I call Deputy Jonathan O'Brien, who is sharing time with Deputies Martin Kenny and McDonald.
Garda Commissioner: Motion [Private Members]
"That Dáil Éireann:
— that everyone is entitled to policing that serves the people, by police services that are accountable, representative of the community and held to the highest professional and ethical standards;
— the need to hold the police and criminal justice systems to account on the basis of fairness, impartiality and objectivity; and
— that public confidence in policing bodies is contingent on them, and the persons who direct their activities, being held accountable;
— the press statement made by Garda Commissioner Nóirín O'Sullivan in regard to the recent disclosures that 937,000 breath tests were wrongly recorded on the Police Using Leading Systems Effectively (PULSE) system;
— the 14,700 wrongful convictions of citizens due to Garda error; and
— the failure of Commissioner O'Sullivan to adequately explain the cause of this error and her failure in the statement to provide the clarity needed to restore public confidence in An Garda Síochána;
— that the Tribunal of Inquiry into certain matters relating to disclosures made by members of An Garda Síochána under the Protected Disclosures Act 2014, chaired by Mr. Justice Peter Charleton, is now under way;
— that the Tribunal has been tasked with investigating serious allegations made in a Protected Disclosure concerning the actions of Commissioner O’Sullivan; and
— the potential negative impact on public confidence in An Garda Síochána when the actions of the sitting Garda Commissioner are central to the investigations of the ongoing Tribunal;
further notes that section 11(1)(c) of the Garda Síochána Act 2005 stipulates that a person who holds the office of Garda Commissioner may be removed from office, where the person's removal from office would, in the Government’s opinion, be in the best interests of An Garda Síochána; and
considers that the removal from office of Commissioner O'Sullivan would be in the best interests of An Garda Síochána."
This motion is not reflective of every member of An Garda Síochána. I recognise completely that there are many honest men and women in An Garda Síochána who do a difficult job in difficult circumstances and, as I said last night, in some cases for little financial reward. I want to put that on the record.
We did not take this decision lightly. While it was stated last night during the debate on the Fianna Fáil motion that we were engaged in populism, far from it.
I also want to correct some of the inaccuracies that have been peddled in the past few days on the legality of this motion. Even last night, Deputy Thomas Byrne of Fianna Fáil stated on national television that his party could not support this motion because to do so would be illegal. That is not the case. I presume the Fianna Fáil Members have read the motion, which recognises that An Garda Síochána serves the people and that police services should be "accountable, representative of the community and held to the highest professional and ethical standards". It recognises "the need to hold the police and criminal justice systems to account on the basis of fairness, impartiality and objectivity". It notes the tribunal of inquiry which is currently under way into the disclosures. Then it:
further notes that section 11(1)(c) of the Garda Síochána Act 2005 stipulates that a person who holds the office of Garda Commissioner may be removed from office, where the person's removal from office would, in the Government's opinion, be in the best interests of An Garda Síochána; and
considers that the removal from office of Commissioner O'Sullivan would be in the best interests of An Garda Síochána."
That is the wording of the motion before us and what Members are being asked to vote in favour or against is whether, in their considered opinion, the removal of Nóirín O'Sullivan from her position would be in the best interests of An Garda Síochána.
This motion is in line with the legislation, which is available to the Minister and to the Cabinet and which gives the Cabinet the power to request a Commissioner to step aside in the best interests of An Garda Síochána. I also recognise there is a process if the Cabinet chooses to go down this road where the Commissioner has a right of reply to state why she believes she should not be removed from office.
Unlike the Fianna Fáil motion last night, my party is sticking to the letter of the law. We are not asking the Government to do something that it has no statutory power to do, that is, to ask the Policing Authority to ascertain the capabilities of An Garda Síochána. There is no basis for a government to do that but everything my party has proposed in this motion is done on the basis of legislation. People need to make up their mind and they need to stop playing with the wording that is contained in the motion.
The reason we put this down is because we believe that the removal of Nóirín O'Sullivan as Garda Commissioner is in the best interests of the policing service in this State. There is no doubt but that public confidence in An Garda Síochána is at rock bottom. Nobody can argue with that. We have had scandal after scandal, fiasco after fiasco.
All of the opinion polls suggest that public confidence in Nóirín O'Sullivan is at an all-time low and the majority of people outside of this Chamber believe that she should not be in the position she currently holds. If one goes through the litany of scandals, the manner in which she has addressed them leaves a lot to be desired. She is currently the subject of a tribunal of inquiry. She was mentioned in the terms of reference of that tribunal of inquiry, which is unprecedented. She has been asked to step aside, not only by myself and my party. A former Tánaiste and Minister for Justice, Equality and Law Reform has suggested she should step aside while this tribunal of inquiry is ongoing. The lawyers for the whistleblowers who are at the centre of the tribunal of inquiry have expressed deep concern around some of the issues, in particular, that the same legal team is representing the Commissioner as represented her predecessor. They have also said they believe it would be in the best interests of openness, transparency and accountability in respect of that tribunal of inquiry if the Garda Commissioner stepped aside. These are some of the reasons my party has put forward this motion.
All Members recognise that a process of reform within An Garda Síochána needs to happen. Even the Government has recognised there needs to be a root-and-branch reform of An Garda Síochána and has initiated a commission that the Tánaiste and Minister for Justice and Equality will establish. Its work will take 12 to 18 months to complete, its draft terms of reference were published this week by the Tánaiste and we will be consulting with her on them. If anyone needed any evidence, even up to yesterday, on the suitability of the current Garda Commissioner to lead that process of reform within and to carry out her duties, I would ask him or her to look at the responses contained in the letter she gave to the Joint Committee on Justice and Equality to a number of questions that we put to her following her appearance before that committee. One question asked on what date did the information regarding the falsified breath tests reach commissioner level and in the answer the Commissioner herself has given, she goes through the sequence of events. In March 2015, an assistant commissioner for traffic directed each divisional and district officer to ensure that mechanisms were in place to monitor them properly. It goes on to April 2015, when there was the outcome of inquiries into the western region. Those were discussed at a national traffic management meeting chaired by the superintendent of the Garda national traffic bureau.
In May 2015, further instructions were sent out to each divisional officer regarding the use of breath-test devices. In July 2015, a further clarification was sent out regarding recording equipment and data and PULSE inputs. The letter then goes on to November 2015, when the chief superintendent of the Garda national traffic bureau submitted a report to the assistant commissioner with responsibility for traffic regarding an audit that had been carried out in the southern region and completed in November 2015.
The letter then fast-forwards to April 2016, when a directive was sent out by Garda headquarters regarding the recording on PULSE and manually of readings from the breath-testing devices. Then, in May 2016, the assistant commissioner with responsibility for traffic issued a further instruction regarding the governance and oversight of mandatory alcohol testing checkpoints to ensure they complied with current policy. We were told the Garda Commissioner became aware of this instruction in June 2016. Her letter states: "In June 2016 the matter was reported to the office of the Garda Commissioner and the Department of Justice & Equality was informed in writing that a national examination of MAT checkpoints was being undertaken". She even states in her reply that it was the assistant commissioner with responsibility for traffic who directed that a national examination of MAT checkpoints be carried out.
I will go further into some of the other questions we asked. One was when the Tánaiste became aware of the figures for falsification of breath tests. The Commissioner stated that on 8 June 2016 the Department was notified, which she had previously stated, and that, on that basis, she as Commissioner directed that a national examination be undertaken. Therefore, even in her responses to the justice committee, she contradicts herself. In response to one question, she states it was the acting deputy commissioner with responsibility for traffic who initiated the national audit, while in response to another, she states it was herself as Commissioner who directed it.
She goes on to state that on 10 March 2017 the Medical Bureau of Road Safety provided An Garda Síochána by e-mail with the extensive copy of data held in its databases. The Tánaiste has said that the first time she became aware of the extent of the figures was following the press conference on 23 March. The Commissioner states, in respect of that press conference:
That data continued to be subject of analysis and verification up to the date that it was publicised at the press conference on 23rd March, 2017. As a result, no report was prepared or submitted to the Commissioner’s Office or the Department of Justice & Equality prior to the press conference.
Does she honestly expect us to believe she was not aware of these figures until that press conference took place? That is what she stated in her response, namely, that no report was furnished to her office prior to the announcement of those figures. She goes on to state that two days prior to the press conference, the Policing Authority was briefed. The Policing Authority was briefed but neither she nor the Tánaiste was briefed. This represents an evasion of questions the committee tabled and questions the public have had in recent times. The Commissioner is burying her head in the stand. Her attitude is almost like a mushroom: "I know nothing. It is not my problem." That is not good enough. Morale within the force is on the floor, public confidence in the force is on the floor and something needs to be done. The Tánaiste needs to utilise the powers available to her to remove Nóirín O'Sullivan from her position once and for all.
The Garda Commissioner simply must stand down. That is the view both of many in the House and of the community and people outside the House who see what is going on. Time after time in recent years, we have had crisis after crisis and each time the Garda Commissioner has stood up to say either she did not know anything about it or it was not her fault and had nothing to do with her. Deputy Fitzgerald, as Minister, has taken a similar line and it is just not good enough. A cabal in the higher echelons of An Garda Síochána has run the force into the ground and destroyed morale within the force. There are good, decent gardaí out there trying to do their job every day who feel this. They feel the public looking at them and they know they are not believed. Last week, I heard two women talking in a shop while there was something on the radio about the justice committee in some county, I think, that had reports on the number of burglaries that had happened. They threw their eyes up to heaven and said: "We believe that all right." No one believes anything that comes from An Garda Síochána anymore when we have 1 million breath tests that have been fabricated.
I was looking the other day at details of corruption outlined by An Garda Síochána under the Garda Síochána (Confidential Reporting of Corruption Or Malpractice) Regulations. There is a whole list, including deliberate falsification of records. Yet it is said the Commissioner can stay in place. It is absolutely outrageous that we are here tabling a motion calling for the Garda Commissioner to stand down when everyone in the community knows it is the only option that can progress the situation. The Garda Commissioner must stand down and be replaced with someone outside of the force.
One of the most significant events to have happened in recent weeks is the publication of the Fennelly report. Fennelly states that no one knew anything about the allegations, yet all the people in the higher echelons of An Garda Síochána come up through the ranks. They were once inspectors, superintendents and chief superintendents and many of them had responsibilities for communications and data collection in all the Garda districts around the country. Did they not know about this? It is just unbelievable that this situation continues. Who ordered the equipment to do all this taping and recording? Who paid for it? Where are the records? They must be there, yet those at the very top tell us they know nothing about it.
It is simply unsustainable for this Commissioner to stay in place and the Tánaiste knows it. At some point or other we will also have to look into other scandals that have happened in An Garda Síochána. As the Tánaiste is aware, I have raised issues in the Dáil previously regarding malpractice in the Garda to no avail. I provided a protected disclosure to the Tánaiste on 11 November last and got no response from her. This situation simply must be tackled very soon.
For instance, I have been told all over the country about the practice in some Garda stations of putting summonses in the bottom drawer. If they are summonses for the wrong person, that is, someone particularly well connected, they are never served. How many summonses were issued in this manner? This happened all over the place down the years and continues to happen to this day, yet it is not being examined. It is happening under the management of the current Garda management and the person at the head of that management is Nóirín O'Sullivan. Nóirín O'Sullivan simply must be made stand down. The Tánaiste is not doing her job as long as she leaves her there. We simply must clean up this mess and the only way to do so is to start at the top, remove the Commissioner and put someone in place from outside the jurisdiction who will have a clean sweep. We need to sort out this situation and it cannot be done by any more reports or inquiries or anything else. The dogs on the street know what the problem is. It is the Tánaiste's job to deal with it.
The Association of Garda Sergeants and Inspectors has been meeting at its annual conference in Killarney over the past number of days. The Tánaiste and Minister for Justice and Equality did not attend. However, the Commissioner did, and yesterday, when attending the conference, she approached the podium to speak and was met with what was described in the media as an eerie silence. This is no great surprise because morale within An Garda Síochána is at an all-time low. I know we have said that before here, but this time it is in a profound malaise. Its morale has been worn away by a crisis of leadership and the rank-and-file gardaí feel abandoned and disheartened. For them, it must feel like being on a rudderless ship.
It does not help the morale of gardaí either that the Commissioner has felt the need to place the blame for many of the recent debacles that have happened on her watch on the shoulders of more junior officers. This is a case of sloping shoulders on the part of the Commissioner at a time when real leadership should be shown and when responsibility as a leader should be taken for the litany of scandals that have beset the Garda.
Now, shockingly, we hear today, in addition to the falsification of breath tests, that an examination is being carried out into Garda figures relating to homicide and incidents of domestic violence. Where will all of this end? Yet Nóirín O'Sullivan just passes the buck, as does the Tánaiste. It is this lack of accountability and the deep-rooted arrogance of the upper echelons of the Garda that have shattered public confidence in policing and made policing almost toxic in the eyes of many.
It is clear that the administration of policing and justice in this State stands at a crossroads. Decisions taken now will shape our citizens' relationship with An Garda Síochána for generations to come. Nóirín O'Sullivan has been given effective immunity by the Government and its flip-flopping partners in Fianna Fáil. As desirable as an inquiry or review may be, the reality is that no inquiry or review of An Garda Síochána will achieve the required outcome while Nóirín O'Sullivan remains in office. That is a fact. The dysfunctionality at the heart of the management of An Garda Síochána cannot be tackled effectively and we cannot even hope to begin the work of restoring public confidence in the Garda while Nóirín O'Sullivan remains as boss. I say that not as a personal invective against the Commissioner personally, but to her and about her in respect of the position she holds. It very clear to us that it is in the best interests of An Garda Síochána, and the future standard of policing and justice in this State that Nóirín O'Sullivan is removed from office.
The malpractice and arrogance that has so dominated the leadership of An Garda Síochána must be replaced with transparency, accountability and a renewed commitment to the ethos of public service. The Minister has no hope or prospect of reforming, transforming or changing the culture and practices of An Garda Síochána if the person at the top is not held to a standard of accountability, yet that is the position in which the Minister has placed the Government and more importantly the people of this State. Nóirín O'Sullivan remaining as Garda Commissioner presents a significant and possibly insurmountable barrier to achieving the goals the Minister outlined of reform and change. The simple fact is that we bring this motion because we believe it to be in the best interests of An Garda Síochána that there is change and accountability at the very top. As has been said previously by the dogs on the street, Nóirín O'Sullivan must be relieved from her duties as Commissioner in the best interests of the Garda.
I move amendment No. 1:
To delete all words after “Dáil Éireann” and substitute the following:
— the recent controversies surrounding An Garda Síochána are of the utmost seriousness and go to the heart of policing in the State;
— it is essential that the Government, this House and all our citizens can trust members of An Garda Síochána to carry out their duties fairly, impartially and in accordance with the law;
— while members of An Garda Síochána continue to perform very good work and put their lives at risk on a daily basis keeping communities safe and protecting the security of the State in the face of major challenges, including the threats from organised crime, subversion and international terrorism, deep-seated organisational problems which have not been properly addressed over a number of decades, such as those exemplified in the recent report by Mr. Justice Fennelly, must be urgently and fully addressed;
— in particular, there is understandable public concern arising from recent very serious issues about the administration by An Garda Síochána of mandatory alcohol testing and fixed charge notices;
— the most effective way of addressing issues of concern which have arisen is to ensure that the issues in relation to road traffic matters are comprehensively and independently assessed, a major programme of reform is completed as quickly as possible and there is a fundamental review of the future of policing in Ireland;
— the resolution of the serious issues facing An Garda Síochána cannot be achieved by measures which undermine the effectiveness of An Garda Síochána in protecting the community;
— robust and independent oversight of policing is essential to the delivery of policing service in the 21st century and that the Oireachtas enacted the Garda Síochána (Policing Authority and Miscellaneous Provisions) Act in 2015 and that the independent Policing Authority was established on 1st January, 2016;
— at the heart of the establishment of the Policing Authority was a desire, on the part of the Oireachtas, to remove politics from policing to the extent possible consistent with the Constitution of Ireland and that nothing said or done in this House should detract from the work of the Policing Authority, undermine its independence in doing that work or to politicise An Garda Síochána; and
— there is a legal framework of accountability in which public servants perform their duties and it would be a dangerous precedent for this House to target individual public servants, by way of resolution, in a departure from that framework;
— the Policing Authority is chaired by the former Chairman of the Revenue Commissioners and that the other eight members of the Policing Authority were appointed by the Government on the recommendation of the Public Appointments Service which had invited applications for membership of the Policing Authority;
— the nine members of the Policing Authority are persons who independently bring a range of valuable experience and expertise to bear on the work of the Policing Authority and that even though the Policing Authority has only been in existence for 15 months, it has in that time established itself as a robust and independent oversight body;
— the House should support the Policing Authority fully in its very important work; and
— the Policing Authority has specific statutory responsibilities, including in relation to the appointments to the higher ranks of An Garda Síochána and continuation of persons in office, the exercise of which must not be interfered with or improperly influenced in any way;
— the request made by the Tánaiste and Minister for Justice and Equality to the Policing Authority under the Garda Síochána Act 2005 to report on recent road traffic issues and the fact that an investigation will be conducted by the Policing Authority with the assistance of external expertise which will examine all issues arising, addressing, to the greatest extent possible, the reasons why the issues have arisen, the incidence and scale of the issues and the solutions implemented to ensure there is no reoccurrence;
— the strengthening of Garda management capacity by the early appointment of three additional civilian leaders to the senior management team, Executive Director – Strategy and Transformation, Executive Director – Legal and Compliance and a Chief Information Officer;
— the completion as soon as possible by the Garda Inspectorate of an examination, at the request of the Tánaiste and Minister for Justice and Equality, of entry routes to An Garda Síochána from other police services and the opening up of promotion opportunities within An Garda Síochána to non-Garda personnel, whether policing professional or otherwise;
— the completion, under the oversight of the Policing Authority, of the urgent implementation of extensive reforms to the administration of, and operation of, An Garda Síochána under the Garda Síochána Modernisation and Renewal Programme, 2016-2021, incorporating recommendations of the Garda Inspectorate report ‘Changing Policing in Ireland’;
— the specific monitoring and assessing by the Policing Authority of the implementation of recommendations of the Garda Inspectorate report ‘Changing Policing in Ireland’, and the Policing Authority reporting to the Tánaiste and Minister for Justice and Equality quarterly on this matter, who will publish these reports;
— the cultural audit of An Garda Síochána which will commence shortly;
— the provision of any additional resources to the Policing Authority which may be necessary to ensure it is able to carry out its work effectively, including a review of the legislation governing its operation which is due to be undertaken this year under the terms of the Garda Síochána Act 2005; and
— the intention to implement in full the recommendations made by Mr. Justice Fennelly in his recent report;
agrees that, notwithstanding the significant programme of reform that is already underway and the central role of the Policing Authority in overseeing the implementation of that programme, the time is right to undertake a ‘root and branch’ review of all aspects of policing in Ireland; and
further notes that:
— the Government agreed at its meeting on 11th April, 2017, to establish a Commission on the Future of Policing in Ireland and to circulate the draft terms of reference to other parties;
— the Commission’s draft terms of reference, while subject to further consultation, are intended to be comprehensive and provide for a thorough review of all aspects of policing including appropriate accountability mechanisms, with a view to resolving policing issues outside the realm of political controversy;
— the draft terms of reference will address:
— structures, leadership and management arrangements required for the most effective delivery of policing, including all functions currently carried out by An Garda Síochána – community safety, security and immigration;
— appropriate composition, recruitment and training of personnel;
— culture and ethos of policing;
— appropriate structures for oversight and accountability (including all oversight bodies, the Department of Justice and Equality and Government); and
— the legislative framework for policing;
— the draft terms of reference will take account of:
— existing and emerging issues identified as key challenges for Ireland’s model of policing;
— best practices in the policing models of other countries focused towards greater effectiveness and efficiency, and fostering public confidence in policing;
— previous reports concerning policing in Ireland; and
— any specific challenges to delivering consistent structural and cultural reform in policing;
— once this consultation process has been completed, the Tánaiste and Minister for Justice and Equality will revert to Government with proposals for the establishment of the Commission and draft terms of reference; and
— the establishment of the Commission on the Future of Policing in Ireland should not delay or detract from the implementation of the ambitious programme of reform underway which should continue unimpeded.”
As I said last night, we are at a crucial time in determining the future of policing in this country. There has been array of competing motions and counter-motions before the House, and what I am doing in the counter-motion is setting out a clear, coherent and comprehensive approach to the issues which I agree must be addressed.
Trust in An Garda Síochána has been damaged by the recent revelations. Yesterday, I said they were as unacceptable as they were disturbing and I repeat that here today. The great respect that we have for the work that members of An Garda Síochána do, as many Members have acknowledged, sometimes at great personal cost, cannot blind us to the need for profound and lasting change.
Before I turn to the question of reform, I wish to deal first with the substance of and the background to the Sinn Féin motion. While there are elements of the motion with which everyone in this House can agree, the central thesis must be rejected. Rather than focusing on the need to reform An Garda Síochána, it seeks to personalise the problems with the service by focusing on the Garda Commissioner. In a document published by Sinn Féin yesterday, entitled Restoring Public Confidence in Policing, the party made a number of proposals aimed at enhancing the functions and responsibilities of the Policing Authority, the first of which is the immediate commencement of the legislative provisions governing the removal of senior members of An Garda Síochána. I wish to put on record that, in fact, the entire Garda Síochána (Policing Authority and Miscellaneous Provisions) Act 2015 has been commenced. The provisions relating to the removal of the Commissioner and deputy commissioners were commenced on 1 January 2016 and those relating to the ranks of assistant commissioner, chief superintendent and superintendent on 1 January 2017.
In addition, since that date, the Policing Authority has responsibility for running competitions for appointments to the senior Garda ranks of assistant Garda commissioner, chief superintendent and superintendent. As I outlined to Deputies previously, the very first appointment of an assistant commissioner under the new process was made by the authority last March. That is a sea change in terms of the appointments of gardaí in this country. The authority is now running a competition for chief superintendents. Many in this House called for independent appointments in the past. That means a statutory framework is now in place that allows both the Government and the Policing Authority, on its own initiative, to invoke the provisions of section 11 of the Garda Síochána Act 2005. There is no role for this House in that statutory framework, nor in my view should there be. It is one thing for this House to debate motions of no confidence in persons who can defend themselves in this House, but it is another for it to insert itself into carefully calibrated legislation that is designed to observe due process and natural and constitutional justice, which is the right of any employee. It would be a major departure if individual public servants, nurses, gardaí or teachers were to have their reputations shredded in this House with no opportunity to put their side of the story. Deputy O'Callaghan referred to that in recent days. Such a procedure would not even meet the low standards of a kangaroo court.
Rather than focusing on what would clearly be a wrong path for this House to embark on, I wish to return to the issue of reform. Since my appointment as Minister for Justice and Equality, I have been pursuing an ambitious programme of Garda reform. It would be very foolish, in fact it would be tragic, to deviate from the path to reform that is already in place. Therefore, we must make sure existing plans for change are carried through fully. Crucial to those changes is the Garda Síochána Modernisation and Renewal Programme 2016-2021 which reflects the recommendations in the critical Garda Inspectorate report, Changing Policing in Ireland, to which so many Members in this House refer. It is necessary to implement what is in the report and the implementation process has begun. The Policing Authority oversees the implementation of the report. The authority has published reports on the process and it will continue to do so. A list of initiatives has already taken place and actions have been taken which arise directly from the Changing Policing in Ireland report. We cannot pretend that has not happened because it is happening. Initiatives, actions and recommendations have been carried out. One such change relates to ICT. A victims of crime office has been set up and a list of initiatives has been introduced. Change must keep happening. Once the recommendations in the report have been implemented, it is clear that other things will need to be done because reform can never stop.
The most difficult change to make relates to culture. An organisation that impulsively turned inwards must now instinctively face outwards with professionalism, high standards and honesty, and it must meet the highest ethical standards. Under the Policing Authority, for the first time in the history of An Garda Síochána an ethics code of practice was announced and delivered and people must adhere to it. It was drawn up between the Policing Authority and the Garda and published recently. It is clear that more openness and transparency are an essential part of the process. A tendering process has been completed for a cultural audit that will be conducted this year. The audit is being overseen by the Policing Authority, at my request, and it will set a benchmark against which the culture of the service will be measured over the years as the reform programme is implemented.
As Deputies have outlined, there have been many reports into various aspects of policing in Ireland. Some reports followed investigations into wrongdoing or bad practice, such as those of the Morris tribunal and the O'Higgins investigation, while others have been directed at reform, including in particular the 11 reports published by the Garda Inspectorate. All however, have been drafted within the confines of the structures of policing that have existed since the foundation of the State. My colleague, the Minister, Deputy Bruton, addressed that thoroughly last night.
The policing landscape has seen many significant changes, first by the establishment of the Garda Síochána Ombudsman Commission, GSOC, and the Garda Inspectorate under the 2005 Act, and more recently by the establishment of the Policing Authority in January 2016. Those very important changes deal with the historic structures of policing in this country that remain to this day. The gravity and scope of recent events mean that we must now question whether those core structures are fit for purpose. It is for that reason the Government believes the time is ripe for a fundamental examination of all aspects of policing in Ireland.
As Deputies know, that was agreed by the Government yesterday, so I will not go into great detail because we have discussed it, the draft terms of reference have been provided and we have been doing further work on it. The terms of reference attempt to be comprehensive and provide for a thorough review of all aspects of policing, including the structure, leadership, - I agree that leadership matters - management, composition, recruitment and training. When I met the Deputies from the Opposition many of them spoke to me about training, the importance of examining the current training carefully and whether changes are necessary. I also wish to examine aspects of oversight and accountability, including examining the roles of the bodies I have mentioned as well as those of the Department of Justice and Equality and the Government. Among the questions we must examine is whether a unitary police service dealing with policing, security and immigration is the appropriate model for the 21st century.
The commission will have among its members people with international expertise and knowledge. It will be independent of the Government and will provide an opportunity for the country to have an honest discussion about how it is to be policed as it approaches the centenary of the establishment of An Garda Síochána. Throughout that time, the men and women of An Garda Síochána have kept us safe in the face of grave threats and dangers. They have played a crucial role in thwarting those, including the Provisional IRA, who wanted to overthrow this State. Some brave gardaí paid the ultimate price, and we must remember them. Today, in particular, I remember Detective Garda Jerry McCabe who was brutally and callously murdered when he was doing his duty.
An Garda Síochána faces many problems, but the solution does not lie in this politically motivated motion from Sinn Féin. A well-functioning police service, trusted by the people, is a cornerstone of any democracy worthy of the name. Some Members of this House were late converts to democracy, but I hope that even they would agree that, as the democratically elected representatives of the people, all of us must work to make An Garda Síochána succeed. We can pay no greater tribute to the men who founded our police force in the difficult early years of the State, and the men and women who followed in their footsteps through the decades, than to begin the second century of policing with a police service that embodies the best traditions of An Garda Síochána.
One of the greatest failings of the motion before the House is its lack of ambition. Rather than articulating a vision for the future of policing in Ireland, it resorts to the blame game. Personalising the issues and demonising individuals get us nowhere. This Government is ambitious for policing in Ireland. For that reason we reject this defeatist motion and commend to the House a counter-motion which sets out a clear and coherent way forward.
I will share time with Deputies O'Loughlin, Thomas Byrne and Eugene Murphy.
Later tonight we will discuss the most recent report of Mr. Justice Fennelly. It is important to remember, however, that in August 2015 Mr. Justice Fennelly produced an interim report in respect of two paragraphs of his terms of reference. One of those paragraphs concerned the removal or resignation of the former Garda Commissioner, which took place on 25 March 2014. It is interesting to refer to chapter 19 of his interim report because it deals with the legal position of a Garda Commissioner. Mr. Justice Fennelly refers to the fact that only twice in the history of the State has a Garda Commissioner been removed from office. The first occasion was in February 1933 when Mr. de Valera's Government removed General O'Duffy from his position of Garda Commissioner. General O'Duffy then went on to do different things and became the first leader of the Tánaiste's party, but we will not discuss that at this stage. In 1978, the Garda Commissioner, Edmund Garvey, was removed by a Fianna Fáil Government. He sued, went to court and succeeded in his case.
It is important to note that, having referred to both examples, Mr. Justice Fennelly states that only the Government has the power to remove a Garda Commissioner from office, and where the Government proposes to exercise that power, it is obliged to give the Garda Commissioner the notice required by section 12 of the 2005 Act, containing a statement of the reasons for the proposal. The Government must also allow the Garda Commissioner an opportunity to make representations as to why he or she ought not to be removed from office. Thus, it is only the Government which may initiate that procedure. That is the procedure that is recognised in law and by Mr. Justice Fennelly in his interim report.
It is instructive to note that after his interim report was published in August 2015, there was considerable criticism, in my opinion legitimate criticism, of the role played by the Government, particularly the Taoiseach, in the removal of the previous Garda Commissioner. Members will recall that, in effect, the Taoiseach sent an official from his Department to the Garda Commissioner on the night of 24 March to tell him that the Government could no longer express confidence in him. The legitimate argument and criticism made by Fianna Fáil and, indeed, Sinn Féin at the time was that this was wrong. In effect, the Garda Commissioner had been sacked. What was wrong about it was that the Taoiseach and the Government did not go through the correct statutory procedure. In fairness to Deputy McDonald, she recognised that failing on the part of the Government when she spoke on the Fennelly report on 22 September 2015. She said:
I believe he [the Taoiseach] did that in a very deliberate and very calculated fashion. I think he was conscious of the provisions in law under the Garda Síochána Act 2005. He knew that what he should have done was to go to the Cabinet, state his case and allow the Cabinet to take a decision that I believe would have been inevitable in respect of the Garda Commissioner.
I agree with what the Deputy said then. She displays a clear understanding of the legal position in respect of a Garda Commissioner.
I believe we must try to remove some of the politics from policing. Sinn Féin might not listen to me on that matter but its members might respect the views of Denis Bradley, a former vice-chairman of the Northern Ireland Policing Board. He commences his article in The Irish Times today by stating:
The issue of Garda reform is in danger of running away with itself. Political self-interest and structural reform doesn't always pull in the same direction. Attach strong voices with strong opinions to that concoction and there is the danger that momentum outstrips clarity and sense.
Political parties arguing that politics should be taken out of policing while simultaneously putting motions to the Dáil that the Garda Commissioner should be removed from office is the most glaring example of that lack of clarity.
Our party has stated publicly that it cannot express confidence in the Garda Commissioner. We have stated what we would do if we were in Government. However, we must recognise that Dáil Éireann has neither a statutory nor a constitutional role in respect of the removal of a Garda Commissioner. The provisions are set out clearly in legislation. Section 11 of the Garda Síochána Act 2005 sets out the grounds upon which a Government can remove a Garda Commissioner from office, and only a Government can do it. It can remove a Garda Commissioner, first, if he or she is not doing the job diligently, second, for stated misbehaviour and, third, if it believes it is in the best interests of An Garda Síochána. Since January last, the Government must consult the Policing Authority before it removes a Garda Commissioner in respect of the failure to perform his or her policing functions. In addition, under the statutory scheme the Policing Authority has the power to make a recommendation to the Government. That is the process in place. If this House passed a motion of no confidence in the Garda Commissioner and if, subsequently, the Government decided on that basis it had to remove the Garda Commissioner, the Government would be acting unlawfully.
It is clear from even a cursory examination of the statutory regime that the House has no role in the removal of a Garda Commissioner. We must recognise that this House has two great powers. Our first power, as Opposition Deputies, is to hold the Government to account. The second great power is to make and influence laws. We must be careful about straying into territory where we do not have power and cannot exercise control. If we start to do that, we undermine our credibility as an important institution of the State. If this House is able to express no confidence in a Garda Commissioner, why can it not express no confidence in an assistant commissioner, deputy commissioner, chief superintendent or, indeed, a sergeant? There would be nothing to stop us from doing that. As I said last night, why limit it to the justice area? Why do we not move into the education area and have the House declare no confidence in teachers or other individuals who have important State jobs?
That is a ludicrous point.
It is not a ludicrous point.
The Deputy should read the motion.
It is a consequence of the procedure taking place now that we are required to pass judgment on other people.
We are not a House that decides who should lose their job. We are not in that position. We are not the employer of the Garda Commissioner.
Nor are we pretending to be. Deputy O'Callaghan should read the motion.
The Government is the employer of the Garda Commissioner. If we go down that route, we will end up issuing meaningless motions that have no effect. We have got to recognise that if this House starts passing motions that are meaningless and that are ignored, we will undermine ourselves in that process.
Fianna Fáil does it every week.
We had a debate last night in respect of where we should with this process. Politics has entered into the debate on this issue and we should try to remove it. We have personalised it in respect of the Commissioner and her role. We have been very clear in our views on the Commissioner. We have stated them publicly. What we, as a House, need to do now is try to take measures to improve and enhance public confidence in An Garda Síochána. It has taken a very serious dent in recent times. The best way for us to do that is to try to agree with the Patten-type proposal that has been put forward, and in respect of which the Tánaiste sent out draft terms of reference the other day. Fianna Fáil will be engaging with that. We will be seeking to improve the process whereby Garda Síochána confidence can be enhanced and rebuilt.
It is unquestionably the case that there is a crisis in respect of An Garda Síochána. We can seek to politicise it. We can seek the most extreme measure we can take in respect of this issue, pitch our flag there and let every other party respond to it, or we can try to work collectively and do what is best for the people of Ireland and for An Garda Síochána in order to improve the situation as it stands. I appeal to people in the House to adopt that approach.
It is important to acknowledge that An Garda Síochána plays an absolutely vital role in Irish society. In light of recent events, there is an urgent need to rebuild public trust in the institution. There is no doubt that legislation is needed to give greater powers to the Policing Authority in order to deal with the issues that have emerged in recent weeks. Real reform and cultural change is needed within the force to ensure that the Irish people have full trust and confidence in it.
Some 146,865 District Court summonses for road traffic offences were wrongly issued, 14,700 convictions were wrongly imposed upon members of the public and 937,000 breath tests that never occurred were recorded by members of An Garda Síochána on the PULSE system. These are truly shocking statistics. Accountability structures within An Garda Síochána are inadequate. They need to be strengthened and made more transparent so that there can be real accountability for Garda wrongdoing and mistakes. There is also an urgent need to strengthen the management of An Garda Síochána and to implement the recommendations of the report of the Fennelly commission without delay.
The moratorium on Garda recruitment introduced in 2010 resulted in a very significant reduction in numbers. This was particularly felt in Kildare and I will never lose an opportunity to bring this up. Since 2011, Kildare has lost gardaí to such an extent that we have the lowest number of gardaí per head of population in the country. This has had a huge impact. For example, Kildare had the lowest burglary detection rates in the country over a four-year period. Of the 1,430 incidents of burglary and related offences recorded, 9.2% were solved compared to a national average of 17.7%. That is quite stark. We are particularly vulnerable to crime because of the motorways which offer fast routes into and out of our county.
Increasing Garda numbers is hugely important but it is not enough. There is an urgent need to strengthen the oversight of An Garda Síochána and to provide for the ongoing professional development that is needed to ensure that all members of An Garda Síochána are trained for the challenges posed by modern policing. Full public confidence in the processes and procedures around Garda oversight is a critical component of effective policing in Ireland. Decisive action must be taken by the Minister for Justice and Equality to implement real reform and cultural change within An Garda Síochána.
I am happy to speak on this debate. Although in recent days the Sinn Féin Party has not described it as a motion of confidence in the Commissioner, it was described in its original press release as a motion of confidence.
Confidence? We definitely do not have confidence in her.
In fact, the later speakers from Sinn Féin are correct. It is not a motion of confidence. It simply seeks to express the view of the Dáil. My colleague, Deputy O'Callagan, has quite rightly outlined the legal procedures set down by law. He has given recent examples of where the legal procedures were clearly not followed, which we all criticised. He also gave the example of Commissioner Garvey in the 1970s. There was no motion of confidence by the Fianna Fáil Party in opposition before it took power in 1977, but there was certainly severe dissatisfaction with that particular Commissioner at the time. That Commissioner himself took a court action and the issue of fair procedures was central to it.
There is also a level of confusion in respect of the function of the Dáil. It is understandable, because up to now we have had a Dáil that was completely dominated by the Executive. In theory, and now in practice, we have three parts of Government. Each part of the Government must know its own job and do it properly. The Government must do its job in the context of its executive function and the Dáil must do its job of holding the Government to account, legislating and making laws. That is the job laid down for the Dáil in the Constitution. That obviously has the effect that if there is dissatisfaction with the Garda Commissioner, that must land at the feet of the Tánaiste and Minister for Justice and Equality in this House, and she must then accept the consequences.
The Dáil can only remove a certain people from office. It can remove a Minister, a Taoiseach or a Government with a motion of confidence and no reasons have to be given, but there are procedures laid down in the Constitution with respect to the removal of judges from office. We have the power to remove judges from office. We cannot, however, just come in with a motion like this. There must be motions passed in Dáil Éireann and Seanad Éireann calling for the removal of a judge from office for stated reasons or for incapacity. That is specifically laid down as something we can do.
Did Deputy Thomas Byrne read the motion?
If we were ever to do that, there is a rigmarole and a fair procedure that must be carried out. It was gone through, to some extent, on one occasion in respect of a particular judge. These are set down in law. We have got to be aware of our functions. Our more important function is to ensure that the laws are there, that gardaí can do their jobs properly and that the Minister is held to account. Quite frankly, we are not entirely satisfied with how the Department of Justice and Equality and the Minister are carrying out their functions in this regard. There may well be further questions on this.
If the Dáil decides that it wants to pass a law which says that it has the power to hire or fire a Commissioner, then let that legislation be put forward. That is certainly open to the Dáil to do. I am not sure that I would support such a move.
Deputy O'Callaghan used the example of a principal, and it is certainly one I have used myself. I have no doubt that if a motion on the Commissioner were to pass, some parties in this House would be very quick to come in with a motion of confidence in, for example, the Director of Public Prosecutions, or in other bodies. Where would that end? We must have that separation. We must allow executive bodies to get on with their work, but we must also hold the Government to account. Deputy O'Callaghan has also outlined that Fianna Fáil, in Government, would necessarily be in a different position. Certainly, we think the Commissioner is not doing the job that she needs to be doing.
Fianna Fáil does not have confidence in her.
I do not particularly like the job that is being done at the moment. No, I do not.
The Deputy should read the motion.
I have read the motion.
The motion does not mandate the Government to do anything.
I have read the motion.
If the Deputies want to have a conversation about the motion they should do so outside.
Deputy O'Brien said the motion does not mandate the Government to do anything, but certainly the impression that Sinn Féin seeks to present to the general public is that this is possible. It is not possible. Our motion calls for a range of actions to be taken and also notes the severe lack of confidence and problems within the force at the moment. The Commissioner and senior management of An Garda Síochána would do very well to listen to the views of this party in the Dáil, as a serious party which has supported the force through thick and thin. For us to say the things we said in that motion was an exceptionally big step for this party to take. We have not done this before. We have not gone as far as we have gone in this motion, but that shows the gravity of what is going on with An Garda Síochána. We are supporters of An Garda Síochána. In my own neck of the woods, we have had two members of An Garda Síochána murdered in cold blood in recent years, not to mention all the other heroes since the force was established. There are gardaí doing their job throughout the country.
They deserve our support. An Garda Síochána as an institution deserves our support. We must challenge its leadership to get on with the job, get its act together and get it done properly.
We need to know our role in this Dáil and be jealous of our prerogatives. If the Government is not doing its job in this regard and if the Tánaiste is not answering questions, then she will be gone. We can do that without stated reasons. However, we cannot do so to a Commissioner.
I will be very brief because my colleagues, Deputies O'Callaghan, O'Loughlin and Thomas Byrne, have outlined where we stand on this issue. Everyone in this House must accept that recent revelations on policing matters are most disturbing. The issue of the million non-existent breath-test cases in particular is constantly mentioned to me by the public. That the police force that we believe exists to protect and look after us could be responsible for wrongful convictions is appalling. These problems did not arise overnight. If every one of the 158 Members of this House is to be honest, we have all heard issues about certain members of An Garda Síochána over a long period of time.
It is very important to point out, as many Members have, that there are very many good serving members of the force who do so much in their communities and to assist communities. We should also remember that, in today's world, gardaí are dealing with far more difficult situations than previously. I often think of gardaí who have to attend domestic violence and family situations. Those are very telling, trying and difficult situations. Ordinary members of the force have told me that they have a terribly disturbing effect on them. That is a huge issue. We must also accept what gardaí have to face when they tackle people in situations involving drug use and abuse.
I believe the Government needs to take immediate steps to rectify the real and substantial crisis of confidence in An Garda Síochána. As Deputy O'Callaghan pointed out both earlier today and previously, we want the Government to request that the Policing Authority assess the role needed to rectify this real and substantial crisis of confidence. We also want a major role for the Policing Authority and the establishment of an independent commission on An Garda Síochána that will examine and report on this situation. It is critical that we deal with many of the situations that have arisen. We need to put confidence back into the force. While people are not particularly surprised by recent revelations, they are rather shocked.
We have a serious issue in regard to the Garda. My party has publicly stated we do not have confidence in the Commissioner or senior management. Of the 145,000 wrongly-issued District Court summonses for fixed charge road traffic offences, 14,700 resulted in convictions and penalty points being issued. Those convictions and penalties will have to be rectified by the courts and set aside. There are gardaí who cannot stand over their roadside breath-testing regime. That has completely undermined our road safety strategy across the country. It is obvious that there was some form of incentivisation in this regard. That would explain why these figures were always exaggerated.
We all know what has happened to any gardaí who have spoken out. They have been isolated and targeted. This seems to be a common theme under Garda management. Examples of gardaí who have spoken out are Sergeant Maurice McCabe and Garda Keith Harrison. I am glad that Garda Harrison is back to work since Monday of this week. Will the Tánaiste now pay him and every other whistleblower the back pay they are due?
The answers given by Garda management and Commissioners do not stand up to scrutiny and have not for some time. There are many contradictions in various fora and many questions still to be answered. Garda management is not responding to the requirement to modernise how the Garda operates in areas across the board such as crime detection and being professional in how it does its business, how it manages its money and so on.
The Garda Inspectorate has described the Garda as an ineffective structure which is struggling to cope with modern demands. That says it all. The inspectorate's recommendations accuse Garda management of inhibiting change. As all Members are aware, those recommendations are not being met. The Labour Party does not have confidence in Garda management. That is a big statement from our party, given the amount of legislative change we have tried to bring about in recent times.
There are too many bodies. They include the Garda Síochána Ombudsman Commission, GSOC, the Garda Inspectorate, the Policing Authority, the Department of Justice and Equality and the Tánaiste and Minister for Justice and Equality, Deputy Fitzgerald. Some are in charge of complaints, some in charge of productivity and some in charge of performance but there does not seem to be any accountability. That needs to change. We need a Policing Authority that can tell the Commissioner what needs to be done, measure what is done and ensure it happens. The authority needs to have the power to do this to restore public confidence in An Garda Síochána.
I welcome the terms of reference that have been published recently by the Tánaiste but they need to be considered.
The audit of the Garda College in Templemore has not received as much attention as the matters I have spoken of thus far. Templemore is a great town with great people and the Garda College has done great service for this country. The Garda College has been very positive in how it has interacted with people in the town. There has been a huge amount of commentary on the results of the audit. We all know what the results have shown in regard to bank accounts, how the restaurant was run and a range of other issues. There must be a gain for the people of Templemore in regard to what will happen to the Garda College, which should be very positive. It needs investment. There are huge needs for the community in regard to legacy issues in Templemore and the land owned there.
There are some very interesting details yet to come out in regard to the mess of how the Garda accounts for its training college. Recently, I asked the Office of Public Works, OPW, what it owns in Templemore. As we all now know, it owns an estate there which it bought for future development. Interestingly, it received no rent from 2009 to 2013 from the lands it owns in Dromard and Clonmore. Guess what? The OPW is looking into it, believes that it will be collated by the Garda and that it will get the funds back appropriately. How in the name of God did the OPW not know that no rent was being paid into its account for the lands it owned in Templemore? It is unbelievable.
The Magee and Nolan reports on practices in the Garda College in Templemore were produced in 2008 and 2010. Why were these reports not given to the Department? Why did these reports not get to an internal audit and get reported? When did the Commissioner know about these reports and why did he or she not report them to the Department of Justice and Equality? Who was on the audit committees during the years of these audit reports and have those people subsequently been promoted within An Garda Síochána on numerous occasions?
On 6 July 2015, a report on financial procedures and accounts was prepared by the Garda head of human resources for the Garda head of administration in regard to the accounts in Templemore. It was prepared in order to brief the audit committee. The head of administration never briefed the audit committee. Why was that? On 24 July 2015, the head of legal affairs in An Garda Síochána contacted the Garda Commissioner to say that the issues in the report that had been prepared by the head of human resources were so serious that the Minister should be made aware of them under section 41 of the Garda Síochána Act 2005, which provides that anything of significant relevance should be brought to the Minister's attention. Why did this not happen? Why did the Garda Commissioner, having received legal advice from her head of legal affairs, not bring this to the Minister's attention? There was a subsequent meeting of the Garda Commissioner, two acting commissioners, the head of administration and the head of human resources on 27 July 2015 to discuss this issue. The head of human resources and the head of legal affairs may have felt isolated subsequent to this because suddenly they were not required to do very much.
The issue of isolation seems to be a common trend in An Garda Síochána.
On 18 September 2015, the head of human resources, HR, met with the head of administration in the context of this legal advice following the interim report of the Fennelly commission again asking why the Minister had not been told about the report into financial affairs in Templemore Garda college. On 2 June 2016, the head of the audit committee met again with the head of human resources and people in An Garda Síochána and he was shocked at what he heard about the audit report. Again, nothing happened. What is the reason for that and what is the relationship between the head of the audit committee and the Garda Síochána?
I have a number of other questions I want to put to the Minister. Why was the head of the internal audit committee in An Garda Síochána kept in the dark about these financial reports relating to Templemore until May 2016 or thereafter? Was there a campaign within An Garda Síochána to do so? Does e-mail traffic show that? We know from the Minister that on 16 September, her Department received its first copy of this report. Was that the first ever correspondence relating to a report on Templemore considering that the first report was done in 2008? When did Commissioner Callinan know? Did he ever inform the Department? It is ironic if he did not considering there were numerous discussions about Templemore relating to the restaurant and other issues because over a period the gardaí asked that the members who were working there be made civil servants. It would be very strange during that conversation and correspondence if the Garda Commissioner did not raise these issues.
Were the head of human resources and the head of legal affairs marginalised over the last two years? Who in An Garda Síochána was told about the requirements under ethics legislation by the Minister's Department, and did this happen?
The Deputy needs to conclude.
Was the Department told about the reports in 2008 and 2010? Why did the Commissioner not use section 41, as advised by the head of legal affairs, in regard to the audits that were being prepared in Templemore?
With regard to a very disturbing issue over the course of many years, probably decades, why are we saying that only in September 2016 did the Department of Justice and Equality know about any form of internal audits in regard to Templemore that had been ongoing?
I call Deputy Mick Wallace who I understand is sharing time with Deputy Clare Daly.
And with Deputy Tommy Broughan. I will take four minutes and the Deputies will take two minutes each.
I start with the notion that Sinn Féin is politically motivated in bringing forward this motion. If we are to take that approach, every one of us will be accused of being politically motivated no matter what we bring before the House or say in here. I find it interesting that lately we are being accused of being populist in giving out about the Commissioner. I looked up the definition of the word "populist". It means one seeking to represent the interests of ordinary people, which is interesting.
I assure the Minister that we are as tired of giving out about the way we do policing in Ireland as she is of listening to us. We would love it if things changed and were different. If people think we should not hold the heads of authorities to account, I beg to differ. Our job is not solely to hold the Government to account. We have a responsibility to hold the leaders of many State bodies to account, not just the Garda. It is fair game that we should hold the people at the head of NAMA to account. We should hold the people at the head of the Health Service Executive to account.
If people think my life revolves around giving out about the Commissioner, I assure them that my life is not quite so sad. I have a very good life, and it does not revolve around this House either.
The Minister said it would be very foolish and tragic to deviate from the path of reform but the sad part is that we are hearing about it for the past three years because the reform was supposed to start in 2014. Sadly, things have not improved in those three years. We wish they had because given that we wanted policing to be different, it would have been great if things had really changed.
To take one answer to our questions that we got this morning, the Commissioner stated that in March 2015, an assistant commissioner responsible for traffic directed that each divisional and district officer should ensure that they had mechanisms in place to monitor mandatory alcohol testing checkpoints. That is two years ago. If the Commissioner is managing the force well, how can she have no idea two years later why the figures are exaggerated by 1 million? I do not understand that.
I did out a list of reasons the Commissioner is no longer fit for the job. I hate repeating myself and I have said so many things so often I will not go through them again but I genuinely believe it would be a very good idea to get rid of the Commissioner. It is nothing personal whatever with the Commissioner. I just think she is not fit for the job and that we should get somebody else. We should put a civilian into the post, and we should do it now and not wait another 15 or 18 months.
The Minister made the point that it would be foolish to deviate from the path of reform. It is much more foolish not to realise that we cannot get onto the path if the person riding the bicycle is peddling in the opposite direction. That is the problem and the situation we are in.
It is incredibly tiresome to be here again discussing this, but Nóirín O'Sullivan is not going to survive and keeping her in the job is making the job of reform more difficult. That is not being personal. It is the Government's fault for appointing her in the first place because contrary to the Minister's protestations that this was best international practice, the criteria laid down for the job was a knowledge of An Garda Síochána, and Nóirín O'Sullivan was the only one who could meet those criteria. The problem was that we had decided we would not get an outsider when an outsider is precisely what was needed because Nóirín O'Sullivan, like many of the Garda hierarchy that was in place, was brought up inside an organisation which is now found wanting of substantial change.
If we needed further evidence, the decision should have been taken after the O'Higgins commission findings and the evidence of the Commissioner's attempt to impugn the reputation of Maurice McCabe. We have another tribunal now about that campaign being orchestrated by the Commissioner. We know her day to day job is being interfered with while she prepares and assembles a kitchen cabinet to defend those allegations.
It comes back to the problem that what is being said in public and done in private are two different things. Most if not practically all, bar one, whistleblowers are on sick leave. Disciplinary proceedings have been initiated against the people who are making claims to the Charlton tribunal and there is a loss of confidence among the members of the force, members of the public and the majority of Members in this House. It is time for action on it.
I am delighted to have an opportunity to speak briefly on the motion and I thank Sinn Féin for bringing it forward. For many of our constituents, confidence in An Garda Síochána, the revelations on the Garda MAT tests statistics prompted by the reports by David Labanyi in The Irish Times and the subsequent revelations on illegal convictions of 14,700 drivers were the last straws.
A general feeling among the public that a change akin to the transformation of the RUC into the Police Service of Northern Ireland was also needed for our own police force, and that feeling has grown strongly over recent years. It is difficult to imagine such a transformation occurring under the current Garda management, many of whom were in mid-ranking to senior positions in An Garda Síochána during events which were the subject of the Fennelly commission, which we will discuss later, the O’Higgins commission and other reports and are currently being examined by the Charlton commission.
I welcome the forthcoming root and branch review promised by the Minister, which is badly needed.
I also echo the call for the recruitment of somebody like Ms Nuala O'Loan, the former Police Ombudsman for Northern Ireland, to chair that review.
On Monday last, I attended the joint policing committee of the Dublin north central district, which covers much of the Garda DMR north division. Chief Superintendent Finbarr O'Brien and his colleagues, Superintendent Gerard Donnelly and Superintendent Joseph O'Connor, presented the DMR north policing plan for 2017 for public discussion. The fact that it has gone out for public discussion is a good innovation. The key goals of the plan include national and international security, confronting crime, roads policing, community engagement and organisational development and capacity improvement. The latter section included the promotion of the new Garda code of ethics - I thank the Minister and the Policing Authority for the fact that we have a copy of this code - and the improvement of data quality, including daily reconciliations of the CAD and PULSE systems. This plan and the committee's reaction to it clearly reflected An Garda Síochána's internal reform agenda and the public's anxiety that this be advanced quickly, especially in the areas of visible and effective community policing and victim support and fast and modern record-keeping. Nobody can doubt the commitment and professionalism of the vast majority of front-line gardaí but the organisational and cultural changes required for the force as a great national organisation would be best advanced by a totally new leadership of An Garda Síochána.
I do not believe that the removal from office of the Garda Commissioner would be in the best interests of An Garda Síochána. The Dáil has no function in this matter, although, it may debate it. The removal of the Commissioner in the current circumstances would be unhelpful and futile, and would do more harm than good.
The shortcomings of An Garda Síochána are well documented and quite extraordinary. The wrongful recording of over 900,000 alcohol breath tests and the wrongful prosecution of 14,700 people due to Garda error are quite unbelievable. The Commissioner has indicated that other matters may come out in the open in the future. Public confidence in An Garda Síochána has been substantially diminished, which is regrettable, but is the Commissioner responsible for these actions? I do not think so. Management of An Garda Síochána must be strengthened and governance and oversight must be drastically improved. The rank and file members of An Garda Síochána in the community are still highly respected by the people and for the most part, have a very good relationship with the community. The Commissioner should be held to account for activities within An Garda Síochána and if she is found to be unsuitable to hold that office, she should be removed by either the Government or the Policing Authority. However, removing the Commissioner without sound reasons would be incorrect and facile and would not solve the problems that are bedevilling the force. The Commissioner should be allowed to oversee the essential structural and managerial reform issues affecting An Garda Síochána. Removing her will not solve the problem.
The Sinn Fein motion notes the establishment of the tribunal of inquiry into the treatment of whistleblowers and their open disclosures made under the Protected Disclosures Act 2014, which will be chaired by Mr. Justice Peter Charleton and which is under way. This is right and proper in respect of examining the Commissioner's involvement in these issues. This tribunal is under way and will report in due course, and should be allowed to do so. The Government and the Policing Authority should await the Charleton report before making a judgment on the Commissioner in the context of this issue.
Garda Síochána management and reporting structures need to be reviewed immediately in order to ensure robust transparency and answerability and to restore public confidence. I welcome the Government's decision to establish a commission on the future of policing and to publish draft terms of reference. These should examine structures, leadership, management, composition, recruitment, training of personnel and the culture and ethos of the police force. I see a lot of merit in strengthening the powers of the Policing Authority. This body should oversee the management and governance of the force. Identification of wrongdoing within An Garda Síochána should be fully investigated by an independent and impartial body and I await with great interest the commission's findings in this regard. Finally the Policing Authority, strengthened and given proper governance mechanisms, should be the body to have oversight of the force and make decisions on the suitability of Garda management and the Commissioner.
I support the motion proposed by Sinn Féin. It must be acknowledged by everybody that there are many good gardaí and that a lot of good work is done throughout the country. Unfortunately, we have moved from scandal to scandal and problem to problem. This is doing no good to either Garda morale or the public because many people raise eyebrows every time they hear statistics or details of another whistleblower's case. I have said that it is not about the person. Nobody has a vendetta against people. It is about the position of Commissioner, which needs to be performed credibly. It has been said all week that what happens in the Dáil and whatever way a vote goes will not remove a Commissioner. I heard reports in the media during the week that the Government had received advice that it would a cost a phenomenal amount of money to get rid of a Commissioner. However, if we look over what has happened in recent years - between penalty points, the statistics that came out in the past few weeks and the case of summonses where ordinary people will now have to clear their names - we can see that the figure will be in the millions and possibly tens of millions. The problem is that the current Commissioner was by the side of the previous Commissioner and agreed with everything he said. All I can say is that I support the Sinn Féin motion.
Tá an Comhaontas Glas fíorshásta tacaíocht a thabhairt don rún seo. It is essential for the proper operation of a State that the public has confidence, respect and trust in its police force but in recent times, there has been a worrying erosion of this by the inability or perhaps perceived unwillingness of the Garda Commissioner to properly and efficiently handle a number of serious crises that have emerged. It may be seen as unprecedented for the Dáil to vote on this motion and I accept that it is far from ideal but the scale of the unprecedented damage done to An Garda Síochána and the public perception of the force necessitates this unprecedented response. In supporting this motion, the Green Party is prepared not only to recognise the scale of the calamity but to act. A total of 146,865 District Court summonses for road traffic offences were wrongly issued while 14,700 convictions were wrongly imposed on members of the public due to Garda error. Nearly 1 million breath tests that never took place were recorded on the PULSE system. The Commissioner did not inform the Policing Authority of these discrepancies until 23 March after the publication of an article in The Irish Times.
In supporting this motion, the Green Party has also taken into consideration that the Charleton tribunal of inquiry, which is investigating an alleged smear campaign against Garda whistleblower Maurice McCabe, involves investigating the actions of the sitting Commissioner. More importantly, how can some current members of the Garda workforce give their vital oral testimony to this public sworn tribunal inquiry, including potentially damning or fractious evidence under cross examination from the Commissioner's barrister concerning the Commissioner herself? The subject matter of their respective complaints does concern or ultimately relate to their boss, the person to whom they are accountable and answerable. The adversarial and anticipated controversial oral evidence makes her continuing as Commissioner totally inappropriate.
For the sake of public confidence in An Garda Síochána, recognising that public confidence is an essential requirement for gardaí to do their jobs effectively and recognising the essential work which the front-line women and men of An Garda Síochána do each day, we join in the call on the Commissioner to consider her position.
In our opinion, the Commissioner would best serve the vast majority of her honest, brave, courageous and hardworking officers by standing down now. The Green Party believes that most rank and file gardaí - as well as the public - have long since lost confidence in the Garda Commissioner in the context of her ability and credibility regarding the implementation of far-reaching reforms that are needed. One such essential and urgent reform merits her replacement as Commissioner.
It is beginning to feel a bit like Groundhog Day. It seems that not a week goes by but that there is some debate in this House about yet another element of dysfunction in the management and operation of An Garda Síochána. Tonight we will debate the findings of the Fennelly report into the circumstances which saw the previous Garda Commissioner’s reign come to an end. That debate will throw up yet more evidence of a serious lack of oversight, a lack of good governance and a general malaise in the upper echelons of An Garda Síochána. There are only so many times we can continue to point to the problems without actually addressing them. The current Commissioner is clearly in an extremely compromised position by virtue of the fact that she is the subject of an active public investigation regarding her handling of whistleblowers.
I took the opportunity to read the disciplinary code of An Garda Síochána during one of the many previous debates on the Garda issues. The code very clearly indicates that, in the context of all disciplinary matters, the buck stops with the Commissioner. She is the final arbiter when it comes to implementing disciplinary procedures and thereby setting the culture within the organisation. We now have a situation where the person with ultimate responsibility for discipline within the force is the subject of an investigation which may potentially culminate in disciplinary procedures. That is neither appropriate nor sensible.
During the catastrophic handling of the Sergeant Maurice McCabe whistleblowing scandal, the Social Democrats tabled a motion seeking the Commissioner to step aside, temporarily and without prejudice, to allow for the installation of an external expert to assume the position while the investigation into Garda Commissioner Nóirín O'Sullivan proceeded. Now, unfortunately, we feel that moment has passed and that a temporary stand-down is no longer sufficient. The consistent drip of information regarding the dysfunction within An Garda Síochána has convinced us that the only way to try to stem what appears to be a deep-rooted malaise is to effect a root-and-branch overhaul in order to change the internal culture of An Garda Síochána. The best way to change the culture of an organisation is to start at the top. If there is any shadow hanging over the most senior office in the organisation, then this will seep down. In this instance, it is unrealistic to expect those who are following orders to do so with respect for the office. This inevitably leads to bad behaviour, poor practices and, in some cases, unethical behaviour. One must lead by example and that example is, in our opinion, absent from An Garda Síochána from the top. That is the reason we have no choice but to declare no confidence in the Garda Commissioner, Nóirín O'Sullivan.
At a briefing with the Taoiseach last night - on another matter relating to the terms of reference of the Project Eagle inquiry - one of the officials stated that over the past 20 years €500 million has been spent on tribunals and various inquiries. In recent years, some of those inquiries have been into An Garda Síochána. Another one has just started and a commission is going to be established. The money involved could be spent on equipment or personnel. As a result, there are reputational and financial costs, as well as a cost in terms of morale among officers and in confidence on the part of the public. Gardaí are often called to court to swear, for example, that summonses have been issued. The problems with the Garda are now seeping out into other areas and that will include the courts system. This is a matter of deep concern.
Earlier today, the Tánaiste and Minister for Justice and Equality said there is no money in her budget to compensate people who were wrongly convicted in respect of drink-driving. The whole thing is a total mess. Unless we do something conclusive and start doing things rather than talking about them, I do not believe that confidence in the Garda will be restored. This is why the Garda Commissioner must go.
I invite Deputy Pearse Doherty to contribute. He is sharing time with Deputies Funchion and Ellis.
Tá go leor fáthanna luaite ag baill de chuid Shinn Féin agus Teachtaí Dála an Fhreasúra gur chóir go n-éireodh Coimisinéir na nGardaí as a post, ach níl an Rialtas sásta é sin a dhéanamh. Mar gheall ar sin, níl againn ach an dara rogha agus an rún seo a leagadh os comhair na Dála sa dóigh is go gcuireann an Dáil brú ar an Rialtas an rud ceart a dhéanamh. There are many reasons why Nóirín O'Sullivan should leave her position as Garda Commissioner and there are many Members in the House who have outlined those reasons. I support the motion, obviously, that Sinn Féin has tabled.
I will recall for the Minister of State, Deputy Stanton, the case of a former garda in the Donegal division, with whom I have engaged over the past number of years and who has engaged with the Garda Commissioner over that period. In May 2001, a former garda in the Donegal division met two detective inspectors from the Garda Bureau of Fraud Investigation in a hotel in County Monaghan. Accompanied by a witness, the detectives had invited the officer to meet them. During this exchange, the now retired garda disclosed to the interviewing detectives a number of very serious allegations against a former Garda superintendent, since retired, who was also stationed in Donegal. These allegations related to suspected tax evasion, social welfare fraud and persons being in possession of a fraudulent bank account into which thousands of pounds were being lodged regularly. This meeting in Monaghan lasted for over five and a half hours. As the meeting drew to a close, the detectives stated that they would be in contact again with the whistleblower shortly in order to take a written statement. However, this did not happen.
In September 2014, a solicitor acting on behalf of the whistleblower wrote to then acting Garda Commissioner, Noirín O’Sullivan, in which he divulged all of the allegations of criminal wrongdoing suspected of having been committed by the whistleblower's former colleague. The letter also expressed his client’s alarm at the apparent lack of any follow-up having been carried out on the part of the investigating gardaí. A similar letter, dated 24 September 2014, was subsequently sent to the Minister for Justice and Equality, Deputy Fitzgerald, around which time the whistleblower himself contacted me to request that I bring the case to the Minister’s attention, which I did. On 16 December 2015, the Minister replied to me in a letter in which she stated that inquiries were being made with the Garda Commissioner regarding the whistleblower’s complaint. A further letter, issued in May 2016, declared that inquiries into the claims were ongoing. Then, last September, the whistleblower finally received the news that he had long suspected. The Garda advised him that, following an extensive search of files and records held locally and at Monaghan Garda station, no record of his complaint or of any subsequent investigation could be found. The correspondence went on to say that inquiries made with the Garda Bureau of Fraud Investigation revealed that no investigation was ever carried out by personnel in respect of the whistleblower’s allegations.
The whistleblower to whom I refer is former Garda Kieran Jackson. His story leads us to one of two conclusions. First, either Kieran Jackson is lying - I have no reason to believe that he is and there are other former gardaí who will corroborate his story - and no meeting between him and the detectives ever took place. The other conclusion is that somebody in An Garda Síochána has gone out of his or her way to cover it up and to ensure that his claims never saw the light of day. If the latter conclusion is the case, then questions need to be asked as to who took the decision? Kieran Jackson informs me that a failure to follow up or investigate a criminal incident is, in itself, a crime. Questions must be asked about who took the decision to not pursue his complaint. Why has Garda Commissioner Nóirín O'Sullivan - who has known about this for over two and a half years - done nothing about it?
The Tánaiste and Minister for Justice and Equality, Deputy Fitzgerald, and her Government say that they have full confidence in the Garda Commissioner. Try telling that to Garda whistleblowers across the State. Try telling that to Kieran Jackson who has had no response from the Commissioner in respect of the allegations he brought forward many years ago, and again in 2014, to the Garda Commissioner and to the Minister, with absolutely no action whatsoever taken.
We hear time and again, however, that the Tánaiste and the Commissioner embrace whistleblowers. The results are clear. There is only one course of action left for the Government, namely, to express no confidence in the Commissioner.
I am sharing time with Deputy Ellis. It is clear that public confidence in An Garda Síochána will be further eroded by Nóirín O’Sullivan remaining as Garda Commissioner. Her position has become untenable. The Government should now use the power provided to it under the Garda Síochána Act 2005 to remove her from office.
Commissioner O’Sullivan claimed that a collective failure caused the controversy and has apologised for the grave mistakes and wrongdoing which have taken place and which have seen almost 1 million drink driving tests falsified and almost 15,000 people wrongly convicted for road traffic offences. Addressing gardaí at the AGSI annual conference in Killarney yesterday evening, the Commissioner said that somebody somewhere either did not count the figures right or put the wrong figures into the machines. It is quite embarrassing for that to be the answer from somebody at the Commissioner's level, given the absolute fiasco that we are seeing. It is embarrassing for the Commissioner. Gardaí have also openly challenged the Commissioner, accusing her of frequently pointing downwards, with the effect that the blame culture deepens within the force. There is an obvious lack of confidence not only among the public but, critically, within the Commissioner's own ranks.
People are entitled to a proper standard of policing and accountability should form the foundation of that service. Sinn Féin is calling on the Government to remove the Garda Commissioner as it is clearly in the best interests of An Garda Síochána and the future of policing and justice in this State. The falsification of the breathalyser figures, wrongful prosecutions and allegations of financial impropriety in the Garda College at Templemore do little to promote public confidence in the force. Confidence must be the basis of any relationship between the Government and the Commissioner of An Garda Síochána. Root-and-branch recovery can only come from the top down. The culture at senior level needs to change if we are to see genuine reform throughout the Garda. The Commissioner has proven, particularly over the last weeks, that her position is completely untenable. We need an open and transparent policing service that is accountable for its actions. The Government needs to end the charade, remove Commissioner O'Sullivan and replace her immediately with a representative who is fit for purpose and who the gardaí themselves and the public can be confident will make the changes needed.
Sinn Féin is bringing this Private Members' business to the House tonight in the best interests of the State. It proposes that the removal from office of Commissioner O’Sullivan would also be in the best interests of An Garda Síochána. As a society, we need a policing service that prosecutes the law without fear or favour. Everyone the length and breadth of the country is entitled to a force that serves them fairly. As a society, we need a Garda force that is accountable, representative of the community and held to the highest professional and ethical standards.
There have been a number of reports into Garda misconduct over the last years and each report has eroded public confidence in the gardaí and Garda management. The recent Garda errors, which led to the wrongful conviction of 14,700 people for motoring offences and to 937,000 breath tests being wrongly recorded on the PULSE system, are just another case of mind-blowing corruption or sheer incompetence. While 14,700 people were wrongly convicted, that may be only the tip of the iceberg. It has also been our experience that calls made to local Garda stations are not registered on the PULSE system, hence we are not seeing a true picture of what happens based on actual reporting of crime.
Members should think about the fact that 937,000 breath tests were wrongly recorded. No one seriously thinks that Garda management was running around the country blowing into breathalysers to inflate figures but someone was, and it highlights the major problems that must be ingrained in the Garda system. To find out what happened, the investigation process must start at the top. That is where the consequences must also first be felt, before dealing with the issues further down the ranks.
This motion aims to start a process that will make senior Garda management responsible for the actions of the force. It seeks to meet the need to hold the police and criminal justice systems to account on the basis of fairness, impartiality and objectivity. We are not going to change how we do policing in Ireland until we change the system. This is the crisis point; any hesitation from the Government at this stage in dealing with these major issues will only further erode public confidence in An Garda Síochána. It is now the case that the Garda Commissioner does not enjoy the confidence of the Dáil. More importantly, she does not enjoy public confidence and therefore has no choice but to show a strong lead in accountability and go.
The Government of course acknowledges and shares many of the concerns expressed tonight. However, in its counter-motion, the Government has set out a comprehensive approach to addressing many of these concerns. The Government is fully cognisant of the seriousness of the issues that have arisen recently in respect of the enforcement of road traffic legislation. If not dealt with fully, those issues, together with the troubling findings of the report of the Fennelly commission, have the real potential to undermine the traditional strong public trust that An Garda Síochána has enjoyed since the foundation of the State. Trust in policing is a cornerstone of any democracy and, once broken, is difficult to restore. The Government is determined that this will not happen and is committed to continuing the major programme of reform under way in respect of the oversight of An Garda Síochána and within An Garda Síochána itself.
There is frequent commentary by Members of this House and others to the effect that little or nothing is being done to reform policing in Ireland. That is simply not the case. During the lifetime of the last Government, the independent Policing Authority was established to oversee the performance of An Garda Síochána with the goal of depoliticising policing. The powers of the Garda Síochána Ombudsman Commission and the Garda Inspectorate were also strengthened. Protections were introduced for whistleblowers. I could go on. The fact is that we are in a much stronger position in terms of oversight than at any time in the past.
Inevitably, strengthening oversight leads to stones being turned over and wrongdoings being revealed. We in politics need to be mature enough not to demand a head at every revelation. We need to have patience and allow the bodies that we have established to get on with their work and we need to support them in that. The Policing Authority made its first appointment to the senior ranks of An Garda Síochána last month. This followed a successful competition, open to those at inspector level and above in An Garda Síochána and the Police Service of Northern Ireland. This is a potent symbol of the authority's reforming power.
I am strongly of the view that in the short period since it was established, the authority has demonstrated that it has the capacity and determination to oversee the performance of An Garda Síochána, including through its public meetings with the Commissioner and senior management. Most importantly, in addition to overseeing the general performance of An Garda Síochána, it is overseeing the reform programme under way within the organisation and, specifically at the Tánaiste’s request, the implementation of the agreed recommendations of the inspectorate’s report, Changing Policing in Ireland. That report covers the full gamut of organisational matters including governance, structures, deployment of resources, ICT systems, human resources management and culture and financial management. Its implementation will address many of the problems within An Garda Síochána.
An Garda Síochána cannot be, and is not, a passive spectator in all this. It published a Modernisation and Renewal Programme 2016-2021 last year to chart the way forward to a modern, professional police service that is trusted by the public and provides an effective service to all communities throughout the country. Approximately 130 reform initiatives are encompassed in that programme, which reflect the themes of the inspectorate’s report. The programme is well under way and is backed by a major investment programme in terms of both personnel and capital, including in ICT, the fleet and other facilities.
In respect of personnel, I draw Members' attention to a significant reform, namely, the twin commitments on the part of the Government to reach 15,000 sworn officers by 2021 alongside a target of 20% civilian staff over the same period. The figure of 20% civilian staff equates to 4,000 civilians, a doubling of the current number. Implementation of this reforming measure will facilitate not only the filling of critical capacity and skills gaps in An Garda Síochána with suitably qualified civilians, but also the redeployment of significant numbers of gardaí from administrative and technical posts to front-line policing duties. The appointment of three senior civilians to take responsibility for the functions of legal and compliance, strategy and transformation, and chief information officer are part of this initiative to bring in outside expertise. Other important reform initiatives that have been completed include the establishment of victim support offices throughout the country, upgrades to PULSE to improve victim services and incident management, and enhancements to the management of property and exhibits.
As I have said, the Policing Authority is overseeing the reform programme. It is without doubt conscious of the priority of this area of work and has established a dedicated committee to ensure that it receives focused attention.
At the Tánaiste's request, the authority is to report to her regularly on progress on the reform agenda. The Tánaiste has undertaken to publish those reports.
We all want to see change and I understand that there is a sense of frustration at the pace of change. However, I am keen to caution against expecting resolution of myriad issues overnight. Real change takes time. It involves changes in behaviour on the part of everyone in an organisation. It is not achieved by issuing circulars. In the Policing Authority we now have an independent body with the capacity to oversee reform. The Government is fully committed to supporting the authority in carrying out its functions. It has made clear that further resources will be made available to support the authority in its task, if required.
The Government has also moved to strengthen the powers of the other bodies that make up the oversight regime, namely, the Garda Inspectorate and the Garda Síochána Ombudsman Commission. The House will be aware that the Government recently approved the preparation of legislation to enable GSOC to carry out its functions more effectively and efficiently as well as continue to ensure proper accountability of An Garda Síochána in providing a service to the public. The Garda Inspectorate has invaluable expertise in policing. Its reports are the basis for the reform programme under way in An Garda Síochána.
Reflecting concerns raised relating to the culture and lack of diversity within An Garda Síochána as well as the need for new thinking, the Tánaiste has tasked the inspectorate with a review of entry routes into An Garda Síochána. The review will be completed this year. It is examining entry routes for police officers from other police services at Garda rank as well as opening up appointment opportunities at the middle and higher ranks to persons outside An Garda Síochána, including persons who are not police professionals but who may have other management experience that would be beneficial to the organisation.
Much has been done and much more is under way. Notwithstanding this I believe it is now time for a fundamental review of policing in the State. I emphasise the term "policing" as distinct from An Garda Síochána.
There have been many reports into An Garda Síochána. Some arose from inquiries into allegations of misconduct while others arose from reviews into aspects of the operation and administration of the organisation. While these have made and continue to make an invaluable contribution to ensuring we have an effective police service, none was tasked with examining policing in a root-and-branch manner.
Institutional arrangements for governance and oversight have evolved significantly in recent years in a piecemeal fashion. An Garda Síochána is approaching its 100th anniversary. Its members have served with dedication and courage over the decades. Sadly, some have made the ultimate sacrifice. In any event, Ireland is significantly different today from the country it was at the time of the foundation of the State. It is facing challenges rooted in the rapidly changing nature of society and of crime. I believe it is right that we take a step back in these circumstances and ask some fundamental questions about how our State should be policed in future as well as what structures are appropriate. Is a single police and security service still the best model? To whom should it be accountable? What sort of culture should it embody?
I believe the decision taken by Government yesterday to establish an independent commission on the future of policing will prove to be an important move capable of leaving a valuable legacy. It will allow a mix of Irish and international people of immense expertise and experience to bring their judgment to bear on one of the most important institutions we have. The Tánaiste published the draft terms of reference yesterday and intends engaging with other parties on their views before bringing the document back to Government for approval.
The future of policing concerns all of us. I urge all parties to take this opportunity to bring their collective wisdom to bear on this consultation progress. Against this background, I commend the Government amendment to the House.
Deputy Jonathan O'Brien will conclude the debate. I believe you are sharing with Deputy Mary Lou McDonald.
No, I am sharing with Deputy Pat Buckley. Deputy Buckley will go first.
The frequency of serious scandals coming from the Garda in recent years is truly shocking for many people throughout the State. While historically working class communities have been aware of the potential for some gardaí to abuse power, cut corners or misuse their positions, for many in middle Ireland this has been a grave surprise. The Garda top brass have proven themselves utterly incapable of addressing the concerns of the public in the context of these scandals. In fact, they have not really even tried. Their main interest has been to defend, shift blame and control the damage. When the then Commissioner, Mr. Callinan, spoke of his disgust at whistleblowers, he was really expressing a disgust for the idea that the Garda could be questioned by anyone. However, holding the Garda to account and ensuring the law is administered justly is precisely the job we are here to do.
Members of the Garda have a difficult and important job to do. Their efforts have not been served by the response of the Commissioner or the Government to date, as evidenced by the litany of scandals. Unfortunately, the attitude of Callinan was not unique. In fact, it is quite common at this level of the Garda. It seems the Commissioner, Ms O'Sullivan, has carried it on, aided and abetted by a Fine Gael Government that has been found to be in increasing confusion over how to deal with each crisis.
Our motion tonight is clear. The response of the Commissioner to serious questions about the scandal has been confusing, misleading and contradictory. The Government and the Commissioner have failed to take responsibility, calling it a collective failure. This failure has led to almost 15,000 people being wrongly convicted on road traffic offences.
The Government has announced a commission on the future of policing. This is something Sinn Féin has been promoting for some time and we welcome the move, but there is need for urgent action to attempt to restore some confidence in the Garda. Root-and-branch reform must be undertaken and it must start from the top down. The Commissioner, Ms O'Sullivan, must be asked by the Government, in line with its powers under the Garda Síochána Act 2005, to step aside in order for a clean sweep to be effected. If this step is not taken, then the goals of reform, restoration of public confidence and ensuring a functioning police service are already set at an unlikely if not impossible outcome.
I note the decision of Fianna Fáil to join Fine Gael in circling the wagons and protecting the top brass of the State rather than support our motion in the interests of real reform and accountability. The rank hypocrisy of the Government in claiming that the motion is out of order is clear for anyone who remembers the method by which the Taoiseach dispatched a servant to give the former Commissioner, Mr. Callinan, his marching orders. The motion seeks to provide a united voice from the Dáil that the current Commissioner does not have our confidence.
The response of the Government is not determined by this motion. The Government has a record of ignoring motions passed in this House anyway. Whether this Government, Fine Gael or Fianna Fáil accept it, the Commissioner has significant questions to answer and does not have the confidence of the people. The Commissioner does not have the confidence of a significant section of this Dáil. Circling the wagons will not change that fact. It simply highlights the emptiness of the so-called ambitions of the Government for real Garda reform.
I thank everyone who has contributed to the debate, those who have expressed their support for the motion as well as those who have outlined their opposition. Everyone can agree that debate is healthy. One of our functions in the Chamber is to debate issues.
I take exception to some of the comments made by Deputy O'Callaghan. He criticises the fact we brought forward this motion. I take exception to the fact that he is trying to misrepresent what we are proposing. Nowhere in this motion are we mandating, directing, instructing or ordering the Government to carry out the wishes contained in the motion. It is beholden on all of us to look at what is being proposed and to be honest in that regard. What is being proposed is that the Chamber should consider that the removal from office of the Commissioner, Ms O'Sullivan, would be in the best interests of An Garda Síochána.
I have listened to all the political parties that have contributed to the debate. It is clear that Sinn Féin, Fianna Fáil, Independents 4 Change, the Social Democrats, Solidarity-People Before Profit, the Labour Party, the Green Party and even some of the members of the Rural Independent Group have all expressed either no confidence in the Garda Commissioner or have stated that they cannot express confidence in the Garda Commissioner. These groups represent the majority of Members. Whether the motion is passed, we cannot get away from that reality. The majority of Members do not support or cannot express confidence in the Garda Commissioner. The Government needs to take that into account. I appeal to Fianna Fáil to put aside party politics and consider the motion. It calls for the removal from office of the Commissioner, Ms O'Sullivan, in the best interests of An Garda Síochána. By supporting this motion, Fianna Fáil is not breaking any laws or asking the Government to act beyond its remit.
Fianna Fáil would just be saying what it has said outside of this Chamber, namely, that it considers that Nóirín O'Sullivan cannot have its confidence. That is all Fianna Fáil would be doing. I do not understand why we cannot do that. People talk about Members acting collectively. If the vast majority of this Chamber has that opinion, then let us come together. Let us send a clear signal and message, not only to Nóirín O'Sullivan, but to any members within An Garda Síochána who think they can act with impunity, arrogance or throw the hands up and say it is nothing to do with them and they were not aware of the problems. That is not good enough.
I will tell the House how this will be spun tomorrow if this vote is not passed. I can guarantee that Commissioner O'Sullivan will be out saying she has the support of the vast majority of Members of the Oireachtas to continue in her position because they did not express their lack of confidence in her or call on Government to remove her. She would take that as a tacit signal of confidence and support from this Chamber when that would be the wrong analysis. I ask people to put aside their differences and come together to look at exactly what is being proposed in the motion. If we are all serious, and I believe we are, that we want what is best for An Garda Síochána as an institution, then we have to put aside our differences and express that confidence not outside the doors of this Chamber but within this Chamber. There is no reason why we cannot do that.
Regardless of whether this motion passes, Nóirín O'Sullivan as the current Garda Commissioner needs to recognise that, following this debate tonight, there is a clear message from the vast majority of Deputies elected to this Chamber that she does not have our support and that we cannot express our support in her. She should consider that. I know that she will consider it and ignore it like she has ignored everything else that has been put to her. She will not answer questions. However, that is the only way that we can get on with a process of reform that is badly needed in An Garda Síochána, which we all support.
I was disappointed in the Tánaiste's own remarks when she said in her statement that Sinn Féin is not articulating a vision for the future of policing in Ireland. She also quoted the very policy document that we published yesterday articulating that vision. The Tánaiste knows that my own record in contributions at committee and in discussions with her around the future commission does articulate a vision, which we all believe is badly needed. Let us take the politics out of it. Let us say what we are saying outside the doors of this Chamber clearly in the House and send a message to Nóirín O'Sullivan and any other member of An Garda Síochána who think that they can get away with what is happening currently. We must send a message that it is not acceptable, that they will be held to account and that the Government will stand up and respect the wishes of both the public and the vast majority of Deputies within the House and will remove Nóirín O'Sullivan from her position.
In accordance with Standing Order 70(2), the division is postponed until the weekly division time on Thursday, 13 April 2017.