Public Sector Management (Appointment of Senior Members of the Garda Síochána) Bill 2014: First Stage

I move:

Bill entitled an Act to provide for the independent appointment of Commissioner, Deputy Commissioner and senior members of the Garda Síochána, to make the removal of such members more transparent and accountable, to amend the Public Service (Recruitment and Appointments) Act 2004 and 2013 and the Garda Síochána Act 2005 and to provide for related matters.

I am grateful to the House for the opportunity to introduce this Bill. The House will be aware of the recent resignation, or sacking, of the Garda Commissioner, Martin Callinan. Therefore, this is an appropriate time for a Bill to be introduced to provide for an open and transparent procedure for the appointment of his successor. This Bill provides a way to do that.

The Bill will introduce reforms which should have been introduced years ago. I do not know whether the House is aware that the top 200 positions in the Garda Síochána are filled by political or Government appointment. This is a shocking figure in view of the fact that these appointments should be made independently. These top positions go from Garda Commissioner down to the rank of superintendent. The Bill addresses this problem, which is possibly the worst case of political patronage in the public service. This practice is open to abuse and undoubtedly has been abused. Promotions and appointments in An Garda Síochána are a scandal that should have been addressed many years ago. A recent editorial in the GRA bulletin described the process that exists currently as a three-ball lottery system, where a hidden hand selects the winner. This cannot be allowed to continue.

In view of the fact the public has lost confidence in the Garda, particularly in gardaí at the top, it is imperative that political interference in this area is ended. The Bill addresses this through two main principles. The first is that there should be open competition. Currently, positions at the top of the Garda Síochána are filled by insiders with insiders. This is unacceptable. I believe everybody in this House accepts that the position must be addressed. The Bill tracks a way forward for the Government using the principles I have outlined. These two principles are open competition and independence.

This is a no-cost Bill. It will not represent a cost the Exchequer, will not set up any new quango and will draw on existing resources and people to make the appointments. It will draw on people who already work in the public service on related matters. The Garda Commissioner, the assistant commissioner and any deputy commissioners or deputy assistant commissioners will be appointed by the top level appointments committee, TLAC, which already has responsibility for appointments in the public service. TLAC will advertise openly for a commissioner and for these other positions. When the advertisements have been posted and the necessary interviews have been carried out, TLAC will recommend three individuals as suitable for appointment. Those recommendations will go to a new public appointments board. This board will not be a new quango, because it will draw on existing people serving in this capacity in the public service, including people from the Standards in Public Office Commission. This board will then nominate one person, whose name will go to the Dáil rather than to the Government. This nomination will be accepted or rejected by the Dáil. If the first nominee is rejected, the second will be put forward, but if that nominee is also rejected the process must start again. This is a cost-neutral way of taking this vital and sensitive position out of the hands of the Government. As we know, many governments have abused the current process, to their cost and to the cost of the credibility of the justice system.

Under this Bill, other appointments - those below the level of Garda Commissioner and Assistant Garda Commissioner and their deputies - will be made in a more direct way. These appointments could be made directly by the new public appointments board, but could be subject to Dáil committee approval and interview if this is felt necessary.

The Bill also addresses the sensitive issue of what should happen in the case of the removal of a Garda Commissioner or Assistant Garda Commissioner. It makes it imperative that if this occurs, an inquiry into the circumstances surrounding the dismissal will be mandatory. It will be up to the Dáil and not the Government to dismiss a Garda Commissioner.

Is the Bill being opposed?

Question put and agreed to.

I declare the motion for leave to introduce the Bill agreed. As this is a Private Members' Bill, Second Stage must, under Standing Orders, be taken in Private Members' time.

I move: "That the Bill be taken in Private Members' time."

Question put and agreed to.