Garda Síochána Bill: Ministerial Presentation.

I welcome the Minister for Justice, Equality and Law Reform, and his officials, to discuss the proposed Garda Síochána Bill 2003. Members have already been circulated with the general scheme of the Bill, together with a copy of a press release issued by the Minister. The general foreword sets out the background and details of the Bill.

I invite the Minister to make a brief statement on the proposed contents of the Bill.

I welcome this opportunity to appear before the committee to present details of the general scheme of the Garda Síochána Bill 2003. The members of the committee will be aware that the general scheme was published by me on 30 July in order to promote public debate and consultation on the proposals outlined in the scheme. At that time I also published my general foreword which set out in some detail the background to this particular measure. As I said on that occasion, these proposals provide for far-reaching legislative changes which will affect our national police force in several important and very significant respects. They also represent the first major piece of legislative reform of the Garda Síochána since the foundation of the State, and the Bill which will flow from the process will form the basis for new relationships between the Garda Síochána on the one hand, and the Government and the people on the other, which will see us well into the future.

Even if the general scheme dealt with only one of the areas it covers it would be noteworthy; in fact it comprehends changes in six key respects affecting a redefinition of the relationship between the Government and the police, the strengthening of police accountability, enhanced co-operation between the police and local authorities, freeing up gardaí to tackle serious crime, an enabling provision for the establishment of a Garda reserve force, and finally, the setting up of a new, independent, Garda inspectorate, to investigate complaints against the police.

The background to all of this can be linked to two main developments. First, a comprehensive review of corporate governance in the Garda Síochána has been carried out in the context of the Garda Strategic Management Initiative (SMI). Second, the Government has decided that a new mechanism is needed to ensure openness and transparency in dealing with complaints against members of the Garda Síochána. Members of this committee will, no doubt, be aware that the existing Garda Síochána Complaints Board has itself acknowledged that the present arrangements regarding Garda accountability have not been an unqualified success, and that there are problems which need to be addressed.

I wish to stress, however, that in embarking on these groundbreaking reforms the position with regard to the role and responsibilities of the Minister for Justice, Equality and Law Reform under the Ministers and Secretaries Act, 1924 will not change or be affected in any way. Under that Act, the administration and business generally of public services in connection with law, justice, public order and police, and all duties connected with these matters, is assigned and administered by the Minister as head of the Department of Justice, Equality and Law Reform. The Act further states that the administration and business of the Department of Justice, Equality and Law Reform shall include the business, powers, duties and functions of police. The Minister is accountable to Dáil Éireann for all matters falling within his or her remit. The position in all these respects will remain exactly as it is, and it is proper in a democratic state that this should be the case.

In considering these matters, it is also necessary to take account of the role and special position of the Garda Síochána. The Garda Síochána is not directly comparable with the various police forces in these islands. It is and always has been an unarmed, unified and national police force responsible for policing throughout the State. It is also - and this differs from regional constabularies in the United Kingdom for instance - the national security force with responsibility for the security of the State, for intelligence gathering operations, for the implementation of asylum and immigration policies and, more recently, for the targeting of criminal assets through the operation of the CAB. Perhaps more than any other police force it performs these functions with the consent of the people and it prides itself on that fact. I merely highlight these matters because public debate on the reforms as set out in the scheme should start from that point.

One suggestion that has been made from time to time is for the establishment of a police authority, and, of course, this option would have to be considered in any comprehensive reform of the Garda Síochána such as I am proposing. The perceived advantage of such a body is that it interposes an additional layer of independent accountability between the political process and police management. The idea of such an authority may make perfectly good sense in the context of the UK regional police structure and in Northern Ireland where there are unique requirements associated with the need for confidence-building in a cross-community environment. I would contend, however, that where there is a single national police force, especially one which carries out the role of security service for the State as well, the case for setting up a police authority to act as a link between democratic institutions and the day-to-day responsibility for operational policing loses much of its force. Furthermore, I would contend that this additional layer in our scheme of things would very seriously dilute democratic accountability and political responsibility, and I do not propose to make any provision in the general scheme for such an unelected authority which would not be directly answerable to the people.

At the moment, the legal position of the Secretary General of the Department of Justice, Equality and Law Reform is that of the accounting officer for the force. This, in theory, allows for the micro-management of Garda decisions in a way that is no longer practical. The SMI review, to which I have already referred, proposed that the Commissioner should be the accounting officer for the force and makes other key recommendations to provide for a new statement of the relationship between the Commissioner and the Executive and between the Commissioner and the Oireachtas; a new statement of the respective roles of the Commissioner and the Minister for Justice, Equality and Law Reform; enhanced reporting arrangements and the introduction of a performance and accountability framework within the force from the Commissioner downwards. The general scheme contains proposals in respect of all of these issues.

In making such fundamental changes, great care has to be taken to ensure that there will not be any unintended negative consequences for all the parties involved, including especially the public, in this complex matrix of balancing responsibilities. We do not want to see a less effective policing system as a result. A robust balance has to be achieved between operational independence and public accountability, and between public accountability and effectiveness. The proposals as set out in outline in the scheme of the Bill strike that careful balance in this crucial area. It is important too that arrangements should be made within the parameters set by the Bill, which are flexible, bearing in mind that experience over the years has shown that a close working relationship between the Commissioner and the Minister which is founded on mutual respect and close consultation and co-operation is the key to effective policing in the State.

The general scheme also contains significant proposals for new consultative arrangements between the Garda Síochána and local communities at local government level. There is a close and logical connection between the functions of the Garda Síochána and those of local government. The time has come for a formal horizontal link to be established between local democracy, which is now constitutionally recognised and guaranteed, and the gardaí to their mutual benefit, enabling local authorities to have an input into local policing and enabling gardaí to have an input into local authority strategies which affect policing issues, ranging from planning to public order to estate management.

The proposal relating to the establishment of the Garda reserve is a significant development, but I must stress that it is a purely enabling provision. The Government has not yet decided to create such a body. I have already given a commitment to the Garda representative associations that the matter will not be proceeded with in the absence of consultation. Obviously, the setting up of a Garda reserve has important implications in relation to resources, functions and administration. The provision in the scheme is with a view to creating the opportunity for such a reserve to be put in place and, an important consideration in that regard is whether the Government and the Oireachtas consider that it would have a useful role to play in Irish society. The last thing I want to do is create some form of "yellow pack" policing body. However, there are many people around the country who would be willing to give of their time in serving with such a body to give something back to the communities in which they live. Such a development would have beneficial effects for the establishment of closer and deeper connections between the gardaí and the communities they serve. I emphasise, however, that the creation of a Garda reserve will never be a substitute for adequate resources.

The programme for Government commits us to the creation of an independent inspectorate with powers of an ombudsman. This in part flows from a recognition that the existing Garda Síochána Complaints Board has not been adequate for the task assigned to it, and from public demand for an answer to the age old question sed quis custodiet ipsos custodes? - “who shall guard the guards?”. The board, in its annual report for 1999 outlined the difficulties it was facing in discharging its statutory obligations when it noted that: “The board’s direct experience is that there is a lack of confidence in the current complaints system itself. This lack of confidence stems from a belief that the Garda Síochána (Complaints) Act 1986 does not provide either an independent or effective system for dealing with complaints against members of the Garda Síochána,”.

In drawing attention to this matter, I do not in any way want to detract from the excellent work that the complaints board has done within the constraints of the present system. I also want to acknowledge that, in terms of addressing wrongdoing, the Garda Síochána has often been its own sternest and most zealous prosecutor. The public demands, however, that an additional element of independence should be introduced into the complaints process, and of course, there are ECHR considerations to take into account in that regard as well.

Naturally, in looking at possible changes, the establishment of the Police Ombudsman in Northern Ireland had to be examined very carefully. Whereas many of the areas of policing North and South are the same, some areradically different. It would be trite and superficial to assume about policing on this island that "a one size fits all" approach would be appropriate.

Some people have argued for the establishment of an office of Garda ombudsman rather than an inspectorate as is proposed in the scheme. I have no difficulty in principle with nomenclature or with that idea, and I am open to suggestions because we are in a consultative mode at this stage. The important point is not the title of the new body, but the substantive matter of its powers, remit and effectiveness.

In that regard, one of the most important issues connected with the inspectorate will be the nature and extent of its investigative powers. I have made no secret of the fact that the head that will deal with this matter is still under consideration, as the matter is complex and sensitive. Rather than publish it in a form which would give rise to possible misunderstanding, I have chosen to delay its publication until I am satisfied that the correct balance will be struck between the effectiveness of the inspectorate and the effectiveness of the Garda Síochána, and between the rights and duties of all those likely to be affected. We have experience already of misunderstanding with regard to some of the published heads. It is clear to me, however - I want to emphasise this - as there have been some comments in the media to the contrary to the effect that the scheme of this Bill is in some sense ducking the issue, that an inspectorate by whatever name will require in certain circumstances powers of detention, search, seizure, and entry into premises for the proper discharge of its functions. Such powers need to be balanced by protections for those who will be affected by their exercise, including potential judicial oversight.

A mechanism must also be put in place for the effective resolution of potential conflicts between the exercise of the inspectorate's power and the exercise of similar powers vested in members of the Garda Síochána. It is obvious that if somebody has a power of arrest over another person, and two people sitting on opposite sides of the table are trying to exercise similar powers to different ends, there has to be some balancing mechanism to decide who is in charge and whose word goes on any particular occasion. I also have to consider how that balance will be struck to protect confidentiality, on which lives in some cases depend, and on issues relating to national security.

Rather than tie itself to particular propositions, the Government decided, in view of the huge importance of this legislation, that the process of consultation should proceed in parallel with the drafting process. I have made it clear that anyone with an interest in the matter of reform of the Garda Síochána will now have an opportunity to contribute to the debate. I do not refer merely to Garda representative associations, but to the Human Rights Commission or any NGO that feels it has a point of view to express. I use the term NGO in a broad sense to include political parties because they are more representative than many of the more vocal NGOs on these matters. This also applies to the various staff associations which represent the interests of the many civilian personnel who work with or in the service of the Garda Síochána.

Finally, I want to underscore the fact that we should never lose sight of the enormous legacy of respect that the members of the Garda Síochána have earned since the foundation of this State, and the foundation of the Garda Síochána, often in very difficult circumstances. I approach the matter from a position of support for the Garda Síochána, but I realise that we simply cannot leave things as they are. In order to maintain and build further on the solid foundation of public support and trust for the force, it is a fact that the Garda Síochána must change.

I compliment the Minister on the manner in which he has brought these proposals before the committee. This is not the first example of the Minister presenting proposals in this pre-legislative form. In my brief experience in the House once legislation is published one is immediately placed in a "them and us" situation in which a Minister has a stamp on a legislative programme and process and wants to defend them to the hilt. This Minister's approach is a laudable way of doing business and I would like to see other Ministers adopt the same course.

Two proposals in the legislation are worthy of comment. First, there is the involvement of, and provision for, closer integration with local authorities. Many public representatives throughout the country will hail this as an extremely innovative proposal. Whilst much of the headline crime reported in the media is of a very serious nature and should be reported, we as public representatives are faced on an almost daily basis, in our clinics, on our walkabouts and such like, with the crimes of anti-social behaviour, public order offences, and offences concerning management of housing estates, particularly local authority estates. For us that type of policing, as distinct from investigations of rapes, murders, bank robberies, whatever, is uppermost in people's minds and it is how they are most often affected. For that reason greater interaction between the local authorities and the Garda representatives on the ground, if it is effective, has the potential for great advances in community policing.

The second point concerns the freeing up of Garda resources, and there is sure to be unanimity about this. There is nothing more depressing than walking into a Garda station and seeing gardaí, trained at great expense to the State, working behind counters, pushing handwritten documents to one another when there are constant calls to get the gardaí out on the beat.

I compliment the Minister on this initiative. He should stick to his guns during the criticism this proposal will undoubtedly generate. The important point is to use modern management and human resources techniques to employ people in the best way possible. There are many other proposals I could discuss but I will wait until the legislation is published.

I too welcome the Minister and his officials and compliment him on having the courage and vision to decide to reform and restructure the Garda. It takes a fair amount of courage to embark on that course and to seek to consolidate virtually all the existing legislation covering the Garda into a single Act and to modernise it. I congratulate him on that undertaking. I agree with Deputy Power's comments on policing in the community. That is probably the key proposal in this legislation. It is the most far-reaching proposal and if it is put together properly - and the Minister has indicated that he is willing to have the widest consultation before it is enacted - it could transform policing. Undoubtedly, there is a serious problem of violence on the streets, in communities, and anti-social behaviour in housing estates but until ordinary citizens feel that the police are relevant to their policing needs we will continue to have major policing problems.

It is proper too that this initiative should be anchored in the local authority. Let us hope that with the ending of the dual mandate, local democracy, structured around the local authorities, will assume more importance. That is where the community policing fora and structures should link up so that the community can have a say in the manner in which it is policed and that there would be some accountability at local level. I welcome that very much.

This committee is not mentioned in the document. This is after all the Joint Committee on Justice, Equality, Defence and Women's Rights but no role whatsoever is assigned to it. Even the Committee of Public Accounts has the role of scrutinising the accounts, and the Commissioner reports to it. We are responsible for examining and discussing the Estimates for the Garda and I would have thought that we would be given some role. For example, all policy matters refer back to the Minister, the Government, or the Garda Commissioner. While the community is to have a role in the local policing structure, this committee looks at how the gardaí operate at national level, and how justice is administered. New proposals should reflect a greater role for parliamentary representatives. Neither the Oireachtas nor this committee is given a role. The Government and the Minister are given roles. The Minister has many roles as the entire document is peppered with ministerial regulations that can be introduced at will. I ask the Minister to consider giving this committee a part in some of the areas covered, whether the Estimates, accounts or policy.

The Minister covers several important areas here, particularly the question of the ombudsman or police inspectorate. He says that he does not mind if it is called an ombudsman but he is going to call it an inspectorate, whatever it is.

The name does not really worry me.

Could we not have it as an ombudsman, a term that is associated in the public perception with an independent entity acting on behalf of the citizen? An inspectorate has negative connotations as a supervisory internal inspection process that is not open to the citizen, or does not take into consideration the citizen's concerns.

Given that the proposal for putting in place an ombudsman or an inspectorate stems from the Good Friday Agreement in Northern Ireland we should note in regard to our restructuring that it was very quickly decided there to adopt the most independent model that could be found, the ombudsman. The Police Ombudsman has conducted her business in a very forthright fashion in Northern Ireland and she has made a name for herself. We should take this into consideration and establish a structure that is not less than that which operates in Northern Ireland in terms of its powers, remit and resources - which are a serious issue - and as a body that can command respect from the public.

I do not want to rehearse some of the issues that we have all seen reported in the media about the Garda Complaints Body and other issues that have come up from time to time, including matters of behaviour being settled out of court. We must make it very clear to the gardaí that improper behaviour cannot be tolerated and that structures are in place to ensure that it does not happen. Those structures do not exist today but in reforming the force we must ensure that they are put in place.

The Minister stated that the police authority is an extra tier and I agree that the last thing we need is too much bureaucracy in any structure that is functional. Nevertheless, we are adding a couple of extra tiers. We will be linking Government activity with the Garda, and the Commissioner will become more directly accountable to the Government and to the Committee of Public Accounts. We are also putting in the tier of local government having a role in policing. The Minister needs to revisit the question of a police authority and see if that would not be the best way to ensure that the police would operate in an independent fashion. We have established a prison service to run the prisons and a courts service to run the courts. Perhaps we should be establishing a police service. While it may be more sensitive than the other examples, we need structures that are effective and transparent. There is still a significant link to the Minister and the Government but none to the Oireachtas in the Minister's proposals.

The Minister did not refer to the disclosure of information by the gardaí in his remarks although it is part of the proposals. Has he decided after mature reflection and consideration that it might be a better course to leave that issue for another day? The manner in which it is reflected in the document presented to us - the Minister might prefer that I did not read it out - leaves much to be desired. It states that any disclosure by a garda to any person, not only the media, would be subject to a maximum fine of €30,000 and five years in prison. A sledgehammer was used when those proposals were drafted. Perhaps that will be dropped, as the Minister has indicated that he is thinking of reforming it. It should be dropped altogether.

Should we consider changing the oath to refer to the police force being the servant of the people? There is no reference to Garda training. While there is a reference to the EuropeanConvention on Human Rights, the broader issue of how Templemore operates, and whetherit is still a suitable location for delivering the quality of training that we need today, is not mentioned.

I welcome the discussion on the proposed Bill and I hope that when the Minister states that consultation should proceed in parallel with the drafting process that it will be taken on board because this is a serious issue on which we need an informed debate. We need new radical ideas on policing and a new Garda Síochána because our citizens are crying out for reform of the force, change and efficiency.

Does the Minister, and the senior gardaí, accept responsibility when it comes to accountability? In the past 12 months there have been 13 gangland killings in Dublin and no arrests. People say that the gardaí cannot touch the perpetrators. Does the Minister accept responsibility for that as part of his remit and does he accept that these incidents happened on his watch? This is a serious public issue. Is it correct to say that since 1997 Dublin has lost about 150 gardaí? When the Minister speaks of enhanced co-operation between gardaí and local authorities does he accept that in very disadvantaged communities, which constitute about 30% of the population, people feel alienated from the system of justice and let down when it comes to anti-social behaviour, violence, drugs and crime? Some progressive local authorities have started the process and I have been involved as a city councillor since 1999 in some of these issues.

There seems to be an element in the senior gardaí that is defensive about being accountable. I have encountered this at meetings with them where if one asks questions, or seeks efficiencies, or is in favour of civil liberties, one is perceived as being anti-gardaí. It is important to get the message across to them that citizens are demanding policing and civil liberties but are not being anti-Garda when they do so.

Does the Minister accept that the civil liberties of young people and of the victims of crime and confidentiality have been ignored in this debate? Any serious, objective person when talking about good quality, professional policing will agree that the civil liberties of the victims and of children must be respected. Some of the media have lost their direction in this matter because confidentiality and policing are serious issues. It is as if the teacher who is teaching the child about a celebrity were to tell the newspapers about what happened in the yard that day. That would not be professional teaching. Journalists need to live in the real world too.

Will journalists be obliged to reveal their sources under the new whistle-blowing provisions? The Incorporated Law Society is concerned about this. Is the Minister also concerned? I am also concerned about doing anything to hamper the work of serious investigative journalists. A five year jail term and a fine of €30,000 is extremely harsh. It reminds me of our colleague, Deputy Joe Higgins, who is serving a sentence of one month, arising out of a civil disobedience case. It is a disgrace that criminals and tax dodgers can walk free while a Deputy who is an honest, decent politician is locked up in Mountjoy Prison.

On the media issue, I accept the Minister's point that this is not personally driven, having listened to many interviews which he has given. However, I should like to put a question to him: Is he sticking to his allegation about journalists bribing gardaí? Many people seem to believe he has rowed back from that allegation.

I have two further points to make. On the question of a Garda reserve, I am open to such a suggestion on the basis of effective community policing, but not in terms of any form of "yellow pack" police force or a UDR type of group. On the Good Friday Agreement, to which Deputy Costello also referred, issues such as those of the ombudsman and Patton should be taken on board. In the context of the reference to North-South policing, trust is essential but many people in the North do not have trust in the police there, following a very serious conflict for more than 30 years. Trust has to be top of the agenda. My personal and political preference is for an all Ireland police force, but that is for another debate on another day. Does the Minister accept that in the context of quality policing, trust must be part of the agenda?

It was interesting to hear the Deputy's reference to being in the world of reality. I call Deputy O'Dowd.

I welcome the Minister to this meeting. I also welcome this debate that is commencing today. There are many very good features of our police force, whose actions are supported by the vast majority of the population. Anything the Minister and the Oireachtas can do to give greater value to police work in the community is to be welcomed and, accordingly, I welcome the good features of this Bill. I am particularly interested in the idea of community policing. The biggest problem in the area where I live and work is a lack of policing on the ground at weekends. People want to see the Garda equivalent of the local bobby of former years back on his rounds, maintaining contact with the people. It is not acceptable to police a town the size of Drogheda from one patrol car at night or at weekends.

I welcome the Minister's initiative to relieve gardaí of routine work and get them back on the streets. However, even more resources should be put into policing larger urban areas, particularly at weekends. Speaking as a parent of teenage sons, one worries about their safety when they go out at night and if they may be beaten up at some night club or whether a bouncer will have a go at them or their friends. I welcome the Minister's initiatives on reforming the law on alcohol abuse in particular. However, the biggest worry for parents of teenage children is what may happen while they are out at night and whether they will come home safely. We must focus the attention of society on this issue.

It is also our duty, in a situation where people in general and women in particular do not feel safe on our streets at night, to ensure that additional policing resources are provided. What has happened to the Minister's promise, in his election manifesto, to have an additional 2,000 gardaí on the streets? I am referring to full-time professional policing, while I accept and acknowledge the Minister's ideas with regard to a Garda reserve.

One of the biggest problems is that gardaí are often engaged in routine work, such as directing traffic, which could be done by somebody else. Is there any reason a traffic warden cannot direct traffic at busy times? In considering the allocation of resources to a police reserve, the extension of the role of people such as traffic wardens should also be considered, without encroaching on the area of police work.

On Mountjoy Prison, which I am aware the Minister has visited and which has some 550 inmates currently, most of those people come from disadvantaged communities in the city of Dublin. There are, perhaps, six districts from which most of the criminal element comes. The system of juvenile liaison officers has worked very well in the past, particularly in disadvantaged communities where the interaction between the gardaí and the community is very important and needs to be developed. It is not enough to jail those who commit crimes - we must also get into the area of resourcing disadvantaged communities, including the provision of education and training and the involvement of the gardaí in a friendly relationship with local people. In the situation of what I believe are described as latch-door kids, we need to have another look at how to interact with young people who, if they continue on their present course, will end up before the courts and in jail.

While I am conscious of time, I wish to raise some further points.

Do the Deputy's points relate to the Garda Síochána Bill?

Yes, of course. They also relate to comments by other speakers, to which I feel sure the Chairman will allow me refer. One issue concerns the new or increased penalties which the Minister is introducing on the exchange of information between gardaí and journalists. I acknowledge the trauma suffered by the Minister's family in that regard and I believe the country is behind him on that issue. However, is the existing law not sufficiently strong to deal with gardaí or others who step outside the clear relationship which must prevail as between individual privacy and the reporting of cases in the media. That is a very important issue.

Finally, I wish to refer to the issue of North-South policing. Radical changes for the better are now taking place in our country. Perhaps the Minister will comment, at a future date, on where links can be improved between the police forces, North and South. The excellent relationship which is now being built between Ireland and Britain should be further strengthened - that is the way forward for all, irrespective of religious or other affiliations.

We hope the Garda Commissioner will meet this committee in the near future. I am aware that he attaches particular importance to relationships between the police forces, North and South and Deputy O'Dowd will be welcome to participate in that discussion.

I compliment the Minister on his very brave step in embarking on this legislation, which might be said to follow a difficult path. I endorse the Minister's expression of regard for the work of the Garda since the foundation of the State. The force has served us well as an unarmed police service. Despite a few blips, the standard of service is comparable to the best in any other country.

I do not wish to repeat the points already made, with many of which I agree. I am very interested in the idea of a reserve force. Many gardaí are behind desks, pushing paper as Deputy Power described it. They are also involved in manning speed checks and operating cameras - on a recent journey from Dublin to west Cork, I observed no less than seven such instances. I regard it as a total waste of resources to have gardaí hiding in bushes or wherever on such duties. There has to be a better way of dealing with that.

In the context of the recent suggestion of extending the general retirement age to 75 - I appreciate that it is only a suggestion - I am concerned to note that many gardaí are retiring from the force at around my own age or not much older. In cases where gardaí may have spent a long time in difficult areas, it may be a matter of burn-out. Perhaps there should be a further role in which they could be encouraged to continue, possibly in a different area. It is disturbing to see relatively young gardaí, male and female, opting out in their mid-40s or early 50s. In my view, that waste of resources should be examined further. It is a matter of concern that members of the Garda force, some of them at the rank of sergeant or higher, are leaving early. Such experienced people should have a role to play well into their 50s or even 60s.

I welcome the Minister and compliment him on his very open and transparent approach. He has spoken of a comprehensive review - one might describe it as a root and branch exercise. I hope the idea of a police authority, to which the Minister referred, will be considered. As he said, anybody with an interest in reform of the Garda Síochána will now have an opportunity to voice their views. In the context of the Minister's proposed consultation with all representative associations, how will a community association or other body of people or, indeed, individual citizens make their contribution to that process?

I welcome the intention that local authorities will have an input to local policing. There is currently a minimal exchange of views on an annual basis, but it only relates to very minor matters. A more formal arrangement is to be welcomed. On an inspectorate or ombudsman, I accept the Minister's point that the title or wording is less important than the fact that substantive matters will be addressed. However, I strongly endorse Deputy Costello's view that the title of "ombudsman" would have much better connotations.

Unfortunately, although the overwhelming majority of gardaí are exemplary citizens, their public image has been damaged by a very few "bad apples". I share the Minister's conclusion that change is necessary. I hope and trust that such change will be good for the Garda and for society.

I concur with the Minister's views on a police authority. Our experience with other bodies such as the National Roads Authority indicates that the imposition of additional structures may bring very little benefit. Indeed, I suggest that Ministers have an undue propensity towards putting some of their functions at arm's length. It would be far better to take direct control, on the basis that Ministers are accountable to the Dáil. I fully subscribe to the route the Minister is following and I hope other Ministers will follow his approach in that regard.

I greatly welcome the proposed involvement of local authorities in this context. We have had a debate in the Seanad on the matter, in the course of which the Minister indicated his support for this approach. This will bring a new dynamic to policing, especially in urban areas where much of the anti-social behaviour mentioned by other speakers occurs. If that is not corrected, the perpetrators tend to graduate to more serious crime. Accordingly, it is best to tackle the problem at an early stage, both for the benefit of the individual who may be tempted into such activity and also for the benefit of society.

I am somewhat concerned by a suggestion that the structure of reporting is likely to be through county development boards, but perhaps that report is unfounded. As the Minister is aware, such boards often consist largely of local authority officials. The line of reporting should be directly to the town or city council, as the case may be, or a sub-committee in which only elected members should be involved. That would be beneficial to local government and to the Garda, in terms of shared information and it can be constructed in a way that will attract good public support. Local council meetings are often well reported in the local press and, while some of the consultations may take place in committee, for obvious reasons, some of the process may also take place in public sessions, thereby generating public support for the efforts of the Garda. That can do a great deal of good.

I welcome the Minister's proposal for a Garda reserve. I would like to have further information as to the areas of activity at which it will be targeted. The functions will need to be clearly defined in that regard. I do not subscribe to the notion that the proposed reserve police force would take on specific functions from which the Garda would then withdraw. That would be a mistaken approach. However, the reserve force could be primarily the enforcer, as it were, with the backing of the Garda that would also be seen to be involved in the same functions from time to time. Some examples of where we have fallen down in that regard include the appointment of parking and litter wardens, following which the Garda appears to have withdrawn from involvement in those areas. That has not been to the benefit of enforcement of legislation or the policing system. That issue needs to be managed carefully.

There are insurance issues for individuals in the reserve force and also in terms of State liability for their actions in that capacity. Perhaps there is some similarity to the situation of the FCA, except that the interaction with the public will be much stronger in this case. Accordingly, there will have to be strict guidelines, disciplines and training for the reserve force.

If I may revert to the local authority aspect, a warden system has been introduced in some counties, not just in relation to traffic matters but also on the enforcement of planning legislation and local authority by-laws. There is a pilot scheme of that type in Wexford. It has often occurred to me that there must be scope, in relation to traffic management, speed controls and so on, for a reserve force which, perhaps, might operate in conjunction with the county council warden system. That would relieve the Garda to tackle its primary function as a police force.

On the question of an ombudsman or inspectorate, I am in agreement with the Minister that the substantive matters of the powers and remit of the body are more important than the name. Deputy Costello has already made the point that the term "ombudsman" has a connotation of independence and security for individuals making complaints. In terms of perception, there may be some advantage in using the term "ombudsman" rather than "inspectorate" as the latter may be seen as having a greater pro-police image.

I join in welcoming the Minister and his officials. I compliment the Minister on his innovative proposals. Like other colleagues, I welcome the proposal for more clearly established relations with local authorities. Many local authorities already have good relations with Garda personnel and meet on a regular basis, but that is in an informal capacity at this stage. The proposed new arrangement will be greatly welcomed. As one example of the benefits that can result from such consultation, I recall this committee's meeting last week with the banking institutions. In that context, it was an assistant commissioner of the Garda who recommended that, in the preparation of county development plans by local authorities, conditions should be included on the provision of banking outlets in shopping malls, including availability of the necessary electronic infrastructure. He advocated that such requirements should be conditions of county development plans from day one, rather than being undertaken subsequently and causing a great deal of disturbance. That was a very significant input from the Garda officer concerned. In the absence of a good relationship with local authorities in the preparation of county development plans, very valuable information can be lost. The example to which I have just referred illustrates that very well.

On the Minister's intention to relieve the Garda of other duties to enable it to tackle crime, I hope that will result in a greater Garda presence in rural areas where, if the Minister for Community, Rural and Gaeltacht Affairs, Deputy Ó Cuív, has his way, there will be an increase in population. A Garda presence is very effective in minimising criminal activity in any area. I hope rural areas will benefit from this initiative. In the context of the Minister's proposal, this committee and the Government must take account of the fact that many civilians who are highly qualified in areas such as forensics and criminology are finding it very difficult to get employment in Ireland. In releasing gardaí for the duties for which they have been trained, we should recognise the qualifications and abilities of civilians who are available and willing to undertake relevant work.

There is scope for collaboration between the Department of Justice, Equality and Law Reform and the Department of Education and Science with a view to encouraging and initiating appropriate courses in third level colleges. I know of individuals who are qualified in the relevant areas, having gone abroad to acquire those qualifications and returned to seek work here. The Department of Education and Science should have a role in opening up new avenues for young people with an interest in those areas.

On bringing the Garda closer to communities, there is scope for greater Garda involvement with schools at primary and secondary level. I assure Deputy Costello that Templemore is a very suitable place for Garda training and is visited by many school groups. There is a good relationship between many schools and the Garda, but that relationship needs to be further developed. Peer pressure can adversely affect the image that young people have of the Garda. Although that image is totally undeserved, it is liable to be compounded unless a better alternative image is presented. I hope that, in some way, the Bill will address this matter.

I welcome the Minister and his officials. I fully support the approach towards enabling the Garda to do a better job. Perhaps I should say that I have a family member involved in the force. I greatly welcome the Minister's proposal on the involvement of local authorities in local policing matters. In the course of my 27 years as a member of Offaly County Council, from which I resigned today, I have had frequent contact with Garda officers in the development and promotion of improved liaison. However, I believe such meetings are not taking place as frequently as they should. There is considerable scope for greater co-operation between local authorities and the Garda. In many instances, meetings were held in the context of a threatened closure of a garda station or a reduction in the number of gardaí in an area. There are opportunities for much greater involvement, as previous speakers have said, on such issues as changing speed limits, improved public lighting and other aspects of public safety. Matters of that nature are often neglected unless local residents apply pressure. Garda support on such matters would be a major factor.

I compliment the Minister on his approach towards tackling the problems associated with alcohol consumption, pub closing times and so on. He should consider even further tightening of the laws. Of course, as one who wears a pioneer pin, it is easy for me to advocate that - others may not agree with me.

It may be appropriate to examine the situation with regard to ongoing training and physical fitness of gardaí. The excellent level of fitness of new gardaí on the occasion of their passing out parades is very impressive. However, observation would suggest that that is not always maintained a few years later and that some ongoing fitness training may be required.

The presence of resident gardaí in rural towns and villages was an important feature in the past. It may be worth considering some modest amount of housing grant aid to encourage gardaí to live in the areas in which they work. I am aware that there was some such provision in the past and perhaps we cannot now afford it on the same scale. However, it merits consideration. As public representatives, we have direct experience of the difficulty of keeping track of our constituents as people move in and out of our areas. Gardaí who live in the area in which they work will gain valuable local information and, whether on or off duty, will know the whereabouts of certain people at certain times.

I compliment the Minister on the increased Garda surveillance on illegal activities taking place on our rivers. Living, as I do, near the River Shannon, I have a good appreciation of that situation and I hope the Minister will promote further developments in that regard. I compliment the Minister on his excellent presentation on this Bill, which I fully support. It is important that the message should go out that there is strong support for the Garda from the Oireachtas and the Department of Justice, Equality and Law Reform. That will have the effect of enhancing public respect and support.

If I may refer briefly to the proposed Garda reserve force, many people would question the need for having gardaí and squad cars tied up on duties, such as monitoring traffic speed, when a camera can be operated just as effectively by a member of a reserve force.

I thank all who contributed to the debate. We had a very broad spectrum of representation from throughout the country. I found the contributions from Senators particularly refreshing and helpful. I invite the Minister to respond.

I thank the Chairman and members of the committee for a very broad-ranging response to the proposals which were circulated. In order to do full justice to many of the issues raised, it would be necessary to extend this meeting much longer than I intend to do and I assume that is not the wish of the committee.

A number of insights have been offered in relation to the role of the Gárda Síochána and the provisions of the draft legislation as circulated. I wish to take those contributions on board and consider them at greater length. Accordingly, if I do not respond at greater length or in more detail, I hope it will be appreciated that I am not ignoring the issues, some of which may, perhaps, require longer reflection and response than others. Deputy Power and many other contributors to this debate mentioned the function of local authorities. It is the first time that a statutory basis is provided for the relationship between the Garda Síochána and local authorities. That is not to say that there is already not such a relationship. However, taking a look north of the Border to where the district police partnerships are coming into existence and at what is happening south of the Border, without creating Deputy Finian McGrath's all-Ireland police force, there is a similarity of issues on both sides of the Border. It is necessary to bring the police force home to the people.

We live in a changing society. Many members mentioned the need for the force to have roots in and relationships with the community. That was one of the motives that I had in mind in dealing with the possibility of a Garda reserve. Connections between the community and the force are important, especially in these highly mobile days when gardaí live 60 and 70 miles from their work, turn up to work at a Garda station in one place and then commute a long distance back home. Many communities have a sense now - I hope it is not a growing one - that the connection that they had in the old days with their local gardaí is broken. In the old days, they were forced to live in barracks in somewhat undesirable circumstances when they were young and unmarried. I do not wish to return to that. However, communities felt that the force was located solidly in their areas. Things have changed now. I want to recreate by whatever means I can this environment.

I will bear in mind what Senator Moylan said about grants for gardaí living near their workplace. That sense of link is important. There is a danger there that we will all be blind to ignore that the force will become detached and we will have a commuter force rather than a local presence.

The Senator also mentioned freeing up Garda resources. This is a point where I am strong. I do not want gardaí to do things on which training in Templemore is wasted. There are things that require a Garda presence. The mere fact that a garda is sitting behind a desk, does not in some sense mean he is not carrying out Garda functions. Many functions require sitting down at a desk carrying out investigations and the like. It is not all legwork.

I live in a real world as well as some of the contributors. The Minister for Finance has said that I am not at liberty to recruit new people to the justice family without limit. When I was made Minister for Justice, Equality and Law Reform, I set about planning for the extra 2,000 gardaí. I was halted in my tracks by a Government decision that put limits——

In the election?

I agree. I am making the point in case people think that I got into office and scrapped that commitment. That was not the case.

It was agreed.

We were working away on it. It has to be said that both Deputy Costello's party and the other largest party in Opposition opposed this extra recruitment measure at the time. Now, it is thrown constantly in my face that it cannot be done by people who actually said it was not a good idea at the time. That is politics for you.

We are increasing the strength of the Garda Síochána to 12,200, notwithstanding the fact that there is a cap on public service recruitment. In addition, the Government has decided that the 5,000-employee reduction in public service numbers should not apply to the Garda Síochána. This is evidence of a departmental agenda, which I identify with, to swim against the tide and ensure as many gardaí as possible are put in place. That is without prejudice to the notion of Cabinet solidarity. In case people think that the first thing I did when I got into office was to tear up the commitment, that is far from the truth.

Was it Deputy McCreevy, the Minister for Finance, who tore them up?

The Government made its decisions and I have to stand by those. We are in a situation where resources are limited. If we are talking about oncologists, special teachers, psychiatrists or gardaí in the public service, choices have to be made. It is not possible to stand up to one's own departmental agenda and say that one does not care what the consequences are in other areas while my agenda is addressed in isolation.

Deputy Costello spoke about the role of the Joint Committee on Justice, Equality, Defence and Women's Rights and the Garda Commissioner becoming accountable to the Committee of Public Accounts. However, what about the rest of the Garda Síochána? If one looks at heads ten and eleven in the proposed legislation, one will see the Commissioner's proposals for how he discharges his functions and the directives given to him by the Minister for Justice, Equality and Law Reform on behalf of the Government will all be laid before the Oireachtas. It will be to a committee such as this that examination of those plans will fall and not just before the Committee of Public Accounts. If there is no reference to this committee in the legislation, it is not because such involvement is excluded. It is because a number of the new proposals with regard to strategic plans and the like will require them to be laid before the Oireachtas. I would imagine that a committee such as this would examine them and call in witnesses. The Committee of Public Accounts is purely concerned with value for money. There is a totally different angle with regard to broad policy guidelines that will be the subject of close Oireachtas scrutiny.

Deputy Costello referred to the ombudsman and he made a strong case for the term "ombudsman" having certain connotations that are absent from the term "inspectorate". We have decided to establish a three-person body. This was especially the case because with the Garda having all the functions it does have, it is essential that there should never be a situation that there should be personal sparking off or rivalry on a personal basis between top Garda management and one individual or that people should go into the trenches. One of the ways to ensure that there is continuity of thought and a broad base to the decisions made by the established body is that it should be headed by a triumvirate instead of simply consisting of one person in the media spotlight. That does not mean the office could not be termed ombudsman.

Returning to what Senator Walsh said, a rose by any other name would smell as sweet is true. However, one of the advantages of going for change on this and describing it as an ombudsman service, is that those who claim it is not would have their case answered for them. While one knows the old phrase, "when you are explaining, you are losing", it may be better to stop explaining and go with the flow. That might be the politically wiser move.

I know Deputy Costello is attached to the idea of a police authority. However, the relationship between Garda Commissioner, Minister, Government and Oireachtas is a direct one. It means the phone can be lifted on occasion from either direction and the question can be asked, what is happening in a particular respect. There is a close relationship between the Garda Commissioner and the Minister for Justice, Equality and Law Reform. It has to be one of trust and mutual respect. If one interposes something like the RTE authority or the NRA as a group through whom the Minister has to act to get information, I believe that standing up in Dáil Éireann to account for the police force and security service, the public's right to know and have direct accountability would be diluted. I know Deputy Costello has a different view. However, I believe that direct accountability is the way forward if we can preserve it.

The Deputy referred to the oath and whether it should contain more, such as service to the community. There is nothing sacrosanct about the exact terms or the extent of the oath that is now proposed. What it should do is remind Garda Síochána members -and it should be visibly displayed - what they undertook the day they were attested. It should, without being unduly long and politically correct, be a concise statement of what a garda undertakes, by way of duty, on the day he or she becomes a member. When one addresses, as I have done, a passing-out parade in Templemore, one does see enthusiastic, dedicated people setting off on a career of 30 years service to the State. One wonders if the high ideals and great ambitions of that day will always be easily accessible. If we look at the oath, it should be concise and stuck in the heads of all gardaí what the terms are. It should effectively be a mission statement as well as a public acknowledgement of duty to the people.

Deputy Costello raised a question on head 26 and the confidentiality issue. It is important to emphasise, as some people seem to have forgotten, that this is a consultative document. Deputy Costello has made the point several times that there is no mention in it of exceptions and countervailing safeguards for gardaí. I accept that it is inadequate in its present form. However, with the note to it, it was stated that the precise scope of this provision and in particular whether there is a need to provide for exemptions will be considered further during the drafting stage of the Bill. I have unilaterally and not at the instigation of others put on my thinking cap. I invite other people to do so as well.

There are a number of safeguards that have to be there. There are whistleblower safeguards, the privilege of the Members of the Oireachtas to hear matters that was established by the case of Deputy Rabbitte with regard to the Goodman case. The rights of representative associations to legitimately carry out their functions are included in this. It is also to avoid what Deputy Costello has been mentioning, which is the sledgehammer to crack a nut aspect of it. It seems to me that a serious penalty could only be contemplated where the action in question was grave. That is grave in terms of its outcome for an individual or for its implications for due process, the interests of the State or whatever. I am generating my ideas as a result of the public debate that has ensued on that need. I always foresaw the need for balancing items there. In case anyone thinks this was an afterthought, it was not. The Attorney General mentioned to me when the heads were being put together that he foresaw a need for a balancing of this time as well.

I do not want to rekindle old controversies. However, to those who think - the majority of the committee do not think it - that in some sense this is some personal preoccupation of mine which is flowing from a particular incident that is not so. My predecessor as Attorney General, Mr. David Byrne, in his last few days in office wrote to the then Garda Commissioner with regard to a number of cases where there had not been a satisfactory outcome to investigations to various leaks which had caused serious damage to defenseless individuals. He put on the record his concerns with regard to these matters. He said that in the light of his concerns he proposed to suggest to his successor that he may consider taking this matter up with the Garda Commissioner again. When Mr. Byrne verbally debriefed me when he left office, he emphasised the importance of this issue. He also said that he was sending a copy of that letter to the then Minister for Justice, Equality and Law Reform for his information.

I do not want to go into the details of those cases. To do so would be to compound the injury to the individuals about whom the then Attorney General was making complaints. The Garda Commissioner, Mr. Byrne, in his reply to Mr. Byrne said:

I view the disclosure of information of this kind to be damaging to the various organs of the State and have looked at means by which An Garda Síochána could be more successful in our investigations from time to time. One area of concern to investigating gardaí is the lack of power of arrest and detention for offences under section 4 of the Official Secrets Act 1963.

I will pause to remind the committee that it is a summary offence carrying a six-month penalty but there is no power of arrest and detention. The most that can be done is to ask people as one meets them in corridors if they know anything about a particular leak.

He continued:

If the legislators were to provide such powers, it would be of enormous assistance to investigators to find those responsible for such disclosures. Provision should also be made for such persons to be detained under the provisions of section 4 of the Criminal Justice Act 1984 for the proper investigation of that offence.

Section 4 of the Criminal Justice Act 1984 applies to what that Act describes as serious offences which are sentences which carry a maximum of five years in prison. This is not a proposition that I thought up on the back of a beer mat one afternoon. This is a provision that has effectively been staring us in face as needed since 1999. I do not want to go into the details of the particular cases that underlay this correspondence because to do so would risk endangering in public the particular victims yet again. I want to emphasise that it was clear that as long as the present law remains in its present state and the European Convention on Human Rights is interpreted as meaning that journalists can protect their sources that we are in a position that unless some change of the kind contemplated by the former Garda Commissioner is put in place that the capacity of anybody to seek redress in these cases or who is breaching the law is limited.

The Official Secrets Act, inadequate though it is, deals with a criminal offence. Every garda, even on the present oath, undertakes to uphold the law of the State. It is the case of a crime being committed without an effective remedy in terms of investigation. I want the committee to know that no personal experience of mine or my family's has anything to do with my determination to ensure what the then Commissioner said in matters of different orders of seriousness in terms of impact on victims that change had to be brought about. When that is explained to people, they understand it. There are some people in the media who would prefer to say that this is a row based on personal pique on my part. I emphasise that is not so. Efforts to confuse the issue and pretend that it is so will not deflect me from looking at the real problem. That real problem is, say, a victim of a sexual offence should never find the details that the crime committed against her are put on the front of a newspaper. This is especially true in the context of the victim learning in the same story as happened on one occasion that the DPP did not propose to proceed with a prosecution. This was the first time the victim learnt that there would be no prosecution when she saw in lurid detail the substance of the offence committed against her on the front of the newspaper. That is unforgivable. It is not just unforgivable in moral terms, but it raises the spectre of this State being brought to Strasbourg for damages to be awarded to that person for breach of her privacy.

I will also emphasise that the European Convention of Human Rights legislation that is coming through is now going to make it an actionable tort for organs of the State - that includes the Garda Síochána - to infringe somebody's convention rights. This will in effect bring into Ireland an invasion of privacy tort. Not merely will future Ministers for Justice, Equality and Law Reform be staring at these events saying it is outrageous what has happened, they will also be reaching for the cheque book to pay the victims of this kind of behaviour. I do welcome any input from any source on this to produce a balanced provision that is sufficiently robust to allow investigation of seriously damaging leaks where people are seriously affected. At the same time, this provision should be sufficiently aware of the needs of the media to have information about what the Garda Síochána is and is not doing.

There will also be in this legislation provision for a code of ethics. It is my earnest belief by means of a penalising provision for serious breaches and a code of ethics that we will arrive at a balanced solution.

Deputy Costello made mention of Templemore Training College. Deputy Hoctor will be glad to know that I do not propose to close Templemore or to move it somewhere else. There has been much investment in Templemore. I wish to pay tribute to the management of Templemore. It is a great institution and is developing. Not everything there is perfect. I read from time to time about some of its inadequacies. However, the Northern Minister with responsibility for security, Ms Jane Kennedy, who recently visited it was hugely impressed by what she saw by comparison with what she had seen in other places.

Deputy Finian McGrath raised many interesting points.

Perhaps the Minister can reply in writing to those Deputies who are not present?

That might be the best thing to do. Senator Walsh referred to the whole business of wardens and local authorities and using them as para police functionaries of some kind or another. In the Bill there is the notion of giving police powers of a limited nature to people who are not members of An Garda Síochána. We had in mind people to mind galleries and public buildings. However, I am open to giving wardens whose responsibilities it is to care for estates under local authority management an extension of those limited powers.

There is no need now in having gardaí hiding in bushes to detect speeding. One matter that the Minister for Transport, Deputy Seamus Brennan, and I are discussing is the capacity to farm that kind of activity out to people who are not gardaí, in addition to gardaí. The very important point that Senator Walsh has made is that one does not want gardaí walking away from areas just because they share responsibility with someone else. We do not want people saying that is wardens business or the business of civilian speed trap operators and therefore there is no future function for Garda Síochána.

A garda in the bush stops people from speeding.

That is true. However, so too would someone else with a camera.

What about the interaction with local authorities?

The interaction with local authorities might be modelled on the county development board. I do not have that idea at all. I admit this proposal is somewhat skeletal. However, we are talking about a joint committee of gardaí and local authority members. It is the elected members that I am interested in, although I would like the management to be present and involved in the process. We have to get to the point where local authorities interact fully with gardaí. It is not a whinge session about the absence of gardaí here and there. It is also about the gardaí saying, for example, that if the lights are not repaired in such and such an estate; they have a serious problem there. Another example is where the gardaí can say that if the local authority continues with a policy that they might have a problem in policing the area.

A UK Home Office survey showed that good street lighting is as effective a deterrent as closed circuit television. Tying down gardaí watching screens in a station when the same result can be achieved by putting more lamp standards in an area is an issue on which the Garda would have something to say to local authority members. I want to firmly nail on the head the notion that this is some quango I am establishing which will be for officials only. This is intended to be a forum where local authority elected members because of their mandate interact with the police below the parliamentary level.

Deputy Hoctor raised interesting questions with regard to career opportunities in the Garda. I have taken all that on board. I have not an instant response to give, but it does seem her points are correct. For people who have achieved forensic expertise in the Garda or other police expertise, we have to be creative in opening up opportunities for them to assist the Garda. She mentioned the involvement of gardaí in schools both at primary and secondary level. That is important because there is a danger that the gardaí are becoming detached from the community. One of the obvious ways for community gardaí to establish links with their community is for the children to know them as they are going through the educational process.

Senator Moylan mentioned that he retired from a local authority after 27 years. I congratulate him for that great and proud record of public service. In an age of cynicism, 27 years serving any community is something of which he should be justly proud. I agree with him on issues such as lighting, bye-laws and speed limits, yellow boxes, double yellow lines and parking restrictions. That is the bread and butter of how local representatives should be interacting with the Garda Síochána. There are other ones such as, for instance, under the Intoxicating Liquor Act which is now law. Senator Moylan has departed local government at a time when, for the first time, local authorities have been given a function in deciding on issues such as closing times and the like. The Government has taken some flak on occasions for centralising power and taking it away from local authorities. In the two areas in which I am planning to legislate - policing and liquor licensing - my aim is to give powers back to local authorities. This would be a worthwhile process to continue.

At a conference of senior Garda, which I attended, I was informed that there is now a programme to encourage fitness among gardaí. It is important for gardaí to be encouraged to keep up their fitness levels, in order for them to sustain fruitful lives as policemen and women. Having gardaí on the bikes in the old days achieved that aim and mountain bikes have now been introduced in urban areas.

I fully support what Senator Moylan said about gardaí on the River Shannon. As one who is trying to buy a house on the Shannon - with some degree of difficulty - I acknowledge the importance of waterways being patrolled. I wish the service well.

I could go on until nine o'clock but the Chairman will not allow me. To reiterate what I said earlier, having started a consultative process, I intend it to be consultative. I have taken on board everything that has been said. I think it was Senator Coghlan who raised the issue of how people interact with and contribute to this process. The Department has a website which contains the text of the Bill. There is also an e-mail address for submissions, which is gardabill@justice.ie. We are seeking the widest range of contributions on this matter. I acknowledge that some people may see this as a face-saving gimmick. While it is easy to pay lip service to the notion of public consultation, in this case, that is what is on offer. People have a chance to lodge their views in a place where it will receive attention. This is not simply a matter for the Garda representative associations; it is one for the broad spectrum of civil society. Every local authority can contribute to the debate on the nature of the Garda-local authority relationship. It is also a matter for political parties to examine this material closely and to come up with their own ideas on it.

I have demonstrated openness to persuasion, in relation to the ombudsman-inspectorate issue. I am willing to hear any constructive comments. This is not just a matter of responsibility for me; this is something that, as a country, we cannot afford to get wrong. If we make serious mistakes in this legislation we will be picking up the pieces for years to come. I do not claim to have a monopoly on wisdom in relation to it, but it is such an important task that, as Deputy Power pointed out, it would be wrong of me to simply throw out a proposal and become defensive about all criticism made of that proposal. The right way to approach this is to submit proposals for discussion and genuinely try to stimulate discussion. I welcome the discussion we have already had in relation to one section of head 26, although some of it was a bit exaggerated. This is an example of a suggestion being debated, as opposed to something emanating from a Department being considered sacrosanct and above debate or change.

I thank the committee for its positive support and reaction to the legislation. I will consider all serious contributions.

I thank the Minister. If substantial amendment is to be made to the Bill, I ask that the committee be given adequate notice so that members will have sufficient time to prepare amendments prior to Committee Stage.

I wish to mention one other point on the reserve. I am anxious that, at some stage, the committee should have an opportunity to see a reserve force functioning and I have had discussions on this matter with the Chairman.

That work is ongoing and arrangements are being made. I thank the Minister and hope it will come about in the not too distant future.

Would it be possible for the Minister to brief the committee on his return from the forthcoming Justice and Home Affairs Committee?

I will give a report on it. The best thing to do may be to circulate a written report so that if there is anything on which members wish me to elaborate, I can come and explain it verbally.

I thank the Minister.

The joint committee went into private session at 5.16 p.m. and adjourned at 5.23 p.m. until2.30 p.m. on Tuesday, 7 October 2003.