Priority Questions

Garda Data

Jim O'Callaghan

Question:

46. Deputy Jim O'Callaghan asked the Minister for Justice and Equality his plans to address the continuing failure of An Garda Síochána to publish the review into homicide figures that was due in June 2017; and if he will make a statement on the matter. [5963/18]

Donnchadh Ó Laoghaire

Question:

47. Deputy Donnchadh Ó Laoghaire asked the Minister for Justice and Equality his views on the fact that the Central Statistics Office is not in a position to publish homicide statistics provided by An Garda Síochána due to potential misclassification; when he expects to be in a position to publish the review into these cases; and if he will make a statement on the matter. [5750/18]

In November 2016, senior Garda management was informed of emerging issues in respect of the accuracy of homicide data recorded on the Garda PULSE system. This matter was subsequently brought to the attention of the Policing Authority, which raised it with senior Garda management in April 2017. I am aware that there is serious concern within An Garda Síochána as to the accuracy of homicide data on the PULSE system. Even though these concerns have been brought to the attention of senior Garda management, very little appears to have been done to explore and resolve the problem. Why has the homicide review for the years 2003 to 2017 still not been completed? Is the Minister satisfied that the homicide data maintained by An Garda Síochána is accurate and classified appropriately?

I propose to take Questions Nos. 46 and 47 together.

I wish to thank the Deputies for raising this issue. An Garda Síochána continues to work with the CSO to resolve an issue which emerged regarding the classification of homicide offences.  The expert oversight by the CSO of crime statistics is welcome in order to ensure that we can have confidence in the official crime statistics and can tailor our policies accordingly.

The Deputies will be aware that when a homicide occurs, the offence may be classified as murder, manslaughter or violent death.  My understanding is that an issue emerged due to the fact that the classification of a crime may change as investigations evolve, for example, a murder charge may ultimately lead to a manslaughter conviction in the courts or an assault causing harm may subsequently result in a death some time later, necessitating a reclassification to murder or manslaughter.

I want to clarify that the issue about the classification of homicide statistics is not new.  It was identified some time ago by the Garda and intensive work has been ongoing to resolve the issue.  This work involves An Garda Síochána, the Policing Authority, the CSO and my Department.

An Garda Síochána initiated a review of homicide classifications, initially for the period 2013 to 2015, but later extended the review to cover the period 2003 to 2017.  This is obviously a time consuming and complex process but it is important that both An Garda Síochána and the CSO are confident that their data is robust and accurate.  While the review is under way, the CSO has suspended the publication of quarterly crime statistics, with the most recent published figures being for quarter 4 2016. The review by An Garda Síochána has not been published as it is not yet complete, however, the details will be made public on completion.

I am extremely concerned about reports that unlawful deaths have not been properly investigated.  Any substantiated allegations of this kind would be most serious and a cause of grave public concern.  The issue that has arisen in respect of homicide classification is complex and it is essential to clarify it in such a way as the facts can be clearly established.

I have not received any protected disclosures or allegations that unlawful killings have not been investigated and Garda management is adamant that all unlawful killings are investigated.  I have seen no evidence to the contrary but I have asked An Garda Síochána for further formal assurances in this regard.

While I note that a figure of 41 deaths requiring reclassification has been mentioned in public discourse, that is not correct. An Garda Síochána has advised that its examination of 524 cases for the period 2013 to 2015 identified 41 cases which required further examination and, out of those, 12 deaths were identified which required reclassification on PULSE. In addition, a further peer review process of verification is under way in respect of these figures, as requested by the Policing Authority.

I want to assure the House that the Policing Authority continues to monitor this issue to ensure there is independent scrutiny of how An Garda Síochána records data. I welcome its continued diligence in this matter.

I also note the statement made by the authority last week indicating these issues will be considered again at the authority’s meeting with the acting Garda Commissioner, which will be held in public on 22 February. In advance of the meeting, my officials and I will meet representatives from the Policing Authority and An Garda Síochána tomorrow to discuss progress on this issue to date. I also discussed the issue with the acting Garda Commissioner yesterday in the course of one of our more general meetings. I assure Members the Department remains in close contact with the Central Statistics Office, CSO, An Garda Síochána and the Policing Authority to ensure a return to the publication of official crime statistics by the CSO at the earliest possible opportunity.

The word "homicide" is used by An Garda Síochána to identify on PULSE cases in which there may have been an unlawful killing. As the Minister said, not all of those cases will result in a conviction or indeed a prosecution in the first instance. There is a serious problem with the classification of homicides on the PULSE system and my understanding is that a complete homicide review for the years 2003 to 2017 is required. To date, such a review has not been completed. What must occur is a full and accurate examination of the paper files in the State Pathologist's office on suspicious deaths for the years 2003 to 2017. The information on those paper files must then be compared with the data on the Garda PULSE system and a review of the investigation files themselves must take place.

I am not stating, as the Minister asserted earlier, that there have been cases of unlawful killing that have not been investigated. My point is that we have had only a partial review to date. The Minister talks about 41 homicide incidents for the years 2013 to 2015 but I understand that a quarter of such cases have been misclassified because they are referred to on PULSE as the result of sudden death with a failure to refer to the possibility they may have been caused by a violent act of another individual who is suspected. PULSE may also fail to record that an assault resulted in a subsequent death. Those are the factors which need to be investigated but no investigation has been properly completed to date. I have continuing concerns that the review, which was started in 2016, has not been completed and I ask the Minister to take steps to ensure its completion because I do not believe the necessary urgency is there on the part of either the Garda or the Policing Authority.

The possibility that homicides were misclassified is of itself worrying and deeply unsettling. No crime is more serious than the taking of a life. The possibility that there are families who are not aware their loved ones may have been the victims of homicide and died in another manner is of the utmost concern. It is potentially scandalous if found to be the case. There has been discussion in the media that it is possible not only that some of these cases were misclassified but that potentially they were not investigated. The answer the Minister provided in a reply to a written parliamentary question I put down last week sets out his belief that each death was fully investigated by An Garda Síochána. Clearly, however, according to media reports there are those who were close to these investigations and who do not appear to believe that to be the case. Is the Minister still confident that An Garda Síochána investigated each of these cases properly and fully? When does he expect the review, which relates to a matter of very serious concern, to be completed and published?

The review will be completed at the very earliest opportunity. I have expressed my concern to the Garda authorities. I acknowledge what Deputy O'Callaghan has said. I did not suggest he had made any allegation on any investigation or otherwise. As far as the review of the 41 cases is concerned, each death was fully investigated by An Garda Síochána. I make that clear to Deputy Ó Laoghaire also. An Garda Síochána has also indicated that its individually-designated family liaison officers have been in contact with the families of the 12 deceased persons whose PULSE records required reclassification. That is important. I am satisfied, on the basis of assurances received by me, as far as the investigations were concerned. I reiterate this is a matter of concern. The Policing Authority, which has statutory functions in this area, continues to monitor the issue to ensure there is independent scrutiny regarding the way in which An Garda Síochána records the data. It has been diligent on the matter and continues to work on it. I intend to meet with the authority and Garda representatives tomorrow.

It is important to recall the consequences of misclassification. It means the Garda PULSE system does not provide the accurate information essential to the investigation of what may have been a homicide and which is relevant to persons who may be suspected by the Garda of involvement in a homicide. It is important to keep our eye on the key issue here. We want a PULSE system that is extremely accurate and which provides accurate information on any suspicious death. We must ensure that An Garda Síochána recognises that the review must be completed and devotes the resources required to achieve that. The review is not being treated with the seriousness it deserves. It is an extremely sensitive subject and it is imperative that the review be completed. I raise it with the Minister today in order that he ensures its completion. It is not an issue on which I wish to grandstand but the information available to me suggests the review has not been given the urgency it deserves. That is not just in respect of An Garda Síochána but also in respect of the Policing Authority, which was informed of this in April 2017.

I welcome that the Minister is meeting Garda representatives tomorrow. In his response, he said that as far as he was concerned, he wanted the review completed as soon as possible. On an issue of such public concern, potential weight and seriousness, we need a little more detail than that. We have no real sense or indication from the Minister as to when the review will be completed. That is required, not least to give the review the priority and urgency needed to see it completed and to restore public confidence in this area.

There is also clearly an issue with the attitude and emphasis placed on data and its quality. We have seen this issue arise across a number of controversies relating to An Garda Síochána. I tabled a question to the Minister on whether the Garda had taken action on the specific recommendation in the Garda Inspectorate's report on putting in place a director of data quality. There was nothing in the Minister's response to indicate this was something he intended to do. When will the review be completed and will the Minister create a position of director of data quality?

I do not disagree with what the Deputies have said about the urgency of this issue. I assure Members that An Garda Síochána is working actively with the CSO to address the outstanding issues with homicide statistics in order that the publication of officially-recorded crime statistics can recommence. The authority is monitoring developments and officials from my Department remain in close contact with the CSO, An Garda Síochána and the Policing Authority to ensure an early return to the publication of crime statistics.

Deputy Ó Laoghaire referred to the Garda Inspectorate’s 2014 report on crime. The report raised issues on the recording of crime statistics and included detailed recommendations designed to improve the consistency and accuracy of data within the PULSE system. As the inspectorate's report recognised, these issues have been reported in other police services and its recommendations drew on measures introduced in other jurisdictions. I remain satisfied that the acting Garda Commissioner and his management team are addressing the concerns identified in the inspectorate's report, including new measures to improve the incident recording process and important upgrades of the PULSE system. The consistent recording of crime data is not an issue that is unique to this jurisdiction. However, I am keen that this issue be resolved.

I share the concerns of Deputies and am happy to keep the House informed. There is a sense of urgency and importance in respect of this issue, which must be resolved. I want to see a resolution at the earliest opportunity but I recognise that issues of some complexity are involved.

Garda Remuneration

Jim O'Callaghan

Question:

48. Deputy Jim O'Callaghan asked the Minister for Justice and Equality his plans to address the failure to ensure that the Garda pay deal applies to all sections of the force, including superintendents and chief superintendents, and that the anomalies that have arisen as a result of this failure will be addressed; and if he will make a statement on the matter. [5964/18]

In November 2016 a pay deal was agreed in the Labour Court between the Garda Representative Association and the Association of Garda Sergeants and Inspectors. It was always envisaged that all grades in the Garda would be awarded the increase on the basis of their involvement in the pay review chaired by Mr. John Horgan. That has not happened in this instance and we now have a situation where 166 Garda superintendents and 45 Garda chief superintendents are the only two groups that have not signed up to the new public service stability agreement. The reason they have not signed up is that the precedent that always applied - that the pay increases would be awarded to all grades - has not been followed by the Government. When does the Minister intend to resolve this issue and ensure there is consistency within the Garda when it comes to pay rises?

I am anxious to have this issue resolved. The Deputy will be aware that, at the time of the potential Garda dispute in late 2016, the matter was referred to the Labour Court to develop a recommendation addressing the pay issues raised by the ranks of garda, sergeant and inspector. The recommendation applied, therefore, to those ranks only. The associations for superintendents and chief superintendents have consistently argued that the pay deal should also have extended to them. Arising from this, they have not yet signed up to the public service stability agreement. This is regrettable and means that the benefits that flow from the agreement are not yet being applied to their ranks.

Having said that, I met both associations recently and assured them that I and the Minister for Public Expenditure and Reform are keen to resolve their issues. Clearly, this must be done within the parameters of public pay policy, using the structures that are in place to address such matters. In the meantime, I encourage the two associations to reconsider their position in regard to the pay agreement. I can assure Deputy O'Callaghan that I will use my best endeavours to resolve the dispute. I might add that the chair of the public service stability agreement oversight body has kindly offered her services to assist the parties and a meeting between the parties has been held. I expect there will be further engagement in the near future.

I am aware that the Association of Garda Superintendents, in particular, has referred to an anomaly having arisen as a result of the Labour Court recommendation in 2016. This relates primarily to the increases in earnings for those groups covered by the recommendation. Clearly, the increases awarded to the inspector rank had the effect of narrowing the pay differentials between the ranks of superintendent and inspector, and this is central to the current dispute.

I am personally committed to finding a resolution to this issue, as is the Minister for Public Expenditure and Reform, Deputy Donohoe. I hope to see progress in the near future.

When the pay deal was agreed in November 2016 and the strike was averted, everyone assumed that the deal would include all ranks within An Garda Síochána, as had happened in all previous agreements. Mr. Horgan completed the report focusing on industrial relations procedures and recommendations and everyone assumed that the pay deal, as agreed, would apply to all ranks. It then appeared that there were agreed reports drafted for each of the different Garda associations and this led to the requirement for an agreed report for superintendents and chief superintendents. Those two ranks raised the matter with the previous Minister for Justice and Equality and, I understand, were given assurances that it would be sorted out. They were subsequently told it would be sorted at the Workplace Relations Commission, WRC, on the fringes of new talks. The WRC facilitated the discussions and departmental officials from the Departments of Justice and Equality and Public Expenditure and Reform agreed to extend the terms of the pay deal in full to the ranks of superintendents and chief superintendents. All of the payments were designed to ensure that they did not impact the Lansdowne Road agreement. Subsequently, the Department seems to have reneged on this agreement and is now denying the superintendents and chief superintendents the pay rise everyone assumed they were going to receive.

I note the Minister stated he is keen to resolve this issue but he should note that everyone assumed at the time that this pay rise and the pay deal would apply to all ranks. What we do not want to happen is that any pay rise for An Garda Síochána would be limited to some ranks, which would make industrial relations within the force even more difficult in the future.

The Association of Garda Superintendents and the Association of Garda Chief Superintendents were fully involved in the negotiations leading up to the WRC proposals for the public service stability agreement 2018-20. Following the conclusion of these negotiations, the Association of Garda Superintendents and the Association of Garda Chief Superintendents sought to engage further on their claim to receive the benefit of the awards made to other ranks by the Labour Court in order to resolve the 2016 dispute. The Association of Garda Superintendents and the Association of Garda Chief Superintendents have not yet signed up to the pay agreement and have indicated they will not even put the public service stability agreement to a ballot pending a satisfactory resolution of this issue. I would like to see the matter resolved. While the superintendents and chief superintendents have been seeking an award commensurate with that awarded to the other ranks, there have been no detailed discussions on the costs associated with their claim. As Deputy O'Callaghan will appreciate, the numbers are small, something in the region of 200 between the two ranks, and I do not expect that the additional cost will be hugely significant. Nonetheless, I am anxious to ensure there is a robust process which will allow for this issue to be dealt with in a way that will not impact adversely on the wider pay arrangements currently under way through the Minister, Deputy Donohoe.

I note the Minister wants this issue resolved and I share that hope. However, it is not going to happen unless the Government enters into talks with the two associations to resolve the matter. It is also important to point out that this situation is creating some bizarre anomalies. For instance, the top grade of a Garda inspector is now higher than the starting position of a superintendent by between €4,000 and €6,000 and this does not take into account overtime for which inspectors are eligible but for which superintendents are not eligible. It raises the question as to why any inspector would want to apply for promotion to the position of superintendent if he or she is going to be paid less. There is also a deficit in the new pay deal for the majority of superintendents in that, as they can now retire and claim their pension, they are faced with the dilemma that they have a permanent pension levy, and the absence of the pay deal applying to superintendents and chief superintendents means there is a significant risk they will retire early as a result of the failure to apply this precedent.

This is a problem that needs to be resolved promptly. I think we all agree in the House that superintendents and chief superintendents are at the forefront of the challenge to change An Garda Síochána. We need their co-operation. This odd example where precedent is not followed needs to be departed from and the Minister needs to ensure that pay rises within An Garda Síochána apply to all ranks and not to some ranks.

I am conscious there are a number of anomalous situations on the matter of pay. I want to acknowledge the work of the chief superintendents and superintendents throughout the country in terms of the leadership they continue to provide to An Garda Síochána, particularly in these challenging times. I also acknowledge the role they have in terms of the ongoing programme of reform. However, neither the superintendents nor the chief superintendents have signed up to the public service pay agreement and, consequently, they are unable to receive the pay increases under the agreement until they sign up, or after the expiry of nine months, in accordance with the legislation. I want to assure them that my door remains open and that I am very keen to have this issue resolved, having regard to the history in this regard and to the leadership they continue to provide. There are ongoing discussions. I acknowledge the interest of other parties and I trust this issue will be resolved without any great delay being imposed.

Community Policing

Donnchadh Ó Laoghaire

Question:

49. Deputy Donnchadh Ó Laoghaire asked the Minister for Justice and Equality his views on the drop-off in the number of community gardaí from 1,182 in 2010 to 744 by the end of 2017; and if his Department and An Garda Síochána are committed to implementing the community model of policing. [5751/18]

The national model of community policing was launched in 2009 amid some optimism and a belief that it would represent a significant part of Garda strategy from then on. However, it has been marked since then by a lack of commitment by successive Governments, most visibly seen in the dramatic reductions in the number of community gardaí, which has fallen every year for the past eight years, from 1,182 to 691. This has severely undermined the ability of community gardaí to do their job. I question whether this Government is committed to the community model of policing.

As the Deputy will be aware, and as I have reiterated, the distribution of gardaí is exclusively the statutory responsibility of the Garda Commissioner for the time being. Undoubtedly, the ongoing recruitment process will support all Garda activities and will enhance Garda visibility within our communities and the provision of effective community policing across all Garda divisions.

Community policing is at the heart of An Garda Síochána. It provides a means of recognising that every community, both urban and rural, has its own concerns and expectations. I am assured by the Commissioner that the Garda national model of community policing plays a key part in responding to crime by taking into account and responding to local conditions and needs. Clear objectives are set, such as high visibility in the community, ease of contact by members of the public and enhanced support for crime prevention strategies. In addition, the national community policing office, attached to the Garda community relations bureau, captures best practice in community policing initiatives and disseminates these practices through its communication network.  It is of course the case that all gardaí have a role to play in community policing in carrying out their duties, not solely those assigned full-time as community gardaí. 

I have previously stated that I welcome the strong emphasis that the Commissioner's Modernisation and Renewal Programme 2016-2021 places on developing and supporting the community policing ethos of the organisation and enhancing the current delivery model so that gardaí spend more time in the community, gaining public confidence and trust and providing a greater sense of security.  It will result in the introduction of multi-skilled community policing teams and community policing forums in every district.

In terms of progress on this important initiative, I am informed that a draft community policing framework which outlines the manner in which community policing teams and community safety forums will be established has been completed and is subject to internal review before being approved by the Garda executive for implementation.

The Government is committed to ensuring a strong and visible police presence throughout the country in order to maintain and strengthen community engagement, provide reassurance to citizens and deter crime. To make this a reality for all, the Government has in place a plan for an overall Garda workforce of 21,000 personnel by 2021 including 15,000 Garda members.

Real, tangible progress has been made towards this goal. Since reopening the Garda College in September 2014, nearly 1,600 new recruits have attested as members of An Garda Síochána and have been assigned to mainstream duties nationwide. Garda numbers, taking account of projected retirements, increased to 13,551 at the end of 2017, a net increase of over 600 since the end of 2016. There were 691 Garda assigned to community policing duties as of 31 December 2017.

I am pleased to say that funding is in place to maintain this high level of investment in the Garda workforce to ensure the vision of an overall workforce of 21,000 by 2021 remains on track. This year a further 800 new Garda recruits will enter the Garda College. Also, 800 Garda trainees are scheduled to attest during the year, which will see Garda numbers reach more than 14,000 by the end of 2018.

Of course Deputies will appreciate that despite these increases, choices have to be made. Containing the challenges of coverage and those presented by gangland crime over the past two years has necessitated investment in the specialist units with 100 extra garda being assigned to the specialist units within special crime operations in 2017. In addition, a dedicated armed support unit for the Dublin metropolitan region was established at the end of 2016 in order to enhance armed support capability in Dublin and to free up the resources of the emergency response unit.

There is no evidence for that. The Minister's response did not address what is obviously a very dramatic fall which is what I want the Minister to address. While, on an individual basis, it is a decision for the Garda Commissioner, it is the Government which makes the policies. If the Government wants community policing to be a priority, it will be a priority for An Garda Síochána and the Commissioner. The Minister outlined objectives regarding visibility. The reduction in Donegal was from 35 to two, a 94% decrease. How are the gardaí to achieve visibility in that context? In Dublin's north inner city, there is a fall from 140 to 90 in only a few years, while there has been a decrease of 70% in the Dublin's south inner city. The GRA has said it is very disappointed and this needs to be reversed.

I raise this matter because I know for a fact that it has worked. I know the difference this has made in Cork and in communities there. I know people who are working, living good, honest lives because of the intervention of good community policing. It is one of the most effective policing interventions that exists. This Government and its predecessors have done nothing to invest in it and the model has been undermined with reductions of up to 94%, with a 40% fall overall. It is a dramatic decrease in numbers. These gardaí cannot be expected to work miracles. The numbers must be there and they need to have the time to dedicate themselves properly to the job.

Will the Minister address this and tell the House how he will ensure this enormous drop in numbers is reversed?

This Government is committed to ensuring a strong and visible police presence throughout the country in order to maintain and strengthen community engagement, to provide reassurance to citizens and to deter crime. To make this a reality, we have a plan in place to increase the overall Garda workforce to 21,000 by 2021, including 15,000 sworn members of An Garda Síochána. Real and tangible progress has been made towards this goal. Since the reopening of the Garda College in September 2014 almost 1,600 new recruits have attested as members of An Garda Síochána and have been assigned to mainstream duties across the country.

The Deputy referred to Donegal in his question. In Donegal there are 28 probationer gardaí working in stations across the county. He mentioned the Dublin metropolitan region. In north-central Dublin there are 135 new gardaí, and 141 new gardaí in south-central Dublin. I am pleased that we have 1,600 new recruits attested as members of An Garda Síochána recently. Garda numbers, taking account of projected retirements, increased to over 13,500 at the end of last year, a net increase of over 600 since the end of the previous year. There were 691 garda assigned to community policing duties as of 31 December 2017. I am pleased to say that funding remains in place to continue this high level of investment into this year.

In common with written responses which I had received on this matter, the Minister has failed to address the matter of community policing. He keeps referring to overall policing numbers but he is not making any comment on how he will address that specific issue. I have put down variations on this question, in written or oral questions, and have received three different answers for the number of community gardaí in 2017. The Minister might explain that to me.

At the heart of the community policing model is the dedicated community garda. That is somebody who is in a position to build-up a relationship with communities, families and individuals to gain the trust of communities. That cannot be done overnight, it requires an intense period of work, but it can be absolutely transformative. I know there are community gardaí who have had a transformative impact. The Minister keeps returning to overall Garda numbers, without making any reference to any action he plans to take to ensure or address even remotely the 40% reduction in dedicated community gardaí, which is particularly dramatic in certain districts.

Will the Minister now tell the House how he intends to address this fall off in numbers specifically in community gardaí, not overall Garda numbers?

In many respects, every garda in the country is in essence a community policeman or woman-----

That is why I asked a specific question.

-----in the manner in which they interact with their communities and for and on behalf of communities. The Garda Commissioner's Modernisation and Renewal Programme 2016-2021 places a strong emphasis on further developing and supporting the community policing ethos of the organisation so that Gardaí spend more time in the community, gaining public confidence and trust, providing a greater sense of security in communities. This plan includes a number of proposed initiatives including the establishment of local policing teams, headed by an inspector, made up of gardaí from a range of areas to work proactively with the local community in order to prevent crime and to detect it, and the establishment of community safety forums in every district which will comprise of local gardaí, communities and key stakeholders which will support the work of the community policing teams in every community.

I am pleased that the Government is committed to ensuring that we are recruiting to the gardaí in an intense and proactive way, after years of declining numbers. I intend that over the next three years the Government will meet its targets of a Garda workforce of 21,000 personnel by 2021, comprising of 15,000 members of An Garda Síochána, 4,000 civilian support staff and an increase in the Garda Reserve to 2,000. Most of those will be community gardaí.

The Minister cannot say that. The question relates to a specific thing.

Garda Commissioner Appointment

Seán Sherlock

Question:

50. Deputy Sean Sherlock asked the Minister for Justice and Equality the progress to date on arrangements for the selection of a new Garda Commissioner; the expected timeframe; the salary of the new Commissioner; the arrangements in relation to the appointment of a team to assist the Commissioner; if changes in legislation are required; and if he will make a statement on the matter. [5752/18]

Last week The Irish Times published a report by Conor Lally which stated that Garda Commissioners would have the same power as Cabinet Ministers in appointing staff. The article also said that the successor to Commissioner Nóirín O'Sullivan was unlikely to be appointed before September. My question is simple. What is the progress to date regarding the arrangements for the selection of the new Garda Commissioner? What is the expected timeframe? What is the new Commissioner's salary to be? What are the arrangements in relation to the appointment of a team to assist the Commissioner and whether changes to legislation are required?

The Policing Authority under section 9 of the Garda Síochána Act 2005 has responsibility for nominating persons for appointment by the Government to the post of Garda Commissioner. In the meantime we have an excellent Acting Commissioner in Dónall Ó Cualáin.

It is the first time that the new legislative process will be used.

I met the chair of the authority following the retirement of the previous Commissioner and we agreed that it is crucial that a deliberate and considered recruitment process takes place so that the best possible candidate is appointed following the selection process. We are also agreed that an overly long delay in the appointment of a new Commissioner would not be optimal for the organisation in terms of performance and morale.

The authority, during the autumn, undertook some essential ground work for the recruitment process in advance of the formal triggering of the statutory process by Government. This work included the conduct of research into aspects of the appointments process and engagement with my Department and with the Public Appointments Service, which will undertake the competition on behalf of the authority. That period also facilitated the chair of the authority to explore with the Commission on the Future of Policing how it sees the role and responsibilities of the next Commissioner. The commission, as the Deputy will be aware, is undertaking a comprehensive review of all aspects of policing in the State and is due to report in September.

Having regard to the progress made by the authority, I sought Government approval on 12 December to request the authority formally to commence the process for the selection and appointment of the next Commissioner. I met the chair of the authority again recently. The authority and Public Appointments Service are working together to finalise the arrangements for the competition with the intention of it being advertised as quickly as possible.

As I have stated previously, the overriding concern must be to ensure that the best possible candidate is selected to lead An Garda Síochána. This requires that the process attracts the widest possible field of candidates from a broad range of backgrounds. To support this, the authority provided advice on the remuneration package that would be required to attract candidates of the highest calibre. The Government accepted that advice in principle and agreed that my Department and the Department of Public Expenditure and Reform would finalise the package prior to the position being advertised. That work is ongoing. I can assure the Deputy that salary will not be an obstacle to attracting the best candidate.

I am gleaning from the Minister that this is an ongoing process, no final salary has been determined and as of today there is still do not have a definitive date for an advertisement for the post. In clear yes-no terms, I ask the Minister if that is the case.

I also ask the Minister in relation to the recruitment of staff within that department because the newspaper article states that there is the possibility that the new Commissioner "could appoint their own team around them. These would likely be hired on a contract basis". Furthermore, promotions and appointments, as we know them within the Garda network, are such that, "Promotions and appointments have long been regarded as open to favouritism and nepotism", and that some work had been done on that. Can the Minister give us guarantees that if somebody is appointed externally and at the discretion of the new Garda Commissioner, it will not cause upset within the force where one is now subject to certain rigors and a new process in relation to guarding against nepotism?

The Government is keen to ensure that this process is designed in such a way as to attract a broad range of interest, both from within this jurisdiction from within the Garda Síochána and from, and on which there has been much mention and speculation made as to the likelihood of success of, an external candidate. I have an open mind on these issues. I believe it is important that we have a broadly based pool of candidate from which to choose and I acknowledge the advice and expertise of the Police Authority in that regard.

The authority has expressed the view that potential candidates would be likely to expect an assurance that they could appoint a small personal team in order to ensure that they would maximise their input and leadership of the Garda service. I am open to this. It must, however, be borne in mind that senior roles in An Garda Síochána, and indeed across the public service, are required to be filled by way of a transparent, competitive and merit-based process. There is no intention to dispense in any way with this approach. Rather what the Government has in mind is that the next Commissioner could, on a temporary contractual basis, appoint a small personal team comprised of individuals who would provide advice to the Commissioner and who would be supportive of the Commissioner in the discharge of his or her duties. No doubt Deputy Sherlock would concur that the role of Commissioner is a demanding one, not only in view of the policing and security environment, but also in view of the major reform programme under way and having regard to the role and function of the Commission on the Future of Policing, which is due to report in September. In such circumstances, the appointment of a small team of advisers would be a valuable support to the new Commissioner in dealing with the challenges of leading the service at this critical point in time.

If the process is such that the new Commissioner can appoint external persons at his or her discretion, will that require changes in legislation?

As I stated, it is the desire of the Government that the competition should attract the widest possible pool of candidates, not only from within the jurisdiction but from beyond. It is for this reason that the Government earlier today agreed that a short piece of amending legislation should be brought forward as a matter of priority to address an anomaly that has been identified in the legislation governing the retirement of members of An Garda Síochána. The effect of the amendment will be to ensure that the same age limit applies to both internal and external candidates. I am anxious to ensure that there will be what I would describe as an even playing field.

The chair of the authority, the chair of the Commission on the Future of Policing and I are at one in our view that there should be an even playing field in the process between internal and external candidates in this regard. It is important that we have this issue resolved as a matter of priority. I hope I can rely on the support of Deputy Sherlock, and indeed all Deputies, to facilitate the speedy passage of what will be a short, single-section Bill to ensure the competition can proceed and that we can have the advertisement within a matter of weeks.