Priority Questions

Garda Misconduct Allegations

Niall Collins

Question:

1. Deputy Niall Collins asked the Minister for Justice and Equality if she will provide an update on the independent review by counsel of allegations concerning the conduct of members of the Garda Síochána; if she will detail their terms of reference and the way counsel will interact with each complainant; the procedures in place to ensure that no conflict of interest arises in the independent review; the number of cases that have been completed to date; the actions that have arisen out of those cases completed; and if she will make a statement on the matter. [35437/14]

I ask the Minister for an update on the 220 allegations against certain members of the Garda Síochána, which are being reviewed by counsel. In particular, can the Minister outline the detailed terms of reference and how the panel of counsel will interact with each of the complainants? It is becoming a bone of contention. Can the Minister address some perceived conflicts of interest that have been raised, of which she is aware because we have written to her? What will flow from the job of work of the counsel?

The Deputy is referring to the independent review mechanism, which was established to review allegations of Garda misconduct or perhaps inadequacies in the investigation of certain allegations, which had been made to me as Minister for Justice and Equality, to the Department or to the Taoiseach or other Deputies, including Deputy Niall Collins, with a view to determining to what extent and in what manner further action might be taken in each case. This was one of the actions agreed as a result of the Guerin report. A panel, consisting of two senior counsel and five junior counsel, was set up and its members were selected on the basis of their experience of the criminal justice system.

The review is under way and is examining 282 cases that have been referred. This is a significant number of cases and somewhat higher than originally estimated but it was important to refer to the panel all of the allegations on hand, with minimal filtering, to ensure every appropriate case got the benefit of an independent review. The review of each allegation consists of an examination of the papers by a counsel from the panel and does not involve interviews or interaction with complainants or any other form of investigation, although counsel may recommend that I seek further information to assist in coming to an appropriate recommendation in any particular case.

The Deputy asked about terms of reference. I have asked counsel to make a recommendation on what action, if any, might be appropriate in each case. In this regard, without in any way prejudging the outcome in any individual case, it is important to be realistic and to acknowledge that in some cases, and perhaps in a majority, a decision may be taken that no further action is recommended. This might be in cases where all court efforts have been exhausted or there has been a full examination by relevant bodies.

The Deputy asked about a conflict of interest and every step has been taken to ensure that nothing arises that creates a conflict of interest and in any way detracts from the integrity of the process. Just as in court, where there may be a potential for a conflict of interest, we are making absolutely sure that there is no conflict of interest.

I accept what the Minister says about a conflict of interest. With regard to how the panel will interact with the complainants, some of the complainants felt they would, at a minimum, be interviewed face to face by the relevant barrister reviewing the paperwork and the complaint. That should be incorporated into the terms of reference. As was correctly pointed out, I have referred some cases to the Minister.

In some of the cases that I have referred the paperwork is fairly scant. People simply do not have it, but they have a story to tell and they have issues that they need to explore. I have asked some of them to put these down on paper and forward it on. In the interests of completeness and upholding the integrity of what we are trying to achieve, all complainants should, at a minimum, be afforded an opportunity to interact on a face-to-face basis with the counsel reviewing their allegations.

That was not in the terms of reference. Deputy Collins will appreciate how it would be giving a very wide remit to counsel. Essentially, this is an opportunity to go through the detailed information on cases and we have asked everyone to submit material in writing. In many cases there is a considerable amount of correspondence. If there is nothing in writing I call on Deputy Collins to encourage people to put as much in writing as they can. We have put no limitation on the material that can be submitted and indeed extra material has been submitted in several cases.

There is a wide variety of circumstances and allegations and counsel have a wide variety of options. It is not a question of findings of fact but a recommendation. The work is similar to what the barrister Seán Guerin did in respect of Guerin cases in that he took the cases, examined them and decided that a portion of them warranted further action.

Under the terms of reference will the counsel test the allegations being made by the complainants by referring back to An Garda Síochána? Will there be a back channel from counsel to An Garda Síochána to check the veracity of what has been stated in the complaints?

Will there be an opportunity to amend the terms of reference as the process evolves? Who knows what we will find out or what the senior counsel and junior counsel on the panel of barristers will find as the process unfolds?

The Minister mentioned that the figure has increased from 220 to 282 and we have taken note of that. Two cases were raised previously in the House, the cases of Cynthia Owen and Sarah Bland. Can the Minister indicate whether they have been included among the 282 cases?

It would not be appropriate for me to put on the floor of the Dáil the particular names of individual cases that have been referred. However, there has been correspondence with every case. There has also been correspondence to Deputy Collins or whichever Deputy raised cases. This has indicated to Deputies and Senators if their cases have been referred to the review mechanism.

Deputy Collins asked if there would be a back channel to the Garda. There will not be. Depending on the review of the case, one of the options that will be open to counsel, for example, will be to refer a matter back to the Garda Commissioner for criminal or disciplinary investigation. It could be recommended to carry out a statutory inquiry. Deputy Collins will be aware that this is linked to my decision in respect of the follow-up to the Guerin inquiry. I am not keen on continually amending a commission of inquiry based on the outcome of this review. I am not reviewing the terms of reference for this mechanism. I will bring together the findings and ask for an overview of the cases that I will make available. I am keen to ensure that, depending on the findings, some of those cases may indeed be referred to a commission.

Direct Provision System

Pádraig MacLochlainn

Question:

2. Deputy Pádraig Mac Lochlainn asked the Minister for Justice and Equality to set out her plans regarding the current direct provision system in view of concerns that it is archaic, inhumane and not fit-for-purpose; and if she will make a statement on the matter. [35740/14]

There has been a long overdue focus in recent times on the direct provision centres. I welcome much of what the Minister's colleague, the Minister of State, Deputy Aodhán Ó Ríordáin, has said on the matter. We have been raising this issue throughout this Dáil session. The Minister's predecessor, Deputy Shatter, was deeply disappointing in his responses and attitude to this issue. It is refreshing to hear a new message coming from the Department and the Minister of State. I am keen to get more meat on the bone today in respect of what the Department will do.

I appreciate Deputy Mac Lochlainn has an interest in this area. The Reception and Integration Agency, RIA, of my Department is responsible for the accommodation of protection applicants who come to Ireland in accordance with the Government policy of direct provision. The policy has been of long standing and has had various twists and turns in terms of trying to accommodate the people involved. It is associated with the crisis in homelessness that existed ten years ago when the decision was taken to provide these direct provision centres.

It is important to get across to the public the message that direct provision means full board accommodation is given to people in a variety of centres throughout the country. We have 4,330 people staying in 34 asylum centres. Let us put this in some context. The number of asylum seekers this year is running at a 40% high, although, obviously, from a low base in recent years. There has been a 40% increase this year. That is a reflection of a Europe-wide demand in respect of refugees as well as unrest in many countries. It is important to note the pressures that this creates on the State in terms of resources, accommodation and provision for the people who are arriving and who are often in a distressed state. We want to make real improvements, where possible, and we have made several commitments in the Government programme.

I imagine Deputy Mac Lochlainn will agree with me that the main concern of people who are in direct provision is the length of time involved. It is long overdue to have a focus on the single procedure and that is what we are doing. I will have heads of the Bill to Government within two to three weeks and we will progress that legislation in the coming months. It will probably be Easter 2015 by the time we get to implement it. Effectively, this means new arrivals will be dealt with within a year or a year and a half at the maximum. That will make a significant difference. This has been widely welcomed by the NGO community.

We have established the working party to examine what improvements can be made in the immediate future to the system as it exists at the moment.

Of particular concern is the impact on children in these centres over a long period because of the cramped environment and the food. The food is outside of their cultural experience. I listened to some of the excellent journalistic reports on radio about deep-fried foods. This is food we recommend families should not be eating all the time. Yet this is what is being given to them every day. There is a sum of €15 per week. People are trapped in this situation and impoverished for a significant period. The Minister is right to say we need to speed up the process of application dramatically. Moreover, we need to focus in particular on the rights of the children. It has been said to me that this is like the modern equivalent of the Magdalen laundries. Perhaps it is not as extreme but it is another example of the State failing young people in particular in this situation.

Some 51,000 people have been accommodated in the centres over a period. There are issues that can be further addressed. We want to ensure the system is as humane as possible. Unlike many other countries we do not detain people here. We make this accommodation available while they are going through the legal system and process. Deputy Mac Lochlainn is right in that we want to give the children who are in direct provision the best possible experience they can have in this country. One of the things that happens here - sometimes people forget this - is that every child in direct provision goes to the local primary school or secondary school. It is a credit to past Governments in this regard. We have a system that ensures children are connected to the local community and get the benefit of our education system.

Deputy Mac Lochlainn referred to cramped conditions. There are a small number of self-catering units. I would like to see more and I would like to see families having greater autonomy in so far as they can within the direct provision system. However, Deputy Mac Lochlainn is aware that there is a resource issue in terms of provision and it is also a question of changing the type of accommodation. The working group will examine what changes can be made to improve the situation of families. Furthermore, there are strong child protection policies in place as well.

The other issue of concern I wish to raise in this area is that of accountability. When we are providing a public service there is freedom of information and accountability to the Ombudsman. However, in the case of the private businesses that provide these services on behalf of the State, these do not apply. Therefore, we cannot look at how the money is spent or the type of food or accommodation provided.

They are not truly held to account, even though taxpayers' money is paying for this. That is the first issue.

The second issue is the reports of women in these centres turning to prostitution. I have seen the Minister's concerned remarks about that, but it is the inevitable outworking of a long-term situation when people find themselves trapped. I urge the Minister to move speedily on this. We lost three years with the Minister's predecessor who refused to accept that this is an issue. I welcome the language used by the Minister and her colleague, the Minister of State, Deputy Aodhán Ó Ríordáin, but it is time to move quickly. Three years have been lost due to the appalling approach of the Minister's predecessor. The change must happen quickly.

I caution against unrealistic expectations. As various people have said recently, this is a Europe-wide problem in terms of the demands in Europe, particularly in southern Europe, and the number of refugees as a result of unrest internationally. It is a complex issue that is placing huge demands on countries throughout Europe. I have made it clear that we will do whatever we can to improve conditions and to ensure that human rights are protected. My predecessor did excellent work on citizenship, work that had not been done previously in this country.

I do not accept it is inevitable that women in direct provision must resort to prostitution. I have asked for reports from the Garda on any harassment that might be taking place. If there is information available to show that women are being solicited or put under pressure, that must be examined and managers in local centres must be highly sensitive to it. Certainly, I do not see it as inevitable.

Magdalen Laundries

Maureen O'Sullivan

Question:

3. Deputy Maureen O'Sullivan asked the Minister for Justice and Equality the way she will address the issues and problems which have arisen in the context of determining the length of stay for the individuals in the Magdalen laundries. [35439/14]

My question relates to the Magdalen laundries and the issue of determining the length of stay and the difficulties arising with that.

This relates to the scheme that has been put in place by the Government for women who were in the Magdalen laundries. Decisions have been made on 80% of the applications so far. A total of 770 applications have been received and 442 applicants have received their lump sum payments to date, at a cost of €16 million. The sum allocated for the scheme is €34 million. The majority of the applications have been processed to the satisfaction of applicants and there has been no systemic issue or problem particular to determining the length of stay. That is not to say that the issue is straightforward in every case. However, less than 4% of applicants have disputed the assessment to date, so such cases are relatively rare.

Mr. Justice Quirke recommended that a fair and robust eligibility process be put in place. Where there are records available from the relevant religious congregations and the applicant has no issue with them, the process has been very straightforward. Where there is an incomplete or no record or where the applicants disagree with the records, we check out what the applicant says in so far as we can and try to come to a satisfactory conclusion.

We have also advised the applicants to get legal advice. In the vast majority of cases, people have received legal advice before they signed the agreement. A sum of €550, plus VAT, has been made available to the women towards the cost of obtaining legal advice. The vast majority of claimants are being dealt with, so I assume the Deputy is commenting on those cases where there are particular difficulties. There is also an appeals mechanism to the Ombudsman and to a senior official in the first instance.

I acknowledge the progress that has been made since the exchange the Minister and I had in July. At that stage, 357 claimants had received compensation and the figure is now 442. There are outstanding issues and one of them is the need for reputable independent advocates for women who are in nursing homes or other institutions. There is also the issue of the end date. Mr. Justice Quirke recommended that there should not be an end date. As we know, some people missed the residential institutions redress scheme for various reasons.

In addition, a number of women are finding it difficult to prove length of stay. The McAleese report showed that the date of exit was not available for 58% of admissions to the laundries. The burden of proof appears to be on the women, many of whom are in ill health and of advancing years. It is not the fault of the women that the records are incomplete. Justice for Magdalenes raised the dangers of exclusive reliance on the religious orders' records and Mr. Justice Quirke was told that the Department had six different ways of establishing length of stay. Will the Minister verify that all of those avenues are being explored? Will the Department accept sworn affidavits from the ladies or from other women who were in the laundries at the same time and would make a sworn affidavit?

In the first instance, the processing of all applications starts on the premise that the testimony of the applicant is correct. That is the basic approach. We then try to verify it. I accept the point that it is not the women's fault if the records are incomplete. A variety of other mechanisms are being used. If the applicant disagrees with the officials, a number of inquiries are made. The Department of Social Protection, for example, might be able to indicate various social insurance records from a particular institution, and the Department of Education and Skills has schools records. There are also electoral registers. A variety of other documents are examined to make a determination.

I will consider the matter of a sworn affidavit and whether there is a possibility of using that in some of the disputed cases. I will revert to the Deputy on that.

I stress the urgency of this because many of the ladies are of advancing years and some of them are in extreme ill health. This week, I had the privilege of meeting one of the ladies who lives outside the State. It was most disturbing to listen to her story of being in one of the laundries. I have no doubt that it contributed to the ill health she suffers now. As she said, she was "dumped" in a laundry at 14 years of age.

With regard to health care, I am aware the Government agreed that the Minister's Department would co-ordinate legislation with the Department of Health and that her officials are working with its officials. What is the position on that? There is also the issue of health care for women living outside the State. It would be easier, perhaps, to deal with women living in England, but there are women living in other countries such as the United States and Australia. What input has the Minister's Department had into that issue?

We have been having detailed discussions with the Department of Health on finalising the legislation, particularly the issue of access to health services for women who are living in the United States, for example. We will have a mechanism to deal with that. It is likely to be through buying an insurance premium for the women, but the final details are being worked out with the Department of Health. The legislation is almost complete. I am awaiting some final decisions from the Department of Health and I expect to have those shortly. The legislation should be introduced in the Dáil within a matter of weeks.

Direct Provision Data

Niall Collins

Question:

4. Deputy Niall Collins asked the Minister for Justice and Equality her position with regard to direct provision; if she will provide in tabular form the number of persons in direct provision per direct provision centre; the length of time those persons have been in direct provision; her plans to reform this area; and if she will make a statement on the matter. [35438/14]

Ireland would not be categorised as a target destination for asylum seekers, and that is possibly a by-product of the direct provision system in this country. Genuine issues have been raised about that system, however, particularly humanitarian issues and the issue of catering and providing for children. Will the Minister outline the number of persons in each direct provision centre and her plans for reform in this area?

I can certainly provide the Deputy with the background information, if he has not received it already. I have the numbers but time does not permit giving the details for each place. I can give the Deputy an idea of the scale of the numbers of people living in different centres. It ranges from 31 in some centres to 81 and hundreds in others. The maximum number is 245 in Kinsale. I do not know if the Deputy has visited the Mosney centre but I have. Every effort is made by the managers there to provide very humane conditions. Many of the families are living in their own units. There is general catering and families can do a small amount of self-catering as well.

The number of centres has been reduced from a high of over 70 to 34. The most recent closure of a centre, that in Donegal town, took place in July 2013. The annual budget for direct provision accommodation at its highest in 2008 was €91 million. This year, the cost will be €51 million. The number of people in direct provision has fallen to 4,300, a reduction of 46% on the figure which obtained at the highest point. As already stated and as conditions change throughout Europe and across the globe, the number is climbing again.

There are two priority areas on which we must work. Deputy Mac Lochlainn referred earlier to food. There is cultural diversity and, in that context, attention is given to people's different dietary needs. I visited the kitchens in Mosney, saw the foods being distributed to families and am aware that a wide choice is available to people from different cultural and ethnic backgrounds. Every effort is made to ensure that this is the case, particularly as it is part of the conditions relating to the direct provision centres. Of course, there are some who will remain dissatisfied. It is important to note that those kinds of efforts are made.

In the context of public information, the Reception and Integration Agency publishes annual reports and the most recent of these relates to 2013. Protests are taking place throughout the country at present. I appeal to people not to take part in such protests. I am of the view that the way forward is by means of legislation and through the efforts of the working group we are establishing to deal with the issues which Deputies Niall Collins and Mac Lochlainn have raised.

The Minister referred to protests. Doras Luimní, an NGO and advocacy body which operates in Limerick, recently organised such a protest. There are two reception centres in Limerick at Mount Trenchard, which is near Foynes in my constituency, and Knockalisheen, which is in the city itself. These centres are very different, mainly because a large number of children are living at the one in Knockalisheen whereas this is not the case at Mount Trenchard. The position with regard to children has given rise to concern, particularly as many of them hold Irish passports. A large number of them were born in this country to parents who entered the jurisdiction in order to seek asylum. This aspect of the issue must be kept centre stage. Why does it take up to three years for 46% of asylum seekers' cases to be processed? Why have 14% of asylum seekers been in the system for more than seven years?

The immediate answer to the Deputy's question is that none of the Governments which preceded this one reformed the application process. The waiting times relating to that process must be reduced and brought into line with those which obtain in every other EU member state. Previous Ministers for Justice and Equality decided to introduce large-scale immigration Bills and did not focus on the single procedure. There is no question that the very large body of work relating to the Bill in question must be done at some point. In the interim, however, we must isolate the single procedure and introduce legislation that will allow us to reduce the number of steps in the process. It is as simple as that.

The cases of 2,000 of those who have been in direct provision for over four years are the subject of judicial reviews. People have a right to use the legal system but, as the Deputy is aware, the number of judicial reviews is endless. A further 800 of those in direct provision are the subject of deportation orders. As is the position in other European countries, it is not possible to return people who are the subject of such orders to countries such as Somalia, Syria and Iraq. A decision was recently handed down in the High Court to the effect that people cannot be detained at their own homes by the Garda and removed for deportation. This has had a significant impact on the number of individuals being deported. This matter must also be dealt with.

At the recent protest in Limerick organised by Doras Luimní, residents from the Mount Trenchard and Knockalisheen facilities raised issues in respect of the basic conditions in which they are living. What independent monitoring takes place with regard to the standard of food and accommodation being made available to those within the direct provision system? The Minister indicated that the Reception and Integration Agency has some level of oversight in this regard. Is there an independent body, similar to HIQA, which has overall responsibility in this regard? Has the Minister considered setting up such a body in order that it might assess the standards which obtain and make recommendations in respect of them rather than allowing an agency of her Department to do this? Does she have any plans to establish a body of this nature?

The Deputy referred to a protest organised by Doras Luimní. I hope NGOs are not organising protests outside direct provision centres. I would be very concerned with regard to the impact of this on both the children and families of the protesters.

The protest took place in Limerick city centre.

It is one thing to draw attention to the problem. I again call on people not to protest in a way that makes it impossible to run the centres, to have them cleaned and to have food delivered to them. I am concerned with regard to what is happening. Changes can be made without the need for such protest action.

Accommodation centres are subject to inspection on three occasions each year - twice by staff from the Department of Justice and Equality and once by staff from an independent company, QTS Limited. All completed inspection reports relating to the centres are published on the Reception and Integration Agency's website. I accept that issues arise and there has been much discussion - in recent weeks and even earlier - with individual residents in respect of particular complaints. When I held workshops in conjunction with my colleague, the Minister of State, Deputy Ó Ríordáin, one of the issues which arose related to the possibility of establishing an independent complaints mechanism. This is a matter on which we can and should make progress in order that people will have clarity.

Garda Inspectorate Reports

Pádraig MacLochlainn

Question:

5. Deputy Pádraig Mac Lochlainn asked the Minister for Justice and Equality the progress of the implementation of the Garda Inspectorate report; and if she will make a statement on the matter. [35741/14]

I am sure that, like myself and everyone else in opposition, the Minister is extremely concerned with regard to the recent revelations to the effect that Sergeant Maurice McCabe has apparently discovered more anomalies in respect of the way in which penalty points are being cancelled. In that context, my question relates to the Garda Inspectorate report published earlier this year. Are the very solid recommendations contained in the report being implemented in full?

The Garda Inspectorate's report is excellent and it clearly charts the way forward for the short, medium and long term. I am aware of the concerns that were raised recently with regard to the operation of the penalty points system in the context of a protected disclosure made to the acting Garda Commissioner. As the Deputy is aware, such disclosures are the subject of examination by the Garda professional standards and internal audit units, as well as a separate inquiry by GSOC. If there has been any infringement of the relevant policies and procedures by a member of An Garda Síochána, it would be a most serious matter. If there are ways in which we can continue to improve the system, these will be identified. It is important, however, that the actual facts be established before any conclusion is reached. That is what is happening at present. Those facts will be placed in the public domain. Work is ongoing on the inquiries at present in order to establish those facts.

The Garda Inspectorate put forward a number of recommendations in its report. A huge change has come about in terms of the way in which penalty points are being dealt with. For example, it is now the case that only three people can make the relevant decision. A new manual relating to the new methodologies and criteria that apply was developed and made available to all gardaí in June. If issues relating to gardaí and penalty points are raised, these must be dealt with at local level in the first instance before being referred to those responsible for dealing with such matters in Thurles. Particular care is taken to ensure that written records are kept in order that matters might be tracked. There is now a completely different approach being taken and this is in line with what the Garda Inspectorate recommended.

As already stated, we need to wait until all the facts have been established.

In regard to the recent information, let us hear the outcome of the investigation before we jump to conclusions. If there is any question of continued abuse, it will be dealt with seriously.

I want to focus on whether a number of recommendations are being implemented - the recommendation that the fixed charge processing centre in Thurles be the sole cancellation authority, that whenever someone petitions to have a fixed charge notice or penalty points cancelled, he or she must provide factual evidence from a third party, that if that evidence is not provided, the petition is automatically refused and that these petitions are made through a proper application process. Are these recommendations being implemented?

A criminal justice working group, made up by the Department of Justice and Equality, the Department of Transport, Tourism and Sport, the Road Safety Authority, An Garda Síochána and the Courts Service, is supposed to be working on implementing these recommendations on an ongoing basis. Has that group been established and is that work taking place?

The answer to the last question is "Yes". I attended a meeting of that group with the former Minister for Transport, Tourism and Sport, Deputy Varadkar, when he was working on these issues. At that meeting, all of the groups mentioned by the Deputy were represented. The meeting was helpful in terms of monitoring the progress of the recommendations and moving forward with them.

In regard to the question relating to Thurles, the answer is "Yes". Three people are now responsible for dealing with all fixed charge and penalty points notices. They are working on the basis of what is outlined in the Garda fixed charge processing system manual. This came into operation on 16 June. There is, obviously, a period of transition, but the procedure is in place. In a case where a garda has been driving, written material must be provided regarding a penalty points question by the local station.

In regard to the cancellation of fixed point penalty notices, we must consider the issue of emergency calls. We could have a situation where a garda on duty was called urgently to an area, perhaps to attend a domestic violence incident or attempted burglary, and the case may relate to that. When the assessment relating to the most recent allegations is complete, all of this information will be in the public domain.

Everybody agrees there will be exceptional circumstances where people should have their penalty points terminated. For example, people could be rushing to a hospital with their child. However, there should be documentary evidence or a paper trail that demonstrates that.

The Minister is right to say that we must await the outcome of the current examination by GSOC. However, I am alarmed by the situation. Everybody in the country was focused on the issue of penalty points, but if it emerges that after the investigations of last year by the Committee of Public Accounts, the Comptroller and Auditor General and the Garda Inspectorate there are still some senior gardaí not applying the system appropriately, they should be demoted by a rank or two. Does the Minister agree with my assessment that after everything that has happened, it is unacceptable for a senior member of An Garda Síochána not to have implemented a system that is fair to all, even before the new directive issued in June?

There has been significant public comment and discussion on this issue. The public wants to see a fair and just system enacted with no favouritism or inappropriate behaviour from gardaí. I agree with the Deputy on this. Any fair-minded person who is aware of the changes that have taken place will accept the new system is a vast improvement and more robust. If further information on abuse of the system comes in, whether from audits or confidential disclosure, both the acting Garda Commissioner and I will ensure there is a robust examination of the facts and they will be made public. There are new procedures in place and I believe the new system has taken account of the public debate and the need for a fair system that takes account of the kinds of situation described by the Deputy where it would seem reasonable to terminate points, but that will not be open to abuse by anyone.