Garda Síochána (Policing Authority and Miscellaneous Provisions) Bill 2015 [Seanad]: Second Stage

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.

The Fianna Fáil Party fully supports the establishment of a new independent policing authority to oversee the policing service provided by An Garda Síochána. This authority has been deemed necessary following a number of revelations as to how the Garda Síochána has operated, the resignation of the Garda Commissioner following an intervention from the Taoiseach as shown in the Fennelly commission interim report and the failure of the Government and senior Garda management to respond to internal criticisms of malpractice within the Garda force.

To date, the Fine Gael Party's running of the Department of Justice and Equality has been farcical and has resulted in unprecedented scandals, mismanagement, investigations and resignations in the justice sector. In fairness, I acknowledge the Minister, Deputy Fitzgerald's commitment to improve this situation. The independent policing authority should go some way towards restoring the public's confidence in how An Garda Síochána operates following a number of chaotic years.

Even the introduction of this Bill has not been without controversy. The policing authority was due to begin operating in December 2014 but it still has not begun its work in full. Despite the Government appointing a chair designate of the authority, a comprehensive budget to run the new body has yet to be agreed. Without a proper budget and without proper resources, this authority will be toothless and unable to do the job required. I hope the Minister can outline when a full budget and staff will be agreed for the authority and when it will be fully operational. It is almost a year after the authority was supposed to be fully operational and we all deserve clarity in this matter.

There is also increasing commentary that this Bill has been watered down to reduce the Garda Commissioner's accountability to the authority, that human rights will not form part of the authority's remit and that it has reduced powers surrounding oversight as to the resources of the Garda force. The Government continually states that this legislation will result in the most fundamental change in how An Garda Síochána operates since the State's foundation. I hope the Minister and the Government are willing to make these reforms stick. We have seen how the legal services Bill has been watered down and delayed for the past two years. I hope we are not witnessing a similar rolling back of reforms in the Bill now before the House.

We must ask ourselves whether this Bill will stand the test of time or if further reform will be necessary in the years to come. We must all learn from the example of the Garda Síochána Act 2005 which failed to prevent the malpractice which has been witnessed in certain quarters of An Garda Síochána over the past three years. We need to ensure that this Bill will last. I believe the jury is still out on the legislation in this regard.

I must raise also the question of the unity of senior Garda management at present. Recently, it was reported that a significant number of assistant commissioners arranged their own meeting in Portlaoise to discuss issues of concern. Notably, no invitation was issued to the Garda Commissioner. I am not sure who was aware of that meeting. This is a concerning and unprecedented development and the Minister should outline why she believes this meeting took place, if she considers it appropriate and if she believes it is conducive to the workings and management of the Garda.

If the national police service is to operate effectively to keep the people safe and to tackle crime, it must act in unison in its cause. Senior management have a duty and responsibility to focus on their roles and strategic areas to guarantee a fully functioning police force. One of the most obvious failings of the Garda force, as outlined in the Guerin report, was the total failure of senior Garda oversight of what was happening in the Cavan and Monaghan area. I hope the new Garda authority will address this failing of oversight which may still exist in many parts of An Garda Síochána. We need to ensure that the trust the public currently has in the Garda is maintained. In this regard, the Bill will play a vital role.

The justice sector has a long road to travel to restore full confidence in its operation. One legacy of recent controversies is the failure to fill senior justice positions. I question why we still have not seen the appointment of a deputy commissioner to the Garda force.

The Garda website still names the current Commissioner, Nóirín O'Sullivan, as the deputy commissioner for operations of the force. Given the importance of this role, I question why this is the case, given the fact the Garda Commissioner has been in her position, acting or otherwise, since March 2014. There seems to be great difficulty in appointing new personnel in the justice sector as a result of the scorched earth left in justice by the Minister's predecessor. The Minister has yet to appoint a Secretary General, which must result in the undermining of the performance of the Department, which is one of the most important in the State. The Minister might update us on the process.

The swift establishment of the Garda Authority must be a priority, given that a number of matters require urgent attention from Government, the Garda and the Garda Authority. The scourge of burglaries in particular needs immediate attention. I have raised the matter in the House several times this week and it is a theme of discussion at the National Ploughing Championships. I raise it again today out of frustration. We have witnessed, over the summer, some of the most violent crimes committed against elderly people who have been burgled in their homes. The elderly lady who was burgled in Bray, 90 years of age and assaulted and dragged around her own home, is a case in point. It is outrageous that there is not a more comprehensive response from the Government.

This week, I stated ironically that there were more gardaí outside Leinster House at midday to police a phantom protest than there were in rural communities across Ireland. This shows the Government's priorities when allocating Garda resources. Burglary is up 8% in the latest CSO crime statistics. There were 28,583 recorded burglaries in the 12 month period ending in the first quarter of 2015. Yet nothing seems to be done. For months, the Government denied that there was a problem. It hid behind the fact that the CSO had stopped publishing crime statistics. It cannot deny that there is a crisis. The Minister has promised legislative reform in burglary law and bail law. When will this legislation be enacted?

Specifically looking at our bail laws, 8,077 burglaries were committed by people who were on bail in the period from 2011 to date. As I have already said, this is outrageous and shows that our criminal justice system is working for the criminals, not for the ordinary decent people of our country. It is time the Government woke up to the crisis and spent more time acting to end the burglary crisis than on press releases and photo shoots.

Fianna Fáil has already published a number of pieces of legislation to address the crisis, all of which have been ignored. We have already stated that our first priority in justice is to ensure the Garda Síochána has the necessary membership and technology to provide a first-class police service. We will not let rural Ireland go unprotected. We will make the criminal justice system work for our ordinary, law abiding citizens again. We will listen to local communities' concerns when they say they live in fear in their homes. We will act. We will not over promise and under deliver, as we have witnessed from the opposite side of the House. We will not sit on our hands. While I welcome the Bill, questions remain surrounding the Government's commitment to comprehensive reform and its full implementation.

It is nice that the Bill has come before the House at long last. The Bill was a central part of the “urgent reform” promised by the Government following the Garda crisis over a year ago. The whole area of administration and application of justice in the State has had a disturbing recent past. As a result, public confidence has been undermined and is slow to recover. The recovery has been hampered by unnecessary delays and a lack of urgency by this Government. That is, until the Taoiseach published the findings of the Fennelly report. I am glad to see the Bill before the House in the wake of the findings of the Fennelly commission. The Taoiseach tried to fight the Fennelly fire by selectively reading the findings and trying to convince himself that he was, somehow, vindicated. We all know that this is far from the truth. No amount of spin can cover up the fact that the report found that the sending of Mr. Brian Purcell to the home of the Garda Commissioner was the "immediate catalyst" for his decision to retire, and furthermore that this was a decision which the Commissioner was right to think was what he was being asked to do.

The actions of the Attorney General, which left Mr. Justice Fennelly puzzled and perplexed, only added to the debacle and were testament to what Sinn Féin was saying all along, namely, that the Government did not have a handle on affairs and was at a loss to know what to do. The actions of those involved in the entire debacle were terrifying for those of us looking on. The people who were meant to be in charge of justice were not up to the job. It was a remarkable display of incompetence and definitely did not inspire confidence among the Members of these Houses or, more importantly, the citizens. This is exactly why we need an independent policing board with proper powers to oversee the administration of justice. I repeat: this is exactly why we need an independent policing board with proper powers to oversee the administration of justice.

Sinn Féin has been consistently calling for an independent policing authority. We believe such an authority is central to the reform of policing in this State. An independent policing authority was an integral part of our reform document that we published last year, following our experiences of all submissions made in this State and the experiences of our team who negotiated the changes to policing in the North. The establishment of a policing authority is, therefore, welcome and a number of provisions in the Bill are commendable. The consultations and co-ordination with joint policing committees, in particular, is welcome. The creation of Garda performance targets is also a commendable action, as is the establishment of a Garda code of ethics. The overall objective in relation to the holding of the Garda Síochána to account and providing effective oversight is what is needed.

Unfortunately, however, the Bill has a number of missed opportunities which should have ensured that the policing authority was truly independent in its functions. Contrary to what the Government is advocating, the authority, as proposed in the Bill, is not independent, nor does it have the necessary powers and functions we need. The authority, as the Government proposes, would not, if it had been established, have had any impact on the shambles of events as they unfolded during the period the Fennelly commission investigated.

Under the Bill, the Garda Commissioner will still be accountable to the Minister, as was the case when the former Commissioner was effectively sacked. This is not in any way independent and Sinn Féin will seek to amend this so that the Garda Commissioner is accountable to the authority. Continuing with the theme of independence, I am concerned regarding the limited independence of the authority in the appointment of the Garda Commissioner and the deputy Garda commissioners. We support the recommendation from Transparency International that the authority should have the unrestricted ability to appoint and remove senior officers of the Garda Síochána, irrespective of their rank. An independent member of the Judiciary appointed by the Chief Justice, not by the Minister, should be responsible for the final determination of disputes as to whether a particular matter relates to policing services or security services. We will also seek to amend this aspect of the Bill.

In general, the Bill should be amended in a number of areas to remove the requirement that the authority seek the consent of the Minister before exercising a particular function. The requirement that the authority seek the consent of the Minister before approving the annual report, as well as the Minister's, as opposed to the Garda Commissioner's, involvement in setting the Garda priorities limits the independence of the authority and undermines its very purpose. I note the flaws relating to membership of the authority. Sinn Féin has called for a 21 member authority to allow for a diverse membership that is representative of society.

This authority would comprise 12 ordinary members, who would come through the public appointments process and would be representative of society, and nine political members, who would be elected using the d'Hondt method. The chairperson should also be elected by the 12 ordinary members, as opposed to being appointed by the Minister. I believe the absence of political representation on the authority is a mistake. Political representation, as in the North, would ensure public accountability and help to develop confidence in the policing authority. The composition of this political representation that has been proposed by Sinn Féin would not compromise the independence of the authority, as it would ensure an in-built majority of 12 independent ordinary members at all times.

I note that the authority’s functions relating to the monitoring of human rights have been tampered with since the original general scheme of the Bill was first published. The human rights monitoring function is now entirely absent. Sinn Féin believes the authority has a central part to play in the monitoring of Garda compliance on human rights standards. The proposal to remove this function from the authority is unacceptable. Sinn Féin will seek to amend the Bill to re-insert this function.

While we welcome the establishment of the policing authority, the remaining challenge is to ensure the authority is truly independent in the exercise of its functions. Sinn Féin believes in a new beginning for policing, similar to that in the Six Counties. We want an open and transparent policing service that is representative of everyone residing in this State. Such a service should be strengthened, sustainable and capable of delivering on the needs of a modern force. It should help to rebuild public confidence in our justice system. This Bill goes some way towards creating such a service. As I have outlined, there are a number of ways in which the authority could be strengthened, particularly with regard to its independence and oversight responsibilities. Sinn Féin will seek to do this on Committee and Report Stages.

It is important to assert that despite the travails of recent years, the overwhelming majority of the men and women of An Garda Síochána who are serving today and have served over the decades are honourable, decent and patriotic. They deserve the full support of this State. We merely want to have a police service that does them justice. Such a service should be a genuine meritocracy in its appointment of sergeants, inspectors and superintendents. This applies right up to the Garda Commissioner, who should be appointed through an independent meritocratic process that is fully accountable to the new independent policing authority. That is where we want to get to. It is important for those of us who have known members of An Garda Síochána during our lives - we may have played football with them or served on community committees with them - and have spoken to them about the roles they play to reassert that the overwhelming majority of them deserve the loyalty and respect of these Houses. Unfortunately, the overwhelming majority of officers have been failed by the Garda Síochána's structures and systems and by a minority of their colleagues. That is the important message today. We are not seeking to sap the morale of gardaí or undermine the work they do. We want to make things better, stronger and more accountable. We want to boost and lift the morale of gardaí by giving them a professional policing service with some of the best standards in the world. It is important for gardaí to be able to get up in the morning and feel proud to be part of the force. That is the key challenge for us in these Houses.

I would like to share time with Deputy Paul Murphy. I will take 20 minutes and he will take ten minutes.

Hello, Minister. How are you?

I would have liked to have an hour. Before the summer, we did a great deal of work on this legislation and went through the various sections. I will have time to cover just a few sections today. Generally speaking, I consider that the proposed authority is much weaker than the one we proposed in our Bill. It is clear that ministerial and political control over the authority, the Garda Síochána and the Garda Commissioner is to be retained. The proposed authority will be a weak and toothless body tainted by Government and ministerial influence. It will not have the capacity to provide adequate oversight and monitoring functions over An Garda Síochána and the Garda Commissioner. It will not have the capacity to hold the Garda Síochána and the Garda Commissioner to account.

The Government seems to have missed the point completely regarding the primary function of the authority, which is to provide democratic accountability. A policing authority should be a way for the citizens to hold the Garda to account through a more direct form of democratic accountability than is currently provided for through parliamentary accountability of the Garda through the Minister for Justice and Equality in the Dáil. Membership of the authority is to consist of Civil Service representatives and people with legal and human rights backgrounds. There is no mention of representation of civil society groups or minorities, who are most at risk of Garda malpractice, as we had proposed. The Bill permits the authority, subject to the consent of the Minister, to ask the Garda Síochána Ombudsman Commission to investigate any behaviour of the Garda Commissioner in the context of his or her functions relating to policing matters that leads it to believe the Commissioner may have committed an offence or behaved in a manner that would constitute serious misconduct. How can the authority be expected to hold the Commissioner to account when it cannot investigate the Commissioner without the Minister's consent? The Commissioner remains under the political protection of the Minister.

The issue of national security remains one of the overriding issues in the proposed legislation. Uniquely in Europe and other common law countries, An Garda Síochána has responsibility for both policing and national security issues. Conor Brady, who is a former GSOC commissioner, has noted that the invoking of national security by An Garda Síochána to prevent full investigation is already a huge obstacle. Under the proposed legislation, the Minister is the final arbiter if there is disagreement on whether an issue is considered a policing or a security one. As the Minister may be self-interested in this categorisation, it is illogical to consider this a safeguard of any sort. The proposed definition of national security includes "acts intended to subvert or undermine parliamentary democracy of the institutions of the State but not including lawful advocacy, protest or dissent unless carried on in conjunction with any of those acts." It is clear that the current Government would consider the May Day and Shell to Sea protests, and more recently the water charges and water installation protests, to come under this national security heading. This would allow the Minister to retain full and direct control. Therefore, the authority would have no role to play in any policing issue arising.

That is ridiculous.

I have mentioned some of the issues in Part 1 - sections 1 to 7 - of the Bill, so I will not go back over them. Part 2 of the Bill relates to the personnel and organisation of the Garda Síochána. On the appointments issue, section 8 of the Government's Bill sets out that the Garda Commissioner and any deputy Garda Commissioners are to be appointed by the Government and the Government shall accept the nomination of the authority. However, the authority can only nominate in accordance with the recommendation of the Public Appointments Service, PAS, which will provide it with one name only. The authority will have to seek the prior written approval of the Government before it can ask the PAS to undertake a selection competition. It will also have to get the approval of the Minister before agreeing the selection criteria and process with the PAS for the competition. Furthermore, the Government may veto the authority's nomination in "exceptional circumstances", a phrase that is not defined.

Section 8 also sets out that if the Garda Commissioner or any deputy resigns, he or she will have to address his or her letter of notification to the Minister, and the Government will notify the authority later that the Commissioner or the deputy has resigned. Under the Government's new Bill, removal from office may be by Government decision alone, with only a duty to consult the authority if the reason relates to policing services. This is for the same reasons set out in the 2005 Act. The authority can only recommend to the Government that the Commissioner or deputy be removed if the reason relates to policing services. In any event, the Government is obliged only to consider that recommendation and not to act upon it.

This Bill also provides that both the Government, for policing and State security reasons, and the authority, in terms of policing services, have the power to remove assistant commissioners, chief superintendents and superintendents. It also proposes that the Ministers for Justice and Equality and Public Expenditure and Reform will determine the number of appointments to assistant Garda Commissioner, chief superintendent and superintendent but that the authority may make these appointments, subject to a selection competition and any regulations that may be made. As this means the system under the 2006 and 2014 regulations will remain in place, it will not be a question of selection by the PAS. Instead, the promotions advisory council and the promotions advisory board, controlled by the Garda Commissioner and the Minister, will decide the candidates that the authority will be asked to rubber-stamp.

The power of the authority has been weakened since the proposed heads of the Bill in November, in which the authority alone had the power to remove assistant Commissioners, chief superintendents and superintendents from their positions. Now, both the Government and the authority have that power.

It is difficult to see how An Garda Síochána can be expected to function as a cohesive and disciplined body when, depending on one's rank, one can be removed by, and thus answerable to, one, two or even three different bodies, namely, the Government, the authority and the Garda Commissioner. Further confusion arises where one body appoints and another has the power to remove, for example, in the case of assistant Commissioners, chief superintendents and superintendents, where the authority makes these appointments - at least nominally, with the Minister deciding how many appointments are to be made - but both the authority and the Garda Commissioner can remove such appointees.

The authority should have full power of appointment of the Garda Commissioner, subject only to consultation with the Government. It is unfair and irrational to ask the authority to be responsible for systemic issues and policies and performance issues when it cannot appoint or remove those responsible for implementing those policies and priorities, in other words, the Garda Commissioner and the deputy Commissioners. Given that the assistant Commissioners, chief superintendents and superintendents all work in a hierarchical structure under the Commissioner and deputy Commissioners, who are appointed by the Government, giving the authority the power to appoint and remove them is meaningless. Furthermore, this power of the authority is largely circumscribed by existing regulations regarding promotion, which will continue. Through these regulations the Minister and the Commissioner will continue to make these decisions through their proxies on the promotion board. It is also unfair and irrational to expect the authority to be responsible for resources, budgets and staffing if it has no part to play in deciding the number of appointments to be made to senior management ranks, for example, assistant Commissioners, chief superintendents and superintendents.

On the code of ethics, the Bill now proposes that the authority shall, within 12 months, establish a code of ethics that includes standards of conduct and practice for members and internal whistleblowing provisions. However, the authority is obliged to consult more bodies than the Minister would have had to consult had she ever drafted the code of ethics. For example, the authority will have to consult the Garda unions whereas the Minister would not have had to do so under the 2005 Act. The authority also has to consult the Ministers for Justice and Equality and Public Expenditure and Reform. In addition to European policing standards, the authority must also have regard to the policing principles when drafting the code of ethics. The clause regarding a breach of the code of ethics being a breach of discipline which was in the heads of the Bill in November is not in the finalised legislation. Similarly, the code of ethics as guidance for gardaí in carrying out their functions was included in the very important new policing principles but has been removed. Currently, the 2007 discipline regulations ensure a breach of the code of ethics, if it existed, would be a breach of discipline. However, the regulations are only secondary legislation and can be revoked at any point by the Minister and regulations, when drafted or being revoked, never go before the House to be debated as they are just the exercise of Minister's executive power. Therefore the authority will bring in a code of ethics with great fanfare but breaching it will not be a breach of discipline because of the changes in this Act. There will be no sanction for breaching the code, rendering it meaningless.

The introduction of the trade unions as one of the bodies the authority is required to consult is curious as the Minister would not have been required to consult the unions if she had ever gone ahead and drafted a code of ethics. There is a requirement to consult the Garda Commissioner as representative of an Garda Síochána and this really would have been sufficient. It is curious also that there is a requirement to consult the Minister for Public Expenditure and Reform, as setting standards of conduct and policing practice cannot be considered an industrial relations issue. There is no reference to the code of ethics or the Garda code being published. The biggest problem with the newly proposed legislation is that there will be no sanction for breaching the code of ethics which makes it meaningless. This is even weaker than the position under the current 2005 legislation, where we have no code of ethics because no Minister ever went ahead and drafted one.

On the roles of Minister, the authority and the Garda Commissioner, the Bill now proposes that section 20 be amended in order that the authority, with the written approval of the Minister, shall determine the priorities of the Garda Síochána and establish performance targets and can only determine or revise them following consultation with the Garda Commissioner. The Minister will lay these priorities before the House on receipt from the authority. The Commissioner must inform the authority of measures taken to achieve the objectives of the priorities determined and performance targets established and supply that information within the time specified by the authority. Regarding security services principles, the Commissioner shall follow the same procedure but just be answerable to the Minister.

Section 21 sets out that the strategy statement shall be submitted by the Commissioner to the authority rather than to the Minister for approval but removes from the authority the power the Minister had to set the form and the manner of the statement. The Commissioner is required to have regard to Government policy, the priorities determined by the authority regarding policing and the Minister regarding security. The Garda Professional Standards Unit, GPSU report under section 24 shall now be submitted by the Commissioner to the authority and not to the Minister. The Minister's power under section 25 to issue directives to the Commissioner remains solely with the Minister and the authority may only recommend to the Minister that he or she issues a directive. The Bill provides a new power to the Minister to issue directives to the authority also. The Commissioner is still required to have regard to any relevant policies of the Minister or the Government and any ministerial directive issued to him or her when performing his or her functions, along with the new policing principles, as per section 5.

The authority cannot be considered independent from the Minister if it is in a linear hierarchical relationship with the Minister, as is demonstrated by the power in the amended section 25 which permits the Minister, on the approval of the Government, to give written directives to the authority regarding any of the authority's functions under the Act and the authority shall comply and shall also inform the Minister of the measures taken by the authority to comply. There is limited usefulness in severing the Commissioner's linkage with the Minister if it is intended to restore this linkage at the authority level. It is no use just sticking the authority in between the Minister and the Commissioner if the authority itself answers to the Minister and so becomes just an extra link in the same chain. As argued by the Irish Council for Civil Liberties, "if it is to break the historic cycle of unwholesome ministerial influence on policing, Ireland's new authority must be fully independent". Furthermore, the authority is not given any power to issue directives to the Commissioner. The authority can only recommend to the Minister that a directive regarding policing be issued to the Commissioner from the Minister. The Minister's power under the 2005 Act to give directives to the Commissioner, that is, to give direct orders to the Commissioner, remains the same and is not even shared with the authority. Thus there is no change in the potential for direct ministerial influence on the Garda Commissioner's operational control of an Garda Síochána. The Irish Human Rights and Equality Commission, IHREC, emphasised that the independence of the police service from Executive control is central to the credibility and capacity of the police service to protect human rights, yet An Garda Síochána remains under direct Executive control under the new proposals. There is also no change to section 26(3) which makes the Commissioner directly accountable to the Minister in the performance of his or her functions and those of An Garda Síochána. This accountability provision has been criticised by Professor Walsh as reinforcing ministerial control powers by rendering the Commissioner statutorily accountable to the Minister for the first time in the history of the State.

On the issue of accountability, Part 5 now proposes no change to section 40 which sets out that the Garda Commissioner shall account fully to the Government and Minister through the Secretary General for any aspect of his or her functions, including the duty to provide any document. Clearly, the Commissioner remains accountable to the Minister and Government only. The new Bill just adds a section setting out that the Commissioner shall report to the authority with regard to policing services to facilitate the performance by the authority of its functions under this Act and extends the duty of Commissioner to provide documents to the authority also. The wide breadth of communication between Minister and Commissioner remains under section 41 and a clause is added to set out that if and in so far as a report by the Commissioner to the Minister relates to policing services, the Minister shall inform the authority of those matters. The Minister does not even have to provide the authority with a copy of the report. Furthermore, there is no comparable duty on the Commissioner inserted to keep the authority informed on significant developments relating to policing, for example, peace and public order, but only to keep the authority informed of matters relevant to the authority's functions.

No change is proposed to section 47 to provide the authority with crime statistics. Surely crime statistics should now be reported to the authority and not the Minister, or at least to both. It will be difficult for the authority to deal with policy issues if it is not entitled to the full statistical data that are available. There is no change to section 40 regarding direct accountability to the Government and Minister nor to section 40(2) and the all-encompassing duty on the Commissioner to provide any document or statement in the possession of An Garda Síochána that the Minister requests, for example, documents relating to Deputy Paul Murphy's arrest, which Professor Dermot Walsh has referred to as an "alarming provision".

The Bill, as published, rows back on commitment in the heads of the Bill to make the Garda Commissioner fully accountable to the board alone regarding policing matters. As with the 2005 Act, the Commissioner is to remain solely accountable to the Minister and Government. This is a fundamental change to the proposal in the heads. What is the point of having a Garda authority if it is not being asked to hold the Commissioner to account and if the Commissioner remains lawfully accountable to the Government and Minister? The Commissioner's duty to provide updates regarding policing continues to be owed to the Minister rather than the board, which is also a departure from the proposal made in the heads.

According to the legislation, the first eight members of the Garda authority will be directly appointed by the Government following advertisements that were placed in June. The first authority will set the tone for the relationship between the authority and the Garda Commissioner and Garda Síochána. This is a negative step for an authority that is supposed to be strong and independent and mark a departure from politicised policing.

Membership of the authority is to be drawn from Civil Service representatives and individuals with a legal or human rights background. The failure of the Bill to make reference to representation of civil society groups is a major disappointment. In addition, the Garda authority should include some political representation, albeit not a majority, with the Opposition and Government being given equal representation. This would be in line with a recommendation made by the Irish Human Rights and Equality Commission, Dr. Vicky Conway and Professor Dermot Walsh. In an effort to retain Government control over the authority, the proposals do not allow for any political representation or membership, perhaps because to do so would require Opposition involvement.

The chairperson-designate of the Garda Authority is a career civil servant who was appointed without an interview process, having resigned as head of the Revenue Commissioners one month prior to her appointment. This was clearly a set-up and means of exerting and re-channelling ministerial influence through the chairperson by having, as it were, the Minister's man on the inside. The process used amounted to an interference in the independence and impartiality of the Garda authority before it has been even established. Moreover, Josephine Feehily was involved in the selection of the new Garda Commissioner in her first indirect wielding of political power over policing.

I ask the Deputy to refrain from naming individuals in the Chamber.

No problem. As the Minister will be well aware, Deputy Clare Daly and I introduced Garda Bills in 2013 and 2014. The Garda authority proposed in our legislation is unrecognisable in the authority proposed in the Bill before us. I do not know how the Minister can claim the authority is independent when it clearly has the paws of the Government all over it.

Lack of speaking time means I have only referred to some sections of the Bill. That this legislation does not stand up to serious scrutiny with regard to independence is a major disappointment. The Minister had an opportunity to do things much differently and God knows that is needed. I do not mean anything personal in expressing serious disappointment with the Bill as I do not know how much control the Minister or her officials had over the final document. I wish things were different and we had a policing authority that bore some resemblance to the authority proposed in our Bill.

The context of the discussion of this Bill is the damage done to the image of the Garda Síochána by various scandals, including the whistleblower and penalty points scandals, and ongoing and blatant political policing. What we have is an attempt to make policing look like something that it is not and giving the impression that we have some form of independent and democratic control and accountability of the Garda. The Bill does not propose significant change.

When I state that we have political policing in this State I am not making paranoid accusations or claiming that all gardaí are against all of us on the left but pointing out that policing in this State operates to protect the interests of the 1% - the establishment and elite - when its interests are challenged. Despite the snorts of derision that come from establishment politicians and the media when this issue is raised, the examples of political policing are very stark at this stage. To take the example of water meter protests, massive Garda resources are being used to impose water meters on working class communities which do not want them and are protesting against them, yet the same communities are unable to access Garda resources when they need them. Almost a year ago, incredible numbers of gardaí were deployed in Clare Hall and Limewood to force water meters into housing estates. When we fast-forward to yesterday, we learn that six people were arrested in Waterford at anti-water charges protests. A YouTube video of the incident that is circulating on social media suggests policing at the protest was heavy-handed. These are regular occurrences that are no longer newsworthy because people are arrested on almost a daily basis for protesting against water meters being installed in their estates.

I am advised that the Deputy is straying beyond the scope of the Bill. I ask him to confine his remarks to the subject of the legislation.

My comments relate to the Bill. The point is that we do not have democratic accountability for the Garda, nor is such accountability proposed. If we are to avoid the types of incidents I have highlighted, we must have democratic accountability at a national and community level. This means having working class communities and ordinary people take charge of policing resources and priorities through their democratic representatives. That issue is related to the Bill.

The arrests of 27 people in Jobstown were unquestionably heavy-handed and completely unjustifiable in terms of the number of gardaí involved and the style of arrest used, etc. When the leaking of information about these arrests was raised on Leaders' Questions yesterday, the Taoiseach did not appear remotely bothered. That persons have been named in the national media following a leak that is likely to have emanated from the Garda and are likely to face serious criminal charges which could result in significant prison time is a serious problem. These leaks, which were very likely to have come from the Garda, were an interference in the right of privacy of the individuals in question and the administration of justice. They were also an attempt to shape public opinion and terrorise a community, some of whose members are facing serious charges.

The same Garda division took a decision to issue summonses to Deputy Joan Collins and 11 other individuals for participating in anti-water meter charges protests. Despite these protests being non-controversial, simple and peaceful, people are facing significant criminal charges. The chief superintendent who is responsible for Crumlin and Jobstown made an incredible decision - this, too, is relevant to the Bill - to refuse a permit to a democratically organised political party to collect money, which it has done in the past and which other political parties are doing at present. The justification for this decision was given in a letter, which states that "previous protests in my division ... have resulted in persons being arrested for Public Order offences". The presumption of innocence has been thrown out the window. The letter continues:

The collection permit has been refused because I believe the proceeds of the collection or a portion thereof would be used to facilitate protests sponsored by the Anti Austerity Alliance. I believe any further protests within my Division would see further Public Order offences being committed.

This incredible decision chokes off access to fund-raising opportunities for a political force which does not accept money from big business or developers and relies on ordinary people and the types of collections for which it applied. The decision strangles the ability of a political group to function on the basis that it may organise protests. It is another clear example of the political policing that is taking place. It is not accidental that the person responsible for this decision is also the person responsible for policing in Jobstown and Crumlin and, I presume, for the decision as to the nature of the arrests and the decision to serve summonses.

Another point on which I was given short shrift by the Taoiseach yesterday relates to Operation Mizen. According to a report in a national newspaper, this is a special investigation unit which has spent six months "monitoring protestors, compiling profiles and gathering intelligence on their whereabouts". It also notes that, "Anti-Austerity Alliance TD Paul Murphy, who was arrested in conjunction with the notorious Jobstown protest, is understood to be among those being monitored." It is a very serious situation whereby there are reports in the media, which is not the only source I have heard it from, that people are being spied upon and surveilled by gardaí on the basis of their participation in protests against a key Government austerity policy.

Debate adjourned.