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

Question again proposed: "That the Bill be now read a Second Time."

I was speaking about the reportage of the so-called Operation Mizen within the Garda surveillance of anti-water-charge protestors. The issue seemed so serious to us, as the Anti-Austerity Alliance, that in the context of the Dáil not sitting, we wrote to the Minister for Justice and Equality to ask a number of questions. For example, we asked if she was aware that the Garda unit was in operation or if she was consulted about its foundation or operation. We asked if a report was made to the Minister or the Department by the Garda Commissioner or any authorities in the Garda on the operation of the unit; how many individuals - including public representatives at council or Dáil level - were the subject of surveillance, and if they were, whether they would be named; and other questions seeking an answer, because we felt them to be of fundamental public interest, particularly as the Dáil was not sitting. We received a response from the Minister but it was a one-line reply that acknowledged receipt of the letter. There is a clear public interest in knowing what is happening in terms of surveillance of anti-austerity or anti-water-charge protestors, and the Minister should detail what she is aware of.

Political policing is the rule rather than the exception. That is not in the sense that policing of a traffic light or a traffic offence amounts to political policing but, rather, that when movements develop which threaten the interests of the capitalist class in the country or when the interests of the State are perceived to be challenged, gardaí, against their own wishes in many circumstances, are used to enforce the interests and wishes of the 1%, as opposed to the 99%. The examples are legion, including the kind of policing that happened around the Shell to Sea campaign, the Rossport five, Ms Maura Harrington, the 23 jailed bin charge protestors and the role of policing around the bin charges movement. There was also the arrest and jailing of Margaretta D'Arcy. The examples go on and include many industrial disputes, particularly in the building industry.

It is not a revelation that this exists, but the fact that it is laid bare is an indication of how the interests are challenged. This fundamentally relates to the role of mass civil disobedience, and particularly the mass non-payment of water charges and how that has shocked and rocked the establishment, broadly speaking, with the result of such blatant political policing. This is precisely what should be dealt with and it is part and parcel of a struggle to transform our society and take power economically, for example, out of the hands of the 1%. We also need a different kind of State and, as part of that, a different kind of police force. It should be democratically accountable to the communities it is meant to serve. On one hand, it requires on the national level a genuinely independent and authoritative policing authority, but it also requires, at a local level, real community control of gardaí. That would amount to Garda resources being used in the interests of communities, as opposed to how they are unfortunately sometimes used, which is against the interests of those communities.

I wish to share time with Deputy Kyne.

There are 20 minutes in the speaking slot.

I will endeavour to keep going until I am advised to do otherwise. I thank the Minister for presenting the Bill. As a member of the justice committee, I have had a great deal of discussion and input on the fundamentally required reforms of both An Garda Síochána and other associated bodies in providing oversight to the operation of the Garda. I will refrain from engaging in the type of discussion that we heard before I took to my feet. If an individual is accused of wrongdoing in this State, gardaí are perfectly entitled to investigate such matters.

That is no problem.

Until a person is proven guilty in a court of law, very little should be said in this House about it. The allegations made in the House by Deputy Murphy are reprehensible, and I find it appalling that he has absolutely no respect for the rule of law-----

What allegations?

-----or those who fulfil a vital role in our State.

Does the Deputy believe the leaks to the media were appropriate?

I was not referring to that. I refer to the allegations of breaches of the peace, etc., and false imprisonment.

The Deputy spoke about being innocent until proven guilty.

Deputy, I can watch YouTube like you.

I have seen about 40 videos online, which I am sure An Garda Síochána is currently investigating, but I am not going to-----

Deputy Farrell just said I was innocent until proven guilty.

Deputy Murphy has a particular position in this House and using this House as an opportunity to vent his displeasure at having allegedly been caught doing something-----

Read the transcript. That was not what I was doing.

I was listening very carefully. I thank the Deputy.

Please keep the debate through the Chair.

The establishment of the new independent policing authority is a fundamental part of the Government's justice reform programme and the policing authority will, of course, fulfil a vital role in overseeing the governance and structures of An Garda Síochána and monitoring its performance. The Bill marks a significant reform in the way our justice system works and it is of the utmost importance in ensuring we have a 21st century Garda Síochána and in supporting the Garda in the difficulties it faces on a daily basis. Over recent years, we have seen An Garda Síochána's morale at an all-time low, due primarily to the reduction in Garda numbers when Templemore was closed, but also to more practical issues, such as pay and the investment required across the Garda Síochána station network to ensure the facilities gardaí were working in were up to standard. Under the National Development Plan 2010-2015, the budget has been increased across the board by the present Government and I commend the Minister and the Cabinet on doing so.

The policing authority will have important functions in our overall justice system, particularly in terms of overseeing the performance of An Garda Síochána. Providing this level of public oversight of our police force is important to ensure An Garda Síochána works efficiently and that we develop a greater level of accountability in our justice system.

The policing authority will play an important role in recommending persons to the Government for appointment to the roles of Garda Commissioner and assistant Garda Commissioner, and it will have responsibility for the appointment of persons to the ranks of Garda superintendent, chief superintendent and assistant commissioner. That is a welcome departure from the usual practice over the last few decades. The policing authority will also have the power to remove these persons from their position for reasons related to policing services.

Furthermore, the policing authority will approve, with the agreement of the Minister, the annual policing plan, which comes before the Committee on Justice, Defence and Equality for discussion each year. This is a welcome move as it is important that the public representatives of this House are given the opportunity to quiz the Commissioner on certain aspects of this. I have found the Commissioner's engagement with the committee to be excellent over recent months and I thank her for her constant availability to the committee whenever we have asked her to appear before us. The authority will be responsible for establishing a Garda code of ethics and promoting and supporting the continuous improvement of policing. The independence of the policing authority is of critical importance here. The nine members and the chair will be persons from diverse backgrounds, who will submit themselves through the Public Appointments Service. I welcome this.

A number of recommendations made by the Joint Committee on Justice, Defence and Equality were taken up in this process and the policing authority itself will most likely review others once it is established. That is an important part of the development of the authority. I understand that there is a possibility of a review of the establishment after a period of time, which the Minister has mentioned previously. This is important in ensuring we get it right. Having visited Northern Ireland and Scotland with the committee, along with Deputy Finian McGrath, we have seen the difficulties in establishing a new policing authority and how long it takes for it to get to grip with its role. It would be naive for us to assume that such an authority would instantaneously get it right every time, because international examples prove that it takes time, which is to be expected. There are great benefits in that because it is a learning experience for the authority and the expertise brought on board by the membership of the authority will be beneficial both to An Garda Síochána and to the public.

We have spoken about the necessity for Garda reform across the State, but one of the most important aspects of policing in this country is manpower. If we look at the closure of Templemore by the previous Government, its reopening last year and the recruitment of more than 550 gardaí up to the end of this year, that accelerated recruitment programme is essential if we are to meet the demands of a modern 21st century Ireland. Crime rates are, I hope, plateauing and it is a matter for An Garda Síochána to ensure it uses modern policing techniques to tackle those issues. Our role in this House is to support them by the provision of suitable legislation.

I would particularly like to mention the legislation that will be brought forward to tackle prolific burglars, which I welcome. It is essential that we prevent prolific individuals and roving gangs, which have been mentioned in the papers, from engaging in such activity by ensuring that they face suitable punishment when they are caught. By increasing sentence times and issuing guidance to the Judiciary, we will, I hope, dissuade such individuals from continuing in their practices. With regard to the ability of the Garda to tackle such crimes, particularly since many of them are in vehicles, driving around the country on our motorway network and dipping in and out of certain towns, it is essential we provide the Garda with sufficient vehicles to do that. As has been mentioned on a number of occasions, the Government has invested an additional sum of just under €30 million to the provision of more than 370 Garda vehicles this year. That is an essential component of providing gardaí with the level of equipment they require. There are also other issues, such as technology, including the Garda database, PULSE. We must ensure we sufficiently fund that so that it can meet the demands of An Garda Síochána.

I mentioned earlier the legislation regarding burglars. That will impose consecutive jail sentences and will also allow the court to refuse bail in cases where the offender has a previous conviction for domestic burglary with two or more pending charges.

I am pleased that the Government is now in a position to establish the policing authority, which will fulfil an essential role in policing in Ireland. However, this is only one aspect of the justice reforms and supports being implemented by this Government, and is being strengthened by the introduction of further legislation, continued recruitment and greater resourcing to support the hard­working men and women of An Garda Síochána in their daily duties.

This Bill represents a very important reform for our country in terms of justice. For the first time ever we will have a new policing authority, which will be independent and will oversee the structures and performance of An Garda Síochána. I concur completely with the Minister's observation that the establishment of the new policing authority is "the most far reaching reform of An Garda Síochána since the foundation of the State".

An Garda Síochána was established in 1922 but for several decades there was no external scrutiny of the force. The Garda Complaints Board set up in 1984 was the first attempt at providing for external scrutiny. However, it was not until the Garda Síochána Act 2005 that we saw the establishment of the Garda Síochána Ombudsman Commission and the Garda Síochána Inspectorate. The intervening decade has provided the time to reflect the institutions tasked with the external scrutiny of An Garda Síochána.

It must be remembered that the relationship between the police service, the public it serves and the Government is not an issue that is unique to Ireland.

These matters are challenges for all democratic states and it is healthy for a democracy to conduct periodic reviews of the relationship to identify what works well and, perhaps more importantly, what is not working.

Within this Bill, I believe, are measures which will restore confidence in An Garda Síochána and draw a line under misdeeds by a very small number of the force which involved issues such as penalty points, investigations into crimes and the recording of telephone calls. Significant work has been invested in the preparation of the Bill. It is important to note that the Bill draws on the comprehensive report of the independent review group of the Department of Justice and Equality in areas of relevance to the Garda. It also adopts some of the recommendations made by the Oireachtas Joint Committee on Justice, Defence and Equality in October last in that committee's review of the Garda Síochána Act 2005.

The powers to be ascribed to the new authority are substantial. The authority will, for example, appoint Garda superintendents and assistant commissioners and, conversely, will have the power to remove such personnel for reasons related to policing services. The authority will also have a number of important roles in conjunction with the Minister for Justice and Equality, including the ratification of the annual policing plan and the three-year Garda strategy, as well as determining the priorities for the policing service.

Part 5 of the Bill is of considerable importance. These sections deal with accountability and set out in no uncertain terms the obligations concerning the communications of the parties involved, such as the Minister for Justice and Equality, the Garda Commissioner and the head of the authority. Setting out obligations in such minute detail may be viewed as unnecessary by some, but I believe it is essential if the new policing authority is to operate effectively and if we are to avoid the miscommunication and confusion of the past.

Another interesting section of the Bill is section 29, through which the new authority will take responsibility for the establishment and maintenance of joint policing committees, JPCs. I served on the joint policing committee for County Galway and I am currently a member of the JPC for Galway city. In my view, the JPCs are undervalued in how they provide a forum for issues of public concern to be raised. The committee meetings are regularly monitored by media and provide an excellent platform for consultation and co-operation on policing matters at community level.

Like others, I acknowledge the increase in resources for An Garda Síochána, in terms of both Garda numbers, with the reopening of Templemore and the hiring of Garda recruits, and investment in Garda vehicles. Obviously, that was most necessary to maintain the force and retain proper vehicles to allow the force to police effectively. I note there is much concern, particularly in rural areas, about the visibility of the Garda. It is imperative that the force be out and about. Vehicles are seen as a deterrent to crime.

This Bill setting up the new independent policing authority should not be viewed in isolation. It forms part of a number of important, but often overlooked, measures that the Government has passed. These include the Protected Disclosures Act 2014, which provides a framework for whistleblowers to raise issues of importance or concern. This has relevance for An Garda Síochána, but also for civil society, business and other areas. Another important reform is the Freedom of Information Act 2014, which brought An Garda Síochána under the remit of the freedom of information legislation for the first time. Freedom of information legislation is widely acknowledged as being essential for transparency and openness. These reforms and the far-reaching reforms contained in this Bill provide an opportunity for change that will enhance the police service and assist members in their important work but also provide for greater transparency and accountability, which are measures I would hope everyone in the House and outside support. I commend the Minister for her work on this important landmark Bill.

I believe Deputy Finian McGrath is sharing time with Deputy Fitzmaurice.

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.

I would like to share time with Deputy O'Donnell.

Is that agreed? Agreed.

I will be quite brief. As Chairman of the Joint Committee on Justice, Defence and Equality, which did some pre-legislative scrutiny on this legislation, I should have spoken earlier in this debate. I apologise for being unable to do so. I was detained elsewhere.

As we know, policing is an important matter. The more I look at it, the more I am impressed to note the huge myriad of tasks performed by An Garda Síochána as our police service. Gardaí are called out for all kinds of activities. They deal with traffic and all kinds of crime and public order issues. They look after public events. They do everything and anything one can think of. We owe them an awful lot. I acknowledge Deputy Finian McGrath's suggestion that we need to start thinking more about a police service rather than a police force. I think that is a crucial mind change that we need to bring about.

When the joint committee was asked to do some work on this legislation, it decided to consult in Scotland and Belfast. I thank the authorities in Northern Ireland and Scotland for facilitating us and meeting us. We are establishing a new authority, but we must bear in mind that we already have GSOC, the Garda Inspectorate, the Garda Commissioner, the management team in the Garda Síochána, the Minister and the Oireachtas committee. There are six bodies or groups involved here. The Department is involved as well. It was emphasised repeatedly in Scotland in particular that it is important for all of these groups and organisations to work together in a professional manner and have good professional relations. That does not mean there will be no tensions between them; possibly, there should be constructive tensions in this area. I call on the management of all of these organisations to ensure, as a priority, that there are proper professional working relationships between them.

It has struck me over the years that the role of the Garda Commissioner has possibly been a lonely one up to now. Many decisions have rested with the Garda Commissioner, who has been responsible for many things. One of the things we picked up in Scotland and in Northern Ireland is that the authorities there work in a way that oversees the work of the police, but also supports the work of the heads of the policing services in both jurisdictions. I would like that to happen here as well with the advent of the new authority. I believe it should work to support the work of the Garda Commissioner.

The committee recommended that the authority should be responsible for promotions above the rank of chief superintendent. The Minister has gone further by making it responsible for promotions from superintendent up. I welcome that. I call on the Minister to ensure the authority has a responsibility to oversee all promotions in An Garda Síochána, including to the ranks of sergeant and inspector etc. and is empowered to do so. This is crucially important. I do not feel the current promotion arrangements are satisfactory. I do not have time to go into the details, but I am not too happy with them.

I welcome the Minister's clarification in her speech that the authority will be established in shadow format initially. This was recommended by the joint committee. The Minister might let us know how long that will take. It was emphasised to us that it is very important for this to be done. The authority should not go live, as it were, until it is ready to do so. If it goes live too quickly, teething problems could arise and other things could go wrong.

I am pleased that a code of ethics will be established and put in place. I welcome the extensive consultation that is to take place with various bodies in respect of that. That process is open-ended.

A number of matters arise in the context of the proposed new section 62S of the Bill. It provides that the chief executive who is to be appointed "shall, at the request in writing of [an Oireachtas] committee, attend before it to give account for the general administration of the Authority." I think we need to go further than that. This provision should apply not just to the "general administration" of the authority, but also to the work, policies and procedures etc. of the authority. I think we need to widen that out.

I would like to mention another aspect of this section, which appears as a default in many Bills. I am aware that it has been taken out of some legislation. Section 62S(9) provides that "in carrying out duties under this section, the Chief Executive shall not question or express an opinion on the merits of any policy of the Government or a Minister of the Government or on the merits of the objectives of such a policy." We might need to soften that a bit. I suggest it needs to be more openly provided for that when the chairman of the authority comes before the Oireachtas committee, he or she should be able to have an open discussion with members of the committee. I think that would be quite important.

The role of information technology in An Garda Síochána is another issue that arises in the context of this legislation. I welcome what the Minister said in her speech in this respect. We need to expand on our efforts in the area of numberplate recognition. As the Garda Inspectorate said in its report earlier in the year, there is a particular need to expand the role of information technology.

The issue of security is a sensitive one. The Bill actually manages that quite well in that it recognises that the authority must take note of it but that, ultimately, it is a matter for Executive, and under the Constitution that is the case. I also welcome the fact that the authority can call on GSOC or the Garda Inspectorate to carry out investigations and inspections as required, which is important. I am not clear whether, if such a call is made, those bodies are obliged to do so, and perhaps the Minister will clarify that point.

On the issue of civilian staff, I welcome the fact that a lot of gardaí are freed up by the hiring of civilian staff and I note that the authority will be responsible for the appointment of such staff over the rank of chief superintendent or equivalent. However, the issue of civilian staff is one that we must revisit, and perhaps both the authority and the Minister will do that. Redress of wrongs, for instance, is something that arises. I asked a question recently about the number of civilian staff who have asked to transfer out of An Garda Síochána but I was not able to get a response. My information is that quite a number have sought a transfer and I am quite concerned about morale, procedures, practices and protocols in that regard. That is an issue that we must examine further.

Garda morale is very important and is something of which the authority should take cognisance. Perhaps we should include that somewhere in the legislation as part of the remit of the authority. Another issue which arises frequently is the number of gardaí being assaulted while on duty. I have called recently for serious sanctions to be put in place in this context because An Garda Síochána is one of a number of State bodies whose members put their lives at risk for all of us. If a garda is seriously injured on duty it is incumbent on us to ensure that the message goes out that this is not acceptable. Every sanction available to us should be used, including the withdrawal of social welfare payments. I do not see why we should be paying people to assault gardaí. It is a very serious matter. Furthermore, if a garda is injured on duty, one way or another, we should put in mechanisms to ensure that adequate compensation is provided. I know legislation is due in that regard and I urge the Minister and the Department to fast-track it.

I could say a lot more on this legislation but my colleague wishes to contribute. We have done a lot of work on it already and I know the Bill will return to the Select Committee on Justice, Defence and Equality shortly. I commend the Bill to the House and thank the Minister and the Department for the work they have put into it to date.

I commend this Bill to the House and welcome the fact that the Minister for Justice and Equality is in the House today for this debate. The fact that the Minister is establishing a new independent policing body is extremely important. It will enhance the role of An Garda Síochána, whose members do fantastic work on the ground, and it all comes back to policing services on the ground.

I want to draw the Minister's attention to issues that have arisen in my own constituency of Limerick in recent weeks, and particularly in rural east Limerick, an area that I represent. Mr. John O'Donoghue suffered a heart attack when a burglary was being committed in his home. He was living in Toomaline, Doon, and his death has shocked the community in the greater Doon, Cappamore and Murroe areas of east Limerick. Burglary should be tackled with a three-pronged approach. Number one, it is an issue of policing, and this is particularly true in east Limerick and the villages of Cappamore, Doon, Murroe, Pallasgreen and Oola. Historically, Oola and Doon were under part of the Tipperary district, which is geographically much closer, but with the realignment of geographical areas, they are now under Bruff, which is a longer distance away, with the main district headquarters based in Bruff itself. This is a problem that the Minister inherited from the previous Administration, which closed Templemore in 2009, resulting in no Garda recruitment for several years. I very much welcome the fact that the Minister has now fast-tracked Garda recruitment in the last year, with 550 new recruits in Templemore. I also welcome the fact that the Minister has made a commitment to continue recruiting new gardaí in the coming years. Indeed, I would urge that, finances permitting, the numbers be increased. Due to a combination of gardaí being out sick and retiring, east Limerick in particular is down in terms of the number of gardaí on the ground. I would like to see extra gardaí in east Limerick. There is a need for at least one or two additional gardaí on the ground. I have spoken to the chief superintendent in Limerick and acknowledge that the gardaí are doing fantastic work on the ground. I would hope that extra gardaí can be deployed to the Limerick district and particularly to the east Limerick area, encompassing Oola, Doon, Cappamore, Murroe and Pallasgreen.

The Minister will be bringing the Criminal Justice (Burglary of Dwellings) Bill 2015 before the House next week, which I very much welcome. Data shows that 75% of burglaries are committed by 25% of criminals. That is borne out both anecdotally and in fact. The aforementioned Bill needs to be very strong, with increased sentences for repeat offenders and a tightening up of the bail laws. I will be involved in the debate on the legislation next week and I feel we must send out a strong message to burglars that if they are caught they will serve serious time and may face the withdrawal of their social welfare benefits. In recent weeks I have met people in the rural and urban areas of east Limerick whose houses have been broken into. In many cases they are elderly people living on their own. Burglars are targeting jewellery and cash at the moment and in many cases they are specifically targeting the elderly. When one meets such burglary victims they speak of the invasion of privacy, their loss of confidence and the fact that homes they have bought or built and lived in for many years have been violated. It is just not on, and that is why I welcome the forthcoming legislation. It needs to be very strong in telling burglars that if they are caught they will pay.

I am aware that a review is currently under way of the regulation of cash for gold businesses. While there are lots of respectable jewellery shops in operation, cash for gold businesses mean that burglars are targeting gold. The regulation of such businesses is not tight enough. Jewellery is being stolen and brought to certain premises and is gone within a couple of days, effectively. We must regulate this area by requiring formal identification, thus enabling goods to be traced back. Otherwise, the job of An Garda Síochána is virtually impossible because they cannot trace the origin of stolen goods. That legislation needs to be fast-tracked. While I accept that there may be difficulties with regard to legitimate businesses, that should not deter the Government from enacting legislation which ensures that if people steal goods they will be tracked down and put in jail. It is very simple and I am very strong on this issue because of the people I have met.

I wish to refer again to the issue of extra gardaí on the ground. I live in Castletroy, which is an urban area. There have been numerous burglaries there recently, in many cases involving elderly people. The key issue is that we need gardaí on the ground who know their beat. It comes down to manpower. I understand that the Minister is working against the backdrop of no Garda recruitment since 2009.

That decision should not have been made. People strongly value law and order. Everyone should be able to sleep at night without fear of a break-in. I know of elderly people who will not go home or cannot sleep at night because of this fear. I know people with businesses in rural villages who close their business at 10 p.m. because they are afraid their premises will be burgled or visited by people who will cause them hassle. My primary role is to represent people in Limerick city and east County Limerick and I am sending out a message, loud and clear, that people have had enough, especially elderly people living on their own.

The legislation to be introduced next week is a great development. I will peruse it to ensure it covers all bases. Persons engaging in burglary must know they will serve time for the crime. Victims must be placed at the centre of the system and have their rights vindicated. People must not be afraid to go to sleep at night. Deterrents must also be introduced. For example, burglars would be deterred if stolen goods could not be offloaded quickly and without trace. Proper tracing mechanisms are needed and regulations must be introduced for cash-for-gold shops. I have met people who have had wedding and engagement rings stolen. Such items are extremely precious to people. Burglars are targeting elderly people in urban and rural areas.

I hope the Minister receives financial support in the upcoming budget to allow her to invest additional resources in Garda recruitment. She must be able to increase the number of recruits in Templemore and deploy gardaí on the ground. A minimum of one garda is needed in rural east Limerick covering the areas of Cappamore, Doon, Murroe, Pallasgreen and Oola. This would provide assurance that burglars would be tracked and gardaí on the ground would observe exactly what is happening. First and foremost, however, is the need to place victims centre-stage.

I commend the Bill, which encapsulates what policing is all about. I have spoken about local issues but this is an urban and rural issue. Gardaí must be visible on the ground in rural east County Limerick and additional gardaí must be deployed throughout Limerick city, including in areas such as Castletroy, in order that people feel safe.

I welcome the decision of the Minister to establish an independent policing authority. This step is long overdue and while I do not underestimate the challenges it will pose and have some concerns about the Bill, it is a welcome development overall. This debate provides us with an appropriate reminder, if one were needed, of the sequence of scandals and reports which have led us to this point, the most notable of which have been the Guerin and Toland reports and, most recently, the interim report of the Fennelly commission. All of the events which led to these reports and their findings are matters of deep and existential concern which strike at the heart of our democracy. If we cannot have faith in the ability of the police or the security of the State and if we cannot have confidence that the duties of the police force and justice Minister will be conducted in an efficient, transparent, honest and open fashion, our democracy has a serious problem. Good administration and management of justice and security go to the core of democracy in all states.

The policing authority has been a long time coming. A proposal to establish one has been on the table since the summer of 2014 and, as I indicated, I welcome its establishment. However, I note a tendency at the highest levels of Government to point to its imminent arrival as if it will solve all the problems in the justice system and Garda Síochána. Such an assumption would be wrong because a policing authority is only part of the solution and anyone who believes otherwise is seriously mistaken.

The fundamental question facing us and the Minister in performing her tasks is whether the establishment of a Garda authority will restore public confidence in the national police force. Following recent events, there is no doubt that public confidence in the Garda is at an all-time low. In 2014, the Toland report recommended that "The Minister for Justice, through the Department, needs to hold An Garda Síochána accountable as a critical and resource intensive public service, while respecting their operational independence". I fully acknowledge that this is difficult and a tricky balance to strike. Previous speakers referred to the need for the concept of public service to be instilled at the heart of policing and I fully endorse that sentiment.

It has been 15 months since Mr. Brian Purcell left his position as Secretary General of the Department and he has not yet been replaced. How can members of the public have confidence in the Department's ability to hold the Garda Síochána accountable, as required by the Toland report, when the Department is unable to fill one of its key leadership positions? This is a cause of significant concern and must be addressed by the Minister as a matter of absolute priority and urgent importance.

The Minister informed the House that one of the changes that has taken place in the Department in response to the Toland report is that she now formally meets her Secretary General on a monthly basis. I find it hard to understand that any Minister could, would or should run a Department without meeting his or her Secretary General much more frequently than monthly.

We meet almost daily.

In fairness to her, I fully accept that the Minister did not assume the justice portfolio until just before the Toland report was published. Regular meetings should be standard practice in all Departments. From my experience, that is not always the case.

If the position of Secretary General is occupied on an interim basis, what value are these meetings in the context of developing a long-term strategic direction and vision for the Department? I accept that the absence of a long-term permanent occupant of the position places the Minister in a difficult position, but the matter must be addressed urgently if the Department is to undergo the root and branch reform that has been promised and which was recommended by the Toland report. The public deserves this reform. The current scenario and absence of a leader is illustrative of a Department which is viewed by members of the public, in the words of Kevin Toland's review group, as being beset by a "closed, secretive and silo driven culture." Mr. Toland's report also found "Significant leadership and management problems" and "Ineffective management processes and structures to provide significant leadership and management oversight to key agencies both to hold them accountable and to ensure their effectiveness is maximised."

The Toland report has been strongly corroborated in the past fortnight by the interim report of Mr. Justice Fennelly, which again exposed a complete absence of efficient communication and transparency in the Department.

This is an issue of significant concern in a modern, developed democracy. The question I ask of the Minister, which she will no doubt endeavour to answer, is this: who is leading this promised root-and-branch reform of the Department? Without a permanent Secretary General of the Department, it is very hard to see how it can happen.

I note that Deputy Niall Collins earlier expressed his hope that the Bill will maintain current levels of public trust in An Garda Síochána. On this point, I disagree. As I said at the outset, current levels of public trust in An Garda Síochána are very, very low. It is incumbent upon the Minister, her Department, her Secretary General, when he or she arrives, and the Garda Commissioner, Nóirín O'Sullivan, to show leadership by taking active steps to restore a relationship of confidence between the Irish public and An Garda Síochána. That will take time. Deputy O'Donnell has highlighted very clearly the major issues of concern, which I accept are absolutely acute in rural Ireland. However, they are not exclusive to rural Ireland. They exist throughout the country. There is huge concern, particularly among elderly people and people living alone. They feel isolated and have lost confidence in the policing of the State. That is partly because of the scandals that have emerged but also because of the resourcing issues in rural Ireland. These are significant challenges that face the Minister, and I wish her well, genuinely, in trying to tackle them.

An issue has come to light in recent weeks which really illustrates that things have not changed and that the culture that led to the vilification of whistleblowers within An Garda Síochána just 18 months ago is still there. The problems and that culture are still there. Recent whistleblower revelations show that many of the most serious cultural problems still exist and have not been rooted out, despite lofty statements by the Garda Commissioner and the Minister. We saw a very recent case in which two whistleblowers found that when they made complaints about a senior member of An Garda Síochána, the person within the force assigned to investigate was actually connected to the person complained about. That is completely inappropriate and shows that the systems are not changing. With those systems, unfortunately, the culture remains largely unchanged. This is something that must be prioritised. It will require a huge effort and co-ordination between the Minister, the Garda Commissioner and the new policing authority. It is imperative that this culture is rooted out of An Garda Síochána; otherwise, the public will not have confidence in its ability to discharge its duties.

A further question that arises is the following. What aspects of this Bill would have stopped the events described in the interim Fennelly report from happening? The sacking of the Garda Commissioner was a clear abuse of power. It was an abuse of power for cynical, self-preserving and base political reasons and nothing has happened in relation to it. The Government has closed ranks and denied any wrongdoing and there is no facing up to the very clear findings in the Fennelly report and the huge contradictions in the evidence given by the various people who surrounded the hazy events in which the Garda Commissioner was constructively dismissed. Given that An Taoiseach, supported by his Cabinet colleagues, including the Minister for Justice and Equality, continues to stick to the barely credible version of events which purports that Martin Callinan retired from his position entirely of his own volition rather than at the behest of An Taoiseach, it is clear that the events of March 2014 could easily be repeated, notwithstanding the contents of this worthy Bill. That is a matter of grave concern. What aspects of this Bill or a new Garda authority would address the highly worrying state of affairs that allowed the former Commissioner, Martin Callinan, to destroy between eight and ten bags of documents on the day of his resignation? That is something the Minister must address urgently. A decade ago, the Morris tribunal recommended specifically the introduction of sanctions for the destruction of any papers or journals by any member of An Garda Síochána. This recommendation remains utterly not implemented. That sits in neat parallel with the failure of the Garda Commissioner to respond in any meaningful way to my letter of complaint in relation to Mr. Callinan's destruction of such a substantial number of documents. The Minister has been very quiet on this - disappointingly so. She has the power to launch an inquiry into what happened to that documentation to establish what was contained in it and whether it included sensitive materials pertaining to cases that the former Commissioner was involved in or aware of. It is essential that the Minister confront the issue and recognise that changes such as those proposed in the Bill will not achieve anything if they are not accompanied by cultural changes in her Department and within the police force, as outlined in the Toland and Guerin reports. We have a long way to go before those recommendations are implemented.

I welcome the Minister's commitment to having a debate in the House on the appointment of the members of the Garda authority and to require a resolution of both Houses to make such appointments. However, it is regrettable that such parliamentary oversight of a State body is an anomaly in the context of the Government's failure to fundamentally and substantively reform the way in which appointments to State boards are made. That remains the case. Nothing has really changed. The establishment of the Public Appointments Service has not removed the influence of political patronage from the appointment process across the board and the Government continues to repeat the cronyism of its predecessors. The slight anomaly in the legislation which allows the Government to make the initial appointments to the first board is a mistake. The Minister should start as it is intended to go on. It should be a completely open and transparent process in which people apply, are selected completely independently of the Government and are then ratified or otherwise by the Dáil and Seanad. That would be a much better way to start. It would be a better start for the authority itself and would lend credibility to the Minister's stated intention of having an completely independent policing authority. That slight caveat in the legislation is a shame, and perhaps the Minister might consider accepting or putting down an amendment on Committee or Report Stage to change that.

Finally, I turn to political involvement in An Garda Síochána, which is something that has been deeply controversial in the last number of years. The issue of the authority's membership forms part of a wider issue raised by the Bill - namely, the role of politics and politicians in the administration of policing. It is clear from the proposed legislation that the Government will retain a role in policing, most notably in its capacity to appoint or remove a Garda Commissioner and in its appointment of the members of the authority. There is no easy answer to this; I mean that genuinely. A balance must be found between depoliticising policing and maintaining democratic accountability in the area of justice. In the case of the HSE, we have seen an utter failure to achieve that balance. The lessons of the HSE underscore the dangers or potential risks of removing the administration of a major arm of Government from the direct control of a Minister and placing it with an outside authority. The Minister must be really cognisant of this, as must all of us as parliamentarians, as the Bill goes through the Houses and as we review its performance over the coming years. It will not be acceptable for a Minister to come to the Chamber, as we have seen with successive Ministers for Health, and say, "It has nothing to do with me; it is a matter for the policing authority."

It is essential that the Minister of Justice and Equality remain a central figure in terms of being accountable to the House and, therefore, the people for policing policy and the administration of justice. It is a balancing act.

I am concerned that the fingerprints of the Labour Party are evident in the Bill, given the bizarre obligation of the new authority to consult trade unions in the formulation of a code of ethics for the Garda. It is unclear whether a trade union could have a meaningful role in this process, but the unions' inclusion under section 16 once more reminds us of their disproportionate influence over the affairs of the Government, most recently demonstrated by their shameful exclusion from the requirements placed by the Minister, Deputy Howlin's, lobbying Act. This shows that there is one rule for every other organisation and a special rule for trade unions, obviously at the behest of their friends in government. It is bizarre and disappointing that such vested interests continue to wield influence over all aspects of governance, notwithstanding the promise of a democratic revolution just four and a half short years ago.

I urge the Minister, Deputy Fitzgerald, to take into account the legitimate issues that have been raised about the Bill by Deputies on all benches. Deputy Stanton, the Chairman of the justice committee, made a number of pertinent points. His committee has given great attention to the Bill and made significant recommendations, some of which have been included in the Bill but many of which have not. I hope that there will be genuine engagement by the Minister. It is in everyone's interests that we restore confidence in her Department and the Garda and restore the people's faith in the administration of justice. It will not be an easy task or be achieved by this Bill alone, but if the Minister is willing to work with Members from all sides of the House so that the Bill does what it sets out to achieve, that is, ensure a strong, robust and independent policing authority that can hold senior levels of Garda management to account and create a genuine sea change in the culture within the Garda, many Deputies will work with her to that end.

It is something of an indictment of the Government's handling of the situation in the Garda that, while everything is different, it remains the same. There has been a sea change over the course of the Government's lifetime in the population's attitude towards the Garda, a greater consciousness and understanding of its role and, probably, a greater demoralisation within the service itself than at any time before. The issues were not new, having been brewing for decades. They surfaced initially in the horrendous findings of the Morris tribunal, with the idea of a few bad apples in a part of the country being mooted, until it suddenly became clear that this was not just a case of a few bad apples, but of a systemic problem in the Garda's functioning, the blue wall of silence that resulted in gardaí being set apart from the general population.

A number of activities that I will discuss emerged during the course of this Government's lifetime, and it had the opportunity to do something about them. Instead of taking that opportunity, we now have a fig leaf, an attempt to derail the public attention that has been placed on this issue. The genuine demand for a police service that is accountable to the population has been scuppered. "Fig leaf" is the most flattering phrase I will use. I could be more insulting, but I will not be in polite conversation.

We must consider the Fennelly report because the Taoiseach, in his defence of his role in the sacking of the former Garda Commissioner, pointed to the "great" measures that the Government had taken to reform the Garda and highlighted this legislation. Many people have claimed that the report seems contradictory. In some ways it is, but it is also an incredibly thorough report put together by an able individual. The circle can only be squared in light of the terms of reference. Mr. Justice Fennelly was asked to consider the visit to the former Commissioner's house in the context of the tapes controversy. Upon considering what happened, though, it is clear that there is no way that the Commissioner jumped because of the tapes. Ironically, that was one area in which he performed and acquitted himself perfectly well. He stopped the practice as soon as he was made aware of it, accounted for the tapes, gathered and secured them and sought advice from the Attorney General and Departments. He was found negligent in his failure to notify the Minister, but he was awaiting information on the matter. Everything else was okay.

It is clear from the report that the Commissioner had become toxic and his role was untenable. That is no news to us, as we had been calling for his departure long before he jumped. The problem is the manner in which this was done. The Commissioner had to go because of the major problems within the Garda, which were made public through the heroic stance taken by the whistleblowers. It might be all well and good now for everyone to bandy around criticisms of the Garda and so on. Every media report of a problem is readily accepted in the House. When we first raised such concerns on behalf of the whistleblowers though, they were not accepted. We were criticised in the media and this House. How dare we raise a question about the heroic men and women of the Garda?

Everything has changed substantially. The revelations about wholesale malpractice in penalty point operations blew the lid and proved to people what they had long suspected, namely, that there were problems within the Garda. This gave many others the confidence to come forward and discuss their problems with the Garda's functioning, including the horrendous cases of injustice that resulted in the formation of the independent review mechanism. Hundreds of cases have been buried in that mechanism, with people no nearer to achieving justice. Their issues have been kicked down the road.

The wanton indiscipline in the Garda that Judge Peter Smithwick referred to is still there. We have a new Commissioner and Minister, but life goes on pretty much the same. The experience of current whistleblowers is dim. When a garda complained about a senior garda, information about the complaint was leaked to the latter. Subsequently, the new Commissioner appointed the person who had leaked the information to carry out disciplinary action on the senior garda, his friend. One could not make this stuff up, but it is live and current inside the Garda.

People refer to political policing. Political policing is not about picking on a particular party, whinging about feeling victimised and so on. It goes hand in hand with capitalism. It is a system whereby a state relies on the police to promote and defend the interests of the wealthy at the expense of the majority of citizens. The purpose of this debate is not to whinge about that situation, but to consider how to improve it. As a result of the great actions taken by whistleblowers during this Government's lifetime, the public has come to understand that this is not the type of police force that they want. Rather, they want a modern service that operates to human rights standards and is accountable to and serves the community. This is also what most people who join the Garda for the right reasons want. It is in everyone's interests that we achieve that end.

A key nugget along the way is the delivery of an independent Garda authority, but that is not what the Government is proposing.

This legislation is an utter insult. When compared with the Bill introduced by Deputy Wallace that already has gone through Second Stage here, it is incredibly weaker. That Bill provides for an independent police service but in this Bill, political control over the authority and the Garda Síochána is being retained by the Minister. That unquestionably is a fact. There have been many fanfares around this issue. The Taoiseach told Members in March 2014 that this so-called independent policing authority would be up and running by the end of 2014. Members now are being told it will be up and running by the end of 2015, which is highly unlikely.

The reality is that under this Bill, ministerial and Government control of the authority and the Garda is maintained at every turn with perhaps the exception that it can do a bit of CCTV on its own. However, the authority must consult the Minister on everything else. The heads envisaged a model in which there was a division of accountability between security and policing work of An Garda Síochána. While accountability is directly to the Minister in respect of security issues, as for accountability on policing matters, on the one hand it is to the Minister alone but on the other hand, sometimes reporting responsibilities on policing matters are to both the Minister and the authority. Moreover, sometimes they are to the authority, which then is responsible and accountable to the Minister. It is an absolute fudge. It is chaotic, not clear and is a recipe for blame games and the type of fluthering around that was experienced in respect of the controversy with the Garda Síochána Ombudsman Commission, GSOC.

An examination of head 24 really exposes how this Bill does not provide for an independent policing authority. As the Minister proposes it, the authority can only ask GSOC to investigate the Garda Commissioner if it believes the Garda Commissioner may have committed an offence or behaved in a manner which would constitute serious misconduct if the Minister consents to that happening. What is that about? How in God's name could the authority be considered to be independent if it cannot even investigate the Commissioner without the Minister stating it is allowed to so do? The Commissioner is remaining under the political protection of the Minister, which was the very nub of many of the problems discerned in the course of the present Government.

One talks about consultation in this process and these issues have been raised by the public. However, the consultation process that was embarked on was an utter sham. The proposed authority before Members is incredibly weaker than any of the proposals that were put to the Government by the Irish Human Rights and Equality Commission, IHREC, the Irish Council for Civil Liberties, ICCL, and the experts on policing. It is incredibly weaker than what exists in the North or in Scotland or than what was put together by the Committee on Justice, Defence and Equality. Laughably, in light of what Deputy Creighton stated, it is completely different from what the Labour Party states it thought an independent police authority would be. This watered-down version is a pale shadow of any of those things. When Deputy Wallace put together his Bill, which I reiterate has passed Second Stage, we engaged in extensive research and consultation with a massive number of stakeholders in its preparation. We consulted Justice4All, all the GSOC commissioners, the ICCL, Transparency International and all the academics in this area. We made lengthy submissions to the Committee on Justice, Defence and Equality and so on. The aforementioned Bill is meant to be on Committee Stage but obviously it will be trumped by this watered-down version and I do not believe that to be good enough.

It is ironic when Deputy Creighton talks about trade unions, as if the trade unions must be laughing themselves sick to think their agenda has been furthered by the present Administration, when many of their members have been disenfranchised massively by it. However, the reality is that the Labour Party's proposals on this issue, published in 2014, recommended that the authority would appoint the Garda Commissioner and other senior staff through open competition. This is not being done in this Bill. It recommended the authority would hold the Commissioner to account, which has not been done in this Bill, and that the authority would prepare a policing plan with measurable targets. None of these recommendations is in this legislation. It is a poor step that the Minister would be required to consult the Garda Representative Association, GRA, or the Association of Garda Sergeants and Inspectors, AGSI, which I would not count in any way as trade unions or representative of the decent gardaí inside An Garda Síochána, given the disgraceful conduct of those organisations in trying to stifle transparency and open debate.

This legislation fails. It deals with performance targets and I would have a severe concern if the Government is pushing for target-driven policing on a legislative basis. Does that mean we will have a repeat of the doctoring of the crime figures that was evident in the Garda Inspectorate report? The Bill talks about budgets. The heads provided that the authority would ensure Garda resources were used to maintain the highest levels of efficiency and effectiveness, but this now has been changed "to provide advice" to the Minister before each financial year. That is absolutely meaningless and if one compares it with the real independent policing authority in Scotland, for example, that authority has 13 members. It is funded from a 10% portion of the overall policing budget and has a budget of more than £110 million, as well as approximately 60 staff. The authority in Northern Ireland has 20 members, a staff of 55, three directors of service and a £1.2 billion annual policing bill. In Ireland, we are proposing eight members plus a chairman and half a million euro to set it up. The Irish Human Rights and Equality Commission gets €6 million and GSOC get €9 million. As I presume the Minister is not suggesting the new commission will get half a million, how much will it be funded to deliver this new policing board?

We can learn from other countries. Sometimes, there are good examples and we should be repeating what is best in other countries. We need not reinvent the wheel and under the Northern Ireland Policing Board, a clear primary function of the board there is to hold the Chief Constable and the police service publicly to account in the exercise of their functions, including compliance with human rights standards. When one scrapes it all away, is that not really what the people want, namely, to have the police force or police service accountable to the population? However, they are not getting it through this board. They know they do not get it through the Minister at present. I do not mean the Minister personally but the ministerial position. The only way in which to deliver it effectively is through an independent board. The difference in the North of Ireland is that the Northern Ireland Policing Board has strong monetary and supervisory functions. It is interesting if one considers the wording of this Bill that there is only one mention of monitoring. Although it was mentioned often in the heads of the Bill, it has been taken out at this Stage. It now has been replaced with "keeping under review", which means an entirely different thing. Consequently, there is no real reference to supervision in this regard. Obviously, I do not have time now but I certainly intend to table massive amendments to this legislation and there should be many such references.

The key question here is what should it be and I believe that were the Government serious, it would scrap this legislation. It would return on Committee Stage and examine the comprehensive Bill put together by Deputy Wallace because what should have been is that the role of the Minister, who is maintaining control in this Bill, should be transferred to the authority. That is the first thing that needs to be done if this is to be a real independent body. However, that is not being done. The authority must be able to draw up policing plans, to take account of priorities, identified of course by the Government and the Minister, but to oversee that. Moreover, the authority must be the body that monitors compliance with those plans as otherwise it is not independent; it is just a complete and utter joke. In addition, it must have access to a budget. The authority must have the responsibility for the appointment of the Commissioner, absolutely with the approval and the input of the Minister. However, the authority should call the shots in this regard and it should have the power to request the Commissioner to retire, particularly given the recent controversies we have experienced. However, that is not what is being proposed in this legislation.

This is really regrettable and represents a serious lost opportunity. As Dr. Vicky Conway said in one presentation on this issue, GSOC should be in a position to make the Commissioner accountable. The Commissioner should not be a political appointee and there needs to be wider criteria for disciplinary regulations. As she says: "An Authority which is not given specific powers such as the setting of policing plans, the determining of budgets and the appointment of the Commissioner, could on the other hand be a retrograde step for Irish policing." That is what I consider this Bill to be. It is not even merely half a good step forward. It actually is a step back because it is giving the pretence that the Government is doing something when in fact, it is not. As Dr. Conway stated:

In that scenario [which is the scenario we are now in] we create the semblance of independence and accountability without the reality, just as was done with the creation of GSOC in the last decade. That would be a disservice to Irish society and to the members of An Garda Síochána.

Indeed, we have met many of them and we stand over that statement. This Bill is a disservice to the loyal members of An Garda Síochána and citizens of this State. The Irish Human Rights and Equality Commission and all NGOs in this area made submissions on the Bill, all of which have been ignored. In their view, the authority should have a disciplinary role in relation to senior management. Given the air of indiscipline that exists within An Garda Síochána, I believe that is very necessary. However, that is not being provided for here, although it is in the North.

Deputy Wallace spoke earlier about membership of the authority. The fact that the initial board will be made up of all appointees is a joke and sets the tone for the future. Membership of the board should include representatives of minority communities and those whose paths cross with the Garda and will be most affected by measures when the Garda do not serve the public appropriately.

This is a substantial enough Bill, about which there has been a significant amount of discussion. There is a genuine desire among the population for something different in this area. There are many people in An Garda Síochána who would also like to see something different. This Bill does not provide that. It is not even a pale shadow of the heads of Bill which the Government put forward. It is a diametrically watered down version of the heads of the Bill. It bears no resemblance to it. It bears no relation to what exists in the North or in Scotland and it is an insult to the Bill which has already passed Second Stage in this House. That Bill would deliver an independent policing authority, which is key to ensuring democratic accountability inside the service, and would bring to an end the era of erosion of confidence, in terms of the Morris tribunal and the whistleblower revelations, in An Garda Síochána and address the allegations of malpractice, injustice and cover-up culture that prevails in that organisation.

This legislation presents an opportunity for a clean sweep and a breath of fresh air inside our service but, sadly, it is a lost opportunity and in that, as Vicky Conway said, it does a disservice to all of us. It is worse than doing nothing; it is a step back.

I thank all Deputies who contributed to today's debate on the Garda Síochána (Policing Authority and Miscellaneous Provisions) Bill 2015, which establishes the new policing authority that is at the core of the Government's reform plans and represents the most far-reaching reform of the Garda Síochána since the foundation of the State.

Any detailed reading of the Bill will show that the new authority will have extensive functions, many of which are currently exercised by the Government or Minister for Justice and Equality. Many functions have been transferred to the new authority. As I have already outlined to the House, the Bill proposes that the authority will have responsibility for a range of areas. The previous speaker has completely under-estimated what is in this Bill and does not appear to have read the detail of what the new authority will be responsible for. It will oversee the performance of An Garda Síochána in terms of its policing functions. It will nominate persons for appointment and will have the authority and power to recommend removal of people right up to the top position. The previous speaker in particular completely ignored the fact that it is the norm for governments all around the world to have ultimate responsibility for appointment to top level police positions. That is the reality. We also have constitutional and Executive function considerations to take into account. It is the case that the police authority in this country, An Garda Síochána, has responsibility for security and policing. In drawing up this Bill, all of those factors had to be taken into account. That is why I said when I introduced the Bill that I believe the appropriate balance has been struck, after careful consideration and having taken account of the constitutional issues.

A careful balance has been struck between what is the role of a Minister for Justice and Equality and the functions given to the new independent policing authority. It is an extremely important step forward. It is a reforming step forward and to deny that is the case is to do a disservice to what is happening here. Far from this being a disappointment to members of An Garda Síochána, the public and NGOs, it is a real opportunity for a new stage of reform in relation to An Garda Síochána. This is landmark legislation in terms of the change, compared with the type of situation that has existed over the decades in terms of the relationship between An Garda Síochána and the Department of Justice and Equality or, indeed, a Minister for Justice and Equality. This legislation is a statement which, I believe, is an extremely important one in terms of transparency, involvement of the public and the independence of the authority. It provides a real opportunity for the public to know more about policing and provides the Garda Commissioner with an opportunity to speak before the authority, made up of an independent chairman and eight members. The appointments process in terms of the appointment of those members is already being addressed by the Public Appointments Service. This Bill presents an opportunity to strengthen Garda oversight in terms of the introduction of the independent forum for the public oversight of policing services in Ireland. It is a new engine to drive policing reforms.

The reports from the Garda Inspectorate outlined the range of reforms needed. Nobody is denying that cultural change is needed and that administrative technical oversight is needed. Nobody is denying that the Garda Inspectorate report did not say that some of those reforms could be implemented immediately, with others being required in the medium or long term. The Government and I, as Minister for Justice and Equality, have begun that process. I believe the new Garda Commissioner, Noírín O'Sullivan, is also working to that agenda. I have no reason to doubt that management of An Garda Síochána are working to address the issues starkly identified in recent reports as requiring attention. The new authority is one of the key mechanisms to allow that oversight develop. Again, this will not happen overnight. This legislation is a real statement by this Government that we want to see reform, more public accountability and more independent oversight of An Garda Síochána. That is what is being done through this Bill.

No doubt we will have an opportunity on Committee Stage to discuss further the balances that are in the Bill, and balance there must be, because there are constitutional imperatives and issues around executive authority. To the Deputies who raised some of these issues, including Deputy Creighton, I have no doubt that in the time ahead Deputies will want me as Minister for Justice and Equality and future Ministers to come to this House and to be held to account on policing. Deputies will want an opportunity to question the Minister of the day as a member of the Government. They will want to check whether that Minister is fulfilling his or her constitutional role on policing. Let there be no mistake about it that this will be a requirement in the future. In developing the independent Garda authority, due note and regard must be taken of that constitutional role. As I said, the Oireachtas will certainly want to hold the Minister of the day to account in relation to policing.

I do not believe that when Deputies spoke about the types of balances they wanted to see in this Bill they meant that a Minister for Justice and Equality should not be held accountable in this House on policing.

There are constitutional limitations on the extent to which it is open to the Oireachtas, by way of legislation, to delegate the Government's ultimate responsibility in respect of policing to another body. However, we want an independent police authority. In the provisions, we have had to deal with the various nuances to which I have adverted. There is a strong role in the Bill, which some Deputies have mentioned, although others have not, for the Oireachtas, the Dáil and the Seanad, to oversee the various decisions that arise in respect of the work of the authority, whether they relate to the appointment of the members of the authority or the question of the removal of a commissioner as well as other issues.

I believe that the balances are in place. I repeat that this is reform. It is important reform in respect of the oversight of An Garda Síochána. It is certainly going in the right direction in terms of public scrutiny. It adds to the body of reform that has been undertaken by An Garda Síochána, me and the Department of Justice and Equality in the past year. I am grateful for the support that has been expressed by Deputies.

I intend to enact the legislation. Indeed, I hope Members of the Dáil and Seanad will support me in enacting this legislation quickly in order that we can get on with appointing the independent police authority. Recruitment for the chief executive of the authority has commenced. The final round of interviews will take place in early November. Staffing sanction has been received from the Department of Public Expenditure and Reform. Some €500,000 is in the budget for this year for the initial start-up. Naturally, in the Estimates this year there will be an independent and appropriate Vote and an appropriate budget. Of course the Garda authority needs a budget to get on with its work. As I have said to the House, we have already established a policing authority transition group charged with doing its work. It began work in May of this year. The Vote will be established and discussions are ongoing with the Department of Public Expenditure and Reform on the matter. The authority has new premises, which is being organised at present. It is anticipated that the independent chair and her team will be in the new premises in mid-October. Everything is well under way in the establishment of the new Garda authority. Given that the decision was taken by Government only last year to establish a new Garda authority, by comparison with the establishment of other independent bodies the process has certainly moved ahead quickly and efficiently. I look forward to the new Garda authority being established within months.

I commend the Bill to the House. I intend to move some amendments on Committee Stage to sections 19, 44 and 48.

Question put:
The Dáil divided: Tá, 62; Níl, 11.

  • Bruton, Richard.
  • Butler, Ray.
  • Buttimer, Jerry.
  • Byrne, Catherine.
  • Byrne, Eric.
  • Carey, Joe.
  • Conaghan, Michael.
  • Conway, Ciara.
  • Corcoran Kennedy, Marcella.
  • Costello, Joe.
  • Cowen, Barry.
  • Crowe, Seán.
  • Daly, Jim.
  • Deasy, John.
  • Deenihan, Jimmy.
  • Doherty, Pearse.
  • Doherty, Regina.
  • Donnelly, Stephen S.
  • Donohoe, Paschal.
  • Dowds, Robert.
  • Doyle, Andrew.
  • Durkan, Bernard J.
  • Farrell, Alan.
  • Feighan, Frank.
  • Ferris, Martin.
  • Fitzgerald, Frances.
  • Hannigan, Dominic.
  • Harris, Simon.
  • Howlin, Brendan.
  • Humphreys, Kevin.
  • Keating, Derek.
  • Kenny, Seán.
  • Kyne, Seán.
  • Lyons, John.
  • Mac Lochlainn, Pádraig.
  • McConalogue, Charlie.
  • McEntee, Helen.
  • McFadden, Gabrielle.
  • McGinley, Dinny.
  • McHugh, Joe.
  • Maloney, Eamonn.
  • Mitchell, Olivia.
  • Murphy, Eoghan.
  • Ó Caoláin, Caoimhghín.
  • Ó Ríordáin, Aodhán.
  • O'Brien, Jonathan.
  • O'Donnell, Kieran.
  • O'Donovan, Patrick.
  • O'Mahony, John.
  • O'Reilly, Joe.
  • Perry, John.
  • Quinn, Ruairí.
  • Rabbitte, Pat.
  • Reilly, James.
  • Ring, Michael.
  • Shatter, Alan.
  • Smith, Brendan.
  • Stagg, Emmet.
  • Stanton, David.
  • Tóibín, Peadar.
  • Tuffy, Joanna.
  • Varadkar, Leo.

Níl

  • Broughan, Thomas P.
  • Daly, Clare.
  • Flanagan, Terence.
  • Fleming, Tom.
  • Healy, Seamus.
  • Higgins, Joe.
  • McGrath, Finian.
  • Murphy, Paul.
  • Pringle, Thomas.
  • Ross, Shane.
  • Wallace, Mick.
Tellers: Tá, Deputies Joe Carey and Emmet Stagg; Níl, Deputies Clare Daly and Mick Wallace.
Question declared carried.