Garda Síochána (Functions and Operational Areas) Bill 2021: Report and Final Stages

I move amendment No. 1:

In page 24, between lines 27 and 28, to insert the following:

"Amendment of section 33 of Act of 2005

30. Section 33 of the Act of 2005 is amended, in subsection (2), by the deletion of ", to the extent practicable,".".

Is leasú díreach simplí é seo. Tá mé féin agus an Teachta Pringle ag iarraidh fáil réidh leis na focail atá ann a ligeann don Gharda Síochána éalú as an dualgas atá air gardaí a chur ar fáil i gceantair Ghaeltachta le líofacht sa Ghaeilge. Bainfidh mé úsáid as an dá theanga, Gaeilge agus Béarla, má oireann sin don Aire. Tá mé ag iarraidh fáil réidh leis an bhfrása "a mhéid is indéánta" ó alt 33(2) den Acht an Gharda Síochána, 2005. San alt sin maítear:

Cinnteoidh Coimisinéir an Gharda, a mhéid is indéanta, go mbeidh comhaltaí den Gharda Síochána a bheidh ar stáisiún i ndúiche ina bhfuil limistéar Gaeltachta inniúil go leor sa Ghaeilge chun a chumasú dóibh í a úsáid go saoráideach le linn dóibh an dualgais a chomhall.

I am seeking to amend section 33 of the 2005 Act by deleting "to the extent practicable" so that there is an obligation on Garda management to ensure gardaí stationed in Gaeltacht areas have a standard of Irish that allows them to communicate with the public, receive complaints and deal with the public in a manner understandable in the Irish language.

To give background, I will take my first opportunity to mention the report An Coimisinéir Teanga laid before the Houses of the Oireachtas earlier this year. Dúirt sé gurbh údar díomá dó go raibh air an chéim seo a thógáil. Go sonrach, dúirt an Coimisinéir Teanga gur "údar díomá" é go bhfuil sárú an Gharda Síochána ar an dlí teanga ina ábhar tuarascála chuig Tithe an Oireachtais in 2021 agus dúirt sé go bhfuil "bonn faoi chóras riaracháin an Stáit le beagnach céad bliain".

The Coimisinéir Teanga took the only step that remained to him and placed the report before the Houses of the Oireachtas. Unfortunately, it has never been discussed here and I hope we get a chance to discuss it. When he took that last step, I will not say it was in frustration because I will not attribute feelings to him, but he set out clearly that, over a ten-year period from 2011 to 2021, he and his predecessor tried every possible way to engage with senior management on a report done in 2011 in Donegal. Deputy Pringle, who signed the amendment, is a Teachta Dála in that county. A report was carried out then on foot of a complaint from a member of the public that the Garda was not in a position to offer a service in Irish. A report was drawn up with a number of recommendations. Four were particularly notable, of which three were specific to Donegal and one had national implications. Dochreidte mar atá, incredible as it seems, the process that continued for those ten years was not positive and he had no choice in the end but to lay that report before the Houses of the Oireachtas. Two coimisinéirí teanga engaged, one who left the post because he felt there was cur i gcéill i gceist or pretence on the part of the State organs with regard to the Irish language. He was replaced by the current commissioner and that is where we are.

I doubt the Minister will accept the amendment because the words "to the extent practicable" provide a great escape route for every organisation. They tell us it is not practical. Earlier today, I was on the Irish committee and we had the Department of Health and the Health Service Executive before us and the exact same things were said. There is easpa tuisceana anseo go bhfuil dualgas dlíthiúil ar an Gharda an t-alt sin a chomhlíonadh. It has a legal responsibility to comply with the law and is not doing so. I have no choice but to ask for that escape route to be taken out to bring home to the Garda the importance of complying with the law.

When the Commissioner was before us on the committee, I said that all of us at some stage break the law and appeal to gardaí to give us a chance and we will change. If we are lucky, we get that chance and we change. The Garda has had more than ten years since the first report was produced in 2011 and there has been no change. That is the context to this simple amendment.

Tá mé chun labhairt i mBéarla mura miste leis an Teachta. I note the amendment proposed by the Deputy but I stress that all assignments of Garda resources are made within the operational capacity of the Garda Síochána and, especially, the Garda Commissioner. There is a requirement for the Commissioner to ensure, and the language used is "to the extent practicable", that gardaí stationed in Gaeltacht areas are proficient in Irish. The amendment would remove the words and require that to be an absolute. I do not think the language is there to create a roadblock or have an escape route for anybody, but I have a concern that it would act as a constraint on the Commissioner and his ability to direct and control An Garda Síochána and to assign appropriate gardaí with the skills or training needed depending on the issues involved and resources needed.

All gardaí are required to demonstrate some competency in Irish as part of their training programme, and this carries through in the performance of their duties. However, the assignment of resources to different areas is an operational matter, primarily for the Commissioner, and is subject to policing requirements, such as the type of issues in the area and the skill and expertise required. There might not be in the relevant moment somebody in the force proficient in the Irish language, available and able to go and deal with those issues.

There is a requirement to have two languages. The Deputy may come up against an issue whereby insisting that somebody must have Irish as one of those languages potentially creates a disadvantage for someone not born in Ireland who does not have Irish and may have various difficulties in that regard.

I understand these concerns have been raised with the Commissioner. The Deputy mentioned that. He has responded and addressed the joint committee on the Irish language earlier this year about it. He is very much aware of this and has given assurances he is trying to address the issue. Saying anything more would be to stray into an operational matter for An Garda Síochána and the Commissioner. The language is not there to create a get out of jail clause but to be practical in terms of the number of members in An Garda Síochána who are sufficiently proficient to deal with the issues involved.

I will not accept the amendment. I appreciate where the Deputy is coming from but the Garda Commissioner and the gardaí are best placed to deal with the issue in the first instance.

I support the argument made by my colleague, Deputy Connolly, and the amendment tabled by Deputy Pringle. The objective behind the amendment is to place an obligation on Garda management with regard to manpower.

I will reference that issue in relation to the Roscommon district of An Garda Síochána. In the past three years, 25 gardaí have left the district through promotion, transfer and retirement and none of them has been replaced. Quite frequently, there are only three gardaí on duty in Roscommon. One has to be based in the Garda station. This is a massive district going from Ballyleague to Shannonbridge, adjoining four counties. On Saturday, 4 October, there was one member left in that district where the car was called to a situation in County Longford, which left the subdistrict of Clonark without any garda. There are supposed to be seven or eight gardaí on average in the unit and that has been the case in Roscommon in recent years, but at the moment we are down to three or four. It is not good enough. We need to see gardaí appointed to address this problem.

Ba mhaith liom labhairt ar son an leasaithe seo ar alt 33. Feicimid sa státseirbhís, sna bainc, i bhFeidhmeannacht na Seirbhíse Sláinte, in Aer Lingus agus ar na comharthaí bóithre that there will not be any change. There will not be any change in what happens on the ground unless it is mandated. Asking the Garda nicely to do it will not work. As referenced by Deputy Connolly, when we listened at the coiste today, at least the HSE representatives came in, held their hands up and confessed they did not treat the Irish language with the respect it deserves. It is either an official language or it is not; it is either given the respect it deserves or it is not. It is not like other languages. They are not official. By not accepting the amendment, the Minister is allowing what has been going on to continue.

We see that all the way across State services. We heard today, for example, about a massive advertising budget of €8 million last year for vaccine passports and portals but there was no respect or aird given to the Irish language. If the Minister wants things to continue as they are in the State and the police service then she will not accept the amendment. I do not like the use of the word "force". It is not "Star Wars" we are talking about. If she wants change, it must be mandated and obligatory or nothing will change.

It is great to see the Minister back in the Chamber dealing with legislation. I appreciate the points she made about the Commissioner being the person who allocates resources, and that is based on the division of the organisation between the different pieces of legislation. Nevertheless, as a constituency Deputy in Dáil Éireann, it is important for me to raise issues in my area relating to appropriate Garda representation. A town of 30,000 people is being built in Cherrywood in my constituency and no physical space is being allocated for a Garda station. The area will be served by Cabinteely Garda station, which is nearby. Two Garda stations in the area have been closed. This is a major issue for local gardaí in terms of planning and for my constituents. There is an obvious gap and it must be addressed. As long as this matter is not addressed, it will contribute to anxiety and a lack of good planning. It might be for the Commissioner to consider and perhaps if he is listening to the debate he will hear the comments being made on behalf of my constituents and the gardaí who are trying to serve them well regarding the development in Cherrywood.

I was going to just rise to support the amendment. Others are talking about various issues, but the net issue atá soiléir dúinn ná go bhfuil dualgas orainne san Oireachtas áiseanna a chur ar bun chun go mbeadh sé ar chumas saoránach ar fud na tíre an teanga Gaelainne a úsáid más mian. We talk a lot about the use of the Irish language, and we pass laws, but I am not sure we really mean it. That is the point that is at the core of it in terms of so many different State organisations. It is not convenient to provide services in Irish, but that is not the point. Wales is bilingual. We must all work harder to ensure that if we are saying to people who want to carry on their lives as Gaeilge that the services of the State, whether it is ó thaobh an dlí, ó thaobh an oideachais nó ó thaobh aon rud eile, go mbeadh ar chumas na daoine sin an Ghaelainn a úsáid. We must do that by ensuring the institutions of the State provide those services. In and of itself, it might be a narrow amendment, but it is a very profound and groundbreaking one.

I thank the Deputies who have supported the amendment. I was hesitant to bring the amendment because I am very cautious given my own background and I can see the sense of the escape route. When I looked at the report and saw that it took ten years and that the Coimisinéir Teanga had to resort to the last weapon, an uirlis dheireanach a bhí aige, an tuarascáil a chur os comhair na Dála, d'athraigh mé m’intinn agus dúirt mé go raibh sé thar a bheith tábhachtach an leasú a chur chun cinn. I lost my caution when I read the report. I listened to the Coimisinéir Teanga when he came before us at the joint committee. When I heard what the Garda Commissioner said, there was an easpa tuisceana, a complete lack of understanding that the law had been broken and continues to be broken. That was very serious for me.

It is interesting because it comes back to what the Minister said, namely, that it might act as a constraint on resources. I will make two points about that. First, it might act as an inspiration or a motivation for the Garda to comply with the law and take all necessary steps, or even carry out a pilot project, something that would make the Garda see that they have to do something.

I have the report in English. When the complaint first arose, all nine gardaí that were assigned to the station in An Bun Beag had successfully passed the examination, yet it was freely acknowledged that eight of the nine were unable to deal with a member of the public through Irish. No argument was made that there were insufficient numbers of gardaí available. That argument was not made at all about the 13,000 members at the time having the necessary competence to properly comply with the statutory obligation. In fact, it was stated as an example in a report to the investigation that there was 100% compliance with the provision at stations in the Connemara Gaeltacht, which is not quite accurate. No argument was made about resources, but there was a complete lack of understanding.

I appreciate where the Deputy is coming from in putting forward this amendment, but my role as Minister is to support the Garda and the Garda Commissioner in carrying out their functions. Even though it is clear that all members of An Garda Síochána are required to be proficient in Irish, there is a potential in passing the amendment that in some way we would be tying the Commissioner's hands where very specific resources are required in a particular area at a particular time. That is certainly not something I want to do, but I appreciate that perhaps this is an issue that needs to be addressed. The Garda Commissioner is the best person to be able to do that. It is an issue I will raise with him. I intend to meet with him in the coming days, and I commit to raising this concern with him. Given the fact that he is aware of the issue and has given a commitment to try to address it, we must allow him the time and space to do that.

I accept that Deputy Connolly indicated the report is on the desk for ten years, but the Garda Commissioner has not been in his post for ten years and the issue was only recently raised with him at a committee meeting. We must give him time and space to respond and do what he said he would do. Insofar as possible, where it is practicable, every effort is made to make sure that gardaí who are in a Gaeltacht area are proficient in Irish and that they are able to provide a service in the Irish language to those who require it who are legally entitled to receive it. I appreciate that is not always the case, but every effort is made to try to ensure that happens.

The Minister can correct me if I am wrong, but the Garda Commissioner has been in place since 2018. It is now 2021, so it is not just yesterday. Second, there is a misunderstanding about the report, namely, that the investigation was carried out in 2011. The Garda failed to comply with the recommendations in that report and ten years later, ní raibh an dara rogha ag an gCoimisinéir Teanga ach an chéim dheireanach a ghlacadh agus an tuarascáil a chur os comhair na Dála. After ten years of getting nowhere and of correspondence with the previous Commissioner, the Commissioner appointed in 2018 and the previous Coimisinéir Teanga begging and imploring the Garda and seeking to work with it - and I understand it is the Commissioner's way not to bring reports before the Dáil and that this happens only as a last resort - the report was finally laid before the Dáil.

To a certain extent, I can see where the Minister is coming from, but I am empowered by the support, and also by my experience of having the Garda before us at the committee, and all the other organisations that come before us on a regular basis. It is a cur i gcéill amach is amach; it is just pretence. We are using Irish symbolically. We are using Irish as a flag for identity on occasions when it suits, but not as the first language of the country - príomhtheanga na tíre. I firmly believe in encouraging people to use it. I am not interested in punishing anybody. It is not the way to go with the Irish language, but there is an onus on us as Deputies to push for the absolute recognition of the Irish language as the first language and that we would have a bilingual country, but in the Gaeltacht areas that we would have services completely in Irish. To that extent, I have no choice but to press the amendment.

Amendment put:
The Dáil divided: Tá, 53; Níl, 73; Staon, 0.

  • Bacik, Ivana.
  • Barry, Mick.
  • Boyd Barrett, Richard.
  • Brady, John.
  • Browne, Martin.
  • Buckley, Pat.
  • Cairns, Holly.
  • Canney, Seán.
  • Carthy, Matt.
  • Collins, Michael.
  • Conway-Walsh, Rose.
  • Cronin, Réada.
  • Crowe, Seán.
  • Cullinane, David.
  • Daly, Pa.
  • Ellis, Dessie.
  • Farrell, Mairéad.
  • Fitzmaurice, Michael.
  • Funchion, Kathleen.
  • Gould, Thomas.
  • Guirke, Johnny.
  • Harkin, Marian.
  • Howlin, Brendan.
  • Kenny, Martin.
  • Kerrane, Claire.
  • Mac Lochlainn, Pádraig.
  • Mitchell, Denise.
  • Munster, Imelda.
  • Murphy, Catherine.
  • Murphy, Paul.
  • Nash, Ged.
  • Naughten, Denis.
  • Nolan, Carol.
  • O'Callaghan, Cian.
  • O'Donoghue, Richard.
  • O'Reilly, Louise.
  • O'Rourke, Darren.
  • Ó Broin, Eoin.
  • Ó Laoghaire, Donnchadh.
  • Ó Murchú, Ruairí.
  • Ó Ríordáin, Aodhán.
  • Ó Snodaigh, Aengus.
  • Pringle, Thomas.
  • Quinlivan, Maurice.
  • Ryan, Patricia.
  • Shanahan, Matt.
  • Sherlock, Sean.
  • Shortall, Róisín.
  • Smith, Bríd.
  • Stanley, Brian.
  • Tóibín, Peadar.
  • Ward, Mark.
  • Whitmore, Jennifer.

Níl

  • Brophy, Colm.
  • Browne, James.
  • Bruton, Richard.
  • Burke, Colm.
  • Burke, Peter.
  • Butler, Mary.
  • Byrne, Thomas.
  • Cahill, Jackie.
  • Calleary, Dara.
  • Carey, Joe.
  • Carroll MacNeill, Jennifer.
  • Chambers, Jack.
  • Collins, Niall.
  • Costello, Patrick.
  • Cowen, Barry.
  • Creed, Michael.
  • Crowe, Cathal.
  • Devlin, Cormac.
  • Dillon, Alan.
  • Donohoe, Paschal.
  • Duffy, Francis Noel.
  • Durkan, Bernard J.
  • English, Damien.
  • Farrell, Alan.
  • Flaherty, Joe.
  • Flanagan, Charles.
  • Fleming, Sean.
  • Foley, Norma.
  • Griffin, Brendan.
  • Harris, Simon.
  • Haughey, Seán.
  • Healy-Rae, Danny.
  • Healy-Rae, Michael.
  • Heydon, Martin.
  • Higgins, Emer.
  • Hourigan, Neasa.
  • Humphreys, Heather.
  • Kehoe, Paul.
  • Lahart, John.
  • Lawless, James.
  • Lowry, Michael.
  • Martin, Catherine.
  • Matthews, Steven.
  • McAuliffe, Paul.
  • McConalogue, Charlie.
  • McEntee, Helen.
  • McGuinness, John.
  • McHugh, Joe.
  • Moynihan, Aindrias.
  • Moynihan, Michael.
  • Naughton, Hildegarde.
  • Noonan, Malcolm.
  • O'Brien, Darragh.
  • O'Brien, Joe.
  • O'Connor, James.
  • O'Dea, Willie.
  • O'Donnell, Kieran.
  • O'Donovan, Patrick.
  • O'Dowd, Fergus.
  • O'Gorman, Roderic.
  • O'Sullivan, Christopher.
  • O'Sullivan, Pádraig.
  • Ó Cathasaigh, Marc.
  • Ó Cuív, Éamon.
  • Phelan, John Paul.
  • Rabbitte, Anne.
  • Richmond, Neale.
  • Ring, Michael.
  • Smith, Brendan.
  • Smyth, Niamh.
  • Smyth, Ossian.
  • Stanton, David.
  • Troy, Robert.

Staon

Tellers: Tá, Deputies Pa Daly and Thomas Pringle; Níl, Deputies Jack Chambers and Brendan Griffin.
Amendment declared lost.
Bill received for final consideration and passed.

The Bill will now be sent to the Seanad.