1. Deputy Jim O'Callaghan asked the Tánaiste and Minister for Justice and Equality the status of the proposed independent review of An Garda Síochána; and if she will make a statement on the matter. [15901/17]
Vol. 945 No. 1
1. Deputy Jim O'Callaghan asked the Tánaiste and Minister for Justice and Equality the status of the proposed independent review of An Garda Síochána; and if she will make a statement on the matter. [15901/17]
Obviously, it has been quite an eventful week for justice and An Garda Síochána. Will the Tánaiste give an indication to the House of the status of the proposed independent review of An Garda Síochána which the Government announced earlier this week, and will she make a statement on the issue?
The Deputy will be aware that the Government had agreed to engage the services of an independent international expert with a background in policing to carry out a review into issues of culture and ethos in An Garda Síochána, and considerable work had been done to progress the review. The three oversight bodies, the Policing Authority, the Garda Síochána Ombudsman Commission and the Garda Inspectorate, had been consulted and my Department was in the process of preparing a proposal for consideration by the Government setting out the work to be done by the expert.
However, as the Deputy will be aware, the Government decided yesterday that a more fundamental review of An Garda Síochána - really, a fundamental review of policing in Ireland - may now be required. I will bring initial proposals to Government next week. In this regard, we will have to consider whether the review of the culture and ethos of An Garda Síochána should be undertaken as a discrete piece of work, as originally intended or whether it should be part of any wider review. My view is that it should be part of the wider review. The culture and ethos of An Garda Síochána are very much part and parcel of the whole and should be dealt with as such. The Garda Inspectorate's report, Changing Policing in Ireland, devotes a chapter to the culture of An Garda Síochána. As a result of the report, the Commissioner was in the process of arranging for the conduct of a cultural audit which was being overseen by the Policing Authority. The Deputy will be familiar with this. This work must all be done together now.
I have seen the Deputy's motion regarding an independent review of certain aspects of Garda recruitment and training and I would like to discuss these ideas with him further. It would be better to have an agreed approach to the issue across the House. I would like to see the greatest consensus possible because it is in all our interests and in the interest of the future of An Garda Síochána that we make very sure the terms of reference capture everything that needs to be done at this point and take account of the very important work of the Policing Authority and the bodies already in place. The review should build on their work, and I will consult them closely. As I said, the next discussion on the matter will be in Cabinet, but I hope to consult colleagues across the House next week and the following week.
I thank the Tánaiste for her reply. I agree that it would be appropriate, if there will be mid to long-term changes in An Garda Síochána, that we as Members of the Oireachtas try to get some form of agreed approach in respect of the review. Nonetheless, there are issues which remain arising from the two controversies highlighted by An Garda Síochána this day last week for the first time when they came into the public domain. It is important we try to get to the bottom of these issues. I am concerned that we may not have fully got to the bottom of them yet. The Garda Commissioner came before the Committee on Justice and Equality this morning and she and her colleagues gave a number of pieces of information to the committee. I am concerned, however, about the information given about the southern audit, the national audit and the general publication of information about the breath test data last week. I am concerned that there may have been an intention on the part of An Garda Síochána that this information would not enter the public domain. In fact, it only entered the public domain as a result of an article published in The Irish Times on 20 February 2017, which prompted Garda activity. I do not know whether the Tánaiste has anything to say in respect of that.
The Deputy and other members of the justice committee had the opportunity this morning for a very detailed discussion with members of An Garda Síochána, which I watched. I saw that the Commissioner said she would provide further information, and I am sure that further information will be provided. I think she also addressed a point, which I think the Deputy is also raising, about timely information being given to all the bodies she named. There are four or five involved. This is about timely, transparent information. The role of the Policing Authority will be critical in this regard because there were some discussions in that body about these issues.
The Garda, in the meantime, is getting on with the audit, which is not yet completed in respect of one of the issues. As I told the House, I had expected it in June, in the second quarter of this year, and the information was put out by An Garda Síochána as it explained this morning. I think the Garda wanted the information to be in the public arena but I also think in retrospect - of course, things are always clearer in retrospect - there was a place for the information to be shared more fully all along the way. That is a lesson the Commissioner has learned, as she said.
I wish to indicate to the Tánaiste the basis for my concern about the timelines. In the statement on the timelines provided by senior management of An Garda Síochána, they outlined that it was on 24 February 2017 that a sample of data was received from the Medical Bureau of Road Safety. I asked the witnesses before the Committee on Justice and Equality today when they sought this information from the Medical Bureau of Road Safety and was informed that they did so days in advance of 24 February 2017. In light of the fact the Garda did not seek information from the Medical Bureau of Road Safety for the southern audit and had not sought it for the national audit until that stage, even though the Garda was able to change its IT system on foot of the indications from that national audit, I am concerned that the contact with the Medical Bureau of Road Safety in February 2017 was prompted by an article in a newspaper. Taking into account that the Policing Authority was not told about this and, as I believe, the Tánaiste was not told about it, there may be some legitimacy to my concern.
I will take up the point about the role of the Medical Bureau of Road Safety because it is a very important one. I met Professor Cusack earlier this week, I think, at the transport meeting and had a detailed discussion with him about the data the bureau has. It seems that there needs to be far greater co-operation - "contact" is probably the right word - and exchange of information between the two bodies. I think the new machines now being introduced with global positioning system, GPS, functionality and greater detail and the other new systems that have been put in place will make a difference.
I have no doubt that the Deputy will pursue the matter of the delay further and that more information will become available, but my understanding as to the reason for the delay is that the Garda was gathering a vast amount of written, paper-based material from 108 districts, which was very difficult to gather. This is what Assistant Commissioner Finn told me last Monday, and it was repeated this morning. It was when the Garda had finally gathered this material that it was then in a position to compare it with that of the Medical Bureau of Road Safety. I take the Deputy's point that if the Garda had had access to the database earlier or had started the comparisons earlier, perhaps this would have given a more comprehensive picture. He is probably right about that, but my assumption at this point, based on the information I have, is that the Garda was waiting to gather as much material as it could from the paper-based trail in respect of which it was operating.
2. Deputy Jonathan O'Brien asked the Tánaiste and Minister for Justice and Equality when she was first informed of the serious discrepancies in the way in which the Garda recorded roadside alcohol tests and the reasons 14,700 persons convicted in the courts were prosecuted without fixed-charge notices first being issued; her plans to address these very serious matters; and if her attention has been drawn to any additional issues by the Garda Commissioner that have yet to be made public which may bring the Garda into further disrepute. [15900/17]
When was the Tánaiste first informed of the serious discrepancies in the way in which the Garda recorded roadside alcohol tests and the reasons 14,700 persons convicted in the courts were prosecuted without fixed-charge notices first being issued? What are her plans to address these issues?
I answered questions similar to these comprehensively during the course of the debate yesterday in the House over two hours, and what I said was confirmed at the committee meeting this morning.
An anonymous complaint was made to the Road Safety Authority by a person claiming to be a member of the Garda Reserve in the western region, outlining a number of issues, including the operation of the mandatory alcohol testing, MAT, checkpoints. The Road Safety Authority, RSA, forwarded the correspondence to the then Minister for Transport, Tourism and Sport, who wrote to the Garda Commissioner in April 2014. He copied that correspondence and the letter to the Commissioner to the then Minister for Justice and Equality, Alan Shatter, on 11 April 2014. Mr. Shatter immediately took the matter up and wrote to the Garda Commissioner on 16 April seeking a full report on the findings of an examination of the allegations.
An Garda Síochána indicated in a detailed response to my Department in May 2014, which I spoke about last night, that it had looked into the claims regarding MAT checkpoints in the western region and that it was satisfied that correct procedures were in place to account for MAT checkpoints that ultimately went ahead and those which did not proceed. The report indicated that further inquiries were to be conducted, and accordingly the Garda Commissioner was asked by my Department in August 2014 for an update. A further report on 8 January 2015 indicated that it was not possible to identify the author, but that was not really the point.
They had further consultation and liaison with the western region and the reserves around the country. I think the Garda Commissioner went into detail on that.
Following a submission of these reports to me on 21 January 2015, a letter issued at my request to the Garda Commissioner asking that the Commissioner consider whether there was scope for issuing any further instructions from Garda management regarding day to day operations in relation to MAT within An Garda Síochána.
I received a reply to that letter on 2 March 2015 which indicated that the assistant commissioner with responsibility for traffic had been directed to issue an instruction regarding monitoring the mechanisms in place surrounding the operation of MAT checkpoints, as opposed to the alcohol tests. On 10 June 2016, An Garda Síochána notified the Department that, following an audit of the southern region from 2009-2014, discrepancies had been identified in the breath test data held by An Garda Síochána on the PULSE system and, consequently, in the data published on the Garda website. That same month, An Garda Síochána directed that a national audit should take place of all the data recorded on the Garda PULSE system relating to the number of roadside breath tests conducted at MATs in each Garda division. This audit covered the period 1 January 2009 to 30 June 2016. Public information was given on this and a notice was published on An Garda Síochána's website in June 2016. In February this year, An Garda Síochána indicated to my Department that the full results of the breath test statistics audit would be available by the end of the second quarter of 2017. As the Deputy knows, we then had the press conference that gave the figure, which was when I heard for the first time about the serious discrepancies there.
Additional information not given on the floor of the House
In so far as the issues relating to fixed charge notices, FCNs, are concerned, the Department was first made aware of several errors relating to the fixed charge processing system, FCPS, on 10 June 2016. In a press statement issued on the same date, An Garda Síochána confirmed that it had commenced a review of prosecutions in respect of all fixed charge offences. An Garda Síochána subsequently provided a further update to the Department on 14 March 2017 of its review of the errors surrounding fixed charge notices. The letter indicated that the review of all summonses issued in respect of fixed charge notices for the period of 1 January 2014 to 27 May 2016 had been completed and that, following consultation with the Office of the Director of Public Prosecutions, a review of all such summonses dating back to the introduction of fixed charge notices in 2006 was under way.
As the Deputy is aware, the full statistics in regard to the FCN review for the period dating back to 2006 were presented by An Garda Síochána at its press conference on 23 March 2017. In addition, An Garda Síochána also presented at that press conference, for the first time, the figures on the huge disparity between the number of breath tests conducted at MAT checkpoints as per PULSE records, compared with the number of test kits used.
The Deputy will be aware that An Garda Síochána has confirmed that it has put solutions in place to deal with the procedural and practice issues that have been detected to ensure that such errors do not recur. Specifically, I have been assured by An Garda Síochána that a permanent and comprehensive information technology, IT, solution is now in place to cover the majority of FCPS issues identified and An Garda Síochána is satisfied that the errors that occurred cannot be repeated. In the case of breath tests or mandatory alcohol testing, MAT, I am informed that An Garda Síochána initially put in place new paper-based recording and verification processes and, in November 2016, a new specific data recording IT upgrade was installed on the Garda PULSE system. The net effect of the new IT upgrade was that personnel now have to record the serial number of the device used for each breath test plus the meter reading before and after the checkpoint was concluded. Data from the device is now used to verify the total number of breath tests conducted at each checkpoint.
In so far as the 14,700 people convicted of road traffic offences in court following the incorrect issuing of a summons are concerned, An Garda Síochána has established a dedicated support helpline for members of the public with queries in relation to their cases. An Garda Síochána is also writing to all affected members of the public, explaining what has happened and outlining the solution to rectify the situation. An Garda Síochána has indicated that it has been advised by the Director of Public Prosecutions and Courts Service that these 14,700 cases must be brought back before the courts at Circuit Court level with a view to requesting that the erroneous convictions be set aside. An Garda Síochána has established a dedicated team to this end and is liaising with the Court Service to expedite this process. Members of the public affected by the road traffic enforcement errors referred to are requested to await the aforementioned correspondence from An Garda Síochána which will provide further clarification on the matter. I have raised these issues with the Garda Commissioner and the chairperson of the Policing Authority and have outlined my very serious concerns.
The Deputy will be aware that in addition to outlining the issues, how they had come to light, and the remedial steps taken so far, at her press conference on 27 March 2017, the Commissioner announced the restructuring of traffic policing with the creation of a new roads policing unit to be led by Assistant Commissioner Mick Finn; announced the creation of a dedicated team under newly-appointed Assistant Commissioner Michael O'Sullivan to investigate in detail the MATs issue, including with a view to identifying and holding responsible for their actions any Garda members, whether at junior, supervisory or management level, who acted improperly; and committed to forwarding the report of this investigation to the Policing Authority and Department of Justice and Equality when completed.
Assistant Commissioner Finn outlined new arrangements agreed this week with the Medical Bureau of Road Safety, MBRS, to the effect that body would supply An Garda Síochána with its data on breath testing devices on a quarterly basis, in order to ensure an independent benchmark against which Garda data can be measured. The MBRS will shortly be tendering for new breath testing equipment. New equipment, which is available in the marketplace has the capacity to record the time, GPS location and number of persons breath tested, and has the capacity to download the information automatically, reducing the chances of errors occurring in the data.
Notwithstanding any internal review, the Government believes that an external investigation into these two specific matters needs be carried out. The Government believes the level of public concern is so profound that it may now be time to conduct a thorough, comprehensive and independent root and branch review of An Garda Síochána. That is clearly a proposal that will require further detailed consideration by the Government. The Government also believes that any such proposal should command widespread support in the Oireachtas and accordingly be the subject of consultation with the Opposition, and ultimately approval by the Oireachtas.
The Garda Commissioner had already referred the breath test and FCN matters to the Policing Authority. The chairperson of the Policing Authority, Josephine Feehily, has confirmed that the authority will continue to examine these matters. The reason I prioritised and set up the authority was to shine a light on, and examine, issues such as these. Ms Feehily indicated that the Policing Authority would have an independent professional audit undertaken of the steps taken to resolve the issues; oversee the ongoing cultural audit of the Garda Síochána which is already being put in place and oversee the investigation being undertaken by Assistant Commissioner O'Sullivan. Ms Feehily also confirmed, as already announced, that the focus of its public meeting with the Garda Commissioner to be held on 27 April will be roads policing.
I share the many concerns voiced in recent days about the extent of the road traffic enforcement issues highlighted by An Garda Síochána and the numbers involved. The Garda Commissioner has given me her personal undertaking that all necessary steps will be taken to ensure that these errors cannot reoccur. I have emphasised to the Garda Commissioner that the practices that allowed breath test misreporting and FCN errors to happen within An Garda Síochána over many years need to be fully addressed and the new systems that she has put in place will need to be robust, tested and verified in the time ahead.
I am not aware of any further concerns relating to Garda practices and procedures, but I will continue to maintain close contact with the Garda Commissioner in relation to any and all issues requiring my attention.
This area was comprehensively dealt with here for two hours although I am not sure if we got all the answers. It was also dealt with by the Oireachtas Joint Committee on Justice and Equality this morning. I am still trying to grapple with the question of whether the Tánaiste could have confidence in a Garda Commissioner who did not inform her of the scale of the problem or the issue at hand prior to announcing it to the world in a press conference. Has the Tánaiste asked the Commissioner why it was done in that way, why she bypassed her and why she ignored what I presume is the usual protocol in respect of an issue of such great importance, where the Tánaiste would be informed by letter, e-mail or phone call? The Tánaiste said in the Dáil last Tuesday that she was left to find out, like the rest of us, from a report at a press conference. That is not the way to do business. Has she had any conversation as to how or why that came about?
I met the Garda Commissioner and her team last Monday. I also met the chairperson of the Policing Authority and I have articulated my very serious concerns over the past week to her and in general about the extent of the road traffic enforcement issues highlighted by An Garda Síochána and the significant numbers involved. I am also very concerned about the confidence issues the public has in respect of An Garda Síochána. It is critical that confidence is restored. We depend on An Garda Síochána for the security of this State and to police it. Over the decades, it has faced many challenging issues of law and order. Many members of the public have interacted and will interact with An Garda Síochána in the context of road traffic enforcement. I also think today of the victims of road traffic accidents. One of the very disturbing points that has emerged as a result of this audit is that the number of people drinking and driving is double what we thought it was. There is an even greater challenge in respect of enforcement and dealing with that issue than we were aware of, although we were all concerned about that issue.
The falsification of these records is highly suspect and further facts will emerge I presume when the Tánaiste raises this matter with the Commissioner. Given that the Tánaiste says she was not aware and was as astonished as the rest of us, I hope she expressed her displeasure and admonished the Garda Síochána for the way in which it handled the release of these figures.
Separately, the Garda Commissioner suggested last week, although she now seems to be rowing back on this, that she was aware of other areas of Garda malpractice which would emerge in the future. In her conversation on Monday, was any hint given to the Tánaiste of where those malpractices were and of their scale or did the Commissioner present it, as she did at the committee meeting today, in such a way as to suggest that once one starts digging, one finds something? She seems to suggest that there is much more untoward activity in An Garda Síochána than she ever thought, which does not seem to show much confidence in her officers.
Of course I raised that question with her because many colleagues in the House were asking me what precisely was meant by the fact that there could be other issues and I was concerned to know if she was referring to any specific area of concern. The information she gave me in reply was that it was by way of a more general concern or belief that other issues may emerge. Statistics and their reliability would be one of the key areas.
The Government and I have invested over €200 million in the information technology, IT, systems. We can see from what emerged at the committee meeting this morning and through this week that this area is very data rich. There is a huge issue with management of data and having appropriate systems. I am the first Minister to put together a committee with the Department of Public Expenditure and Reform, An Garda Síochána and the Department of Justice and Equality to make sure we give it the money to try to get the systems up to date. During the recession, it got no funds. We can see that one area of real concern is making sure An Garda Síochána has the ability to gather the data. The records it has had to go back over were paper-based. The development of the IT system is critical to managing policy and investigating crime and it is now in a better position to do that. It was general, as the Commissioner said this morning. I said when I replied to questions here on Tuesday that I was aware the audit would be coming out. I thought she might have been referring to that as well.
3. Deputy Jim O'Callaghan asked the Tánaiste and Minister for Justice and Equality her views on the inclusion of the Garda representative organisations in the working group that is examining industrial relations structures for An Garda Síochána; and if she will make a statement on the matter. [15902/17]
This is also a question about An Garda Síochána, which is probably no surprise, but it is in respect of a different area. As the Tánaiste is aware, some months ago we came very close to a Garda strike which would have been unprecedented in the history of the State. The Tánaiste and the Government agreed to consider mechanisms whereby the Garda representative associations would have access to the industrial relations mechanism of the State. I note the Tánaiste has set up a working group to consider this issue. Has any consideration been given to, or what is the Tánaiste's opinion of, whether members of the representative associations should be involved in that working group?
This working group has been established to consider the technical legislative changes required to provide the Garda associations with access to the Workplace Relations Commission and the Labour Court. This will involve consideration of a number of important and complex issues. The group brings together officials from the Departments and bodies with the relevant expertise and responsibility in these areas and Mr. John Murphy, retired Secretary General in the Department of Jobs, Enterprise and Innovation, is chairing the group.
I accept that the Garda associations have a very significant interest in the work being done here. I am certainly not excluding them from this process. In the past few weeks, I have met the Garda associations and had detailed discussions with them on these matters. The working group is to report to me with proposals to amend existing legislation. I want the working group to take an initial view on these complex and technical issues. I want them to consult with all interested parties. I have made arrangements for them to meet with all representative associations in a timely manner. I have made that very clear to the associations and to the chair of the working group. Some of those meetings have taken place and there are more to come. The initial consultations with the Garda associations took place on 16 March. A consultation paper setting out options in respect of the key issues under consideration will shortly circulate to the associations. There will be further consultations and very close contact with the associations.
How this issue is dealt with is of vital interest to the associations, the Government and society. The associations are certainly not being excluded from the process.
This is a very important issue. It involves very complicated factors such as whether gardaí would have a right to strike. At present, they do not have that right. I am not suggesting that the Garda Representative Association, GRA, or the Association of Garda Sergeants and Inspectors, AGSI, should have a veto on proposed legislation. However, it is important, if we are setting up a working group to put forward proposals as to what nature of contact Garda associations will have with the industrial relations mechanism, that the working group is aware from the outset whether it has the approval of the associations or what involvement or interest the associations have in respect of it. It would be beneficial if the working group could include members of the representative associations so that their views are heard. I am not suggesting that the associations should be given some form of a monopoly or veto. If we are going to have fundamental changes in the law in respect of gardaí, it would be beneficial to hear whether they find the changes acceptable.
There is very close involvement. I encourage the associations to have very close involvement with the consultation process. I will ensure that the associations are integrated into the second phase of the working group, which concerns industrial relations in An Garda Síochána. I have asked officials in the Department to liaise with the chair of the working group and the associations to explore how this can be done. The focus is currently on the legislation. We need to get the technical work done. It should be completed shortly. The intention is to complete it by May. The associations will be fully integrated into the process. I am figuring out the mechanisms for doing that. I want ongoing consultation. This will only work if there is full consultation with the people that this issue affects the most, namely, serving members of An Garda Síochána.
As Deputy O'Callaghan has said on a number of occasions, there is huge societal interest in how we deal with the issue of whether An Garda Síochána have the right to strike. We are discussing access for gardaí to the Workplace Relations Commission and the Labour Court. There are very detailed discussions ahead.
I welcome that the Tánaiste has indicated that the representative associations will be integrated into the second phase of the process. It is important that their views are heard. The industrial dispute a number of months ago damaged An Garda Síochána in the eyes of the public. The prospect that members of An Garda Síochána would not be available to protect the public was regarded as a very dangerous step. That it was such a shock to the public was indicative of the reliance that the public have upon An Garda Síochána. I want to acknowledge, as I have previously, that the Garda is going through a difficult time at present. It is important to emphasise that, notwithstanding the dent in public confidence in the Garda as a result of recent events, most Irish people, when they have interaction with An Garda Síochána, have a positive experience. We must ensure that we enhance and promote the credibility of An Garda Síochána. Deputies know that most members of An Garda Síochána seek to do their best. The process of getting industrial relations right is part of ensuring that gardaí recognise the important role they have in Irish society.
I welcome what Deputy O'Callaghan has said about the importance of rebuilding confidence in An Garda Síochána. We have to take what happened extremely seriously and put all the resources we can into ensuring that oversight is stronger and that public confidence is restored. More transparency within An Garda Síochána is one of the ways forward. Government has a role in terms of providing resources and supporting that work.
The issues raised in the Deputy's question are of huge societal importance. Recent events, in particular the threat of Garda strike action, go to the core of the safety of Irish citizens. These are issues which the relevant committees, including the Joint Committee on Justice and Equality, and the House should consider. There will be an opportunity to do that as the relevant legislation is being prepared. We should look for submissions from other parties. Pre-legislative scrutiny of this legislation will be critical.
4. Deputy Michael Lowry asked the Tánaiste and Minister for Justice and Equality the details and costs of the refurbishment works already completed or currently under way at the Garda College, Templemore, for the purpose of improving existing accommodation and providing additional accommodation and facilities; if funding is in place to construct a new administrative block; the expected timeframe for completion; if her attention has been drawn to the fact that there are eight official Garda houses which have been vacant for some considerable time and have fallen into disrepair (details supplied); the way it is intended to address the accommodation and facility needs of the college in view of the increased demand arising from the accelerated recruitment; and if she will make a statement on the matter. [15903/17]
I ask the Tánaiste for the details of the costs of the refurbishment works at the Garda College, Templemore, over the past year. The works were carried out for the purpose of improving existing accommodation and providing additional accommodation and facilities at the college. How it is intended to address the accommodation and facility needs of the college in view of increased demand arising from accelerated recruitment?
As Deputy Lowry will appreciate, the programme of replacement and refurbishment of Garda accommodation is progressed by the Garda authorities and the Office of Public Works. As Minister, I have no direct role in these matters. However, I want to give the Deputy as much information as possible.
The Deputy will be aware that the Garda College was reopened following the lifting of the moratorium on Garda recruitment. There is now greater demand on the services and accommodation there which have to cope with hundreds of new recruits. Another 750 trainee gardaí are scheduled to attest this year. There will be a need for further development in Templemore.
I am informed by the Garda authorities that, while a number of new facilities were built at the college in the early 2000s, including new administration, catering and recreation facilities, it is accepted that the college infrastructure is in need of further modernisation. Of the seven blocks requiring upgrades, six have been completed, with costs of some €4 million being incurred in recent years.
The Deputy asked about plans for the future. There has been an in-depth examination of the infrastructural needs of the Garda College. My Department's initial submission in the context of the mid-term review of the capital plan references the need for funding for the following proposed developments in Templemore: a ten-unit classroom block; a new purpose-built education and training facility; and a residential accommodation block for trainee gardaí. There is an indicative costing of €35 million. That is entirely dependent on available resources and will be discussed with the Department of Public Expenditure and Reform.
There is greater demand on the college due to increased recruitment. We must ensure that there is a programme of work which will fulfil the needs generated by that increased demand.
I very much welcome the response from the Tánaiste. It represents a very positive commitment to the future of the Garda College, Templemore. There are practical and logistical problems arising from the success of the recruitment campaign. I welcome the Tánaiste's commitment to the new infrastructure at the college.
The Tánaiste has estimated the cost of the works as being €35 million. Has the Department of Justice and Equality made a proposal in that regard to the Department of Public Expenditure and Reform? If so, when are decisions expected to be made in regard to capital expenditure? Is it part of the capital expenditure review that is currently under way?
With regard to the golf club at Templemore, there are more than 300 members of the club. There are options available to expand and develop the Garda training facilities at Templemore without encroaching on the golf club, which is used extensively by the local community. I ask that the development programme the Tánaiste is proposing would take that into account, in other words, the development can take place without encroaching on the club.
My Department's initial submission, and I stress it is an initial submission, in the context of the mid-term review of the capital plan references the need for funding for the proposed developments as follows. As I told the Deputy, it is the ten-unit classroom, the new purpose-built education and training facility and a residential accommodation block. I stress that the costs are only indicative at this point but in terms of my Department, it has been included in our discussions on the paper, which we have made available and on which we have had to respond to the Department of Public Expenditure and Reform regarding the mid-term review. That mid-term review will be in June of this year. There will be many discussions about the precise capital that is available and it will have to be considered in the context of the overall priorities of the Department of Justice and Equality and of the Government in terms of the amount available into the future. However, with the increased recruitment and the new recruits in Templemore and given the development of training we want to see take place, which is made all the more obvious by this week's events, we want to have very good training facilities provided, and I can only see those being more necessary and developing in the future.
The Tánaiste may not have this information to hand but I ask that she communicate with me on it. Currently in Templemore, there are eight houses which are part of the housing stock available to the college, traditionally and historically. Those eight houses are unoccupied and in disrepair and it does not make sense, at a time of a housing crisis, for a Government agency to have housing stock that is not being availed of. There are many people working in the college, including instructors and staff, who travel long distances and who would happily avail of that accommodation. Will the Tánaiste confirm in whose ownership are those houses? Whose responsibility is it to refurbish the houses, and will she ensure that they are brought back into the housing stock?
Regarding official accommodation, the position is that seven properties have been sold by the Office of Public Works and the sale of one further property is agreed. Four properties are occupied by serving Garda members. Two properties are to be allocated for training purposes, and six properties are under consideration as to their future use. I take the point the Deputy is making.
In light of the Government's approval that the Garda workforce should increase in size to 21,000 by 2021 and the additional training requirements arising under the Garda modernisation programme, the future use of a number of properties attached to the Garda college is now under consideration by the Garda authorities and the Office of Public Works. It is the Office of Public Works which is in the discussions on these properties. That consideration will have regard to the condition of the properties and the cost of restoring them. It is a live issue that is being examined both by the college and by the Office of Public Works.
5. Deputy Catherine Murphy asked the Tánaiste and Minister for Justice and Equality the details regarding the internal audit of Templemore Garda training college; her views on whether any laws have been found by the audit to have been breached; if her attention has been drawn to the fact that neither the Joint Committee on Justice and Equality nor the Committee of Public Accounts had dealt with this report despite her previous replies that this was the case; and if she will make a statement on the matter. [15949/17]
I raise the issue of the internal audit at Templemore on 9 February. The Tánaiste's reply to me on that day was very dismissive. She told me that it had received full scrutiny at the justice committee. I pursued it and found that that did not happen. I was then told that it had been referred to the Committee of Public Accounts. I was the one who wrote to the Committee of Public Accounts, not the Department, requesting that it receive scrutiny. I want to know why I was told that this matter had received full scrutiny when that had not happened? Why has the Tánaiste not taken the opportunity to correct the record in that regard?
Deputy Murphy has asked a number of questions regarding the internal audit. They are serious issues in regard to the governance and accountability in the college and they must be addressed comprehensively.
Some of the main issues of concern highlighted by the report include the manner in which the college was run, the existence of a large number of bank accounts and investment accounts linked to the college and staffing issues.
As the Deputy is aware, the Accounting Officer, for the purposes of the Comptroller and Auditor General Acts, is the Garda Commissioner. The findings have been accepted and there is a series of recommendations that are implemented.
The report has been sent to the Committee of Public Accounts now and an important role also is for the Comptroller and Auditor General. Everybody recognises the gravity of the issues.
On receiving the report, and I only got the report that was published this week, I immediately requested the Policing Authority to oversee the implementation of the recommendations and to report back to me on a quarterly basis on the progress being made.
I have e-mailed the Deputy twice to explain that on 9 February, and I certainly was not dismissive of what she said-----
-----and I recognise her interest in this issue and that she raised it at the Committee of Public Accounts. I should have referred to the Committee of Public Accounts - because I got a letter from the Committee of Public Accounts - and not the Oireachtas justice committee in my response to her. I made a mistake in that regard. Clearly, there could not have been a full discussion so I am happy to correct the record of the Dáil. I recognise Deputy Murphy's interest in this issue. I had a detailed letter. I was referring to that letter. I had responded to quite a number of parliamentary questions and to a Senator also who had raised it with me briefly in the Seanad. What I had in mind was the letter I had got from that committee. It was not the justice committee. What I was referring to was the Committee of Public Accounts and the Deputy was the person who had raised it. It had written to me, which I am happy to put on the record of the Dáil.
That falls far short of what I was told here with regard to it having had full scrutiny; it had not. The issues include 50 bank accounts; €125,000 collected from the leasing of farmland by the Office of Public Works that went into the restaurant account; and €400,000 transferred from the bar to keep the restaurant running. We have a right to expect higher standards of the people who are supposed to enforce the law. They are not above the law, and it was for that reason that the article written by John Mooney jumped out at me, so to speak. That is why I pursued it. I should have been entitled to receive an accurate reply and not be dismissed and told that there had been full scrutiny. I read the Tánaiste's replies to the parliamentary questions and the Official Report of the debate in the Seanad. It included one sentence on this in what was a wide-ranging debate. We have to be sure that we can trust the replies we get in this House. The matter will go now to the Committee of Public Accounts and to the justice committee also.
I repeat that I absolutely recognise the seriousness of this issue and the seriousness with which Deputy Murphy regards the issues that have emerged in the report published yesterday. The Committee of Public Accounts, of which the Deputy is a member, will be discussing it fully. We only now have the full report. The issues are very serious, including the existence of a large number of bank accounts and investment accounts linked to the college, staffing issues and issues relating to the ownership and use of certain lands. There is a range of issues that need full scrutiny. The report highlights that those go back a long way. There is a series of recommendations in the new report which need to be implemented. That is why I referred it to the Policing Authority. I want to be sure that these recommendations are now implemented.
Regarding the query the Deputy raises with me, I certainly was not dismissing it. I believe there needs to be a full discussion on this report. That is why I said earlier in the week that it would have to go to the Committee of Public Accounts and that the Comptroller and Auditor General would be examining it also, and I referred it immediately to the Policing Authority once I received it.
Finally, can the Tánaiste confirm that she did not communicate with the Garda Commissioner who is, as she said, the person in charge in respect of this matter, or when dealing with any matters, other than through the official communication channels?
I am referring to things like Gmail, Signal or WhatsApp. Can the Tánaiste confirm that this did not happen?
Yes, I can confirm that.