Kildare has the lowest ratio of gardaí to population and has done for a very long time. It appears that an area almost needs to have a crime epidemic to get a fair distribution of Garda resources.

At the moment there is a most serious problem with burglaries. It is only when one goes into somebody's home that one realises the enormity of that crime, as individuals end up not feeling safe in their own homes. I have heard gardaí in my area say they have concerns about turning out to the scene of a violent crime owing to lack of backup, which is an outrage and needs to change.

We need greater oversight in the distribution of gardaí. I am not saying they need to be evenly distributed around the country because clearly certain locations require a higher number of gardaí owing to the level of crime. Equally some areas of the country are being put at risk. I have produced a document that I will happily give to the Minister to demonstrate the distribution of gardaí and where the problems arise.

The Bill contains a number of very worthwhile measures and I am glad the Government is not opposing it. I hope the spirit of the measures will survive the Department's fine-tooth comb. The establishment of a Garda Síochána independent board conferred with many of the powers of the functions which the Government and the Commissioner currently possess is critical. In terms of the workings of senior Garda management, independence from possible Government abuse is really needed to restore public confidence in the Garda. Deputy Wallace has ensured that although the proposed board would have wide-ranging powers it would be overseen by a very balanced and representative board, which is vital.

The Bill also provides for a basic code of service for the Garda Síochána, a breach of which would result in grounds for a complaint to GSOC. This is a key measure that greatly alters behaviour in the Garda from the top to the bottom. There need to be consequences because consequences change behaviour and including that is very important.

It is also important to look at PULSE, which has a clear design fault. There should be a trail and a red flag when things are altered on the system. Good design is required on such a system, which is pretty good but needs some alteration. I would be very surprised if that was not designed to be included from the beginning. If that was the case and it was taken out, I would want to question that also.

Critically the Bill allows the board to be consulted on the development of Garda resources. There is no public oversight of how staffing resources are deployed, which needs to be addressed. The Bill also confers enhanced powers on the Garda Síochána Ombudsman Commission. Some provisions must be included in the Government's Bill if this Bill does not survive, although I hope it does. The power to instigate its own investigations is vital to the proper independence of GSOC. Independent access to all Garda databases is also critical if events are to be tracked. There needs to be mandatory investigation of all complaints referred rather than just 40% which is the case at present. We need to ensure that GSOC has the resources to function. The inclusion of torture, rape and sexual assault as grounds for making an investigation is vital. It is inconceivable that this is not catered for at present and it needs to be.

Other noteworthy measures in the Bill include the removal of the power of the Minister to obtain any document or Garda record and the extension of the Freedom of Information Act to cover the Garda. Clearly there would be limitations on that in terms of individual investigations, but oversight through freedom of information is critical.

I welcome the legislation and I hope it is taken in the spirit intended.

I positively endorse the Garda Síochána (Amendment) (No. 2) Bill 2014. I fully supported it a year ago and on a number of occasions during the "Shattergate" era I said that Deputy Wallace had proposed a credible Bill that could have been accepted by the Government a year ago. I have heard a number of Deputies on the other side of the House say that all these investigations have been happening and that the Government has responded in the right way to what happened.

Half of those investigations might not have been necessary if the Bill Deputy Wallace introduced a year ago had been accepted, particularly as the Government would have been in a position to refer the relevant issues to a commission of investigation, a strengthened GSOC or an independent policing board.

I am happy that the Government will not be opposing the Bill before the House. I hope the Minister will keep her word and ensure it will pass through the Houses quickly. A number of recent reports, particularly that relating to the Morris tribunal, contained recommendations which were quite similar to the provisions in the Bill. However, the point has been made that these were only half implemented. In other words, GSOC was established but it was not given the powers it should have been given. All of us in this Chamber will be remiss if we do not ensure we go the whole way on this occasion. An independent policing board must be set up and I would prefer if the options Deputy Wallace has put forward in the context of its composition were accepted. In addition, the remit of GSOC must be strengthened and the commission of investigation must be facilitated.

Many of those who are present in the Gallery were also present last year. A large number of them felt extremely frustrated following the debate which took place on that occasion. They were of the view that their cases had not been heard. They had gone through the process relating to GSOC and had been almost driven demented. These people have come up against a brick wall with regard to trying to have their cases heard and to obtain justice. Details relating to more than 30 cases were handed in to the Taoiseach, Deputy Enda Kenny, not so long ago but there has been no acknowledgement to any of the individuals involved that they have been received or referred to a commission of investigation, nor have these people been informed of the current position regarding their cases. It would be very much appreciated if the Minister could acknowledge receipt of those cases and indicate what will be the next step in respect of them. That would be a good and positive step forward for the many people from Justice4all who submitted their cases.

There are certain cases to which reference must be made. The first of these is that of Shane Tuohey and the cover-up relating to it for the past 12 or 13 years. Shane's father and grandfather are in the Gallery this evening. New information has emerged in recent days which indicates that certain evidence and investigation files which were handed to the coroner were never referred to during the inquest. Shane's family believes that the files in question contain a number of lies or else details that were not correct and that these were placed in the files by former superintendent Peter Wheeler. In addition, the coroner's report - form C71 - which indicated that there was a suicide attempt was not included in the investigation. The family is of the view that the investigation should be reopened in light of the issues which have emerged in recent days. There is also the case of Sarah Bland. I have reread the details relating to this and what happened was completely scandalous. Justice was not forthcoming in either case. Both must be dealt with by the commission of investigation and its terms of reference must be broadened to allow it to take cases of public interest into consideration.

Another case which comes to mind is that of Fr. Niall Molloy. Everyone, including the Minister when she was on this side of the House, has stated that what happened to Fr. Molloy was an absolute scandal. Senior politicians were present at the event at which Fr. Molloy was beaten. There are also indications that a senior member of Government colluded with the church to try to muddy the waters in respect of the case. There are many more similar cases which must be dealt with.

The commission of inquiry must have a broad remit and it must be given the power to compel superintendents, inspectors and other gardaí who were involved in any attempt to engage in cover-ups during investigations to appear before it. In addition, there must be a clear-out in respect of any officers who were involved in cover-ups. It will not be possible to rebuild the Garda Síochána unless there is a strong base from which to start. It is very important that such a clear-out takes place.

A number of speakers have defended the Garda and have stated that this is a very difficult time for the force. It is also a very difficult time for the families I referred to and for others who for many years have tried to have their cases heard and to obtain justice. That fact should be taken into account when particular Deputies refer to the very difficult situation in which the force finds itself. I accept it is in a difficult position and I hope that by means of the process that has been outlined, we will build a more robust and transparent police service that will be able to respond to the many complicated events it is obliged to deal with each day.

No one on this side of the House has it in for particular gardaí. I have provided support to a young community garda in my area who was beaten up during a burglary at his home. I was also involved in supporting an undercover Garda operation to infiltrate criminal gangs in Crumlin, cases relating to which have been forwarded to the Director of Public Prosecutions. There are many matters on which I and others on this side of the House support the Garda. However, there is no longer any point in stating that there are only a few bad apples. The Guerin report has indicated that the problem is much wider than that and I am of the opinion that we must deal with it head on. All gardaí will prefer to have this matter dealt with now in order that they might work properly in the interests of the people for and with whom they are supposed to work.

Another issue which must be dealt with is the leaking of information to certain journalists in respect of certain incidents such as those involving Deputies Clare Daly and Wallace. I was actually contacted in respect of a particular incident when misinformation was leaked from certain Garda stations. This problem must be tackled. If the operations of the force were the subject of greater transparency and were covered under the freedom of information legislation, issues such as those could be dealt with and journalists who want to obtain particular information in respect of them could do so. It is too often the case that information is leaked to certain - but not all - journalists. This is an issue on which action must be taken.

I welcome the Bill and I hope the Government will accept it.

I begin by referring to the work Deputies Clare Daly and Wallace have done in this area. I disagree strongly with the Deputies in respect of many issues, particularly with regard to the many challenges and choices facing our country, economy and society. That is because, like them, I have many genuinely held views in respect those challenges and choices. I acknowledge, however, that in raising a number of serious issues, Deputies Clare Daly and Wallace have made a very important contribution to the governance and administration of our police service and in respect of how we deal with matters of justice within our State. It is important to say that, particularly in view of the fact that the issue we are dealing with has been politically contested and we have exchanged views on it. Of course, it is appropriate that that is the case. We live in a society in which people want to engage in debate and exchange views with each other.

Having said that, I am of the view that there is a test by which the Government will be evaluated. I am confident we will rise to the challenge in this regard. When matters of this nature are raised in future and while everyone will still have the right, which we must protect, to approach Members of the Oireachtas and raise with them issues in respect of the administration of justice within our State, there must be alternative and robust measures, options and mechanisms open to both members of the public and the Garda Síochána which they will trust and be willing to use. We face a challenge in the context of ensuring the necessary tools, systems, organisations or whatever will be available and will be capable of being trusted by people both outside and inside the Garda Síochána. The Minister for Justice and Equality, Deputy Fitzgerald, and the Government are committed to ensuring this will be the case. That is why the Government has made clear the Bill is not being opposed and that it intends to put in place alternative measures in respect of the matters with which it deals.

What affirms the need to do this is not only the conclusions of the Guerin report, to which I will refer, but the detail of the report, which I have read and considered. Paragraph 9.29 on page 166 refers to a meeting for which Mr. Guerin sought the notes. He was told that the sergeant in question did not have a note of any meeting in respect of the incident in question. Mr. Guerin stated that he was furnished with a copy that was hand-written and he goes on to say that he could find no reference to the incident in the notes. The detail in the report covers a ten-year period and lays out clearly the kind of challenge to which the Minister, Deputy Fitzgerald, and the Government must respond. Paragraph 17.2 in the summary on page 287 states:

Confidence in the effectiveness of the policing service is important not just to encourage a necessary sense of security amongst the public, but also to ensure that there is a measure of public confidence in the likelihood of detection, prosecution and conviction where offences have been committed. The deficiencies identified in the investigations considered in this review, if they were widely replicated, would be a challenge to public confidence in the criminal justice system itself.

Clearly this is the gravity of the situation to which we must respond.

I disagree somewhat with a point Deputy Collins made. I do not believe that recognising, as Deputy Collins has done and as I do all the time in my constituency, the quality and bravery of the work of the Garda in keeping our streets and communities safe and responding to the need people have to speak the truth to power are incompatible. These priorities are completely consistent and I believe we can ensure both are realised.

This is why the measures the Government has outlined and what it wishes to do in three areas are particularly important. The first area, which many Deputies have touched on, relates to the formation and implementation of the commission of investigation. The Minister, Deputy Fitzgerald, is awaiting the Cooke report in order to begin work there. The second area of importance relates to the interim measures that we must take to strengthen the role of the Garda Síochána Ombudsman Commission in respect of An Garda Síochána. The third area relates to the commitment to bring forward legislation to put in place an independent Garda oversight body. This is not simply about the set-up of institutions or the passage of legislation. It is about a cultural acceptance of what all of this means within the Garda Síochána, whose members do such brave and necessary work on our behalf and among the community they serve. This is an ongoing process that will require the commitment of everyone in this area, including Members of the Oireachtas, those in the Government, those in the Garda Síochána and those they serve and protect, the public.

Deputy Maureen O'Sullivan and Deputy Mick Wallace are next, with seven and a half minutes each.

I have five minutes and Deputy Wallace has ten minutes. We know of the litany of issues that have been brought to light in the course of this Dáil, including issues relating to penalty points, whistleblower revelations, the bugging of GSOC, the resignation of the Minister for Justice and Equality, the resignation of the Garda Commissioner, and access by the former Minister to information about Deputy Wallace that he revealed on national television. Furthermore, there have been questions around the work of the Department of Justice and Equality and the Secretary General. As a result of all these and other issues, justice has been delayed and denied to many individuals, families and communities. This has all come about because we lack a fair, objective and transparent system of justice, and the situation has been allowed to fester under successive Governments. I acknowledge what Deputies Wallace and Daly have done, because without their work and commitment this unjust, subjective and far-from-transparent system would have continued.

This Bill is not asking too much of the Dáil. That much has been acknowledged, because there are no amendments and there is no opposition to it. The Bill comes from a desire on Deputy Wallace's part to be part of the resolution and reform. Last night he stated that if the Bill was accepted it could form the basis for discussion, debate and amendment at a later stage, since it has been universally acknowledged that there is a need for an independent body to ensure effective police accountability and because a strong, transparent institution would protect the trust between communities and the justice system.

Like Deputy Donohoe, I attend two joint policing committees, those in Dublin central and Dublin city. No doubt there is a genuine attempt by the Garda to engage at those forums. However, too often it is simply a matter of regurgitating facts and figures and it becomes a platform for political speeches. Sometimes, an issue has been dealt with before the JPC meeting takes place, in which case the meeting ends up discussing something that has been resolved far earlier. I accept and support what Deputy Wallace has included in the Bill relating to JPCs and the call for more meaningful reform.

On the other hand, I wish to highlight a different response in the constituency that Deputy Donohoe and I share - that is, the response from the community policing forum. This has been a far more open, frank, no-holds-barred engagement between communities in the north inner city, the Garda and the local authority. I attended a meeting last night in Killarney Court along with a chief superintendent, at least one other superintendent, two inspectors, several community gardaí and approximately 50 residents, as well as local authority representatives. That model has emerged from difficult and fractured relationships between gardaí and local communities for many years. It is a tribute to the staff and the co-ordinator, Marie Metcalfe, that we have a far better system in the north inner city. There is a better, more open relationship between the Garda and the communities, and this could be a way forward for other communities outside Dublin. The pillars of the forum include ideals such as partnership, problem solving, accountability, visibility, accessibility, improved response and especially collaborative engagement. I realise no system is perfect; there have been difficult times, and issues will continue to arise. I was in the AV room some months ago with families and individuals invited by Deputies Wallace and Daly. I listened to their stories from outside Dublin and I thought to myself that if only they had something similar then they might have been spared the anguish, pain and distress that they were subjected to because of the lack of a fair or transparent system.

There are positive proposals in the Bill, including the suggested wider remit of the range of complaints and full and independent access to the Garda electronic databases. It is also positive that the Bill addresses power-sharing and, in particular, de-politicising the Garda Síochána. I believe the Bill will contribute towards comprehensive, impartial and full investigation of complaints, whether they come from the public, serving gardaí, former gardaí or communities. There must be proper channels to do this and I believe the Bill contains positive suggestions in this regard.

I support the call by Deputy Wallace last night for the Minister to reopen the section 106 inquiry into Corrib gas events as a gesture of goodwill, because there has been an appalling travesty in that case. The Bill is supported by many organisations and individuals who are involved in civil liberty and human rights matters.

It is positive that the Bill is being accepted. I hope it will not languish somewhere and that it will be part of a genuine reform. Perhaps this measure is a step towards a more collaborative approach to issues rather than the usual confrontational or adversarial approach.

I welcome the Minister's commitment to reform of the Garda Síochána structure. I thank her for allowing this draft to progress past Second Stage. I welcome the words of Deputy Donohoe this evening. I acknowledge that a much-needed public consultation process is finally under way in respect of Garda reform. I emphasise that the Bill before the House was drafted only after extensive consultation with and research of the work of the many stakeholders currently before the Joint Committee on Justice, Defence and Equality, in addition to the comments and reviews of many legal academics. I confirm that we have made an extensive submission to the justice committee in this regard, but we have not received any response as of yet. I am concerned that the House and the Government remain uncertain and uninformed about the concept of democratic accountability. This, in its purest form, is the accountability of the Garda to the citizens that the force polices.

This reinforces and legitimises the policing by consent model, which requires that a mutuality must exist between the Garda and the people. The improvement of democratic accountability would go some way towards restoring public confidence and trust in the Garda, which the Minister notes has been undermined.

Democratic accountability currently takes place through the medium of the Dáil, where the Minister answers parliamentary questions relating to policing on behalf of the Commissioner. However, the Minister frequently refuses to answer parliamentary questions, using the excuse that the subject of a question is an operational matter for the Garda. This allows the Garda Commissioner and the Minister to exercise policing powers without accountability.

The principal purpose of the proposed independent police board is to replace the current, unsatisfactory model of democratic accountability through Parliament. However, I note with concern that the Government has only committed to a board that will maintain this level of accountability to the Oireachtas. The strength and breadth of the objectives and functions of the proposed board will be the litmus test of the Government's commitment to real and meaningful reform of the Garda's structure.

In this regard, I am also concerned by the minimal function of a much weaker board, as proposed in Labour's disappointing and short discussion document. Principally, there is no mention of the centrality of human rights in those functions, for example, training, human rights proofing of all codes, etc. This contrasts with the Bill's extensive objectives and functions, which reflect the recommendations of the Irish Council for Civil Liberties, ICCL, and the Irish Human Rights Commission, IHRC.

The Minister, like her predecessor, seems to be implying that she has a difficulty with the proposed appointment of the Data Protection Commissioner and the Ombudsman for Children to the board, in that doing so might conflict with their duties. On the contrary, the experience of those two officers would be invaluable on such a board. It is acceptable and standard practice to act in an ex officio capacity on boards. The Minister might be interested to know that both officers have confirmed to me their willingness to be considered for the board. Indeed, the Government recently saw fit to request and empower the Ombudsman for Children, whose remit only covers HSE investigations, to conduct an investigation into Garda misconduct in the case of the removal of Roma children.

I note with concern that the Bill's third theme, the depoliticisation of the Garda and removal of direct ministerial control by the amendment of many sections of the Garda Síochána Act 2005, was overlooked by most of the Deputies who contributed, including the Minister. A clear commitment to the House to relinquish ministerial and Government control of the Garda is necessary. The selection and appointment of all senior gardaí, including the Commissioner, can no longer be connected to the Government.

The Minister seemed to imply that a root and branch review of policing had already been provided for in the wake of the Guerin report through her referral of certain matters to the Garda Inspectorate. As noted by several human rights groups at a meeting of the justice committee, the Garda Inspectorate is merely a creature of the Minister under the 2005 Act. Any investigation by the inspectorate cannot be said to be truly independent, given its direct and sole accountability to the Minister and the fact that it can only act on the Minister's instruction. The inspectorate has also noted the limits of its investigatory powers, given that it must always provide advanced notice before visiting any Garda station and cannot engage in cold calling. A root and branch review conducted by a body with such weak investigatory powers cannot be expected to be thorough or comprehensive.

The Minister raised concerns about State security, the intelligence functions of the Garda and the proposed involvement of the board in same. I disagree with her reading of the Bill in this regard. Oversight of State security and Garda functions is not listed as either an objective or function of the board, although the reporting obligations of the Garda Commissioner relating to policing and security matters extends to the board and the Minister. The Garda should not be entitled to use the catch-all excuse of "State security" to defend the blue wall of silence. The European Court of Human Rights has held against such an excuse in terms of, for example, the Garda covert surveillance legislation. Whether the Garda should be responsible for national policing as well as State security is a discussion for another day, but this Bill has been drafted with the current arrangement in mind. For clarity, will the Minister examine sections 17(8), the new section 17B in section 28 and the new section 93A, which give comfort on the matter of State security? Sections 96 and 99 of the 2005 Act, which allow the Minister to give a direction, would not be amended by this Bill.

The value of transparency is promoted throughout the Bill by the requirement on the board to publish all relevant codes, operational policies and procedures and on the ombudsman commission to receive and publish follow-up details of all investigations. The publication and accessibility of these documents has long been recommended by the ICCL and the IHRC. The value of transparency was strongly emphasised throughout the Patten report. Transparency would be increased under the Bill through the identification of the Garda as a public body for the purposes of freedom of information legislation, which was recommended by the UN in its most recent report on compliance with the International Covenant on Political and Civil Rights. It was also promised in the programme for Government. In 2008, the Information Commissioner pointed out that Ireland was almost unique in Europe in excluding its police force from the scope of freedom of information law. Current Government proposals on freedom of information only extend to the Garda's administrative records relating to human resources, finances and procurement matters.

While I welcome the Government's long-awaited admission that an independent and statutory inquiry is needed, I am concerned that there may be a temptation to kick these issues down the road without any real or meaningful commitment to wholesale reform of the Garda's structures. Despite Labour's newfound interest in police reform, it was not interested enough to include the matter in the programme for Government.

Some Government Deputies have a tendency to refer to these issues as legacy or historical in an effort to distance themselves and to justify their lack of action, which led to a wholesale political crisis. Last night, a Deputy told the House that he would stand shoulder to shoulder with gardaí regardless of whether they were good or bad. Surely, this is a cause for worry for all citizens.

Last night, it was pointed out that working in the Garda was a dangerous job and that many gave great service to the State. I agree wholeheartedly. Their job is certainly more dangerous than that of a politician. However, we would do well to remember that, since 2002, eight gardaí have tragically lost their lives at work, but that, in the same period, 47 fishermen have died at work and 172 people have died on construction sites, many of them roofers. When one is enjoying one's fish or listening to the rain lashing off the roof, spare a thought for those workers, too.

I pay tribute to the people in the Public Gallery, many of whom feel that they have not got justice and that they have suffered due to Garda malpractice or corruption of one form or another. It has been more than a year since we first met them, mainly at our Red Cow meetings. It was hard to give them hope, but we tried without giving them unrealistic expectations. Change does not come easily in Ireland. The blue wall of silence is very powerful not just in the Garda, but also in the Department of Justice and Equality and the Government. After more than a year, there is a little more hope. The Garda Commissioner was forced to resign because it was found that he had not done his job properly. The former Minister for Justice and Equality had to go because he did not do his job properly. The people in the Public Gallery are starting to believe that, maybe, justice is possible after all. I ask the Minister not to disappoint them.

Question put and agreed to.