Ceisteanna ar Sonraíodh Uain Dóibh - Priority Questions

Before the first question I wish to congratulate the Minister. I did not get the chance to do so on my own behalf.

Judicial Appointments

Martin Kenny

Question:

1. Deputy Martin Kenny asked the Minister for Justice the number of vacant positions currently in the Judiciary on all courts; and if she will make a statement on the matter. [42653/20]

I would also like to congratulate the Minister on her pregnancy. It is always good to have children coming into the world, particularly here in the Oireachtas. Hopefully she will set a trend.

I wish to discuss the number of vacant positions in the Judiciary, including on the Supreme Court, the Court of Appeal, the Circuit Courts and the District Courts. I ask the Minister to make a statement on the matter. This question has had great traction in recent weeks and has been the source of great tension. It is clear that we need to do something to make our system better.

There are currently three vacancies on the national courts; one on the Supreme Court, one on a Circuit Court and one on a District Court.

As I outlined to the House on 26 November, it has been the practice to maintain a vacancy on the Supreme Court due to the reduction in waiting times achieved in that court in recent years. However, this arrangement is always kept under review, having regard to emerging pressures, planned retirements or any other issues.  When I met with the Chief Justice last week, he restated to me that there is no urgent need for this vacancy to be filled.

The vacancies on the Circuit and District Courts will be filled as soon as possible.  The Government is committed to ensuring adequate resources for the courts to provide access to justice for all citizens and to filling judicial vacancies at the earliest opportunity generally. Judicial appointments are made by the President acting on the advice of the Government, in accordance with Articles 13.9 and 35.1 of the Constitution.  As with all judicial vacancies, a request is made to the Judicial Appointments Advisory Board, JAAB, for a list of suitable candidates for appointment and the names of all those who applied. The JAAB recommendations are considered along with any expressions of interest from serving judges and all judges eligible for appointment.  As Minister for Justice, I then submit a memorandum for Government to the Cabinet agenda, at which point the Cabinet agrees on a nominee for appointment by the President.

The programme for Government contains a commitment to reforming the judicial appointments process and I intend to bring forward new legislation to do this very quickly.  I will shortly seek the approval of the Government for the general scheme of a judicial appointments commission Bill providing for the establishment of a new commission to replace the JAAB. 

The programme for Government commits to the establishment of a working group to consider the numbers and types of judges required to ensure the efficient administration of justice over the next five years.  Preparatory work is under way within my Department and I anticipate that this group will be established very soon.

I thank the Minister. One issue that has clearly come to the fore is the difficulty we have in ensuring a clear and transparent process. I welcome the new commission and I hope it will bring clarity. For any position in the private sector, the public sector or anywhere else, there is generally a clear process. People can understand why a person gets the position he or she gets over the heads of others. That is appropriate and proper. It should be the case in the judicial system as well. We know that a former member of the Government, Shane Ross, made a great effort to do something about all this and, unfortunately, did not get very far. I hope we can do something that can actually deliver for people. I am aware that High Court judges feel that they are under pressure and are continually seconded to do other work such as preparing reports or overseeing certain bodies or commissions. They then find they do not have the time and energy to deliver the type of judicial system they want.

I reassure the Deputy that bringing forward legislation to establish a new commission to replace the JAAB is a commitment of the programme for Government. I have committed to doing this as quickly as possible. It is important that we have a very clear process and that people understand it. I have just outlined the current process. I have adhered to that process at every stage of the six appointments that have been made since I became Minister, but it needs reform. As the Deputy said, there has been a lengthy debate in recent years. I hope the debate will not be of similar length when I introduce new legislation. It is important that we pass it as quickly as possible, but people must have confidence in this process. I assure the House that a process has been adhered to in appointments in recent years. Everybody who has been appointed has done their job well. That is reflected in the work of our courts.

I thank the Minister. It would be useful if she could give us a date by which she expects to introduce that legislation. Will it be in the first quarter of the coming year? When does she expect us to get it through the Oireachtas? This has become an urgent issue of grave public interest and concern. The sooner we can get down to brass tacks and deal with this issue, the better.

I do not want to pre-empt this process but I hope to bring the legislation forward before the end of this term. If that does not happen, I will introduce it very early in the new year. I would like to see the legislation enacted in the first half of next year and avoid allowing the debate to go on throughout 2021.

Commemorative Events

Cathal Berry

Question:

2. Deputy Cathal Berry asked the Minister for Justice the plans in place to mark the centenary of the foundation of An Garda Síochána in 2022; and if she will make a statement on the matter. [41671/20]

I congratulate the Minister on her very good news and offer my very best wishes to her family.

My question pertains to An Garda Síochána, an organisation that has played a pivotal role in the life of this State. The centenary of the foundation of An Garda Síochána is coming up in 2022. Can the Minister outline the State's plans to commemorate this historic occasion?

As the Deputy stated, 2022 will mark the centenary year of An Garda Síochána. The foundation of the organisation is one of the key events recommended for appropriate commemoration by the expert advisory group on commemorations as part of phase 2 of the decade of centenaries programme.

A centenary committee, chaired by a senior garda, has been established to co-ordinate the commemorations within the organisation. To date, two significant events have been planned.

The first, which will take place on 7 February 2022, will commemorate the meeting at the Gresham Hotel in Dublin of a committee which decided to form the Civic Guard, which would later be renamed An Gárda Síochána under section 22 of the Gárda Síochána (Temporary Provisions) Act 1923. The second event, which is due to take place on 21 August 2022, will commemorate the "storming of Dublin Castle" by the then Garda Commissioner on 17 August 1922, when the Civic Guard took control of Dublin Castle.

I understand that further plans are currently under consideration. These include digitisation of historic Garda materials to make them publically available online, including a photographic exhibition; localised exhibitions and events to commemorate the centenary of An Garda Síochána throughout 2022; the issuing of a commemorative ribbon and coin for personnel working during the centenary year; the extension of the Garda Museum for additional exhibitions; and the publication of a commemorative book.

I thank the Minister of State for that very detailed and comprehensive reply. I have a few suggestions. The Association of Garda Sergeants and Inspectors is of the view that a commemorative medal could be struck and presented to every serving member of An Garda Síochána. I am of that view myself. A very similar suggestion was made in 2016 for members of the Defence Forces. Every serving member received a commemorative medal marking the Defence Forces' centenary.

Is this something the Minister of State might wish to consider? What are his thoughts on it?

I understand that An Garda Síochána is considering the issuing of a commemorative ribbon and coin for personnel working during the centenary year but I will certainly bring the matter of a medal to the attention of An Garda Síochána as well as something to take note of and take into account. A lot of this is still open for review and consideration, and any ideas of merit would certainly be given consideration.

I have another suggestion. The Garda Síochána Retired Members Association is of the view that an oral history project could be considered. A very similar project for Defence Forces personnel is taking place in the Military Archives in Cathal Brugha Barracks. There is a large volume of testimony and eyewitness accounts from Garda Síochána operations over past decades so, again, we should probably consider an oral history-type project. I am not sure what the Minister of State's thoughts on this would be or where funding for it would come from. Would the project come under the remit of the Department with responsibility for heritage or the Department of Justice? I would be keen to hear the Minister of State's and the Minister's thoughts on this. Would they be willing to consider it?

I know this is an area in which the Deputy has a real and genuine interest. I will certainly bring his idea to the attention of An Garda Síochána. I think the Defence Forces oral history project was carried out in the late 1940s and early 1950s. It is through those records that I know about the actions of my great-grandfather in 1916. We know that oral histories can be extremely important, especially for generations to come, so I will certainly bring the Deputy's very worthy idea to the attention of An Garda Síochána.

Courts Service

Martin Kenny

Question:

3. Deputy Martin Kenny asked the Minister for Justice if the Courts Service has the resources required to deal with the backlog of cases in courts due to Covid-19 restrictions; and if she will make a statement on the matter. [42654/20]

I wish to ask the Minister about the resources to deal with the backlogs of court cases. As we know, the pandemic has created a situation where an awful lot of court summonses have been delayed and backlogged. Up to 95,000 summonses are now in a backlog, with approximately 4,500 summonses being generated every week on top of that. The Courts Service, naturally, is doing its best to deal with this but it really needs more resources. It needs to be able to up its capacity considerably, and for it to do so, the Minister will need to put more resources in place to ensure adequate staff levels to deal with this.

I am committed, as is the Government, to ensuring adequate resources for the courts to maintain access to justice for all citizens, not just throughout this pandemic but at all times. This commitment was reinforced recently with the highest ever budgetary allocation for the justice sector, including €158.8 million for the Courts Service. This included €8 million for the new courts modernisation programme along with an additional provision of €5.7 million for Covid measures to enable court sittings to take place in a socially distanced and safe environment. A significant priority for my Department and the Courts Service in the years ahead will be to invest significantly in digital technology in order to transform the experience of practitioners and court users.

Furthermore, the July stimulus package had previously assigned €5 million to the Courts Service, with €1.7 million of the funds to be invested before year end in ICT to install video technology systems to support the holding of remote court proceedings. As of 27 November 2020, 1,941 hearings have been conducted remotely across all jurisdictions and, thankfully, this will continue to increase.

The Government endeavours to ensure that courts continue to operate as effectively and as efficiently as possible. My Department is in constant contact with the Courts Service. We have maintained a schedule of regular interactions with the service throughout the pandemic to try to support it in addressing the issues the Deputy has outlined that have arisen during this crisis, including where backlogs have arisen.

I am pleased that, even during the first period of the pandemic, the courts continued to sit on priority matters in the areas of family law and criminal matters, especially cases involving people in custody, bail, urgent injunctions and domestic violence. In past weeks, even though the entire country was under level 5 lockdown restrictions, the courts remained open and dealt with a wider level of business.

Meanwhile, the Courts Service continues to work with the Judiciary to prioritise business and the holding of court proceedings to address areas of concern. The Courts Service has shown impressive innovation and adaptability during the Covid-19 pandemic and in maintaining vital front-line services for those who need them, including the most vulnerable victims of domestic abuse, as I mentioned.

There are plans to install remote hearing equipment in 43 more courtrooms over the next few months and to bring even further venues on stream, which will enable more cases to be heard in a safe manner and further reduce backlogs. The ultimate aim is to reduce the backlog levels to pre-Covid numbers.

We understand and appreciate the work that has been done and that many of the courts are doing their best in difficult circumstances. I agree with the Minister, however, that a greater level of new technology needs to be brought into play, particularly video links between the courts and the prisons and so on to try to resolve many of these issues whereby people are going for short sittings, which basically get the nod and go back again. All this can be done remotely and using technology if possible, but an awful lot of our courts around the country do not have that technology in place, and that investment needs to be put in place as quickly as possible. Apart from that, because of the large backlog that has built up, there will be a necessity to have more cases dealt with more quickly and the time allocated and the number of sittings per month may need to be expanded. The Minister will have to see what resources will be needed to do that. The argument has often been made that justice delayed is justice denied, and certainly some people would make that argument very strongly from an accused's perspective. The level of attention that this needs has to be brought to bear on it, and the Minister needs to ensure there will be adequate resources to pay the additional staff because it will take many additional staff to do this.

I fully agree with the Deputy. We all heard this morning the figure of 122,000 as the initial backlog of summonses. Significant work has been done to clear that. There have been 97,000 cases heard since July alone in this particular area, but there was a backlog before Covid-19 started. That is why we need to make sure we have additional resources. It is why we need to look at the overall spaces we have, and that work has been happening through Covid-19, particularly for criminal trials. It is why we need to look at the number of judges we have to see if it is enough. It is why we need to continue to invest in digital technology, and I am very pleased about the 1,941 cases I have outlined. It might seem like a small number but it is multiples of what was heard this time last year. With 34 new venues getting digital technology, we hope those numbers will continue to increase. Part of my overall plan within the Department is to digitalise the justice sector in general. The courts are a huge part of that, and the more we can move into that space, as the Deputy says, the more quickly we can hear these cases and get through these kinds of backlogs.

We need as much pressure as possible brought to bear on this to ensure we can deliver as quickly as possible. I fully appreciate that the Courts Service has done a lot of work and done its best in the context of the pandemic. However, there are people out there who find themselves before the courts, and I have spoken to a number of them. For some it is a family issue and for others it is a small case, a criminal matter that normally would not be overbearing on anyone. This has gone on for so long, and these people have these cases hanging over them that cannot be dealt with and continue to be deferred. It is putting a lot of pressure on people. In the context of a pandemic, when people already feel under pressure, it is important that the Courts Service is seen to be an area where we can deliver for people. There is also pressure on solicitors and the entire legal profession as to how they find they are able to deal with this situation. Sometimes they are very frustrated on behalf of their clients in trying to ensure they get access to the courts and get minor enough matters dealt with quickly and appropriately.

We have an opportunity here. As the Minister said, before there was a pandemic there was a backlog, which tells us there was a problem even pre pandemic, so we need to be able to deal with that as quickly as possible.

Unfortunately, Covid-19 has impacted all our lives, and it is no different for the Courts Service, those who work in it and those who avail of its services. It is important to thank those who work in the Courts Service, our legal professions and An Garda Síochána because, while they have had to put a lot of cases on hold particularly since the summer, there have been meetings every week to try to come together to address these backlogs and move things along. As I said, even as far as the summonses are concerned, 97,000 cases have been heard since July, which just shows the huge amount of work that has happened. There are also conversations taking place on expanding the hours, which the Deputy mentioned in his initial comment on sittings of the District Court. An effort is being made to make sure that as many cases are heard as is possible. It is unfortunate that from the middle of March a lot of the non-serious cases, as they were deemed, although they were extremely important to those involved, had to be put on hold and the courts have only been listening to or hearing family law cases, domestic violence cases and other serious and criminal cases. I am glad, however, that most of the hearings in the various courts have resumed and the numbers of cases heard have increased. We will continue to work with the courts in order that they may continue to clear those backlogs as quickly as possible.

Rural Crime

Carol Nolan

Question:

4. Deputy Carol Nolan asked the Minister for Justice the strategic measures her Department is taking to tackle and prevent burglaries in rural Ireland; and if she will make a statement on the matter. [41657/20]

I too congratulate the Minister on her good news. It is lovely to hear some positive news for a change during this pandemic. It is great news.

What strategic measures is the Department taking to tackle and prevent crime in rural Ireland, particularly burglaries?

I thank the Deputy for raising this important matter. A key pillar of the Programme for Government - Our Shared Future is building stronger and safer communities. I can assure the Deputy that the Government is committed to ensuring there is strong, visible community policing right across Ireland, both rural and urban.

To this end, the Department has secured an unprecedented budget of €1.952 billion for An Garda Síochána for 2021. This level of funding is enabling sustained and ongoing recruitment of Garda members and staff. There are now some 14,600 Garda members and more than 3,000 Garda staff nationwide. Budget 2021 will allow for the recruitment of up to 620 new gardaí and an extra 500 Garda staff. There will be continued investment in the Garda fleet of €8 million in addition to the highest ever investment, of approximately €15 million, in the Garda transport fleet in 2020, a proportion of which relates to the Garda Covid response.

Although An Garda Síochána has provided very dedicated service by assisting in the national effort to combat the threat of Covid-19, ordinary policing has, of course, also continued throughout the period. The Deputy will be aware of Operation Thor, which is designed specifically to tackle the increase in the number of burglaries and associated criminal activity that usually occurs in the winter months by undertaking targeted enforcement and preventative activity. This year's winter phase of Operation Thor began on 1 October 2020 and will run until the end of March 2021. This initiative, which also features the Lock Up and Light Up public awareness campaign encouraging homeowners to protect their homes through the winter months when burglaries tend to increase, has led to a very significant and sustained decline in burglaries and property-related crime since its introduction in 2015. I am pleased to state that I have been informed by the Garda authorities that incidents of residential burglary have been reduced by 41%, to 52,816 incidents, while non-residential burglary is down 31%, to 19,672 incidents, in comparison with the equivalent period before the operation began.

Additional information not given on the floor of the House

The Deputy may be interested in the work of the national rural safety forum, which brings together An Garda Síochána, my Department and the Department of Rural and Community Development, alongside national and local organisations including the Irish Farmers Association, Muintir na Tíre and the GAA. The purpose of the forum is to develop a nationwide network for the distribution of crime prevention advice, to increase engagement within communities and to prevent and reduce opportunities for crime. This year, the Department has committed in the region of €150,000 to local communities that wish to apply for a rebate towards the costs associated with running their local text alert scheme, which is administered by Muintir na Tíre. This is a continuation of the annual funding made available by my Department for the text alert rebate scheme each year since 2016. More generally, I can advise the Deputy that the Department has for many years provided funding for the employment and associated costs of the national community alert programme, including the employment of regional development officers. These development officers provide support to community and text alert schemes and offer advice on how to establish new schemes.

As the Deputy may be aware, on 13 November the Minister, Deputy McEntee, announced that the Department will pilot three local community safety partnerships in Dublin’s north inner city, Longford and Waterford. These partnerships are the structures proposed under the new community safety policy of my Department to take a holistic approach to safety issues in partnership with the community. The pilot schemes will operate at local authority administrative level and will be made up of local representatives, a range of local services, community representatives and residents. Local community safety partnerships will take a strategic approach to their work in order that issues arising can be dealt with in a co-ordinated manner and addressed collectively by relevant service providers in partnership with the community.

It is welcome that the pandemic itself has had a notable impact on rates of burglary over the course of this year. Residential burglary has fallen in 2020, with a sharp reduction observed in March and April in response to the public health restrictions on work, travel, school and business. From March to August, inclusive, there were 43% fewer residential burglaries reported compared with the same period in 2019.

I thank the Minister of State for his reply. I accept that Operation Thor has certainly led to a decrease. My question relates to other preventative aspects of the problem. I and many others believe that one of the key deficits is the lack of community policing. That has been raised in the Chamber on several occasions. The Minister of State referred to extra recruits but is community policing in particular being considered? Are there plans to increase the number of community gardaí? For example, community policing levels in Laois-Offaly have dropped dramatically in recent years. Data that I obtained from the Department in response to a parliamentary question show that the number of such gardaí in the Laois-Offaly division in 2009 was 44, whereas the current figure is just seven. That represents a 500% drop in little more than a decade. It is very concerning for communities that feel isolated, particularly rural communities.

I have continually called on the Government to conduct an immediate review of the trespass laws, with the aim of strengthening the rights of farmers and landowners to protect their property and person. That is another issue of concern.

The Deputy may wish to note that as of 31 October 2020, there were 384 gardaí assigned to the Laois-Offaly division. This represents an increase of 38% since 2015, when there were 278 gardaí assigned to the division. On the same date, there were 38 Garda staff civilians assigned to the division, an increase of almost 73% since 2015, when 22 staff members were assigned to the division. The increase in Garda staff is allowing members of the Garda to return to front-line duties. The Deputy is correct that there were seven community gardaí in the Laois-Offaly at the end of October when her parliamentary question was replied to, but I am pleased to inform her that, since then, the number has doubled to 14. This represents a significant increase on the 2015 figure, which stood at four community gardaí. There has since been a significant increase, which I hope will alleviate the Deputy's concerns regarding community policing.

I acknowledge that the number has increased. An increase is an increase but there were 44 community gardaí in the division in 2009 and there are currently 14. There is a need for more gardaí. There have been more instances of anti-social behaviour in estates. The issue was discussed by Offaly county councillors during the week. There is a desperate and urgent need for more community gardaí. I would like to see the number triple by next year because for the number to decrease from 44 in 2009 to seven currently is just not acceptable. The figure needs to increase in order to help to prevent burglaries and to tackle the scourge of anti-social behaviour, which is affecting many communities, both urban and rural. It seemed to escalate during the lockdown in particular. The community policing models needs to be prioritised above all else. I acknowledge there has been an increase from seven to 14. An increase is an increase. I hope that will continue and that there will be genuine efforts to get the figure back up to where it needs to be. There needs to be more than 44 community gardaí in the area.

I absolutely agree with the Deputy. I too wish to see a greater emphasis on community policing. Community gardaí play a very important role in communities. I expect to publish the youth justice strategy in the next month or two. It will provide a comprehensive approach to dealing with young people who are coming into the network of the Courts Service and the criminal justice system. I have set up the anti-social behaviour forum, which met recently for the first time and will meet again at the end of January or in early February. A number of rural groups are represented on it. We are seeking to comprehensively tackle the whole issue of anti-social behaviour from both a Department of Justice perspective and that of an An Garda Síochána.

European Court of Justice Rulings

Martin Kenny

Question:

5. Deputy Martin Kenny asked the Minister for Justice when legislation will be brought forward to deal with the 2014 ruling by the European Union Court of Justice, ECJ, which held that legislation relating to the retention of phone records and other personal data amounted to mass state surveillance; and if she will make a statement on the matter. [42655/20]

I wish to raise the issue of the retention of phone records and other personal data, the ruling of the European Court of Justice in 2014 and the need for legislation to deal with this issue. As all present are aware, there have been appeals on these grounds in several cases before the courts. It is a difficult situation that needs to be addressed as quickly as possible. It is clear these issues could put some convictions in jeopardy. Several conviction appeals currently before the courts and other cases to come are looking at the ruling of the ECJ as a possible get-out clause. The matter needs to be dealt with urgently.

As the Deputy will be aware, the Court of Justice of the European Union struck down the EU data retention directive in 2014 on the basis that it constituted a disproportionate interference with the rights to privacy and data protection enshrined in the Charter of Fundamental Rights. Since that time, the court has continued to deal with a range of cases referred to it in what is a complex and continually evolving area of law.

The implication of the judgments of the court with regard to data retention regimes presents significant challenges not just for Ireland, but also for other EU member states that are grappling with the implications for law enforcement services in the investigation of crime. Ireland is fully engaged in that work. Conscious of the role played by telecommunications data in the investigation of serious crime and in safeguarding national security, a large number of member states, as well as the European Commission, have intervened in European court cases which were challenging national data retention regimes.

Although criminal investigations are multifaceted and involve many avenues of inquiry and investigation, access to telecommunications data has become ever more important for all authorities responsible for the detection, investigation and prosecution of crime and for safeguarding the security of the State. Ireland has intervened robustly before the European Court of Justice to highlight the potential implications of the court judgments and to defend the need for such information to be made available to law enforcement through appropriate national data retention regimes. However, it is important to note that Garda authorities continue to investigate all forms of serious crime, utilising the available legislative powers.

It is intended that a revised general scheme of the communications (data retention and disclosure) Bill, drafting of which is well advanced, will replace the Communications (Retention of Data) Act 2011, taking account of the 2014 ECJ ruling, as well as more recent rulings. Our intention will be to provide the most effective crime prevention and investigative regime possible, having regard to the changing legal environment. The judgment of the Supreme Court, following its referral to the ECJ, which is expected early in 2021 will be examined carefully by officials in my Department in conjunction with the Office of the Attorney General.

I understand that there is a level of delicacy with this and that we must wait and see what emerges from the Supreme Court, but I am glad to hear that work is being done and preparations are being made to make some advance in this regard. It is a serious issue for many cases around the country and, indeed, for the Garda when it is trying to trace where people have been or what has happened in regard to serious crime. We are all aware of some cases historically in which this was not, perhaps, the evidence that led to convictions but it certainly put people in the places where gardaí were able to look at them in more detail and to prosecute the case in a way that secured a conviction. Some of them were very serious cases. The need to ensure that the Garda would have access to such records when appropriate, and that is the important point, is vital. We all know people have a right to privacy and a right to go about their daily business without the fear that some type of big brother is watching them. There is a balance to be struck here and the balance clearly has to take account of the rights of people to ensure they are safe in their communities. Having adequate legislation on this would be vital to ensure that happens.

There is a fine line. Obviously, we want to ensure we protect people's privacy, but also that An Garda Síochána has the powers to do its work. It is important that we provide the Garda with the technical expertise, the financial support and the legislative underpinning it needs to do its work. The Garda is continuing to do that work. I have some of the figures relating to that Act. The Garda made 13,545 data access requests to telecommunications companies in 2018 and 8,110 were made in 2019. While the Garda might not be able to do this in as easy a manner as, perhaps, previously it is continuing to do its work. The priority now is to ensure we have the best possible legislation to underpin the work of the Garda.

The biggest challenge has been that since the ruling in 2014 there have been a number of clarification requests not just from this country but also from other member states and the responses to those requests have created more questions. The initial ruling was quite wide-ranging so the requests and the responses have created more questions, which has made it difficult to draft this legislation. However, it is at an advanced stage and the ruling early next year will be important.

I appreciate that. It is vital that the Garda Síochána has access, when appropriate, to carry out its work. The other aspect of this that must be examined is social media and what happens there. I know there is some preparation to examine the possibility of hate crime, hate speech and so forth. Again, we have to be very careful about this because people have a right to freedom of speech. We certainly must be very cautious about this and I understand that.

To return to the issue of data retention and being able to access data, particularly in cases of serious crime, it is vital that we have the legislative underpinning to ensure it is there and that it can happen, when appropriate. Equally, people must not feel that they are in some way under surveillance for no reason. That is the balance that must be struck. When the Supreme Court brings forward its judgment, it is important that we move into a position where we can strike that balance and come to a conclusion on this matter.

We all regret that this has taken so long and has been ongoing for a number of years. Other member states that have already introduced legislation in their jurisdictions based on the clarifications I just mentioned have had to change that legislation again. It is important that when we introduce and pass our legislation, it is the best it can be and that it provides absolute clarity for An Garda Síochána to allow it to do its work. That is our intention. The Bill is well advanced at this stage. The ruling next year will be important and we will incorporate it in the legislation. We have asked for this particular clarification so, hopefully, it will answer our questions to allow us to finalise this work.

The Deputy mentioned social media and other areas. One of the other parliamentary questions is about white-collar crime and other powers for An Garda Síochána. We are bringing forward other legislative measures which allow for arrest warrants, especially for digital devices, and other supports to allow the Garda to do its job to the best of its ability. It is important that we introduce and implement this legislation as quickly as possible and provide support to the Garda. It already does wonderful work, but it would benefit from this additional support.