This is an important part of the Bill. It is utter lunacy that we are discussing 74 amendments together, but we will try to do our best. This critical section deals with appointments. It was one of the key parts of the Bill in terms of all the submissions from NGOs, statutory human rights bodies, other organisations and policing experts who were consulted. Let us examine the current Bill. Under the current Garda Síochána Act 2005, the Government alone appoints the Garda Commissioner, the deputy commissioner and assistant commissioners. It alone can remove all these ranks for any stated reason, including but not limited to disobeying a directive from the Minister.
The Bill put forward by Deputy Wallace on two occasions and which has passed Second Stage provided for the board to make those appointments and remove people at Garda Commissioner, deputy commissioner and assistant commissioner level following consultation with the Minister. It also proposed that it should be the board that appoints superintendents and chief superintendents, in consultation with the Minister. It left the Commissioner with the power to make only appointments below the rank of inspector and to dismiss them for the same reasons, with the consent of the board rather than the Government.
Our Bill sought to put the board centre stage and give it the teeth and ability to do what it is supposed to do, namely, independently oversee the functioning of An Garda Síochána. How can one oversee an organisation if one is not charged with responsibility for putting in place the people at the helm of the organisation? It takes any credibility away from what the Government proposes. Our Bill set out that the board, in consultation with the Minister, would decide the number of appointments to the rank of chief superintendent and superintendent. It gave flesh to the idea of an independent policing authority that would have a very hands-on approach at the highest and middle echelons of the Garda service, allowing the authority very much to put its stamp on the situation.
As Deputy Wallace said, how can gardaí at any level of management operate when they are answerable to so many bodies? It does not make practical sense. They are responsible to the Government, the authority, the authority and the Government or the Commissioner, depending on their rank. One body can appoint people and another can remove them. If the authority is to be real and independent, it should have the full power to appoint and remove people.
It should most definitely have full power over the appointment of the Garda Commissioner, subject only to consultation with the Government. That does not mean the Government cannot veto an appointment, but its views should most definitely be taken on board. The decision should be taken by the authority. As Deputy Wallace said, how can the authority be responsible for systemic issues, overall policing and policy matters but not be in a position to appoint or remove those who are charged with implementing those policies and decisions? It does not make practical sense.
Existing regulations regarding promotions will continue, with the Minister and Commissioner at the helm, in terms of the various ranks and making decisions. In some instances they may be decisions by proxy. There is no change in the system.
It is as we were but worse, because there is the fig leaf of the pretence that we are doing something about it. Every organisation, and I will deal with some of them, stated that the authority should have the power to appoint and remove other senior ranks. This input was provided by the Irish Council for Civil Liberties, the Irish Human Rights and Equality Commission and others. I remind the Minister of State of the Labour Party's Garda authority policy paper published last year, which also recommended that the authority should appoint the Garda Commissioner and other senior staff through open competition, and should be empowered to hold the Commissioner to account. This is what the Labour Party produced in a policy paper last year but it is not what we are getting here. It also spoke about preparing a policing plan with measurable targets, but none of these are in the final legislation as it stands.
We have mentioned Northern Ireland on a few occasions, but let us look at the board there, because we should take cognisance of better practices than our own. The Northern Ireland police authority has a clear primary function, set out in statute, to hold the Chief Constable and the Police Service of Northern Ireland publicly to account in the exercise of their functions, including police compliance with the Human Rights Act 1998, which is very much in stark contrast with the legislation we have before us. The Northern Ireland Policing Board appoints, disciplines and dismisses the Chief Constable, the equivalent of our Garda Commissioner, and senior police officers of assistant chief constable level and above, subject to the approval of the Secretary of State. The Secretary of State can, however, require the board to call upon the Chief Constable to retire. The Northern Ireland authority has far greater power than is provided for in the Bill. We have relied on some of the expert input into the process by people such as Professor Dermot Walsh and Dr. Vicky Conway. Dr. Conway made the point that the role of the Minister should be transferred to the authority. This is what the Bill should have been about in its entirety. The authority's main function should be, as it is in Northern Ireland, to hold the Garda Commissioner to account in his or her functions, and to hold him or her accountable for the functions of those under his or her operational direction. Obviously the Commissioner should still retain operational independence in the main function of directing or controlling the Garda Síochána.
The authority must have responsibility for the appointment of the Commissioner. Dr. Conway states that this should be with the approval of the Minister, but also that serious consideration should be given to allowing the authority to appoint other ranks, which is precisely the situation we included in our Bill. The authority should also have the power to ask the Commissioner to retire. She makes a very good point on making the Commissioner accountable. She states that there can be no doubt that an empowered independent authority has the capacity to depoliticise policing in Ireland and make a substantive contribution to the governance and accountability of policing. This is what we wanted out of the process. She also stated that an authority which is not given specific powers, such as the setting of police plans, the determination of budgeting and the appointment of the Commissioner could, on the other hand, be a retrograde step for Irish policing, and this scenario would create a semblance of independence and accountability without the reality, just as was done with the creation of GSOC in the past decade. This would be a disservice to Irish society and to the members of the Garda Síochána. I totally and one hundred percent agree with the sentiment Dr. Conway put forward in these words, because we all know, and sadly many citizens know, that when people go to GSOC they do not get what they think they will get, which is a vehicle for calling the Garda to account. It is a semblance on paper. When we first engaged with GSOC we thought it was a body in collusion, working to cover up the activities of An Garda Síochána, and sadly many citizens believe this to be the case. Our experience led us in a different direction, whereby we found this was not the case, but that the organisation itself was set up to fail. It cannot do what it is supposed to do and this has made the situation worse. People who are victims of crime and the victims of Garda malpractice have gone to GSOC looking for help but have found another door closed in their face. This has made it even worse and, building on the points we made earlier about the independent review mechanism, it is really reprehensible.
It is really important to speak about this part of the Bill, on which most of the bodies which made an input commented. The Irish Human Rights and Equality Commission is the Government's statutory body on human rights. In fairness, it went to the trouble of making an input into this process. It made it very clear the authority should have a disciplinary role regarding the Garda senior management, as the board does in the North. This is not envisaged in the Bill before us, despite the fact that the Guerin report and the Garda Inspectorate report highlighted two overriding problems regarding the absence of internal disciplinary procedures at senior management level and the absence of ways to deal with underperformance at senior management level. The Irish Human Rights and Equality Commission recommended an alignment of disciplinary procedures flowing from GSOC investigations. This was a really good and important contribution, because we should look at the problems highlighted by the Guerin and Garda Inspectorate reports.
It is an open secret, as everyone will say, that when certain fellows go into the ranks of An Garda Síochána, one can almost tell in Templemore that they will rise to the top because their father was a chief superintendent or an assistant commissioner. One can nearly hand-pick the fellows. It is an open secret that it is about whom one plays golf with, whom one is friendly with and whether one is in the know, and that people look after matters for each other. This type of insular, closed mentality exists and is something that many decent gardaí find very hard to deal with. Many retired gardaí have come to us to say how unhappy they were with the functioning of the service and how they would have benefited from more accountability in this regard.
Let us look at the hierarchy of An Garda Síochána at present. We have a Garda Commissioner, two deputy commissioners and 12 assistant commissioners. We know that at present a group of them, including the Garda Commissioner, a deputy commissioner and a number of the assistant commissioners, all came from one region in Galway, where they headed up the area. They all ended up working closely together and rising to the top, almost like a little cartel. They are a group within a group, and this is really dangerous. I know the service is small but the point we are trying to make is that this insular behaviour is not good, and self-appointment and self-regulation do not work. We know this, and it was most glaringly brought to light recently in the cases of the serving Garda whistleblowers and the instance highlighted on "This Week" a number of weeks ago. A serving Garda whistleblower made a complaint to senior officers at assistant commissioner level at the behest of an investigation initiated by the Garda Commissioner. Information was leaked back to the person against whom the complaint was made, this person being a friend of the assistant commissioner sitting on the panel. The complainant made a complaint to the Commissioner about this, subsequent to which the Commissioner appointed the same assistant commissioner to investigate and conduct a disciplinary procedure regarding a complaint made by different garda against the same person to whom the information had been leaked. Seriously, how in God's name could anybody have confidence in the service if this type of behaviour is going on?
Self-regulation, or gardaí investigating themselves, no more than politicians or whoever else investigating themselves, does not work. The whole purpose of the Bill is to have an independent authority which sets the scene on this. It is interesting to see that the Irish Council for Civil Liberties also commented on this particular area of the Bill. It recommended that the new authority should fill the gap in civic oversight and should have an oversight role in respect of Garda contracts, management and performance, the setting of clear performance goals for the Commissioner on an annual basis, and the appointment of senior gardaí up to and including the Commissioner, as well as a role in monitoring compliance with human rights and priorities.
That is what we could have had but instead we have a complete hodgepodge of different arrangements for different levels of Garda recruitment. It is a recipe for absolute chaos. It is not fair to gardaí at any level and it is unfair to the independent authority because it implies that it is not really independent or an authority but rather a rubber stamp that exists to give a bit of a nod and nothing more. In some of the amendments we are dealing with, it is given the right to nominate a person. It can put somebody forward but it cannot appoint anybody. The authority does not have a say so the name it proffers can be ignored. We know the Minister has the overall say with the promotions board having the right to nominate two people and the Garda Commissioner allowed to nominate one person. It amounts to control by the Minister and the Garda Commissioner, as it is at the moment. Now it will be a little bit by proxy but it is just not good enough.