I do not intend simply to reprise the findings of the various reports which arise for consideration. Reports from eminent persons that are critical of the Garda Síochána are not to be taken lightly. What I am about to say and, more importantly, what I have done clearly illustrates that they have not been. The programme of reform was a recognition that fundamental issues affecting the Garda Síochána had to be urgently addressed, even before the publication of the critical reports.
The Morris reports have been, as they must be, the subject matter of strong action on the part of the Government. The Garda Síochána Act 2005 is the most profound legislation relating to the Garda Síochána in the history of the State and facilitates change. The inspiration for many of its provisions arise from the fallout from the events in Donegal.
That Act recasts in statute form the formal relationship between the Executive, the Minister, the Oireachtas and the Garda Síochána as well as the force's relationship with local government. It imposes a clear statutory duty on every member of the force to account for his or her action or inaction while on duty when required to do so by a member of higher rank. Failure to do so is sufficient grounds for disciplinary action that may lead to dismissal.
The Garda Síochána has changed greatly in the past ten years and we are in the midst of a new era of reform that will impact on quality of the service it provides. The Government has acted firmly and radically to ensure that the culture and organisation of the Garda Síochána is fully fit for its purpose. Various measures signify reform on an unprecedented scale, including the establishment of the Garda Ombudsman Commission, which will commence operations in the new year; the establishment of the Garda inspectorate and the appointment of Chief Inspector Kathleen O'Toole and her two fellow inspectors; and the appointment of the four person civilian expert group chaired by Senator Maurice Hayes to advise the Commissioner on the development of management and leadership skills for senior officers, including the promotion of a culture of performance management and accountability, the development of human resource management and succession planning and the development of specialist skills and enhanced training for members and staff of the Garda Síochána.
Other measures include the establishment of a Garda reserve, the establishment of local policing committees and the creation of the post of deputy Garda commissioner to lead a dedicated change management team and the establishment of a professional standards unit in the Garda Síochána to address performance, effectiveness and efficiency across all levels of policing activity.
The enactment of the provisions of the Act provide for greater accountability of members of the service. New discipline regulations, new promotion regulations and a whistleblowers charter signify reform on an unprecedented scale that goes to the core of policing in this country. These measures will be implemented and confidence and trust will be restored in the Garda Síochána, as our citizens deserve.
This State has good reason to be grateful to the majority of diligent, courageous and upstanding members of the Garda Síochána who have served it well since independence. This sentiment will continue to prevail in the public mind as the Garda Síochána continues its unprecedented expansion through a major recruitment drive for trainee and reserve gardaí.
Since I and my predecessor have taken up office, we have continually increased the financial and human resources made available to the force. Unlike the Opposition, which oversaw a decrease in the size of the Garda Síochána when in power, we have increased the size of the force. I have honoured the Government commitment and overseen the recruitment of a further 2,000 Garda trainees. The force is now more than 20% bigger in size than it was in 1997. The number of fully trained gardaí exceeded 13,000 in November and will reach 14,000 in early 2008. The Garda budget is now more than €1.3 billion, 85% higher than in 1997. I have assured the Garda Commissioner that he will not be lacking resources when it comes to fighting crime. Regarding matters happening today, on which I do not wish to dwell, I have assured the Commissioner that I will provide any resources necessary to the fight against gangland and drug related crime in Ireland. I have the backing of the Taoiseach and the Government regarding that assurance.
I refer to those inquiries that have looked at allegations of wrongdoing by members of the Garda Síochána. We have the opportunity today to address the issues raised in six of these reports, namely, the reports of Mr. Justice Frederick Morris on the Ardara, Silver Bullet and Burnfoot modules of his tribunal's work, the report of Mr. Justice Robert Barr regarding his tribunal's inquiry into the fatal shooting of Mr. John Carthy, the report of Mr. George Birmingham regarding his commission of investigation into the Dean Lyons case, and the report of Mr. Dermot Nally, Mr. Joseph Brosnan and Mr. Eamon Barnes regarding the report submitted to the Minister for Foreign Affairs by the Police Ombudsman for Northern Ireland raising concerns about the alleged activity of certain Garda officers during 1998 regarding the Omagh bombing.
With regard to the findings of Mr Justice Morris, the Government took the unusual step last May of issuing a statement on the contents of the reports even though publication was not permitted at that stage without the permission of the High Court owing to an impending criminal trial. That step was taken because of the serious implications of the report's conclusions for the force. The conduct of Detective Sergeant John White is impugned in all three reports, notwithstanding the fact that they deal with separate incidents. Detective Sergeant White is also the focus of the Nally report, to which I shall return later.
Of particular note is the Burnfoot report which concludes that Detective Sergeant White and Detective Garda Thomas Kilcoyne deliberately planted a weapon at a campsite of Irish Travellers on 22 May 1998. This was done, it is alleged, with a view to ensuring that a search in respect of which warrants were issued under section 29 of the Offences against the State Act 1939 would be successful and facilitate an arrest under section 30 of that Act. Furthermore, the tribunal concluded that Detective Sergeant Conaty, Garda Mulligan and Garda Leonard entered into a conspiracy, a primary motivation being to help Detective Sergeant White escape a criminal charge. Two of the foregoing members, Garda Mulligan and Garda Leonard, have since been dismissed and a further member, Sergeant Conaty, is retired. Detective Sergeant White is the subject of a disciplinary process under section 14 of the Garda Síochána Act 2005, which is ongoing.
A common theme in both the Ardara and Burnfoot reports was a shocking abuse of process by members of An Garda Síochána in order to make the provisions of the Offences against the State Acts available to them when making arrests. The tribunal recommends that urgent consideration be given to vesting the power to issue warrants, under section 29 of that Act, in judges of the District Court and Circuit Court rather than in officers of An Garda Síochána not below the level of superintendent, as at present.
The tribunal recognises there are very limited occasions upon which time would be so pressing as to make it impossible to follow such a procedure and that, in any event, a residual power for such eventuality could perhaps still be vested in a senior officer of An Garda Síochána, to be used in exceptional circumstances.
I fully share the tribunal's concerns about the abuse of warrants issued under section 29 and accept the recommendation of the tribunal to the effect that statutory provisions in this regard should be considered. In the light of the findings of the tribunal I did not proceed with proposals in the Criminal Justice Act, based on recommendations by an expert group on the criminal law, to extend the search warrant powers available to the Garda pending consideration of the issues raised by the tribunal.
I propose to address this issue by way of amending legislation. My intention is to propose provisions which will replace section 29 so as to define as closely as possible the exceptional circumstances in which warrants may be issued by members of An Garda Síochána. I intend to designate a rank higher than superintendent to perform this function, place very strict timescales on such warrants and introduce an effective element of oversight, including documentary recording of the transactions, independent of An Garda Síochána on the operation of such warrants.
Detective Sergeant White is also a central player in the Nally report, as I have mentioned. On 22 March 2002, the Police Ombudsman for Northern Ireland, Mrs. Nuala O'Loan — an officer from outside the jurisdiction to whom Detective Sergeant White chose to make certain allegations — presented a report to the Minister for Foreign Affairs on these allegations. My predecessor then established a group under the former Secretary to the Government, Mr. Dermot Nally, which included Mr. Joe Brosnan, former Secretary General of my Department and now a member of the International Monitoring Commission. It also included Mr. Eamon Barnes, former Director of Public Prosecutions, to examine matters arising from that report. The group reported in mid 2003.
During the course of a debate in Dáil Éireann on the report in February 2004, I promised to produce an edited version of the report once criminal proceedings against Detective Sergeant White were disposed of. This commitment was given not on the basis that any public interest would be served in disseminating allegations which had been found to be baseless but in deference to the wishes of the families of the victims of the Omagh atrocity, which marked one of the darkest days in the history of this island.
However, that commitment was subject to the understanding that even with the criminal proceedings being disposed of, I could not publish the report in full because of the security sensitivity of some of the information it contained. The reason for this is that the subject matter of the report, to use the words of the group which prepared it:
. . . deals with highly sensitive matters involving the security of the State and possible risk to the lives of individuals. It also describes Garda operational procedures and methods, public disclosure of which could adversely affect future operations.
I believe I have given effect to my commitment by placing copies of a heavily edited version of the report in the Oireachtas Library and making copies available to all Deputies and Senators in advance of this debate. Copies have also been made available to the Omagh families. I hope this edited version will be seen as a legitimate balance between the public interest in full accountability and the exigencies of the security requirements of the State.
The main allegations made by Detective Sergeant White against senior members of An Garda Síochána are a matter of public record, as are the principal findings of the Nally group. In essence, the Nally group concluded:
. . . that there is no foundation for the allegations made . . . and that those allegations were a direct consequence of and were motivated solely by concerns arising from the difficulties in which he [Detective Sergeant White] found himself with his superiors in the Garda Síochána and with the criminal law.
In so far as Omagh is concerned, the main suggestion in the public domain was to the effect that the Garda failed to pass on to the RUC information which could have prevented the Omagh bombing. As Senators will observe from the edited version of the Nally report, no such allegation was ever made to the group. The core allegations about events preceding the Omagh bombing were that a senior Garda officer would have been prepared, if a vehicle had in fact been stolen, to allow it to go through in order to protect an informant; and that no intelligence was passed to the RUC about information, alleged to have been received on the eve of Omagh that the Real IRA, who had been trying to steal a vehicle in the Dublin area, had obtained one elsewhere, with place, vehicle type and destination unspecified.
I emphasise that these allegations, although very serious, are quite different from allegations claiming that the Garda could actually have prevented the Omagh bombing. As I have already mentioned, the Nally group found that there is simply no basis whatsoever for these allegations and that they were motivated solely by base reasons, involving the dishonourable abuse of the grief of the Omagh victims' families. I wish to put on the record of this House the fact that all three members of the Nally group consider the edited version to be a fair account of both the allegations relating to the Omagh bombing and their findings on those allegations.
The Barr Report comprises 741 pages and represents the fruits of approximately three and a half years of evidence gathering and analysis, dealing at times with decisions that had to be made in seconds. In dealing with its findings I must urge Senators to ensure that its conclusions are contextualised by reference to general circumstances of the so-called Abbeylara siege. The events at Abbeylara in April 2000 were grave and unique in the Irish police experience, very difficult to contend with and a far cry from the crisis situations for which the emergency response unit and the Garda Síochána were trained to contend. These are not my words but those of Mr. Justice Barr. Those words and that context were not well canvassed in public discourse on the matter and did a disservice to many of those who were involved. It is only fair to canvass them now in the context of this debate.
It is not our purpose to second-guess Mr. Justice Barr's findings or the weight he chose to give to particular evidence and the analysis which led to his conclusions, with some of which I have some difficulty. Whatever one's views on the report, no Member would wish to understate the difficulties faced by An Garda Síochána in dealing with situations such as these. While lessons must be learned and changes have been made, we must recognise that An Garda Síochána, in dealing with people using or threatening to use firearms, must not hesitate in taking whatever action is necessary to protect their own lives and those of innocent third parties.
In short, Mr. Justice Barr criticised Garda performance in the Abbeylara siege, particularly with regard to command structures and training in siege situations where a person armed with a gun may be affected by mental illness. The Garda Commissioner appointed a high level group to look into the issues raised by the Barr report, and it has extracted from the report the matters outlined in the tribunal's report which impact on the policing or operational areas. Each issue identified has been considered and followed up where necessary.
Since the tragic events of 20 April 2000, very significant developments have taken place within An Garda Síochána in the context of the management of critical events. Most significant of these was the issue of the On Scene Commander Manual of Guidance. It is also fair to say the handling of the similar type occurrence in recent times by the Garda Síochána has shown that it has learned lessons from Abbeylara and is putting some of those into practice. In addition, I have forwarded a copy of the report to the chief inspector of the Garda Inspectorate so that Garda procedures and practices for dealing with incidents of the type which unfolded at Abbeylara might be reviewed. I understand from the Garda Inspectorate that work on a report in this regard is well-advanced.
Chapter 13 of the report deals with "Gun licensing law and related matters" and suggests consideration of proposed improvements to our laws in this country. I am pleased to indicate that the Criminal Justice Act 2006, which was signed into law on 16 July 2006 provides for significant amendments to the Firearms Acts 1925 to 2000 to meet the concerns raised by Mr. Justice Barr.
The Birmingham report offers a thorough independent analysis of the facts surrounding the false confession made by Dean Lyons based on the evidence of all relevant witnesses. It is the first report to be completed under the mechanism provided for under the Commission of Investigation Act 2004, an alternative to statutory tribunals of inquiry. Senators will recall the mechanism was introduced by me on the grounds that the very public and sometimes adversarial nature of tribunals of inquiry does not lend itself easily to timely and cost-effective investigations. The commission of investigation mechanism contained several new features intended to achieve that goal without compromising or encroaching upon the proper conduct of an investigation.
Mr. Birmingham's inquiry was completed in six months and cost approximately €1 million. We must reflect the costs associated with the Barr tribunal on Abbeylara which took three and a half years were approximately €20 million. The body politic must have a variety of inquisitorial instruments available to it. These facts speak for themselves. Without any implied criticism, the contrast between the cost and length of the Birmingham and Barr inquiries deserves reflection in view of the fact that each inquiry dealt with subjects of comparable complexity.
George Birmingham concludes no deliberate attempt was made to undermine the rights of Dean Lyons. His view is that inappropriate leading questions asked by interviewing gardaí were central to what transpired. He points out one of the main Garda conduits to Dean Lyons of the ultimately damning information was the loudest voice in his defence at subsequent case conferences.
The complexity of Dean Lyons's vulnerable personality was shown by the fact that his guilty plea was no mere fleeting admission made in an oppressive interview room and immediately recanted. On the contrary, Dean Lyons's complex and vulnerable personality gave rise to a situation whereby he maintained his own guilt long after his admissions came about, not only to the Garda Síochána but to a wide variety of other persons including his legal advisers and family members.
Mr. Birmingham also points out Dean Lyons's most elaborate and extensive admissions were made after he took the methadone prescribed for him while he was in custody. Furthermore, his vulnerability was disguised by his relatively high verbal skill. In other words, Mr. Birmingham concludes Dean Lyons's difficulties would not have been immediately obvious to a stranger. The report criticises the failure of the team to notify the DPP about the doubts which existed within it, doubts which the report concludes were raised at case conferences despite the denials of some members of the management team.
The decision of the original investigation team three months after its original recommendation to recommend to the DPP that the existing charge of murder against Dean Lyons should proceed and that an additional charge should be laid in respect of the second fatality is described by Mr. Birmingham as "difficult to understand and even harder to justify". This comment was made in the light of the fact that at the time Assistant Commissioner James McHugh was in the process of conducting an analysis of the various admissions on behalf of the Commissioner. This analysis ultimately contributed to the DPP's decision to drop the charges.
To date, no-one has been brought to trial for these brutal murders. This is a heavy burden for the families and friends of Dean Lyons and the victims of the murders to bear. It is my firm view the three Morris reports and the Barr and Birmingham reports demand an analysis which transcends their individual circumstances if we are to get full value from them. I believe they tell us quite a lot about what is wrong and what needs to be done to improve the performance of the Garda Síochána in the way required.
One issue which clearly emerges is the weakness of management at senior level in the Garda Síochána. It neither gives full leadership nor actively manages in a way which utilises the resources available to the Garda Síochána to best advantage. These leadership failures are matters of the most profound seriousness. The fact they are manifest in different ways in each of the reports must tell us something.
In order to maximise levels of performance in a sustainable way it is self-evident that the brightest and best must operate at senior levels within the force. The first and most obvious issue is that of selection, more particularly the question of promotion practices within the Garda Síochána. New promotion regulations were agreed by Government. These new regulations will bring about significant modernisation of the system for promotion within the Garda Síochána. They formalise the requirement for promotion to be based on merit and for all competitions to be held in a manner which is fair, impartial and objective; in line with best practice; consistent throughout and open, accountable and transparent. These principles, combined with the introduction of additional external expertise in selecting candidates for promotion within the force, will result in a system which reflects current best practice.
It is clear from earlier reports by Mr. Justice Morris that the churning of appointments and short-stay appointments to divisional positions is a serious problem within the Garda Síochána. It is pointless to appoint somebody on a constant merry-go-round basis to be chief superintendent in County Donegal if, by the time he or she is sitting at the desk he or she is being prepared for career advancement. This applies at every level of the force. We must put in place a regionalised system with a degree of permanence and time commitment by individuals to the area to which they are promoted to supervise and manage.
I recently established a four person advisory group to advise the Garda Commissioner on issues of management and leadership development in the force. I asked Senator Maurice Hayes to chair it and he kindly agreed. At the same time, the newly established Garda Síochána Inspectorate, in keeping with its statutory role of providing independent advice on matters of policing, addressed the issue of the appropriate management structures at senior level in its first report.
Both groups set about their tasks with diligence and produced reports which deal with management and the structures needed to facilitate optimum performance in the Garda organisation. These reports are seminal and timely documents at this juncture in the redevelopment of the Garda Síochána, with an acceptance on the part of the Commissioner and senior officers of the need for change and the Garda Síochána Act reforms being implemented across the entire organisation. The Garda Síochána Act is the trellis on which genuine reform can be trained and made effective. The Act is not the be-all and end-all of reform.
I accept the recommendations contained in these reports. It is crucial the appropriate structures and systems are put in place at senior level to carry the changes through. I fully agree these changes should have been made years ago but for whatever reason they were not. They are happening now.
I wish to make one point about these reports, a point made by Senator Maurice Hayes in the media. The advisory group under Senator Hayes comprises people with considerable experience in managing large and complex organisations going through a period of change in an environment that was also changing. The Garda inspectorate brings an international and modern policing perspective to the table. It is instructive to see how both bodies independently of each other reached similar conclusions on many issues.
A number of changes are taking place within the force at present and more will occur. It is not possible for me to go into detail on each of them in the time available. For the record, I listed them at the outset of my speech today. However, legislative and organisational change is not enough. A willingness to embrace change from the top down is also required. So far, my experience is that the appetite for change within the force itself is strong at all levels. Once again, I want to express my appreciation to Commissioner Noel Conroy and his senior management team for their wholehearted support for and co-operation with this process of reform.
These are difficult times for the Garda Síochána. I have no doubt that in three or five years' time, whenever it may be, it will be recognised that in his tenure of office, Commissioner Conroy presided over the difficult obligation, which was sometimes a poisoned chalice, of bringing about major reform to an organisation which was justly proud of its previous traditions and conservative on agendas for change. I do not doubt the Commissioner, deputy commissioners and assistant commissioners fully recognise the need for far-reaching reform of the way the force is managed, such as the introduction of civilian staff and administrative staff to assist. In that context, we have a great deal to look forward to in the change which is only starting.