Again, I am pleased to have the opportunity to continue with the Bill. Last time, I finished talking about section 7 of the Bill which refers to investigations of matters related to the Garda Commissioner by the Garda Síochána Ombudsman Commission. Deputy Wallace noted that it would be a very rare and serious event if the Garda Commissioner were to be investigated. I said that if it were to happen, I would expect that the Garda Commissioner of the day would step aside during the investigation.
It might be useful to include that in the legislation.
Section 7(3) states, "If the Minister refuses to consent to an investigation by the Ombudsman Commission of any matter under subsection (1), he or she shall inform the Commission of his or her reasons for the refusal." It would be a rare event that would lead a Minister to refuse the commission an investigation or else the Garda Ombudsman Commission would be investigating something that would be seen to be trivial. These are extraordinarily serious matters. What happens if the Minister refuses? Does the Garda Síochána Ombudsman Commission, GSOC, stand down having made that type of mistake? Should we insert in the legislation that it should go beyond the Minister and that the Cabinet should issue such a refusal because we are talking about very serious issues? The legislation states that in such an event the Commissioner may have committed an offence or behaved in a manner that would constitute serious misconduct. There is scope for tightening up that section and treating it much more seriously than it is currently being treated.
Reading this Act I was going back and forth to the Principal Act and other Acts. When we are dealing with such legislation, particularly legislation updating an area that was consolidated, so to speak, in 2005, we should consider looking at a consolidated Bill because it can be difficult to follow all the changes, amendments to sub-sections and so on. That happens with much of our legislation and I have been told - the Minister dealing with the enterprise sector is present - that it costs business a great deal of money to have solicitors, barristers and others refer to multiple Acts. I am aware the Law Reform Commission has recommended that we consolidate much more of our legislation to make it less expensive and less onerous on business in terms of the legality of the issues contained therein.
The Oireachtas committee recommended that the Garda authority would have the power to refer matters to the GSOC, and I note that is the case in the other Bill. I also welcome the fact that the inspectorate can initiate investigations on its own volition. The Minister can also ask both the inspectorate and the Garda Síochána Ombudsman Commission to initiate investigations and inquiries but in the Oireachtas committee we tried to refer certain issues to the Garda Síochána Ombudsman Commission and were unable to do so because the justice committee does not deal with the GSOC. That comes under a different parliamentary oversight committee. An issue arises in that regard because GSOC is dealing with policing matters. The justice committee deals with policing matters yet the justice committee cannot oversee what GSOC is doing. The Members of the Oireachtas might examine that. I am not casting aspersions on the oversight committee but we might need to examine that to see if there is something we should change to streamline that entire area. My point is that parliamentary committees might come across issues that need to be investigated or examined and perhaps a parliamentary committee should be given the authority to refer matters either to the inspectorate or to GSOC, or at least bring it to their attention, because such committees often come across issues that are quite important.
In terms of GSOC carrying out an inquiry, subsection (3) of section 10 requires GSOC to provide a report to the Minister regarding the examination and to supply a copy of the report to the Garda Commissioner, and the Minister is required to lay it before the Houses of the Oireachtas. I suggest the Oireachtas committees should be given the reports at that time also. I do not see any reason that should not be done. That would be important.
I raise an issue I have raised previously and which was emphasised on numerous occasions when we visited Scotland and Northern Ireland. We will now have the Garda Inspectorate, the Ombudsman Commission, the Garda authority, the Garda Commissioner, the Minister, and the parliamentary committee but it was stressed to us the importance of all these bodies having a good, professional working relationship, which would be written into a code of conduct. In other words, they would consciously go out of their way to ensure that they have good working relationships. The people we met in Scotland and Northern Ireland emphasised that that was the one aspect that made the whole system work. We have five bodies here now, namely, three oversight bodies, the Garda Inspectorate, the ombudsman and the authority when it is established. They must have professional working relationships. I am not saying they should be in each other's pockets or be too cosy. They cannot be, but there must be mutual respect and understanding and protocols put in place so that they can all do their job to the best of their ability.
I said previously that I felt the ombudsman should be the one person in charge. I note the legislation references the chair of the ombudsman commission but why not call that person the "Garda Ombudsman"? The other people could be called the "Deputy Ombudsman" or something like that because that gives the office personality, drive and identity, which it has been lacking until now. That is no reflection on the people involved but until the recent controversies arose, most citizens did not know what GSOC was about. Everyone knows about it now but until those issues arose I do not believe the citizens knew what GSOC was all about.
I wish the Bill a quick passage through the House. There is a great deal going on in this area. It is important that we examine and debate this Bill, and that we get it right. It is about GSOC and the surveillance powers GSOC will get.
Regarding State security, the Commissioner will report directly to the Minister. That was a recommendation we made. There is mention in the Bill of GSOC and State security but do we need some form of parliamentary oversight in respect of State security? I know it is a delicate issue but in other Parliaments that is the case. We would have to be very careful and responsible about it but it is something we should discuss. Where is the parliamentary oversight on the security side of the Garda, the authority, GSOC and so on. Where is the parliamentary oversight of that? That is important, and we might need to tease out that in the committees and elsewhere to determine if there is some way of having parliamentary oversight of it. I know that security and secrecy is very important but without that there may be a cloud hanging over that area.