Garda Síochána (Amendment) Bill 2014: Second Stage [Private Members]

I move: "That the Bill be now read a Second Time."

The past 12 months have seen public confidence in the administration of justice in Ireland undermined in a most significant manner. Not only have we witnessed some of the most severe cutbacks in the provision of services, such as the reduction of approximately 1,600 gardaí in the Garda force, the closure of more than 139 Garda stations and more than 30 court houses and the fact that over 16% of the prison population is on temporary release at any point in time, we have also witnessed a stream of revelations and investigations which have damaged the public perception of An Garda Síochána, the Department of Justice and Equality and the Garda Síochána Ombudsman Commission.

The problems which have manifested themselves in An Garda Síochána and GSOC and which were reported to the former Minister for Justice and Equality were ignored, dismissed or glossed over in order to save the embarrassment of those in senior positions who decided that not taking responsibility was a key management skill. This approach did a massive disservice to the ordinary members of An Garda Síochána and to the citizens of Ireland. As a result of this dereliction of duty, we have seen the resignation of the Garda confidential recipient, the Garda Commissioner, the Minister for Justice and Equality and the Secretary General of the Department. We have also witnessed the establishment of an unprecedented number of commissions of investigation surrounding the Department, and there are still more commissions to be established. One would hope, then, that lessons are learned as to how to deal with issues arising in the Garda force and the Department of Justice and Equality from this date forward.

Fianna Fáil has been calling for a strengthening of the Ombudsman's powers since the maladministration of justice outlined by Sergeant Maurice McCabe was revealed. Central to the failure to address these problems was the lack of own-initiative investigations and actions which could be taken by the Garda Síochána Ombudsman Commission as a result of the legislation setting out the powers of that commission. The fact that GSOC was restricted in its actions by either the Minister or the Garda Commissioner or by the limitations in regard to those who can make complaints to it undermined the commission's ability to carry out its statutory functions. The legislation I am bringing forward today would significantly increase the powers and independence of GSOC and would go a long way towards ensuring that future difficulties are addressed well in advance of their becoming major institutional challenges.

This Bill is simple, straightforward and precise and would enhance the work of the Garda Síochána Ombudsman Commission and help to end the cycle of superficial reform that we have witnessed so far in the justice area. If enacted, it would amend the Garda Síochána Act 2005 in order to make the Garda Commissioner responsible to the Garda Síochána Ombudsman Commission. It would allow the commission to investigate complaints concerning the conduct of any member of the Garda Síochána made by another member of An Garda Síochána. It would remove the requirement for consent in order for the Garda Síochána Ombudsman Commission to reach informal resolution of complaints. It would grant the commission access to the Garda PULSE computer system and it would permit the commission to examine any practice, policy or procedure of An Garda Síochána in order to prevent subsequent abuse.

The Bill seeks to close the gap between An Garda Síochána and the Garda Síochána Ombudsman Commission and rebalance that relationship. It seeks to give GSOC the powers to act independently and in a manner not in any way reliant on key figures in either the Department of Justice and Equality or An Garda Síochána. We saw the failure of the current system when members of the commission had to take to the public airwaves to air their concerns about the shortcomings of the legislation which enables them to carry out their functions. This Bill, which was published in February of this year, seeks to address the issues that arose in recent controversies and to include the Garda Commissioner, as chief of police, among the positions over which the Garda Síochána Ombudsman Commission will have oversight, except with regard to issues of national security. We have been seeking this for some time. Commentators from outside the world of politics have contributed to the debate, including Nuala O'Loan and Conor Brady, a former member of the Garda Síochána Ombudsman Commission. We have taken their suggestions on board and presented them in this Bill. We agree that it is not logical or consistent to think that the chief of a body such as the Garda Síochána, which is subject to oversight, is not subject to the same degree of oversight. There is a disconnect and this gap needs to be closed. The Bill will close that gap.

Another issue is that of providing GSOC with access to PULSE. This would benefit its investigations greatly. There is much common ground among Deputies on providing GSOC with unfettered access to the Garda PULSE system to allow it to do its job. Currently, GSOC has access to PULSE only under the supervision of a seconded Garda superintendent, which is not in keeping with GSOC's status as an independent investigator of malpractice within An Garda Síochána. The legislation would allow serving members of An Garda Síochána to refer internal complaints to GSOC. This issue was crystallised in the whistleblower controversy, the revelations outlined by Sergeant Maurice McCabe and former Garda John Wilson and the more recent revelations about the penalty points system.

The Guerin report highlighted the fact that Sergeant Maurice McCabe was correct in his actions to highlight the failure to administer justice in the Bailieborough Garda district. To be frank, the findings were an embarrassment for the Government, which denied that there was ever any issue in the Department and defended the former Minister, Deputy Shatter, month after month. He dismissed and belittled the whistleblowers and was supported by the Taoiseach while doing this. Through this legislation, people such as Sergeant McCabe will no longer be frozen out of the system. GSOC must provide an avenue for people such as Sergeant McCabe to report misconduct.

Fianna Fáil fully supports the call for a commission of investigation as recommended by the Guerin report and believes this commission should be kept separate from any other commission that has been already established by the Government investigating matters relating to An Garda Síochána. The alleged malpractice in Bailieborough undermines the foundations of our criminal justice system. It also undermines the morale of all members of An Garda Síochána. In order for public confidence to be restored in An Garda Síochána it is necessary to establish fully and frankly how the situation surrounding the malpractice in Cavan was allowed to occur, continue and be covered up over such a long period of time.

The final part of our Bill would empower and enable GSOC to inquire into the policies, procedures and practices adopted by An Garda Síochána. It would allow it to review and comment on them, recommend changes to improve the policies and procedures and try to prevent complaints from arising in the first instance. This would, we hope, prevent a situation such as that in Bailieborough from arising again.

I acknowledge the fact that the new Minister, Deputy Fitzgerald, has published a Bill which reflects much of what is contained in the legislation that I have introduced. However, I believe our Bill goes further and would have a greater impact.

The Minister could support or amend the Fianna Fáil Bill, as drafted, in order to speed up the process of reform.

The reform of GSOC and the restoration of public confidence in that institution and An Garda Síochána are issues which are above party politics, given that much of what is proposed has been agreed to by all sides, whether in debates or the legislation as published. There is much agreement throughout the House and outside on the provisions set out in the Bill. We should process the legislation as quickly as possible and be seen to support the work of GSOC and An Garda Síochána. Since the controversy surrounding GSOC arose, the perception among the public is that GSOC is not being supported by the Government. This concern appears to be backed up by the fact that since Fine Gael and the Labour Party took office, the budget allocation to GSOC has been reduced by more than €1 million and its staff numbers have been cut. None the less, all parties are agreed on the four main provisions outlined in the Bill. Therefore, I suggest the Government take on board this legislation and vote to support it.

It must be stated that when Deputy Frances Fitzgerald was appointed Minister for Justice and Equality, there was a general sense that the reform agenda in the justice area would be dealt with in a much more urgent, sensible and approachable way. However, the fear now is that she is being held back by a Government that does not know how to reform the institutions of State without making significant blunders along the way. Overall, the Government's credibility with regard to the proper functioning of the justice system has been deeply damaged. It has undermined the administration of justice, first, by refusing to listen to whistleblowers; second, by continuing to refuse to answer questions surrounding the Taoiseach's involvement in the resignation of the former Garda Commissioner; third, by closing Garda stations, leaving rural Ireland without police protection; and, fourth, undermining the Judiciary through a series of measures to reduce its independence. The approach of the Government to resolving the current matters of concern undermining public confidence in the administration of justice is to establish commissions of investigation and not to follow through on their recommendations. We are still awaiting significant Government action on the Guerin report which called into question the significant deficiencies in Garda management and the Department of Justice and Equality. We are still awaiting the appointment of a new Garda Commissioner, despite the fact that the former Commissioner, Mr. Martin Callinan, resigned six months ago, on 25 March. We are still waiting on the Minister for Justice and Equality to appoint a new Secretary General and the Taoiseach's clarification of his involvement in the former Garda Commissioner's resignation.

Other worrying developments include the massive number of bench warrants and summonses which remain outstanding, the fact that over 600 prisoners are on temporary release at any one time and the dramatic decrease in Garda numbers from a peak of 14,500 in 2010 to approximately 12,900 today. In July the interim Garda Commissioner, Ms Noirin O'Sullivan, at a meeting of the Committee of Public accounts, stated force number levels were very close to critical level. She stated: "We are very close to the point below which we should not go." This comment on Garda numbers followed a similar warning by her predecessor, Mr. Callinan, also made to Committee of Public Accounts in 2012. At the time he set the floor in terms of minimum Garda numbers at 13,000, but Garda strength at the end of May was 12,954. I believe they have dipped further since. The recent recruitment of 100 new gardaí, while welcome, will not restore the force to the level required.

It is time to restore the pride the people had in their police force. It is time to restore their confidence in the country's justice system. It is time to act on the good will and faith people have shown to the Government in electing it to office. It is also time to pass this legislation to give GSOC the power to do the job that needs to be done. I commend the Bill to the House.

I am pleased to have the opportunity to address the House on behalf of the Government on the Garda Síochána (Amendment) Bill 2014 introduced by Deputy Niall Collins. The Minister for Justice and Equality, Deputy Frances Fitzgerald, is, unfortunately, not in a position to attend today owing to other unavoidable commitments. The substance of the Bill should be taken in the positive spirit in which it is presented. The Deputy has outlined the objectives of the Bill and I do not propose to repeat what he has said. As Members will be aware, the Bill was published last February and a lot has happened since, with reference to strengthening the operation of the criminal justice system. This is especially the case with regard to the delivery of a quality and effective policing service in which all of the people can have full confidence.

In April this year the Government announced a new programme of justice reform in response to the series of issues that had come to light in relation to An Garda Síochána. These issues are familiar to Deputies and are, as they know, wide-ranging and serious. The term "systemic failure" has been applied to the situation that has emerged. In that light it must be fully and honestly acknowledged that the policing system, with the standing of the Garda organisation, has gone through a difficult and challenging period. Given the overall circumstances that have developed, it is not going too far to say we are at a pivotal juncture in Irish policing. We have to look back and thoroughly examine what went wrong. At the same time, we have to look forward and decide, here and now, what kind of police service we want for the country. The Government's programme of justice reform provides a comprehensive and concrete platform for these two sets of actions.

It is evident from the events to which I have referred that an essential element of the reform needed is an enhanced system of police accountability. This is, of course, a matter that is referred to in the Bill we are discussing. As the Deputy will be aware, the Government's programme of justice reform includes the establishment of a new independent policing authority, which is a very positive step. The Cabinet sub-committee on justice reform, chaired by the Taoiseach, is charged with overseeing the development of legislative proposals for the new authority. This is a project to which a very high priority has been attached and it will continue to be addressed on that basis.

The accountability of the Garda Commissioner is one of the most important matters being addressed in the drafting of the general scheme for the policing authority Bill. In that context, the Government has made it clear that, in policing matters, the Garda Commissioner will be accountable in the exercise of his or her functions to the new authority. The preparation of the general scheme is at an advanced stage and the Minister has confirmed that she will bring it before the Government as quickly as possible.

The Government appreciates the work undertaken by Deputy Niall Collins on this Bill. At the same time, I am sure he will acknowledge that, apart from the urgent work under way on the policing authority, the Government has been proactive in bringing forward measures which cover the same ground as that covered in the Bill. The Garda Síochána (Amendment) (No. 3) Bill 2014 was recently initiated and is expected to be debated in the House in the coming weeks. The Bill is another important element of the Government's reform programme. Its main purpose is to amend the Garda Síochána Act 2005 to expand the remit and powers of the Garda Síochána Ombudsman Commission. To a certain but more limited extent, this is one of the objectives covered by Deputy Niall Collins's Bill.

The Garda Síochána (Amendment) (No. 3) Bill is concerned with a number of areas and a significant measure in its own right. In particular, it provides for the first time that the Garda Commissioner will come within the investigative remit of GSOC; will confer additional police powers on GSOC for criminal investigation purposes; provide greater autonomy for GSOC in examining Garda practices, policies and procedures; and enable the Garda Síochána Inspectorate to carry out inspections on its own initiative without the need for the prior approval of the Minister for Justice and Equality. On a point of information, the Minister has indicated that she will further consider legislative changes with regard to GSOC within the framework of the policing authority Bill.

In addition, the Protected Disclosures Act 2014 which came into operation on 15 July deals with Garda whistleblowers by way of provisions similar to those proposed in the Deputy's Bill. The new Act inserted a section into the Garda Síochána Act 2005 to allow members of An Garda Síochána to make protected disclosures to GSOC in confidence in respect of alleged Garda misconduct. The Government has committed in the programme for Government to the introduction of legislation to protect whistleblowers.

I note that Deputy Niall Collins's Bill contains provisions to allow GSOC to access the Garda PULSE computer system. No specific statutory amendment is needed for this purpose and I understand it is being catered for operationally on the basis of technical co-operation between GSOC and An Garda Síochána.

The Oireachtas Joint Committee on Justice, Defence and Equality commenced a review of the Garda Síochána Act 2005 earlier this year and has held hearings with interested parties, including GSOC and An Garda Síochána, following a public consultation process.

The Minister received interim recommendations from the committee in June. A number of the committee's recommendations are catered for in the Government's No. 3 Bill and the Protected Disclosures Act 2014. The joint Oireachtas committee is continuing its review of the Garda Síochána Act 2005 and the Minister understands that it will bring forward a more detailed and comprehensive report. She is looking forward to receiving this and she will consider all the recommendations made by the joint committee.

The Government's reform programme is not confined to legislative measures. In other areas, substantial progress has been made and the current momentum is being sustained. Last month, the open competition for the recruitment of the next Garda Commissioner was announced. An appointment from this competition is expected in late November-early December. An independent review mechanism has been established to review complaints alleging Garda misconduct or inadequacies in the investigation of such allegations. A panel consisting of senior and junior counsel was established and the aim is to have the majority of cases reviewed within a period of up to 12 weeks.

The Fennelly commission of investigation into the operation of telephone recording systems in certain Garda stations and related matters has been up and running since June and is due to report to the Government by the end of this year. The Garda Síochána Inspectorate's crime inspection report is imminent. This report will cover a wide spectrum of policing activity including the recording, investigation and prosecution of crimes. The report will also deal with a number of concerns raised in the report submitted to the Government by Mr. Sean Guerin SC following his review of certain Garda actions. The Government has committed to establishing a commission of investigation into matters arising from the Guerin report. The terms of reference of the commission, including the timeframe and the appointment of a member, are under consideration and will be finalised shortly.

The Government published Judge Cooke's inquiry into reports of unlawful surveillance of GSOC in June. Recently, GSOC published a redacted version of the report commissioned from Mr. Mark Connaughton SC into the possible disclosure of confidential information. I welcome the publication of GSOC's report in the interest of public transparency. I might add, importantly, that the Government's No. 3 Bill meets a number of key commitments made arising from the publication of the Cooke report. These relate specifically to ensuring that GSOC can conduct a public interest investigation without reference to a specific complaint and also enhancing the effectiveness of the existing statutory provisions concerning the exchange of information between the Garda Síochána and GSOC.

The Minister published the report of the Independent Review Group on the Department of Justice and Equality in July. Since its publication, an open competition to recruit a new Secretary General to my Department has been announced and the Minister is working closely with management to implement the report's recommendations.

The Garda Síochána has been included within the scope of the Freedom of Information Bill 2013 in accordance with the commitment in the programme for Government to extend freedom of information to all public bodies. The Heads of the Bill were previously extensively debated in committee in the Oireachtas. The Bill has concluded all Stages in the Dáil and has been tabled for the Seanad. It is expected that the Bill will be enacted quickly.

A review under the Haddington Road agreement will make recommendations on the use by the Garda Síochána of the resources available to it with the objective of achieving and maintaining the highest level of efficiency and effectiveness in its operations and administration. The review encompasses all aspects of the operation and administration of the Garda Síochána. The review is expected to be completed by mid-November and will form a platform for the new Garda Commissioner to oversee a programme of comprehensive reform in the organisation.

The concept of organisational culture has been referred to in many quarters over the past several months in respect of the Garda Síochána. September saw the Garda College in Templemore welcome new recruits for the first time in a number of years. We want these men and women and the further recruits that will follow them to be members of a police force that upholds the finest and most professional standards in policing - members of a force that I and citizens of this State are justly proud of. The Government has committed itself to having in place and, as required, to changing Garda structures and systems that will provide our communities with the policing service they deserve. It is not a process that is being undertaken just for its own sake but is directed towards ensuring that the Garda Síochána will be fully up to the task of meeting the challenges of modern policing throughout the country.

With that in mind, it is very important that the measures to be put in place in the area of policing reform are properly co-ordinated. This is what the comprehensive Government justice reform programme is about. As I have indicated, the programme has already produced important results and I am fully confident that it will bring about the necessary changes so that confidence in policing can be fully restored.

Bearing in mind the overall objectives of the Deputy's Private Members' Bill, the Government does not intend to oppose it on Second Stage in this House. However, the Deputy will appreciate that since he originally introduced his Bill, the Government has embarked on a very substantial programme of criminal justice reform. In that regard, I wish to make it clear to the House that the Government intends to proceed fully with the programme. It will, of course, be dealt with as a major priority.

Deputies Pádraig Mac Lochlainn, Finian McGrath, Mick Wallace and possibly Clare Daly are offering to speak.

I welcome Deputy Collins's Bill and its aim of making the Garda Commissioner responsible to the Garda Ombudsman Commission and to allow the Garda Ombudsman Commission to investigate complaints concerning any conduct of a member of the Garda Síochána made by another member of the force, among other proposals. Sinn Féin will support the passage of this Bill to Committee Stage and we will seek to work with Deputy Collins to incorporate some of our proposals, which I will discuss later on.

There is no doubt that we need drastic changes to our system of policing. The past number of months has seen public confidence in our policing and justice system further eroded after a string of scandals and debacles. A catalogue of recent controversies that have emerged through the courageous efforts of a number of whistleblowers relating to An Garda Síochána are both shocking and profound for the State, society and not least the gardaí themselves. The failure and inaction of our Taoiseach and this Government to respond properly to these matters as they emerged with the urgency required has been alarming and only served to further compound the crisis. We have deep-rooted and systemic deficiencies within senior levels of An Garda Síochána and other institutions of the State, including the Department of Justice and Equality. They failed to account for their actions, failed to discharge their functions and responsibilities in the public interest and failed to safeguard the integrity of these fundamental institutions of the State.

There is widespread public support for rank and file gardaí - those on the front line. However, it has become increasingly clear that Garda senior management does not enjoy the same support of the public. The vast majority of gardaí are decent and patriotic servants of our people but they have been failed by their senior management and by successive Governments. For example, 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 Síochána and in the Department of Justice and Equality twined with the ineptitude and worse of the former Minister for Justice and Equality was revealed. With that, a glaring need for change became an unstoppable momentum.

I am glad that this Government has finally accepted the need to establish an independent Garda authority and increased powers for the Garda Síochána Ombudsman Commission after resisting them for so long. It should have happened a long time ago. A major step change is now required in order to restore public confidence and bring about the radical reform citizens expect and indeed deserve.

We in Sinn Féin believe in a new beginning to policing similar to what happened in the Six Counties. We want an open and transparent policing service - not a force but a service - representative of all residing in this State. We want to see a new dispensation in order to achieve more strengthened and sustainable reform which can deliver a modern 21st century policing service now and in the future. We need to see freedom from partisan political control or influence, operational independence and policing with the community to develop maximum confidence in the policing service and to maximise co-operation between citizens and An Garda Síochána.

As most of us here today know there are five existing dimensions to policing delivery – An Garda Síochána and the Garda Reserve; the Garda Síochána Ombudsman Commission; the Garda Inspectorate; the professional standards unit and the joint policing committees across the State.

What is clearly absent is an independent policing authority which would hold the Garda Commissioner to account and act as a non-partisan body, free from political control, since at this time the Commissioner is directly accountable to the Government through the Minister for Justice and Equality.

Policing accountability should be premised on the law, the courts, the Constitution and the proposed charter of rights for the island of Ireland, as expressly acknowledged in the Good Friday Agreement. An Garda Síochána should be accountable not only to an independent policing board but also to the democratically elected Houses of the Oireachtas through scrutiny committees, as well as to local government and the communities it serves through joint policing committees. We also propose that the crime and security branch of An Garda Síochána and the Defence Forces Directorate of Intelligence come within the scrutiny of the Joint Committee on Justice, Defence and Equality, with the necessary safeguards in place based on international best standards.

An Garda Síochána must be accountable through a professional code of practice established by the Minister for Justice and Equality, applied by An Garda Síochána and benchmarked by a new criminal justice inspectorate which would incorporate the existing Garda Inspectorate. The criminal justice inspectorate we propose is based on what is in place in the North. It would include not just An Garda Síochána but the entire system of prisons, penal reform, the criminal justice system and the Courts Service. The Minister would be responsible for setting the overall long-term objectives for policing, after consultation with the new policing authority. The new Garda authority would be responsible for the effective and efficient delivery of the police service and would hold the Garda Commissioner to account directly.

Earlier this year my party launched our contribution, based on our experiences of all the submissions made in the State and those of our team which negotiated the changes to policing in the North. I do not say the former RUC was in any way comparable to An Garda Síochána, but there are lessons to be learned from 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 the State. A copy of the document was circulated to all Oireachtas Members. I invite those who have not had the opportunity to do so to read it and give us constructive feedback. We do not claim to have all wisdom, but it is our humble contribution to this debate.

In terms of the unhealthy relationship we never again want to see develop, some 140 Garda stations have been closed across the State. Deputies from rural areas know the impact this has had. Garda districts were amalgamated with others. There was a 10% cut in staff, which has had a serious impact across the State. Whenever the former Garda Commissioner, Mr. Martin Callinan, was asked about it, he used terms such as "modernisation", "efficiency" and "smart policing". Every single garda to whom one spoke on the front line was disgusted, to coin a phrase, at the use of that defence by senior management. They could not believe what they were hearing. At the Garda Representative Association annual conference one could hear this year after year. The reason the former Garda Commissioner said those words and defended them was the unhealthy relationship that had been established over many years. There was a circle of trust where people defended each other.

Of course, when it came to criticism of senior of management in An Garda Síochána, the former Minister, Deputy Alan Shatter, sat where the Minister of State is sitting and defended it, rejecting any criticism. He slapped us down time and again.

The Minister of State defended the former Minister.

That can never be allowed to happen in the State again. We can never again have an unhealthy political relationship between the most senior police officer in the State and the Minister for Justice and Equality of the day, whereby they see it as being in their interests to protect each other and circle the wagons to protect themselves from criticism. The people who were failed most by that approach were the men and women of An Garda Síochána on the front line. In the future we need an independent approach free from political interference, which includes people who are representative of society, making decisions. The Joint Committee on Justice, Defence and Equality had an opportunity to examine the models used in the North and Scotland. The Minister of State will shortly have the chance to read our recommendations for change.

I commend Deputy Niall Collins. I have worked with him and other members of the Opposition closely in the past while trying to bring forward alternative solutions. It is welcome that the Government will support the Bill and not vote against it on Second Stage next Tuesday. The Minister of State is committed to equality and reform. He now has an opportunity in the post he holds to see it through. If there is any resistance from anybody to the necessary reform which needs to happen or any delay or procrastination, I ask the Minister of State to fight the good fight and make sure the change materialises. Crises emerge in the evolution of a state and it sometimes takes these moments for change to happen. There is an opportunity to see through the reforms which are necessary, win back the confidence of the public in the justice system of the State and, most of all, to boost the morale of the men and women of An Garda Síochána, the vast majority of whom have done no wrong and serve us honourably and courageously every day. If they see change happening, it will be the best thing we have done.

I thank the Leas-Cheann Comhairle for giving me the opportunity to speak about this Bill. I thank and commend Deputy Niall Collins for bringing it before the House. It is very important and brings the issue of reform and change back onto the agenda. I will refer to details of the Bill later in my contribution. It is not just a question of reform for the Government; all Members of the House have to lead on the reform agenda. Above all, most of us want professionalism, accountability and a good quality public service from the Garda. It is important to say this in the debate.

In recent months we have all seen the urgent need for change. All citizens, not just the Government, have to be involved. Trust in An Garda Síochána, the Minister for Justice and Equality and the Government has been seriously damaged. The people have to regain trust and senior gardaí, in particular, have to earn their respect. That is why the Bill is part of that process. It is welcome that Government stated it does not intend to oppose the Bill, but I also hope it does not kick it to touch and leave it, as happened last year when my Down's syndrome equality of access Bill was accepted by the Government and on which we are still awaiting action.

I referred to the need for trust and respect. In the past year or two people lost faith when they saw what was happening in A Garda Síochána and with the Minister for Justice and Equality. We have major problems in the State. There is a drugs crisis. Some 750 young people aged between 16 and 35 years who are addicted to heroin and other drugs are in the centre of the capital. They are walking the streets and there are no services available for them because the Government closed them down. They are damaging not only themselves but also small businesses and the tourism industry. We have seen people being shot on the streets because of drugs. We have seen parents being shot outside schools because of drugs and gang wars. Communities across the State have been devastated by the drugs crisis, yet the Government and the Minister of State have their heads in the sand. They need to wake up and hear about what is going on in communities. Whole streets are being intimidated. That is the reality. In the past week I have met innocent working class families who have been intimidated by a gang leader who leads a gang of between 20 and 60. That is what is going on and why we need reform, good quality gardaí and legislation such as this Bill. What is happening is not acceptable and it is not just a question of crime; it is also a major health issue.

That is why I am telling the Government to get off the pot and appoint a Minister with direct responsibility for drugs. Help those who want to help the people on the ground. We need to do that to solve the problem. There are only 30 beds for detoxification in 2014 despite the fact that we have an addiction problem affecting around 15,000 people. That is the level we are talking about. While we are talking about Garda reform, we must also deal with the real issues, which is why direct responsibility for drugs should be given to a Minister. The Government needs to get its act together to deal with broader policing issues also.

The Bill will beef up the work of the Garda Síochána Ombudsman Commission and help to end the pretend reform agenda we have witnessed in recent months. It seeks to amend the Garda Síochána Act 2005 to make the Garda Commissioner responsible to the Garda Síochána Ombudsman Commission. It is an important idea and I commend Deputy Niall Collins on including it in the legislation. We need that kind of accountability in a modern police force. There should be no worry about this among the Garda Síochána. The vast majority of gardaí to whom one speaks on the ground want the force to be accountable. While there are elements that need a good shaking and some who need to be rooted out, fresh young people are joining the force with a strong sense of public service. They must be promoted, developed and nurtured, rather than swallowed up in a rotten system as we have seen in the past.

While we are discussing the Garda Commissioner, I note the current debate on the advertisements for interviews for the post. I have a concern that it is being advertised internationally. It is important that citizens have total trust in the Garda Commissioner, particularly when he or she is dealing with intelligence issues. I would have concerns if someone from outside came in. People might come from an outside state with another agenda. I am not being paranoid. We have seen in our own history over the last 40 years that intelligence services were up to their necks in dirty tricks, bombings and shootings. I raise the issue as it is my view that we should look for someone with a strong policing record in the State. That might not be politically correct to say in this day and age, but it is important.

Deputy Collins's legislation seeks to close the gap between the Garda Síochána and the Garda Síochána Ombudsman Commission, which is very important. The tension and grievances that have existed have been appalling and unacceptable. We must rebalance that, as Deputy Collins says. There is no point in reforming the Garda if one does not reform the Minister for Justice and Equality and modern politics. Both things go together side by side - reform of our political system and reform of the Garda Síochána. The Government has let itself down on this matter. We saw the shenanigans of Deputy Alan Shatter as Minister, the whistleblowers and many other things that have been very nasty indeed. The important thing here is to ensure that political reform matches Garda reform. I support strongly the provisions in the Bill which empower GSOC to inquire into the policies, procedures and practices adopted by the Garda and to allow it to review, comment and recommend changes. This all fits nicely into the reform agenda.

When one looks at Garda numbers in light of the 2011 census, one can see there is approximately one full-time garda for every 349 people in the State. That calculation excludes members of the Garda Reserve and civilian staff, but includes all ranks. It is something we must examine. How many hours of an eight-hour shift does a garda spend on the streets? I remember being in London a number of years ago to study a community policing project. We spoke to community police officers on the ground. Of their eight-hour shifts among the inner-city flats complexes, six hours were spent walking the beat in the community, talking to families, helping people strung out on drugs, and getting them into detox centres. I saw at first hand a very good example of community policing. Can any Garda Commissioner put his or her hand on his or her heart and set out the number of hours of an eight-hour shift that a garda spends in the community meeting and working with people? We have 13,000 full-time members of the force and I welcome the fact that there has been an increase in recruitment.

I commend Deputy Niall Collins on his reforming legislation and I will support it strongly.

I welcome the Bill also. As Deputy Collins will know, most of its content was in our Bill last year, which, unfortunately, Fianna Fáil voted against. However, it is better late than never.

They never told me that.

We had a lot more in our Bill and would go a great deal further. With respect to the Government's position, we have given it the benefit of the doubt as to its intentions and how it will go about things. However, we are somewhat disappointed to date, and I wonder why the legislative programme for 2014 does not include the policing authority Bill, which had been promised. We were even told that the new Garda Commissioner would not be chosen until the policing authority was able to have an input into the process. That may still stand, but we have heard information to the contrary of late. It is very important that the selection of the new Commissioner is completely non-political. In fact, it would be better if the Government did not introduce a new policing authority if it does not intend to depoliticise it. The established parties are very keen to keep their control over the Garda Síochána, which I find worrying given that many of the problems we have witnessed over the last number of years have their roots in the fact that matters are too politicised.

I am also worried about the fact that the acting Commissioner, Noirín O'Sullivan, claims she is doing things differently and that things are being improved. Sadly, complaints about things happening, even over the summer, continue to stream into our offices. Much of it is very disappointing. It is too bad. We have not put much of it in the public domain for various reasons. There are difficulties with some things, though obviously in time we will make some matters public. I am also disappointed that the Minister has turned down an opportunity to allow section 106 to be used to consider the Corrib issue. GSOC itself asked for this under the former Government. It would demonstrate a new intent on behalf of the new Minister for Justice and Equality if she had a rethink on this. Terrible things happened at Corrib. Innocent protesters were treated incredibly badly, and that must be looked at. It is a stain on policing in the State and will remain so until we deal with it. I do not see the logic in the Government refusing to do this. To sweep it under the carpet does not augur well.

I will cover one of the cases that has come to my attention. I have spoken for hours with a gentleman from Kilkenny who bought a large public house premises in the centre of the city six or seven years ago.

He returned home from America and he has been shocked by how he is being treated by An Garda Síochána. I have listened to him for hours and, sadly, it has gone on over the summer as well. Nothing has changed despite the fact that the Commissioner has changed. My fear is, first, does the Acting Commissioner have control over the people below her? Second, can we possibly expect much to change when the vast majority of the hierarchy that has been in place for the past few years is still there? In contrast to the previous speaker, I am adamant that if the Government wants to see real change in An Garda Síochána, a good starting point will be a new Commissioner from outside the State.

I will read a summary this gentleman sent me this week. I will redact most of the names in it - he has named a lot of gardaí and for the moment I will redact those.

It states:

On Monday June 2nd [this year] a visibly irate Garda Sgt. entered our premises asking about tables at the front of the building. When asked by my wife Sally if this was a Garda matter, she was told to shut up. He stated that he had been sent down by Inspector Liam Connolly to get the tables in from the street. He read Sally her rights, and when asked why he did this, he stated that there may be further action and prosecutions in relation to this. This antagonistic behaviour was witnessed by a bar full of customers and tourists.

On Sunday 27th July/Monday morning 12.30 am, [they] approached the doorman and manager, and notified them that the bar was to be closed. When the guards were informed and shown a special exemption for the night in question, they said that the bar was to be closed and all customers off the premises by 1am - which in fact was not correct as drinking up time brings it to 1.30am. The Garda stated that she had been instructed by Inspector Liam Connolly to inspect and clear the premises. When it was put to the garda about a nearby bar that has, and can only have the same exemption as us, she stated that “they have a different license to you - just get this place cleared.”

The following night, Monday July 28th/Tuesday morning July 29th, gardaí entered the premises of Matt The Millers bar at 2.50am. Inspector Connolly was on the premises drinking, clearly intoxicated, but was permitted to leave hastily - no names were taken and no record of this inspection was recorded on the pulse system.

On August 3rd a member of the public who is not even permitted on our premises, was being spoken to by the doormen at the front of the premises, and in plain sight, pepper sprayed a customer, and then proceeded to threaten people with the spray and a knuckle duster. The guards were called in relation to this matter, but never arrived. Two hours later when the bar was closed and cleared, a single female guard came to the back door of the premises and said that they could not come before this and were busy with other matters. Meanwhile the same [gentleman] was around the town armed with a knuckle duster and pepper spray. A garda said that she would deal with it on Thursday when she came back to work, but I have heard nothing to date from her in relation to this incident. My wife Sally went to the station on the Sunday evening to speak to the sergeant in charge to find out why 2 hours had elapsed before a garda came to the premises - no satisfaction from the sergeant in relation to this - the result was an inspection by him the very same night [on their premises].

This is just a brief outline of what is a sustained and consistent level of harassment by members of An Garda Síochána towards the owners, staff and customers of The Field Bar, High Street, Kilkenny. This harassment started almost immediately after the premises was purchased in July 2007. We are at a loss to know what we did to deserve this treatment, but fully believe it is motivated by a desire to unlawfully force our customer base to go to other premises, so this process of nuisance has a purpose.

A subsequent meeting with Inspector Connolly (who was acting superintendent at the time), was sought by [him] to help "resolve these matters". This meeting content is now part of a Garda Ombudsman complaint. What can only be stated in relation to this is that after this meeting took place, Inspector Connolly became vociferously [involved] with every angle of the harassment, with his name popping up at every juncture.

Despite trying to address this ongoing situation [over the years] it has continued and is becoming even more threatening. Back in early September 2012 a meeting was sought with Superintendent Padraig Dunne, where a number of issues were raised, and the number of inspections of our premises by garda members discussed, and specific garda were named. Just over a week later two gardaí entered The Field premises and proceeded to arrest ... [the owner] Mr. John McDonald ... and while in custody, barraged him with quotes from his previous weeks private discussion with the Superintendent. [They put him in a cell and gave him hell for five hours.]

Some members of An Garda Síochána have conspired to harass us at every turn, and we now have to bring this matter to the attention of the Garda Ombudsman and [we intend to give a copy of the details to] the Minister for Justice, as their inaction to investigate crimes against us has left us in a very vulnerable and unsafe position.

I had intended referring to another case but I do not have time. The culture in An Garda Síochána is problematic. It is dire, and it has to change. If we leave the existing hierarchy in place, how can we expect to see a serious change in culture?

We met Maurice McCabe a couple of weeks ago. I know it is being looked into now but the blatant disregard for the new rules by some senior members of the force is just unbelievable. They seem to be lawless. They are certainly indisciplined and, to a great extent, dysfunctional.

I hope the Government takes all of this more seriously. I know it would like these problems to go away. They are not going to go away. A massive root and branch renewal is required, and it would be great if the Government had an appetite for it.

I did not interrupt the Deputy but it is convention not to name people outside the House. I accept he redacted some of the contents of the letter.

There were 20 names-----

It is fair to say there is now a spotlight on the gardaí that we have not seen since the days of the Morris tribunal. We were told then that it was a few bad apples in Donegal but what was revealed was a systemic problem. The solutions put in place at that time have clearly failed and the systemic problem, the culture to which Deputy Wallace refers, remains.

It has taken about two years for the Government to recognise the points we have been making about the need for change but we want to state clearly that recognising the need is one thing; delivering that change is an entirely different matter. We are a million miles away from delivering the change necessary.

In many ways things are exactly as they were, and I will deal with some of those issues. I apologise to the Minister of State and to Deputy Collins for being late but I was in the Garda Síochána Ombudsman Commission, GSOC, dealing with my own complaint, which is in the public domain and therefore we do not need to be secretive about it. That complaint stems back almost 20 months - almost two years - in regard to an incident whereby I was arrested on suspicion of drink driving, and that information leaked to the press less than 24 hours later in an effort to discredit me at the peak of the time we were raising the penalty points issue.

Through dealing with that case and meeting all the other people who have come forward since we raised those issues, we have had considerable dealings with GSOC during that time. If anyone has had any involvement with it and met any of its members, the only conclusion they could come to is that this organisation has been set up to fail. There is no other explanation for it. In the early days we though these fellows were in there to make it look good and to deliberately cover up but having met many of the staff, I genuinely believe there is a very good capability in GSOC. There are some excellent people working for that organisation, but it will fail in what it is doing because it is bereft of resources and staff and is constructed in a manner which prevents them from seriously investigating and getting results in many of the cases to which we urgently need an answer. There are limitations on what they can investigate, a high level of Garda self-investigation, which is laughable, and some of the time ceilings are not practical.

If we are serious, we need a more thorough overhaul of GSOC than what is proposed, although I welcome the measures in place. We must put in the public domain how things were. That means saying many citizens have been the victims of injustice at the hands of elements in An Garda Síochána. They are the very people to whom one would think of turning to seek help and support in one's hour of need, but, in some instances, they have become the biggest harassers and a nightmare for citizens. Cases include the publican to whom Deputy Mick Wallace referred and it is not an isolated example.

Allegations about penalty points terminations which we were told were being made under a new system are under investigation because of breaches of procedures, with people having penalty points terminated on a repeat basis. We have seen evidence of this and it will be demonstrated to be true.

There was not just one whistleblower but a number of them. In May the former Deputy and current MEP Luke 'Ming' Flanagan named and outlined the case of another Garda whistleblower in the midlands. The man concerned brought forward serious and definitive information on Garda involvement in the drugs trade and people being fitted to sell drugs. This information which I have seen is indisputable. Four months ago the issue was raised of members of An Garda Síochána being involved in the drugs trade. Deputy Finian McGrath was making points about the serious drugs problem in our society. It is, undoubtedly, true that that is the case and when this activity is ongoing four months later and the garda against whom the complaint has been made is still in place, something is not right. All of the murmurings and nice gestures of Garda administration and the sentiments expressed that we were on the verge of a new dawn mean nothing while these matters are continuing. We have taken the Minister's word as to her intent and desire to see some of these things changed. We are not, however, naive enough to think the best Minister in the world could transform the position overnight, but much more must and could be done.

The first test will be in deciding the person who gets the job of Garda Commissioner. Deputy Finian McGrath is quite wrong. If anyone linked with the existing hierarchy in An Garda Síochána is given the job, it will be a licence to say things will not change. That does not mean disrespect to any one person individually, but it is a reflection on the fact that they have come from a flawed system. The system is based on patronage and with whom people play golf dictates who gains promotion. Many able people have been bypassed. We must, therefore, look outside to shake things up.

The Minister has indicated her desire to move forward on some of the other injustices linked with the operation of An Garda Síochána. In advance of the summer, she set up a review panel to examine cases, many of which had come through our offices. We met them and took up the issues involved. We are deeply concerned at the responses given to the Opposition justice spokespersons for other parties at Question Time. Last month the Minister indicated that there would not be much of a follow-up on the cases mentioned. If there is not, we have a serious problem. One of the cases involves Cynthia Owen, whose case is in the public domain. She was a young girl in Dún Laoghaire who had been impregnated at the age of 11 years. Her baby had been murdered and the body found in an alleyway. Her other baby was similarly taken away. She had been the victim of a paedophile ring which involved a number of gardaí. With her solicitor, she has been trying to get information on the review panel and is really frustrated. It has been in operation for months, but they cannot get answers to their queries. The solicitor has been dealing with the gardaí handling the case and they have not been contacted by anyone in the Department of Justice and Equality or from the review panel set up by the Minister. They have not been asked for information. Cynthia and her solicitor do not know what files are being reviewed and what questions are being asked. Do they have all of the information? It is a serious issue because it is a clear-cut case with much documented evidence.

There is the similar case of Fr. Niall Molloy, the family of whom have submitted freedom of information requests to the Department of Justice and Equality about the investigation into his murder in 1985. After two months the Department responded with inaccurate information and the family must appeal to seek more information. The Minister has not met them. The previous Minister appointed Mr. Dominic McGinn to look into the case, but he has not yet issued his report. We were told this would be done in the summer.

These two cases are high profile, but there are 200 other people whose cases are not high profile. However, they are just as important in terms of injustice. They do not know the people on the panel and how the Minister picked them. They have no right to talk to them. Some of the documents submitted which I have seen are inadequate, but some of the people involved do not have the wherewithal to express themselves in the clear legalistic manner required. They would benefit from meeting someone to discuss their case.

GSOC is hamstrung and it took 20 months to investigate my case. It also has many other cases to deal with. These things take time and resources are needed if we are to do it properly. We are worried about the way the panel is shaping up. If it comes back to state nothing can be done and that the cases have already been referred to GSOC, people will have already heard these excuses. The Minister said it would be better and different.

My final point concerns political policing, an issue we must examine. We must decouple the two. Let us imagine that a shooting takes place outside a school in suburban Dublin, with a parent being shot in the middle of the day in Balbriggan. These are things we never thought we would see in Ireland. There were warnings about the activity which took place around the school in the run-up to it. There had been a series of incidents of illegality in the feud, with children nearly being run over on the road. People in the area knew insufficient action had been taken. On the same day more than 25 gardaí were standing around policing citizens at a peaceful protest against water meter installations in Edenmore. There is a concern, which is not doing An Garda Síochána any good, that the force is acting as an agent of Irish Water, as it did in the case of Shell.

We must examine all of these issues. We have had a recognition of the need for change, but delivering on it is very different. We would like to see a lot more being done.

I welcome the opportunity, on behalf of the Minister for Justice and Equality, to respond to the debate on the Garda Síochána (Amendment) Bill 2014 introduced by Deputy Niall Collins. I thank him and all other contributors to the debate. Debates such as this are invaluable as they enable us, as Deputies, to reflect on the critical issues of Garda oversight and accountability. Reflection is the foundation of effective policy-making.

We are at a pivotal juncture in Irish policing. Collectively, we are charged with moulding the type of service we all want. I hope the Government's decision not to oppose the Bill on Second Stage will be viewed as a genuine indication that it wants to seize this historic opportunity to work collectively for reform. While it accepts the principles of oversight and accountability and decided not to oppose the Bill, it has been actively pursuing its programme of justice reform. One facet of that reform programme is new Government legislation to expand the remit and powers of GSOC and establish a new policing authority. In this context, some of the measures provided for in the Deputy's Bill have already been achieved, while others are in the process of being dealt with.

I have spoken about the Government's legislative reforms in the course of the debate. The Government is absolutely committed to progressing the new legislation as a matter of urgency and this is being overseen by the new Cabinet committee on justice reform established this year and chaired by the Taoiseach. The Garda Síochána (Amendment) (No. 3) Bill 2014 will be debated on Second Stage soon. Legislation to establish a new independent policing authority is at an advanced stage. The Government appreciates the importance of establishing the policing authority and is pursuing the matter with urgency.

The Government's reform programme is ambitious in its scope. I outlined many aspects of the programme in my opening contribution, including the commissions of investigation, the independent review mechanism, the Cooke inquiry into reports of unlawful surveillance of GSOC and the establishment of the policing authority.

However, as a Government, we must be ambitious. It has been a very difficult year for policing in the State and our chief aim is to restore not just the public's confidence in the Garda Síochána but also the Garda Síochána's confidence in itself. So much good work is done on a daily basis by gardaí throughout the country. There is much to be proud of. I suggest that those who would welcome this reform most are the decent, hard-working and patriotic gardaí who regularly put their bodies on the line for the security of the State. I refer to instances outlined by Deputies which have shaken the confidence of the public, such as the Corrib gas situation, for example. I know from my experience of instances of the difficulties encountered by young working-class men and the stories they tell me of their treatment in Garda stations. This is an issue. The relationship between working-class communities and An Garda Síochána has been a difficult one but there are many thousands of instances from all around the State of good members of the force doing excellent work beyond the call of duty in the service of those communities and of their State, an example being the CLAY project in Crumlin which I visited recently. While I am aware of some of the disturbing and difficult cases which feed into a culture which needs to be addressed, now is the opportunity for us to address it.

I also have responsibility for new communities and there are questions about how these communities feel confident in reporting issues to An Garda Síochána and how the force reflects the society it is charged to serve. No more than other areas of public service such as this House, I ask if the force represents the community it polices. This is a question we need to address.

It is critical that the current momentum of the Government's programme for justice reform continues over the coming months so the serious failings that have come to light can be dealt with effectively. We need to acknowledge that there have been serious failings. The reform programme will remain a central concern for the Government and we are determined to establish a system of police accountability that will be rigorous and robust.

I thank all the contributors to the debate. The Deputies who have spoken are the Deputies who have been consistent in their pursuit of a better criminal justice system which is what we all want. I thank those Deputies for taking the time to attend today in order to contribute to this important debate.

The Minister of State is a Dublin representative and I think he will agree that the situation in Dublin is nearing a very severe precipice. A chronic situation has developed in Dublin city centre and it is not receiving its due acknowledgement from Government. My colleague, Deputy Barry Cowen, raised the issues which were also highlighted on last night's "Prime Time" programme on RTE which included comments last Thursday by the Minister of State's party leader, the Tánaiste, Deputy Joan Burton. She did not seem to acknowledge or to have a handle on the problems as highlighted by the "Prime Time" programme.

The tourism industry and businesses in Dublin city centre have been articulating this problem for a long time. I refer to the related problems of homelessness, drug abuse and the incidence of crime which are visible every day in broad daylight. The Government must acknowledge the problem. I refer to the CSO new model for reporting crime statistics which was introduced 18 months ago. In my view this model masks the problem. There needs to be an acknowledgement that what was shown last night on "Prime Time" is the case and is impacting on the residents and businesses of Dublin and the city centre as well as on the tourism industry of our capital city. I do not have all the solutions but as a starting point there needs to be an acknowledgement of the problem. I compliment RTE for the very fine programme and the way in which it was produced.

The Government must prioritise the issue of gangland crime in Dublin. I refer to how this problem was addressed in Limerick with great credit due to the Government and to successive Governments for dealing with this issue which has yielded the right results. It is a situation that requires ongoing work every day of the week. I refer to the incident in Balbriggan last week but I have a constructive criticism that the Tánaiste was in pure denial in the House in this regard.

This Bill differs in one key point from the Minister's Bill in that she proposes to keep a veto on any investigation or review by GSOC of the activities of the Garda Commissioner. This proposal needs to be teased out further. If GSOC is to have true independence in its capacity for oversight, there should not be a veto.

All Members have signed up to the proposal for an independent policing authority and this is to be welcomed. However, there needs to be a realistic timeline for delivery of the authority but I note that the legislation is not listed on the Government's legislative programme. We were promised that this legislation would be enacted before the end of the year. I ask the Minister of State if it will be enacted before the end of the year because I am doubtful. The Government and the Minister have not given any indication that this legislation will be ready before the end of the year. This point is related to the recruitment of the new Garda Commissioner.

I refer to our recent trip to Scotland and to Northern Ireland where it was obvious that for an independent policing authority to be truly independent it is necessary that its main function is the appointment of a Garda Commissioner. If the Minister plans to appoint a Garda Commissioner in advance of the establishment of the independent policing authority, she is removing from that authority one of its most important functions. The recruitment process is under way but the independent policing authority has not been established. It could be argued that the cart is being put before the horse in this instance. I suggest that an interim independent policing authority could be appointed to participate in the recruitment process. This was the solution in other jurisdictions such as in Northern Ireland and in Scotland. It would mean that there can be no accusation that one was compromised by the absence of the other.

Other speakers have suggested the names of those they would like to be Garda Commissioner. I do not have a view in that regard. I wish all the applicants well; it is immaterial whether they are from outside or inside the jurisdiction, once the process is robust to deliver the best candidate for the job. I refer to the need for action on the Guerin report and that we have been promised a commission of investigation. Speakers have complimented the good work of the rank and file members of An Garda Síochána. Much of the debate in this House has rightly focused on the negative aspects and on malpractice.

However, we must give credit where it is due.

One section of the force which tends to be forgotten in this debate is the Garda Reserve. There are people within An Garda Síochána, namely, the reservists, who are doing tremendous work. These individuals are undervalued by the system and I am of the view that the system must be changed in order that their contribution might be recognised. They are not given any credit in terms of the recruitment process - the most recent round of which has just been completed - and neither is their service or input acknowledged. This is a matter to which we must give consideration in the context of the legislation that is coming down the tracks. Reservists perform the same duties as fully attested members of the force on an unremunerated basis, and many of them do so in the hope and with the intent of fully progressing to the full-time ranks An Garda Síochána. The contribution made by these people is both ignored and undervalued.

The notion of establishing a criminal justice inspectorate must be taken on board and considered in a serious manner. We already have a number of self-contained inspectorates, including that operated by the Inspector of Prisons and Places of Detention and the Garda Inspectorate. If we had an overarching criminal justice inspectorate, it would be of great assistance in the context of the operation of the criminal justice system and its component parts, namely, the courts, the prisons, the Probation Service, the Office of the Director of Public Prosecutions, the Garda Síochána and GSOC. All of the entities to which I refer play their part in the context of the criminal justice system. Unfortunately, however, there are many cracks between these different component parts. If there was an overarching inspectorate which could advise and attempt to fill the cracks to which I refer, it would be of major assistance. The inspectorates that are already in place have done fine work. We are aware, for example, of all the good reports produced by the Inspector of Prisons and Places of Detention, Mr. Michael Reilly, a former judge, and of the fact that Chief Inspector Bob Olson of the Garda Inspectorate has produced some very fine recommendations, many of which have been acted upon. The establishment of an overarching criminal justice inspectorate which could focus in particular on the role the courts play within the criminal system would be a welcome development. Over 600,000 out of a total of 1.6 million summonses were not served between 2009 and 2012. There would have been genuine reasons why a number of these were not served - for example, if the person to whom a particular summons referred had left the country or resided outside the jurisdiction. No one has been held accountable for the failure to deliver the summonses to which I refer. The fact that they were not served resulted in a huge loss of revenue to the State. This is one of the reasons we need an overarching inspectorate.

There are more than 300 cases involving allegations of misconduct or malpractice on the part of some members of An Garda Síochána with the panel of counsel for review. I and other Deputies on all sides of the House referred a number of those cases to the Taoiseach and the Minister for Justice and Equality, Deputy Fitzgerald. The latter informed me that the panel, which comprises two senior counsel and a number of junior counsel, is going about its work. I am raising this issue again because the people to whom I have been speaking in the context of some of the cases I referred to the Taoiseach and the Minister are unhappy because they have not been met in person by the panel of counsel. What is happening is that desk reviews are being carried out in respect of the paperwork which has been submitted. Many of those involved cannot afford to pay to have written submissions drafted on their behalf. In addition, they may not themselves be capable of presenting their cases in the most full or informed manner. There is no doubt that these individuals have stories to tell. I am of the view that in order to satisfy those who have made allegations and submitted the relevant paperwork to the Department of Justice and Equality should, at a minimum, be met by the senior counsel on the panel and afforded the opportunity to recount their stories. If a person is making a social welfare appeal, he or she has the option of an oral hearing and can meet an appeals officer face to face. The avenue of appeal relating to the panel of counsel is one for people who feel they have not received justice. I am going to pursue this matter at every opportunity because I am of the view that those who have made allegations should be afforded the opportunity to have face-to-face meetings with the senior counsel involved.

Question put and agreed to.