If the Deputy is not here, if is okay with the Ceann Comhairle, I will keep going.
First, I thank the Ceann Comhairle for the opportunity of speaking on this important debate on a new piece of legislation, the Garda Síochána (Policing Authority and Miscellaneous Provisions) Bill 2015. I welcome this debate, as I feel strongly that this out-of-touch Government does still not get it in relation to policing, Garda reform, gaining the trust and respect of the public, violent crime, gangland crime and the intimidation of individuals and communities. It is an opportunity to look at these issues in the wider society. This debate should be about a wake-up Bill. What I say is, "They need to wake up and listen." The Government needs to wake up to what is happening on our streets, in our communities and in the broader society. However, they do not seem to get it. Our people are crying out for help and a properly run and resourced Garda service.
We all need to focus on the following issues: reform, trust and accountability. That is the direction in which we should go. Then we can all have a Garda Síochána that looks to the future and that has the support and respect of our people, which is the key issue. The Bill, and this debate, should focus on these core issues.
When one looks at the details of the legislation, the principles of which I strongly support, one can see that the main purpose of the Bill is to provide for the establishment of a new policing authority, "the Authority," to oversee the exercise of the Garda Síochána's policing functions. The second key issue is that the authority will perform a wide range of functions, many of which are currently exercised by the Government or the Minister for Justice and Equality. These are the two key elements in the legislation. These are principles that every Member of this House should support, but Members should also come up with constructive ideas for building and developing a policing service that we all admire and trust.
Many of us have many friends and family who have served in An Garda Síochána, and they have also expressed concern to us that we need to get back to the traditional ideas of public service, of which we should not be afraid in modern Ireland. If one is so employed, one has the honour of being a member of An Garda Síochána, one is a public servant and one works in the interests of the public. Such principles are very important.
Part 2 - sections 8 to 17, inclusive - contains ten sections and amends Chapter 2 of Part 2 of the principal Act, dealing mainly with the appointment and removal of members of the Garda Síochána. It also contains provisions for the establishment by the authority of a Garda code of ethics. That is linked to my point on public service. If we are building this code of ethics and this public service, sections 8 to 17 are important.
Let us dig down deeper into the legislation. Section 12 amends section 13 of the Principal Act to provide that the authority will appoint assistant Garda commissioners, chief superintendents and superintendents. Section 12 is an important section because we need to get away from the cronyism and the allegations of political interference that have gone on in the State since its foundation, and we need to appoint men and women to the Garda Síochána on merit and ability. I do not know how many times I have listened over the past 20 years to the stories of high-quality policemen and women who were not promoted because they did not mix in the right circles or play golf with the right senior management of the Garda. In a modern police force, that should not be acceptable. I know many high-quality gardaí, men and women, throughout my constituency who are part of what I call the new brigade, who have a sense of good, a sense of justice, a sense of public service and a sense of assisting their local communities, but often they are not taken seriously and they are not rewarded enough. I would say, if there is a good young man or woman, we should develop the good ones and bring them into management levels. There are also sections within policing that are treated more seriously than others. A good community garda in any community is very valuable and such gardaí should be respected. When I say "valuable," I mean they are valuable in relation to crime prevention, which often is not taken seriously. It is always the murders, robberies and knife crimes that become the big cases on which gardaí can make their careers, whereas the good-quality gardaí on the beat in the service, preventing crimes, dealing with anti-social behaviour and dealing with families in crisis often do not get the recognition they deserve. As somebody who worked in a disadvantaged area long before I became a Deputy, I am familiar with the work that some of these gardaí do on the ground and the number of individuals and families they kept out of prison, which is an important consideration. I refer to the work of juvenile liaison officers, JLOs, in crime prevention, and the number of children aged ten, 11 or 13 whom many of us thought were lost. The JLOs sat down, they worked with the social workers, they worked with us as the local teachers and they worked with the gardaí on the ground to develop and save these children, and they are saving the children from ending up in Mountjoy. Therefore, section 12 is very important.
Section 15 amends section 15(4)(a) of the principal Act to provide a role for the authority in relation to the training, powers and duties of reserve members of the Garda Síochána. This is another group of people who are making a major contribution, and some of them join the mainstream Garda service. If people want to volunteer and give their time, it is important we provide them with proper supervision, regulation and training. If they are that interested and dead keen, we should encourage them.
Section 16 substitutes a new section 17 of the principal Act to require the authority to establish a code of ethics for the Garda Síochána within 12 months of its establishment. It is important we get into this immediately. The code, or specific provisions of the code, will apply with any necessary modifications to the civilian staff of the Garda Síochána. Section 16 deals with the issue of civilians working in the police service. We need to free up gardaí and develop and trust civilians to get on with the bureaucracy of running a police service.
We are talking about trust, accountability and proper supervision and regulation. In my world, as any good garda on the ground will say, one does not get trust from a community; one earns trust. In the 1980s, the drugs squad in the north inner city went out and earned the trust of the local community. The current Commissioner was part of the unit and I knew many of them. There was a major problem with drugs during the heroin epidemic in the 1980s. The young members of the drug squad went into the most disadvantaged areas, worked with the families and earned the respect of the local community. We must not be ashamed to say that old-fashioned public service earning respect is something of which we can be very proud. This is very important.
I mentioned the drugs issue because, in this debate on reforming the Garda, we must acknowledge that we have a crisis and that a major addiction problem is leading to much crime, including "petty" crime. I do not describe any crime as "petty". If a drug addict breaks into a senior citizen's house, it is not a petty crime. Recently, in my constituency, I met a lovely senior couple whose house was broken into and much of their jewellery and a small amount of cash was taken. Although it was deemed a small crime, to the family it was not a petty crime. It was also drug related. We need to broaden our minds. The justice committee is examining many drug related issues. We visited Portugal recently, where we saw the emphasis on health rather than on the criminal justice system. The idea, again, is prevention. When dealing with the drugs issue, we must have a broader mind.
We have the more serious issue of the gangland crime and killings that are happening in our city. Over recent years, human life has become very cheap in Dublin city. It is frightening that people can be shot down for owing a drugs debt of €1,500 or €80, and the dealer has got another unfortunate to do the crime because he owes €1,000. We must focus on this and we need the Garda to focus on these particular people. I also have concerns about the power of gangland leaders in society. People who live in nice, smug, wealthy areas do not understand that a gangland leader living in a community can dominate the whole community, threaten families and dominate whole streets. I have seen it at first hand. People who are afraid to go to the Garda about certain people have come to my clinics and when I talk to the gardaí, I raise the issues. The people will not come to the Garda because they fear they will be burned out, shot and killed. We must deal with gangland crime very strongly and we must devise new, radical ideas to assist the Garda and develop services. The Oireachtas justice committee is doing this. We are working very closely on a report and will, hopefully, publish it before Christmas. We will bring recommendations to the Minister and I hope she will listen to them.
The Minister is dealing with the issue of knife crime. It is unacceptable. I do not buy people carrying knives. I do not accept it. Anybody with such a dangerous weapon in a civilian or social place should be nicked and jailed, with no debate. We need to have trust and confidence in policing. I will say something unpopular: we must be very careful about political policing. My colleague, Deputy Paul Murphy, has raised it. We must be very careful that politicians stay out of policing and gardaí stay out of politics. We are going down a dangerous road, given some of the statements and activities I have heard about. The Minister must be very careful not to politicise the police force, who are public servants and serve the public. We must be very careful when people put on a red light and there is a warning. We are talking about democracy. Regardless of whether one agrees with somebody, everybody has the right to peaceful and democratic protest, in any democracy, and I emphasise “peaceful”. We must be very careful we do not get involved in any kind of political policing.
We must be careful regarding the standards of certain police officers who leak stories to the media about Dáil Members such as Deputies Mick Wallace or Clare Daly, because they disagree with them. It is unacceptable, regardless of what people think of political views. We all know it has happened, and we have dealt with it. Recently, we had a debate on the Fennelly interim report on policing, the Garda Commissioner and other issues. We must be very decisive and strong to defend our democratic values and ensure the Garda Síochána keep their noses out of politics and the politicians keep their noses out of the Garda Síochána. It is very important.
I mentioned community policing and crime prevention and I have pointed out that we need to deal with these issues. I mentioned gangland crime and we had a major debate on legally and illegally held weapons in Ireland. It is a modern situation and we must be very careful. We must ensure that anybody who has a legally held shotgun or rifle is a responsible person. We cannot give out permits and permission willy nilly.
Section 19 of the Bill amends section 21 of the principal Act to enable the authority to approve, with the consent of the Minister, the three-year strategy statement for the Garda Síochána. Section 19 is common sense, given that, when one discusses a strategy, one refers to plans and a three-year programme for the management, structure and strategy statement for the Garda Síochána. If we are discussing accountability and public service, we must have issues such as those in section 19 implemented. We cannot allow the service to go stale, given that if it does, issues come in that cause many difficulties regarding it. I welcome to the House the Chairman of the Oireachtas Joint Committee on Justice, Defence and Equality, Deputy Stanton. We have done much work cross-party work on many of these issues.
Section 25 amends section 27 of the principal Act to enable the authority, as well as the Garda Commissioner, to make arrangements to obtain the views of the general public about matters in relation to policing services. Before making any such arrangements, the Garda Commissioner will require the approval of the authority. Section 25 is all about accountability, transparency and involving the public. If we want to involve the public and have a police service that has the public's trust and respect, section 25 is the way to go. I warmly welcome the section. The views of the public about policing services matters can be very valuable. The Oireachtas Joint Committee on Justice, Defence and Equality has received such submissions. People came in and made statements on drugs and gangland issues. They gave a community view and sensible proposals we can bring to the Minister. We can bring our recommendations. We will not blind the Minister with science. We will bring six to ten good, sensible recommendations representative of all our committee and we urge the Minister to consider them seriously.
Part 6 of the legislation contains five sections - sections 39 to 43 - and amends Chapter 8 of Part 2 of the principal Act relating to the appointment and secondment of personnel between the Garda Síochána and the Police Service of Northern Ireland. I have very strong views on these sections, which I welcome. We need more North-South co-operation . My personal option, in the context of the run-up to the 1916 commemorations, would be to have an all-island police service - I am trying to get away from the word "force" - some day. At the moment, such a service does not exist on this island. I think there is huge potential for good and sensible co-operation in this regard.
Section 40 of the Bill amends section 53 of the principal Act to allow the authority, with the approval of the Government, to approve the secondment of members of the PSNI to a rank in the Garda not above assistant Garda Commissioner and not below superintendent. The authority will be able to terminate such secondments with the approval of the Government. Section 41 provides a role for the authority in the procedures to deal with breaches of discipline by members of the Garda Síochána seconded to the PSNI. These sections of the Bill will enable the PSNI and the Garda to work closely. We need to have closer co-operation. Many of the reforms that were introduced in the North would be very worthwhile here as well.
I assure the gardaí on the ground, who can sometimes be a bit sensitive when one speaks to them, that this is not about having a go at them. It is about having public servants in the Garda Síochána who will serve the public and enjoy the trust of the public. If gardaí have the respect and trust of the public, they will get more support and more co-operation. I firmly believe this would lead to less crime in society. That is the important thing. Criticism and debate are good for democracy and for a reformed Garda Síochána. The good men and women of the Garda on the ground who have a sense of public service will not be afraid of reform and change. As we wait for that reform and change to happen, the members of the Garda will continue to deserve our support and respect.
Section 62N, towards the end of the Bill, will require the authority to prepare a strategy statement. This is another example of the onus being put on the authority to do things. I have a single small whinge in this context. This wonderful Government is great at talking about the chaos in the Opposition's figures and numbers. However, I note that the explanatory memorandum concludes:
The proposed arrangements under the Bill will provide for a new oversight regime for the Garda Síochána. Currently, it is not possible to quantify the full extent of the resources that will be required and the matter is being actively pursued.
We need to have the sums in relation to this authority. We need to have the figures. The Government is always coming after the Opposition by saying that we need to get our figures and asking us for accountability, etc. I suggest the flaw in this Bill is that it is a little open-ended. We need accountability. We need to have an idea of approximately how much this policing authority will cost. If we are going to provide services, we need to know the cost of them as well. I firmly believe the sustainable economy that is necessary should deliver services in a fair and equitable manner. That is the way forward for this country.
Overall, I welcome the legislation. There are many things that I would like to add to it. If we implement many of the recommendations, a whole breath of fresh air will come into the policing service.