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".