I move: "That the Bill be now read a Second Time."
The establishment of an independent policing authority represents a key element of the Government's comprehensive programme of justice reform and delivers on the commitment I made when I assumed my present office to deliver a sea change in the oversight of policing in the State. The overall objective of the programme is to bring forward necessary changes in order that the high quality and respected service the Garda Síochána has provided for almost a century is continued and enhanced to better meet the realities, requirements and expectations of 21st century policing and to ensure the very important confidence of the public in An Garda Síochána is maintained.
Deputies will be aware that significant progress has been made in the delivery of the reform programme, which is being overseen by the newly established Cabinet committee on justice reform. We have had an independent selection process for the position of Garda Commissioner. We have enhanced the role of the Garda Síochána Ombudsman Commission, GSOC. A commission of investigation, being chaired by Mr. Justice O’Higgins, has been established and is examining matters in the Cavan-Monaghan Garda division. Its terms of reference are fully in line with what was recommended in the Guerin report. The independent review mechanism, consisting of a panel of counsel, has examined approximately 320 complaints and is progressing. Comprehensive responses are going out to complainants and this is being overseen by Mr. Justice Roderick Murphy. We now have the Protected Disclosures Act 2014, and the Freedom of Information Act 2014 extends to the Garda Síochána. The Garda professional standards unit report on the operation of the fixed charge processing system, or penalty points, was published and Judge Matthew Deery, former President of the Circuit Court, has the new position of independent oversight authority for the fixed charge processing system. It is fair to describe these changes as a sea change.
In November 2014, the Garda Inspectorate published a comprehensive report on crime investigation which we are implementing. This will not happen overnight, as the Garda Inspectorate itself stated. It stated the report contains recommendations for the short, medium and longer term. The Central Statistics Office has initiated a review of crime counting rules in order that the public can have confidence in the statistics published, which is very important. A data quality team has been established in An Garda Síochána. We have also had the reorganisation and amalgamation of Garda national units, including a new amalgamated drugs and organised crime bureau, which is important, and a new national child protection, domestic violence and human exploitation unit.
We have a criminal justice steering group to provide greater co-ordination between all bodies operating in the criminal justice system. That was an important recommendation from the Toland report and we can see the need for it from other reports. We have the establishment of a new Garda incident recording process, which was mentioned in the inspectorate report, and it needs to be implemented across the country. We will also have a victim support office in every local Garda division, which will be an important new initiative, given that we have the victims directive, which must be signed this year.
Reforms being introduced are not limited to the Garda Síochána. We have also had the Toland report, which set out a series of reforms to be implemented in my Department over a two-year timeframe. There is a departmental programme for change, which is also addressing issues most recently identified in the Fennelly report. Many of these matters were originally identified in the Toland report. We have initiated change in terms of the management board and daily interactions and briefings, as well as management instructions and the implementation of internal mobility transfers at assistant secretary level.
I will not labour the point this morning, but Deputies are aware that I have focused on resources for An Garda Síochána. Templemore is open again and we will have another 150 recruits entering the college next month. This is important so that gardaí can be assigned or reassigned to communities across the country that need Garda resources. I promised seamless ongoing recruitment and that is what this Government has delivered and intends to continue to deliver throughout 2016. This ramped-up recruitment underscores the determination of the Government to deliver an effective and responsive police service to protect our communities, as community safety is critical. I opened a conference this morning by launching the Irish Association for the Social Integration of Offenders, IASIO, report and I stated that we must ensure that serious and serial offenders can be put in prison; equally, with first-time offenders, where there is a possibility of rehabilitation, we need to focus on those groups. We have also seen civilianisation in Dublin Airport, which is progressing on schedule. There is also investment in Garda vehicles, of which Deputies in this House are well aware, as well as the beginning of change in ICT matters, which I know must continue. I hope that with the support of colleagues in the Government over the next few weeks, we will be able to move to the speedy implementation of the ICT strategy that resulted from the group I put together encompassing representatives of the Department of Public Expenditure and Reform, the Garda Síochána, the Department of Justice and Equality and the information technology sections within the Government.
The establishment of an independent policing authority is at the core of the Government’s reform programme and represents the most far-reaching reform of the Garda Síochána since the foundation of the State. The authority will provide a new, independent and dedicated forum for the public oversight of policing services in Ireland. It will also provide a new engine to drive reforms of the policing system and practices to ensure that the Garda Síochána is fit to address the ongoing and emerging challenges of modern policing. It is quite a task for the new policing authority.
The new authority will have extensive functions, outlined in the Bill, which are currently exercised by the Government or the Minister for Justice and Equality. In particular, these functions will be concerned with overseeing the governance, structures and performance of the Garda Síochána in the policing area. The Bill before the House proposes that the authority will, in particular, have responsibility for the following tasks. People should not underestimate the importance of these tasks and the radical change they represent. The authority will oversee the performance by the Garda Síochána of its policing functions under a broad range of headings, including nominating persons for appointment by the Government to the posts of Garda Commissioner and deputy Garda Commissioner; appointing persons to the ranks of Garda superintendent, chief superintendent and assistant commissioner and removing them for reasons related to policing services; appointing persons to senior positions within the Garda civilian staff; determining Garda priorities for policing services; approving the three-year Garda strategy statement and the annual Garda policing plan; establishing a Garda code of ethics; and promoting and supporting the continuous improvement of policing in the State. The Bill also enables the authority to request the Garda Síochána Ombudsman Commission and the Garda Síochána inspectorate to initiate an inspection or inquiry or to examine Garda practices or procedures. That is an important responsibility that the authority will have an option to exercise.
The legislation has been developed taking into account the outcome of an extensive process of consultation. This included the Government consultation process in May 2014, a seminar hosted in Farmleigh and consideration by the justice committee, which I thank for its efforts. The provisions of the Bill are generally in line with the general scheme, which was published in November 2014 and which was broadly welcomed by the joint committee in the course of its pre-legislative scrutiny. The proposals have been prepared in very close consultation with the Office of the Attorney General, taking full account of the requirements of the Constitution. In this jurisdiction, we must take account of the Irish Constitution and our legislation must clearly reflect that. In particular, consideration has been given to the fact that under Article 28, as interpreted by the courts, there are restrictions on the extent to which it is open to the Government to delegate important functions relating to the executive power of the State to another body. In recognition of the constitutional position of the Executive relating to policing, the Bill provides that a number of authority functions will require the co-agreement of the Minister. Overall, the proposals in the Bill are designed to strike the right balance between the exercise by the authority of effective and meaningful oversight of the policing functions of the Garda Síochána and the retention by Government of essential residual powers relating to policing. There is no doubt we will have discussions on that, but I have tried very hard to strike the right balance between meeting the constitutional requirements, which are essential, and empowering the authority to be as strong as it can be.
I will turn to the security issue. National security is a vital function of the Government, and the Garda Commissioner will continue to account fully to the Minister and the Government on security matters. The Bill, for the first time, contains a definition of security services. The purpose of this definition is purely to determine which functions of the Garda Síochána will be overseen by the Minister for Justice and Equality and the Government rather than the policing authority. It is important to bear in mind that the Bill does not seek to confer any further security-related powers or functions on the Garda Síochána. The definition contains an exclusion, which has been welcomed, for lawful advocacy, protest or dissent. The definition was carefully considered in close consultation with the Office of the Attorney General. The definition encompasses, among other matters, functions linked to offences under existing Iegislation, including offences under the Offences against the State Acts 1939 to 1998 and the Criminal Justice (Terrorist Offences) Act 2005, and also espionage and sabotage.
I will now deal with the membership and chair of the new authority. Following a process undertaken by the Public Appointments Service seeking expressions of interest, the Government has nominated Ms Josephine Feehily as the chairperson designate of the authority. I thank her for agreeing to take up the position, as she has had a very distinguished career in public service in Ireland. She has the confidence of the public in her independent role as chair of the police authority, overseeing the development and progression of the work of the police authority. I thank her again for assisting in the preparations for the establishment of the authority. Deputies are aware that the selection process for the eight ordinary members of the authority is currently under way and is being progressed by the Public Appointments Service. The intention is that the authority will, in line with a recommendation of the joint committee, operate in shadow format and will be able to commence its operations as soon as possible after the Bill is enacted in the House.
I will now turn to the specific content of the Bill. The Bill comprehensively amends the Garda Síochána Act 2005 - the principal Act - to incorporate the authority into the existing Garda legislative framework.
To facilitate Deputies, I arranged in June for the circulation of an unofficial consolidation of the principal Act, which includes the amendments proposed in the Bill. I hope this has been of assistance in understanding the proposed changes.
Part 1 of the Bill is the standard provision. Section 4 contains a definition of security services. It is important to provide clarity as to what "security services" comprehend. As I have said, it does not expand the powers of the authority.
Part 2 of the Bill gives the authority a very significant role in the appointment and removal of senior Garda personnel. Sections 8, 9 and 12 of the Bill deal with this. In particular, under sections 8 and 9, the Government will make appointments to the ranks of Garda Commissioner and Deputy Commissioner solely on the recommendation of the authority. The Government will be obliged to accept the authority's recommendations but may, only in exceptional circumstances and for substantial and stated reasons, request the authority to nominate another person in respect of an appointment. Under section 12, the authority will make appointments to the ranks from Garda superintendent to Assistant Commissioner. Sections 10, 11, 13 and 14 deal with removals. While the Government will retain the power to remove the Garda Commissioner or a Deputy Commissioner, the authority will be able to recommend a removal from these positions on grounds relating to policing services. The authority will also be able to remove an Assistant Garda Commissioner, chief superintendent or superintendent on grounds relating to policing services. The Garda Commissioner will be required to obtain the consent of the authority for the summary dismissal of a member of the Garda Siochána not above the rank of inspector.
Section 15 continues the current arrangements for the recruitment of reserve members, with a requirement for consultation with the authority rather than the Minister. Section 16 requires the authority to publish, within 12 months of its establishment, a code of ethics for Garda members and civilian staff. That is an important timeframe. People would expect that to be there at present. It is a big job to do in the first year. Section 17 requires approval for the number of appointments of Garda civilian staff to be given by the authority. Also, the authority will directly appoint Garda civilian staff equivalent to or above the rank of chief superintendent.
Part 3 of the Bill sets out the roles that will be undertaken by the Minister, the authority and the Garda Commissioner. There can be areas in which this is quite difficult to determine, but this was all subject to a great deal of discussion in the consultation, which was very helpful. Under section 18, the authority will, subject to the prior approval of the Minister, determine, and from time to time revise, priorities and performance targets for the Garda Síochána in performing its functions in respect of policing services. It also inserts a new section 20A into the 2005 Act to allow the Minister to set priorities and performance targets for security services. Given the challenging international situation at present, for example ISIS and the range of security challenges that are currently being thrown up across Europe, it is very important that this is now in the 2005 Act. Sections 19 and 20 make provision for the authority, with the consent of the Minister, to approve the three-year strategy statement for the Garda Síochána and the annual Garda policing plan, respectively.
Sections 21 and 22 make provision for the three-year report on the efficiency and effectiveness of the management and deployment of Garda resources and the yearly report of the Garda professional standards unit, respectively, to be submitted by the Commissioner to the authority, rather than the Minister. That is extremely important because the issue of the effective management and deployment of Garda resources is raised again and again. We now have a police authority with a specific obligation to get reports on that and for the Commissioner to report to it. The Garda Inspectorate identified the need to match deployment with crime trends, because these do change. Crime can go down in one area and increase in another, and it is important to have a swift deployment of resources to deal effectively with what is happening in a particular area or with any change in a particular type of crime. For example, there are mobile gangs targeting particular areas, and the Garda Síochána needs to be able to deploy resources swiftly where they are needed. This section gives the authority a role in examining how that is being done. Clearly, that is linked to the development of an efficient and effective ICT system.
Section 24 modifies the functions of the Garda Commissioner, as set out in section 26 of the principal Act, to reflect the relationship between the Garda Commissioner and the authority in relation to policing services. In particular, the Commissioner will be required to assist and co-operate with the authority in the performance of its functions. Once the authority is up and running, later this year and early next year, a relationship will be developed over the following years between the Garda Commissioner and her staff and the new Garda authority. It is not going to happen overnight, no more than the various reforms that have been recommended in the Garda Inspectorate report, but the framework is now there for this to develop, for responsibility and authority to rest with the Garda authority and for the Commissioner to report to it in the variety of ways I have outlined.
Section 25 provides a role for the authority in seeking the views of the public in respect of matters concerning policing services. This authority is all about engaging effectively with communities and giving the public and communities an opportunity to give their priorities to the authority and to be part of policing. We have seen this development in other countries and we already have it with local authorities and policing committees at present, but this is another aspect of community involvement. Section 26 amends section 32 of the principal Act to facilitate the appointment by the Minister of an Assistant Garda Commissioner to perform the functions of the Garda Commissioner where the Commissioner or a Deputy Commissioner is not available.
Part 4 makes provision for amendments to sections 35, 36 and 38 of the principal Act to transfer to the authority the functions of the Minister in relation to joint policing committees, as I have just mentioned, and the establishment of CCTV schemes for the purpose of securing public order. Many communities around the country want to see more CCTV schemes. There is no doubt that they will be part of the fight against crime as we go forward, and the policing authority will have a role in that.
Part 5 contains amendments to sections 40, 41, 42, 44, 45 and 46 of the principal Act dealing with the accountability of the Garda Commissioner for the exercise of his or her functions. In particular, the amendment to section 40, provided for by section 32 of the Bill, specifies that the Commissioner will report to the authority with regard to policing services, a key element of the Bill.
Part 6, which contains amendments to various sections of the principal Act, provides a role for the authority in relation to the appointment and secondment of personnel between the Garda Siochána and the Police Service of Northern Ireland.
Part 7 inserts a new Part 2A into the principal Act to provide for the establishment of the authority, its membership and its functions. I will summarise the key provisions involved. Section 62C provides that the authority will comprise nine members, to be appointed by the Government. The chairperson will be appointed directly by the Government and the other eight ordinary members will be appointed by the Government from a panel following the holding of a selection competition run by the Public Appointments Service. Importantly, a resolution of both Houses of the Oireachtas agreeing to the appointments will be required. We will have a debate in this House about the chair and the members of the authority. It also makes provision for ordinary members designate of the authority to be the first ordinary members of the authority.
Within the Department and An Garda Síochána, and with the assistance of the chair designate, we have set up a group that is examining all the relevant issues around this transition because this, as I have said, is a significant change in the history of An Garda Síochána. There is much work to be done on the transition issues that arise.
Section 62G provides for the removal by the Government of a member from the authority following detailed and stringent procedures, including a resolution passed by both Houses of the Oireachtas. Deputies have made a point of emphasising how important it is that this House has a role in relation to the various issues that I have just discussed. That brings another layer of accountability and public scrutiny in the Dáil, first, into the appointments, and, second, to any changes that could take place.
Section 62H sets out the functions of the authority and section 62J makes provision whereby not less than four meetings per annum between the authority and the Garda Commissioner can be open to the public and broadcast by the media so that the public will get a more immediate sense of the discussions between the Garda Commissioner and the Garda authority.
The next sections provide, as one would expect, for the chief executive of the authority to account to the Committee of Public Accounts in respect of the authority's expenditure and to other committees of the Oireachtas in respect of general administrative matters. The advertisements have been placed and the competition is under way for the appointment of the CEO. It is an entirely independent process and that decision will be taken by the Garda authority.
Part 8 includes amendments to the provisions of the principal Act relating to GSOC and the Garda Inspectorate to take account of the establishment of the authority. The key amendments in the various changes within GSOC include, for example, a requirement in section 45 for GSOC to promote mediation and informal resolution of appropriate complaints. This is an important initiative that many have been speaking about as necessary to ensure a more effective and efficient resolution of complaints made by the public to GSOC. A provision in section 48 will enable the authority to request GSOC to investigate any matter relating to policing services that gives rise to a concern that a member of the Garda Síochána may have committed an offence or behaved in a manner that would justify disciplinary proceedings. A provision in section 49 will enable the authority, subject to the consent of the Minister, to request GSOC to investigate any behaviour of the Garda Commissioner in the context of his or her functions relating to policing services that leads it to believe that the Commissioner may have committed an offence or behaved in a manner that would constitute serious misconduct. There is further detail in that regard, which, I am sure, will emerge on Committee Stage, in relation to the change in GSOC's powers. Part 9 contains miscellaneous provisions.
In conclusion, I reiterate that the overall objective of the Government's programme of justice reform, of which the authority is a key element, is to bring forward necessary changes to improve policing services in the State and to maintain public confidence in the Garda Síochána. The establishment of the policing authority will, I believe, bring about a fundamental change in the area of policing and, as I mentioned earlier, give effect to the Government's commitment to deliver a sea change in the oversight of policing in the State. People should not underestimate the sea change that is involved in the establishment of the Garda authority given the history over the decades of An Garda Síochána reporting to the Minister. I believe that the changes provided for in the Bill are prudent, necessary and will, in the future, benefit not only the public, but also the men and women of the Garda Síochána. I commend the Bill to the House.