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Seanad Éireann debate -
Wednesday, 11 Feb 2015

Vol. 237 No. 11

Garda Síochána (Amendment) (No. 3) Bill 2014: Second Stage

Question proposed: "That the Bill be now read a Second Time."

I am taking Second Stage on behalf of the Minister for Justice and Equality who cannot be present.

The Garda Síochána (Amendment) (No. 3) Bill 2014 is one of a series of measures taken by the Government, as part of a comprehensive programme of justice reform, which will substantially strengthen Garda accountability. This reform programme is being informed to a substantial extent by the excellent work undertaken by the Oireachtas Joint Committee on Justice, Defence and Equality. Overall, the Government’s objectives are to ensure the confidence of the public in An Garda Síochána is maintained, as well as to bring forward the necessary change to ensure the high-quality and respected service An Garda Síochána has provided is continued and enhanced to better meet the realities, requirements and expectations of 21st century policing.

The underlying focus of the reform programme, supervised by the Cabinet committee on justice reform and chaired by the Taoiseach, is to put in place effective arrangements for the oversight, governance and accountability of An Garda Síochána. As a member of the Cabinet committee, and more particularly as the responsible line Minister, the Minister for Justice and Equality, Deputy Frances Fitzgerald, is leading the implementation of the reform programme.

The Bill marks an important element of these reforms. Before turning to deal specifically with the Bill, I wish to update Senators briefly on the other important elements of the justice reform programme. The Minister has published the scheme of a Bill for the proposed new policing authority which takes into account a significant number of the recommendations made by the Oireachtas Joint Committee on Justice, Defence and Equality. The Bill is being drafted on a priority basis and the scheme was considered by the joint committee in the course of pre-legislative scrutiny. The Minister is looking forward to publishing the Bill and bringing it before the Oireachtas as soon as possible. That will afford us another opportunity to consider any additional measure that might be required to enhance the role of GSOC, the Garda Síochána Ombudsman Commission.

· The independent review mechanism, consisting of a panel of counsel established to examine approximately 300 complaints alleging Garda misconduct or problems with investigating misconduct, is continuing its work and has made significant progress. The Public Appointments Service has managed the first open competition to appoint a new Garda Commissioner which gave rise to the appointment of the current commissioner. Following a process undertaken by the Public Appointments Service seeking expressions of interest, the Government has nominated Ms Josephine Feehily as the chairperson-designate for the forthcoming independent policing authority. As chairperson-designate, Ms Feehily will assist in the preparations for the establishment of the authority.

The Minister has also published the Garda Inspectorate’s crime inspectorate report which deals with crime recording and investigation. It also deals with some of the concerns raised by Mr. Seán Guerin, SC, in his report to the Government earlier this year about certain Garda actions. The report contains more than 200 recommendations for implementation which are being actively pursued. The establishment of a commission of investigation into matters identified in the Guerin report is in train. The Fennelly commission of investigation is proceeding with its task of examining the operation of telephone recording systems in certain Garda stations for many years, as well as other matters. It has indicated that it will submit an interim report on specific issues.

The report on Judge Cooke’s inquiry into reports of unlawful surveillance of GSOC has been published. GSOC has published a redacted version of the report it commissioned into the possible disclosure of confidential information.

Following the recent publication of the report of the Garda professional standards unit on cancellations in the fixed charge processing system, a further set of new arrangements has been introduced, including the referral for determination by the Director of Public Prosecution of cases involving gardaí in seeking to have points cancelled on the basis that they were performing official duties at the time; an exemption provided in law for gardaí and other emergency vehicle drivers; the establishment of a new enforcement unit in the fixed-charge processing office which will follow up on all cases cancelled owing to the fixed charge notice being returned having not been delivered through the postal system; and consultations between the Department of Justice and Equality and the Department of Transport, Tourism and Sport on the introduction of legislative changes arising from recommendations made in the report. In addition, the Minister has appointed Judge Mathew Deery, former President of the Circuit Court, as the independent oversight authority for the fixed charge processing system. The authority will be free to inspect at random any fixed charge notice cancellation and report its findings on the operation of the system to the Minister.

The review of An Garda Síochána under the Haddington Road agreement is expected to be completed shortly. It encompasses all aspects of the operation and administration of An Garda Síochána.

The Minister has published the report of the independent review group on the Department of Justice and Equality and is working closely with the Department’s senior management team to implement the report’s recommendations.

The Protected Disclosures Act 2014 has amended Garda legislation to allow Garda members to make protected disclosures to GSOC in confidence in respect of alleged Garda misconduct. The relevant provisions of the Act have been brought into operation.

In presenting the Bill to the House I look forward to constructive engagement with Senators. Overall, the Minister believes it is important that we, as Members of the Oireachtas, should not forget the ongoing and substantial contribution An Garda Síochána and its members have made for over 90 years in keeping communities safe and preserving the security of the State. This has been a contribution delivered in the face of ever present threats and tragically at the cost of the lives of some members of the force. It is a contribution for which we should be grateful to the men and women of An Garda Síochána. However, for all this good work, the Minister is not blind to that which is not good, including issues related to penalty points, crime investigation and responding to whistleblowers. In some cases, what we have learned about the behaviour of members of An Garda Síochána has struck at the heart of our shared understanding of what justice itself is. We live in a republic - a republic of laws - in which there is not and never can be one law for some but not others, in which all persons are and should always be treated equally. That is what we expect and, more importantly, what we are entitled to expect.

We have had too much controversy of late regarding An Garda Síochána. The Minister acknowledges that this has been a difficult time for the members of An Garda Síochána, the vast majority of whom joined the force with the sincerest of aspirations to provide the highest levels of service for the public and are disappointed at the failures that have been uncovered and the controversies that have raged. Similarly, the Minister is aware that there is a commonly shared determination and desire within An Garda Síochána and among communities across the country to see reform happen, to see a break from the past and to move on from this period of controversy to a new one of confidence. She wants to see confidence trumping controversy. She wants to see confidence restored in the work of An Garda Síochána. She wants to see the organisation, structures, practices and systems put in place to support the men and women of An Garda Síochána to deliver effectively the best possible policing and security services for communities and the country. She wants to see, as she said when taking office, a sea change in the performance, administration and oversight of justice and policing in the State. This will involve confronting deficiencies and failures. It will also involve examining, openly, transparently and vigorously, operational practices that are simply not up to standard. This is being done and at the heart of the Government's programme of justice reform. Ultimately, the Minister wants to move from the concept of a police force to delivery of a police service that is fit and ready to meet the realities, requirements and expectations of 21st century policing. Achieving this requires acknowledgment, reforms and resources. The Government has begun the process of addressing the question of resources. It has provided funding for 400 new Garda vehicles. Some 300 trainees have recently entered the Garda College in Templemore - the first new intake since 2009 - and arrangements are under way to civilianise immigration functions which will free up 150 gardaí for front-line policing duties.

In presenting the justice reform programme the Minister has also stressed her priority objective of strengthening the role and remit of the Garda Síochána Ombudsman Commission, GSOC. The Bill seeks to deliver on this commitment. As Senators will be aware, the primary functions of GSOC are concerned with dealing with complaints against Garda members and examining Garda practices and procedures. However, since its establishment under the Garda Síochána Act 2005, there have been certain restrictions on the extent to which the GSOC functions can be exercised.

The preparation of the Bill has been informed by a public consultation process which was completed in May 2014, the Farmleigh consultation seminar in June 2014 which was attended by 100 participants representing key stakeholders and direct contacts with GSOC. It has also been informed by the valuable work carried out by the Oireachtas Joint Committee on Justice, Defence and Equality. As Senators will be aware, the joint committee's report contained extensive recommendations following its comprehensive review of current Garda legislation. This followed a series of hearings and visits to other jurisdictions. The Minister is grateful to the committee for the report and I am happy that the Bill addresses some of its recommendations. Very careful further consideration is being given to the report with reference to the preparation of the legislation on the proposed policing authority.

For the most part, the Bill amends the Garda Síochána Act 2005 which is the primary statute governing An Garda Síochána. Some of the amendments involved are technical in nature and I will deal with them more specifically as the Bill progresses. Amendments are also being made to the Interception of Postal Packets and Telecommunications Messages (Regulation) Act 1993 and the Criminal Justice (Surveillance) Act 2009 to permit GSOC to exercise certain additional police powers.

I now turn to the specific content of the Bill. Sections 1 to 3, inclusive, are standard provisions containing definitions and technical amendments arising from later provisions in the Bill.

Section 4 extends the general time limit in section 84(1) of the Garda Síochána Act 2005 for making a complaint to GSOC from six to 12 months. This does not alter the current position under which it is open to GSOC to extend the time limit if it considers there are good reasons for doing so. Senators will be aware that the issue of time limits was covered in the report of the Oireachtas joint committee.

Section 5 is to be read in conjunction with sections 12 and 13. It substitutes a new definition of ‘‘enactment’’ in section 98(5) of the 2005 Act, as amended, to remove the current prohibitions on GSOC exercising police powers under the Interception of Postal Packets and Telecommunications Messages (Regulation) Act 1993 and the Criminal Justice (Surveillance) Act 2009. In that context, section 12 amends the Interception of Postal Packets and Telecommunications Messages (Regulation) Act 1993 to enable GSOC to undertake the interception of communications for the purposes of a criminal investigation by it under the Garda Síochána Act 2005. The approach adopted is that a GSOC investigating officer will have the powers that would be available to An Garda Síochána in the same circumstances. In addition, the conditions and safeguards contained in the 1993 Act will operate where interception is sought by GSOC.

Similarly, section 13 provides for amendments to the Criminal Justice (Surveillance) Act 2009 to enable GSOC to carry out surveillance where it is necessary in connection with a criminal investigation into an arrestable offence. In this context, GSOC will be in the same position as An Garda Síochána for the purposes of conducting such an investigation.

Section 6 amends section 102 of the 2005 Act to broaden the scope for the Minister to refer a matter to GSOC to allow it to investigate it, even if the identity of the member of An Garda Síochána is not known at the time of the investigation or where the investigation may also involve a person who is not a member of An Garda Síochána. These issues were identified in Judge Cooke's report as ones that could usefully be clarified and the Minister has undertaken that this be done.

Section 7 inserts a new section 102B into the 2005 Act to bring the Garda Commissioner within the scope of GSOC investigations for the first time.

This was also an issue addressed in the report of the joint committee. This section was the subject of debate during the passage of the Bill in the Dáil, in particular, the question of whether the consent of the Minister should be required where GSOC proposed to undertake an investigation on its own initiative into alleged misconduct on the part of the Garda Commissioner. After careful consideration and reflecting on that debate, as well as taking account of the key position of the Garda Commissioner in security matters, the provisions of section 102B were strengthened on Report Stage to provide a specific role for the Government, rather than just the Minister, in the important decisions to be taken under the section.

In addition to carrying out general policing functions, the Garda Commissioner is head of the national security service in which role he or she fulfils a vital role closely linked with the obligations of the Government to preserve the security of the State. In these circumstances the Minister believes it is appropriate the Government should approve the granting or withholding of consent by the Minister where the conduct of the Garda Commissioner is called into question. Moreover, the original proposal has been further strengthened to ensure that in a situation where a request from GSOC to undertake an investigation into conduct of the Garda Commissioner is being refused, this can only be done for stated reasons. The practical reality is that only in exceptional cases consent to a proposed investigation would not be given and in these circumstances specific reasons will be provided. The Minister believes that, on foot of a demonstrable concern that the Garda Commissioner may have committed an offence or behaved in a manner that would constitute serious misconduct, it is extremely unlikely in almost any circumstance that consent would be withheld. Accordingly, subsection (1) of the new section enables GSOC to investigate, if it appears to it desirable in the public interest to do so and subject to the consent of the Minister given with the approval of the Government, any matter that gives rise to a concern that the Garda Commissioner may have committed an offence or behaved in a manner that would constitute serious misconduct. Subsection (2) allows the Minister, with the approval of the Government, if he or she considers it desirable in the public interest to do so, to request GSOC to investigate any matter that gives rise to a concern that the Garda Commissioner may have done anything referred to in subsection (1) and the commission is required to investigate that matter. By virtue of subsection (3), the Minister may, with the approval of the Government, for stated reasons, refuse to consent to an investigation by GSOC of any matter under subsection (2). Subsections (4) and (5) are provisions necessary to facilitate the operation of the section. In particular, adaptations are being made to the 2005 Act to ensure GSOC will have the necessary powers to undertake an investigation involving the Garda Commissioner.

Section 8 is consequential on the insertion of the new section 102B under section 7. It amends section 103 of the 2005 Act which deals with keeping certain persons informed of GSOC investigations.

Section 9 inserts a new section 103A into the 2005 Act and is intended to strengthen the flow of information from An Garda Síochána to GSOC, in particular under the protocol arrangements in place under section 108. Specifically, it imposes a statutory duty on the Garda Commissioner to ensure information to be provided by An Garda Síochána for GSOC for the purposes of an investigation will be supplied as soon as practicable.

Section 10 replaces section 106 of the 2005 Act and allows GSOC for the first time to carry out an examination, on its own initiative, of practices, policies or procedures of An Garda Síochána for the purpose of preventing or reducing complaints. Currently, it can only do this when requested by the Minister and the change being proposed was recommended by the joint committee. The reports will be laid before both Houses of the Oireachtas, subject to the possible exclusion of certain matters such as those, for example, relating to national security or where the commission of an offence may be facilitated.

Just as GSOC is being given the power to initiate examinations of Garda practices independently, the Minister believes, in line with a further recommendation of the joint committee, that it should also be open to the Garda Inspectorate to do this. Accordingly, section 11 amends section 117(2) of the 2005 Act to enable the inspectorate to conduct, on its own initiative or at the request of the Minister, inspections or inquiries into a particular aspect of the operation and administration of An Garda Síochána. At present, the inspectorate can only conduct such an inspection or inquiry with the prior consent of the Minister.

Section 14 sets out the Short Title, collective citation and commencement provisions for the Bill.

The Minister is conscious that the changes proposed in the Bill will give rise to additional demands on the resources of GSOC and also the Garda Inspectorate. I referred briefly to budget 2015 in respect of An Garda Síochána. I can also confirm to the House that budget 2015 provided for an increase of €1 million in the allocation to GSOC and an increase of €250,000 in the allocation to the inspectorate. Throughout the recent public debate on justice reform the Minister has consistently made it clear that the reform must not simply be about change for its own sake. Our reforms are about providing the country with the police force it needs, operating to the highest professional standards, ready to meet existing and emerging challenges. They are about ensuring that throughout the country the men and women of An Garda Síochána will be fully supported by good organisational structures, practices and systems to ensure they can deliver the best possible policing and security services for communities and their people. They are about addressing broader systematic failures which have called into question the capacity of the Garda organisation to function properly and carry out its core tasks. The reforms are about restoring the confidence of the public in An Garda Síochána. I commend the Bill to the House.

I welcome the Minister of State, Deputy Aodhán Ó Ríordáin. The Garda Síochána (Amendment) (No. 3) Bill 2014 is important legislation, but we must not over-egg the pudding. This is the first step in expanding the remit and powers of GSOC. I am a supporter of An Garda Síochána, as is every citizen. It deserves our support and does very good work within the resources allowed to it by the Government. The force is under considerable pressure at all times and issues around resources have not been addressed in the Minister's reform plans.

The Bill falls far short of the recommendations of the Oireachtas Joint Committee on Justice, Defence and Equality. It seems the initial enthusiasm that the change of justice Minister would change the way we did things with a big sweep-out in the Department has waned. The Bill does not go far enough in securing the independence and impartiality of An Garda Síochána. We must maintain the independence of the police force. It must be independent of the Minister for Justice and Equality and others to ensure it can do its job properly, protect society and guard the peace. Fianna Fáil’s Garda (amendment) Bill proposed to create a stronger ombudsman unfettered by political interference in investigations, while still guarding against the possible undermining of national security, a consideration which may not always be fashionable but of which we must be conscious.

The Bill introduces several welcome changes such as the extension of the time limit for making complaints to GSOC from six to 12 months. GSOC will have more investigative powers under the Bill using surveillance and the same power as An Garda Síochána in certain investigations which it did not have before. The Garda Commissioner will be brought within the oversight of GSOC, but the consent of the Minister and the Government will be required for this to happen. This is a real gap in the legislation. The Bill allows the Minister to request permission to carry out investigations in the public interest, which is welcome. It provides that information requested by GSOC will be provided by the Garda as soon as is practicable. This is a common-sense provision. The Bill allows GSOC to carry out investigations, on its own initiative, and investigate the operation and administration of An Garda Síochána. All of these provisions are very important and members of An Garda Síochána have nothing to fear from them.

The legislation, however, does not go far enough. While we will support it, we will be trying to improve it. We need to allow the commission to have access to PULSE, police using leading systems effectively, on a statutory basis. GSOC needs to have complete independence from ministerial oversight when investigating the Garda Commissioner. The Minister has made the point that in normal circumstances investigations into the Garda Commissioner are very rare. They should be; if not, we have completely failed. It should not be forgotten, however, that it was the Minister of State’s colleague, the Minister for Communications, Energy and Natural Resources, Deputy Alex White, who accused the Taoiseach of sacking the last Garda Commissioner.

He said that. The idea that the Government will rarely get involved in these matters is not correct. A commission of investigation is examining what went on at that time. The Minister of State’s colleague has made up his mind on it, as many of us have. I certainly agreed with him at the time that it had the appearance of the Taoiseach sacking a Garda Commissioner.

We need GSOC as an independent body to investigate everybody, to be separate from Government and from the Garda. That is what should have happened if the Government had a problem with the Commissioner at that time. We look forward to the publication of the report of the Fennelly commission, as I am sure the Minister for Communications, Energy and Natural Resources does too, as soon as possible. We need to know the truth about what went on. The gardaí need to know too because they are the ones who are criticised when many of them are struggling because of wage cuts and resource cuts.

The Bill also fails to put the Garda authority on a statutory footing. That could have been done. I welcome the appointment of Josephine Feehily as the chairperson designate. In fairness to her and to the Revenue Commissioners they have come out of the boom and bust in the economy relatively unscathed. People have respect for the Revenue Commissioners. They are seen to have done a fairly good job. They do their job efficiently. We might not always like them, nobody likes tax collectors but that is the nature of the job. Ms Feehily has done a really good job there and I hope she will bring the same efficiency, determination and commitment to the Garda Síochána authority. I think she will be a really positive force there.

The Bill fails to give responsibility for the recruitment and appointment of senior Garda officers to the Public Appointments Service or indeed to the proposed Garda authority. It does not expand freedom of information beyond existing provisions. We support this Bill but would like to see it go much further. It is a pity that it has not gone much further.

It is only one part of the story. Resources are the bigger issue, what the Garda can do, the closure of Garda stations, the reduction in Garda numbers. Garda numbers are down by 1,600 and while we welcome the new recruits they are few in the overall context. I wish them the best of luck as they start a very important job. A total of 139 Garda stations have been closed in isolated rural areas. Prisons are overcrowded. There is a revolving door in the prisons which we last saw at the end of the last rainbow Government. Thousands of summonses, bench warrants, remain outstanding, undermining the criminal justice system. Four inquiries have been established into the administration of the Department of Justice and Equality. One resulted in the resignation of the previous Minister. Change is badly needed and change needs to mean the Garda is completely separate from politics.

There has been much discussion, public and private, about political policing. I do not believe we have political policing in this country. However, when we consider the antics of the Taoiseach and the Garda Commissioner last year and of the former Garda Commissioner with the former Minister, Deputy Alan Shatter, passing information about a Deputy, one can well understand why people talk about political policing, even though I do not believe it occurs on the ground. That is what is going on. That is what we need to change. We need to remove the politics, remove the Government from An Garda Síochána, let it do its job independently and have all our support. It needs change but it needs to be independent and it deserves and has the support of the people. We will support the Bill but will continue to put pressure on the Government to make positive changes.

I welcome the Minister of State and thank him for a very comprehensive overview of the Bill, which I welcome. The Minister for Justice and Equality and the Minister of State are bringing forward necessary legislation. This Bill deals with the defects in the system. It gives wider powers to the Garda Síochána Ombudsman Commission, which is welcome. I welcome the extension of the time limit for filing complaints from six months to 12 months. There is also a problem about interception of postal packets. Some of these are technical amendments but they are important.

While mistakes have been made they have been made by very few people. I am based in Cork and the contribution of the gardaí to the local community there has been fantastic. I have worked with them for over 25 years, particularly with young people. I have seen many gardaí involved in various community organisations after hours, without pay, in particular directing young people who have got involved in crime at an early age into youth clubs, sports organisations and education. I had the privilege of being involved in one such facility which had at any one time more than 40 young people who had dropped out of school. Every one of them was heading in the wrong direction, getting involved in petty crime which in the long term would lead to more serious issues. Nine times out of ten it was the gardaí who got those people back into the education system. There were gardaí involved with the board and at all stages in that process. When we did a survey of the people who had left the facility five years previously we found that over 70% were in full-time employment. They came from families where neither the parents nor the grandparents had ever worked. That project would not have succeeded without the contribution of the gardaí. It is easy to criticise a few but it is important to also give credit to the people who work beyond the call of duty.

The Bill puts in place the procedures necessary to deal with issues that arise if people are not doing their job or not doing it correctly. It also gives power to the Minister under the section which allows the Minister to refer a matter to GSOC. It is important that this is all transparent, except on an issue of national security.

I remind Senator Thomas Byrne that the previous Minister, Deputy Alan Shatter, gave the go-ahead for the building of the new prison in Cork, which is progressing. The project was in waiting for over 20 years. I am delighted that it is progressing and that we will have proper facilities. It is also important to develop and grow the educational system within our prisons because there is no point keeping someone in prison for one, two or three years and releasing him or her into the rut he or she was in before going into prison. We have a contribution to make in that area.

The Bill deals with the issues covered by various inquiries in recent years. There is a need for checks and balances. There must also be fairness in any investigation. This Bill provides for that. I welcome the legislation because it will restore the street credibility of the gardaí. We can complain all we like about the gardaí and criticise them for things not done but they cannot work without the support of the community. We have been lucky that the Cork area has not suffered the same level of serious crime as other parts of the country. That is due not only to gardaí being involved in the local community but also to the community giving support to gardaí when it is needed.

I welcome this legislation. It is important that it be put into place and that the procedures that must be set up are established under it.

I welcome the Minister of State. The Bill also is welcome and it was interesting to hear Senator Thomas Byrne indicate that he and I imagine Fianna Fáil welcome it but that they will seek some changes. I hope the Minister of State has a listening attitude to any proposals that arise on Committee Stage. Most people in Ireland have a high regard for An Garda Síochána and ever since its establishment in the early 1920s, it has managed to maintain that well. Personally, I had a major experience 33 years ago when anybody who was in the supermarket business was under threat of kidnap. Members may recall that at least three of the major supermarket people had been attacked or kidnapped. The Garda came to the conclusion that my family was a likely target. I was not the target because apparently, I was the one who could get the money out but the children or my wife might had been targeted. We went through a number of weeks in which we had the special branch living in the house with us and watching us. My regard and that of our family and friends for the professionalism of the Garda Síochána at that time has not changed since. Moreover, it appears to me that such professionalism instils confidence and is capable of being recognised by the public.

I welcome any move to improve the public service offered by the Garda. Members should stress today that it should not be considered a police force but a service to citizens. I was concerned when the former Garda Commissioner referred to the Garda as his "force". I am glad the Minister, Deputy Frances Fitzgerald, and the Minister of State have stated that preparation of the scheme of a Bill to provide for the establishment of an independent new policing authority is in progress. I would like to hear from the Minister of State as to what countries the Government has consulted in preparing the police authority and on improving the work of the Garda Síochána Ombudsman Commission, GSOC.

The Irish Human Rights and Equality Commission has raised a number of concerns with the current set-up of GSOC, including the fact that its mandatory powers of investigation remain limited to a narrow range of cases involving "death or serious harm". All other cases involving, for instance, allegations of sexual offences or excessive use of force during Garda operations effectively may be referred to the Garda Commissioner for investigation by Garda members. It recommends that mandatory investigations by GSOC should be broadened substantially to include all complaints made to GSOC unless that complaint is suitable for a mediated resolution. It would be reasonable to amend section 91 of the Principal Act and other relevant sections to mean that GSOC would have mandatory powers to investigate serious sexual offences, serious corruption and other assaults. Can the Minister of State indicate whether the Government would be open to an amendment to this effect? If the Government is not open to this, I would be interested to hear the reasons it is not. I welcome the new powers of GSOC contained in this Bill to be able to investigate a Garda Commissioner, which is sensible. Why then does the Bill provide that effectively, it will be up to the Minister to sanction an investigation of a Garda Commissioner? I am not satisfied that this is an acceptable separation of powers and GSOC should have more autonomy in this area. While I acknowledge that this issue has been discussed, it is worth outlining.

I will take the opportunity to speak briefly about wider reform of the Garda. It often is overlooked that the fundamental goal of policing actually is crime prevention. One does not hear that often enough. More than 200 years ago, the father of the modern police service, Robert Peel, said that crime prevention is the core of policing. However, this concept needs repeating as I seldom hear it said by politicians in the media. Even the Garda rarely mentions it and I believe that in a time of less manpower and fewer resources, the Garda must go back to a crime prevention-based police service. Crime prevention is not a reaction to burglaries or crime and is not a person calling up a Garda station but is about the Garda being proactive. It is the approach that involves going to businesses and giving them security advice, for example, on locks. It is meeting with older people on security advice or identifying owners of certain cars and making them aware. It is going to the home of an older person and installing alarms to the Garda station and giving advice there. That sort of policing has diminished in recent years because the efforts, quite understandably, have been on catching the criminals. I refer instead to managing to take steps to prevent the criminals from having that opportunity.

One question is whether we are looking at innovation. For instance, in New Zealand, the entire police service is now moving to what they call a "crime prevention first" approach. It is based on research such as that of the Jill Dando Institute of Security and Crime Science, which looks at the science of crime and thus new ways to prevent crime. This category of crime prevention focuses on criminal opportunities rather than the circumstances of the offender. There, the system aims to make possible criminal targets less vulnerable and to provide assistance and information to both potential and actual victims. In Ireland, we have a real tendency to go blindly down a path instead of following best practice, for instance, from our European neighbours. Members should consider the United Kingdom, where one police service has pioneered a technique of "predictive mapping" of burglaries to deploy staff to high-risk areas at specific times and, together with other measures, this has brought about a significant fall in that type of crime. I wonder whether that is being done here or whether, because of the difficulty of having enough money to pay a sufficient number of gardaí, we are not concentrating on the right things.

In the context of crime prevention, Members should consider that a large proportion of all crimes are committed against crime victims who have been victimised previously in a phenomenon known as repeat victimisation. One classic study found that just 1% of people experienced 59% of personal crimes, including violence, while 2% of people experienced 41% of property crimes. These are very interesting figures and this means that bank robbers are much more likely to return to the same branch if they get away with a lot of money the first time. In this system, the Garda would visit that same branch - which is more likely to get robbed - and help the people there to introduce measures to stop it happening again. Perhaps the Garda is doing this but Members do not know about it. The main conclusion of this famous study is that it shows that repeat victimisation and crime can be prevented and in the study, through prevention activities, crimes decreased by one sixth in the prevention condition when compared with the normal condition. The decreases were greatest, up to one fifth, for programmes that were designed to prevent repeat burglaries, both residential and commercial. The Garda should be taking this international evidence on board much more.

The situation in which the concept of prevention has been lost has been identified in other European Union countries. Unfortunately, it has not been highlighted here. A major report on policing in the United Kingdom found that only one of the 190 modules of basic training that all new recruits undergo focuses on crime prevention. Sir Denis O'Connor, the retired UK Chief Inspector of Constabulary made a great impact in that regard. Personally, I would like to ascertain whether Sir Denis O'Connor could be hired by the Government to undertake a thorough analysis of the Garda. I believe that many senior gardaí would not like that to happen and that Sir Denis O'Connor would most probably be shocked at what he would find. If it cost €100,000 or more to get someone like that to do a report on the Garda, it would be money well spent. Can the Minister of State indicate whether the Government would be open to get some expert from the outside with a history of success to carry out such an analysis?

I wish to raise one final idea from Switzerland, where the focus of the police is on prevention. There, plain-clothes Police Judiciaire provide what is known as street intelligence to uniformed police by radio. They blend in with crowds, working at street level to often anticipate such crimes as robbery and drug dealing and then act accordingly and quickly. It is a modern, agile, tailored approach which is backed up with the latest technology. While the public calls for a garda walking in the beat in high-visibility jackets, this actual visibility of the Garda means that a thief simply waits until the gardaí pass before committing a crime. The Swiss example of prioritising plain clothes police is counter-intuitive but it is one that has been proved to work much better.

Dublin could benefit from it.

This is worthwhile legislation and I congratulate the Government on bringing it forward. However, I still believe there are some elements that we could improve further. We are missing a major aspect of the future of An Garda Síochána, that of crime prevention. We are not concentrating on prevention but on detection. That said, we should make sure that in bringing this Bill through the House, we make it the best legislation possible.

I welcome the Minister of State. I also welcome the Bill. As the Minister of State said, it is part of a comprehensive programme of justice reform which will, among other things, substantially strengthen Garda accountability and I very much welcome it in that context. In his speech the Minister of State set out quite a range of different aspects of the reform programme which are under way. I particularly welcome the decision to establish the new policing authority which was a plank of Labour Party policy for many years and which I am delighted to see is finally taking shape. I am conscious of the fact that the Minister has published the scheme of a Bill which has been considered by the Joint Committee on Justice, Defence and Equality. I also welcome the appointment of Ms Josephine Feehily as the chairperson designate of the new authority. That is an important part of the process of ensuring greater accountability structures within An Garda Síochána.

The Minister of State also mentioned a range of reports and reviews which have been undertaken. In particular, it is worth highlighting the really comprehensive Garda Síochána Inspectorate's crime investigation report which contains more than 200 recommendations. Among the issues it examines are the matters dealt with by senior counsel Mr. Sean Guerin in his report to the Government in respect of certain Garda actions. Members of the Joint Committee on Justice, Defence and Equality engaged with the Garda Inspectorate in respect of the report as a whole quite recently. We found its recommendations to be really extensive on the aspects of Garda operational practice that they cover. While listening to Senator Feargal Quinn I was conscious of the fact that a substantial number of those recommendations are related to crime prevention. The Inspectorate looked at different ways in which the Garda Síochána can improve its crime prevention work, for example, through the text message scheme for local communities that has been operational in some Garda divisions, through enhanced community policing and so forth. The inspectorate report deals with crime prevention but it also deals with very technical aspects of day to day policing, the processing of cases, the handling of investigations and prosecutions and so forth. I strongly recommend that my colleagues read the report.

As I said, one of the issues examined by the Garda Inspectorate was the Guerin report and the findings therein. I read that report with great interest. It raises some very worrying aspects of Garda practice. A particular feature of the report which stood out for me was Mr. Guerin's commentary on the lack of oversight and supervision of junior and probationary gardaí. In many cases they were left with substantial responsibility but without any supervision of their handling of cases, complaints and crime allegations in particular stations. The Garda Inspectorate has identified supervision, oversight and adequate structures for ensuring accountability of senior officers where junior gardaí are put in charge of investigations and has argued that better structures must be put in place. This is an important part of the reform process.

I will now turn to GSOC and the reforms that have been suggested and recommended for that body. Again, the Joint Committee on Justice, Defence and Equality looked at this issue and as the Minister of State has said, it produced a report not just on GSOC but also on a review of the Garda Síochána Act 2005, published last October. I am really glad to see that some of the very significant recommendations of that report have been taken on board in this Garda Síochána (Amendment) (No.3) Bill. I note in particular that in section 4, in line with a recommendation of the aforementioned committee, the time has been extended for the making of a complaint to GSOC in respect of Garda practice. The time limit was six months and the committee recommended that it be extended. The Bill now proposes to extend it to 12 months. Of course, GSOC always had the power to extend the time limit if it considered that there were good reasons for doing so. Certainly, that short time limit, in my experience as a practising barrister in the criminal area in the past, had a chilling effect on people in terms of bringing forward complaints. Therefore, I really welcome that extension in section 4, which is quite important in terms of day to day practice in GSOC.

I also greatly welcome the change in section 7 that will enable the Garda Commissioner to come within the remit of GSOC. Again, that was something that was recommended by the Joint Committee on Justice, Defence and Equality. I note the procedures in place before such an investigation can be carried out and I acknowledge that the Garda Commissioner has a particularly significant role in terms of security matters as well as policing. I understand that is why the hurdle or safeguard of the consent of the Minister and the Government is required. There is a specific role provided for the Government rather than just the Minister for Justice and Equality. The spirit of that provision is certainly in line with the recommendation of the committee, which was that all members of An Garda Síochána, including the Garda Commissioner, should be made accountable to GSOC.

I also welcome the provisions in sections 10 and 11 dealing with issues which were important to the committee. GSOC, for the first time, will be able to carry out an examination on its own initiative of practices, policies or procedures of An Garda Síochána. This goes way beyond the very restricted remit of GSOC in just looking at complaints and enables the commission to look at, for example, a pattern of complaints relating to a particular practice. Penalty points is just one random example here. These provisions will enable GSOC to extend its powers of investigation greatly. Section 11 also contains a similar extension of powers for the Garda Inspectorate, which is also very welcome.

A number of the other provisions in the Bill are relatively technical in nature but will have an important effect in extending the investigative powers of GSOC. However, there were other recommendations made by the Oireachtas committee in this regard which were not incorporated into the Bill. I know that the Minister of State has said that some recommendations from the committee will feed into other legislation, in particular the independent policing authority Bill but I wonder whether the issue of access to PULSE should have been dealt with in this Bill. The Oireachtas committee recommended that access to the PULSE system by GSOC would be placed on a statutory footing. Members felt that access to PULSE would be of integral importance to the operation of effective oversight of An Garda Síochána. I might raise this issue with the Minister at a future date.

The Oireachtas committee also made a number of recommendations concerning differentiation between various types of complaints. We had heard that a large number of very minor issues were being brought to GSOC which slowed down its processes considerably. One of the key issues we heard about during our hearings was the delay in the processing of complaints by GSOC. We suggested consideration be given to the establishment of an independent helpline to determine if a complaint to GSOC was warranted or if the issue could be dealt with in a different manner. These are technical matters and perhaps they do not require legislative change; they may simply involve changing the work practices of GSOC.

The one very substantial change the committee recommended which would require statutory change and which I do not see implemented in this Bill is the changing of the structure of GSOC. We suggested that instead of three people, there would be a single Garda ombudsman. We made that recommendation because we felt it would ensure a greater degree of accountability and further ensure no possibility of dissenting opinions or divergence in the ombudsman's findings. We were quite persuaded by experience elsewhere of the strength of the single ombudsman model, where there is one person acting as ombudsman rather than a commission of three, as we have here. In our hearings, we heard from people like Ms Nuala O'Loan, the first Police Ombudsman in Northern Ireland, about her role. I wonder if that is still under consideration or was that recommendation specifically ruled out in the drafting of this Bill? Perhaps we will see it in some future legislation.

Having raised again the issues that were important to the Joint Committee on Justice, Defence and Equality, I welcome the reforming aspects of the Bill. I particularly welcome the strengthening of the powers of GSOC and the extension of its remit to allow it to examine practices, policies and procedures on its own initiative. That is really important, as are the other provisions I have mentioned.

Ba mhaith liom fáilte a chur roimh an mBille seo agus muid ar bhealach fanacht píosa fada leis an mBille céanna. I am pleased to welcome this Bill today. It is fair to say that we have been waiting for it for quite a while. It has been a very disturbing period in terms of the administration and application of justice in thr State. Public confidence has been fundamentally undermined by the incompetence and sometimes arrogance shown by the Government in overseeing all the episodes that have emerged in recent months and years.

Sinn Féin has called time and again for an independent policing authority. Such an authority was not included in the programme for Government because it was not considered important enough. Unfortunately, it has not been included in the Bill either. However, I am assured it will be established by another Bill in the coming weeks.

My party and I will continue to push for this as we believe it is integral to the reform of policing in the State.

When the Garda Síochána Bill was enacted in 2005, my party colleagues in the House said it did not go far enough and that the Garda Síochána Ombudsman Commission did not have the powers to carry out its responsibility. I am happy, therefore, that the Bill before us today will rectify that via section 7.

For the first time the Garda Commissioner will be brought within the scope of GSOC investigations which is a great improvement. In recent times we witnessed the limitations of the powers of GSOC when it could not access the PULSE system directly. Unfortunately, this too is not addressed here.

Access to PULSE was one of the recommendations of the justice committee, as has been mentioned. In its submission to the Department on the reform of policing, the committee called for a statutory provision to allow GSOC access the PULSE system to better equip GSOC staff in their investigations. The adherence to agreed protocols between Garda and GSOC should be made compulsory in legislation. We should legislate to grant direct access to PULSE for GSOC. I shall seek to submit amendments on this matter as the Bill passes through the House, as I feel it is crucial to the work of GSOC.

I also want to make reference to further comments made by Conor Brady more recently when he spoke about information being withheld from GSOC on the basis of State security. We need to ensure that this is supervised to ensure this aspect is not used as a mechanism to hamper GSOC investigations. I shall seek to amend the legislation to deal with this important issue.

I shall speak briefly on the Garda Inspectorate. Another of the Oireachtas joint committee's recommendations was the formation of a criminal justice inspectorate to include the powers of the Garda Inspectorate but wider in scope to encompass a number of bodies. Sinn Féin advocates broadening the role of the inspectorate to that of a criminal justice inspectorate. Such an inspectorate would be primarily responsible for the effectiveness and efficiency of the workings of organisations within the criminal justice sector. It must also have responsibility for laying its reports before the Houses of the Oireachtas. The bodies we want to come under the remit of the proposed criminal justice inspectorate include An Garda Síochána, the Garda Síochána Ombudsman Commission, the Director of Public Prosecutions, the Probation Service, the Courts Service and the Irish Youth Justice Service. This legislation changes the definition of the ombudsman in that it can now consist of three people with which I disagree. I firmly believe there should only be one ombudsman and I note Senator Bacik's comments, in this regard.

The joint committee also recommended changing the structure of GSOC from three commissioners to one ombudsman. It cited that a single ombudsman would ensure a greater degree of accountability and ensure there is no possibility of dissenting opinions or a divergence in the ombudsman's findings. I will seek to submit an amendment regarding section 65(1) of the 2005 Act to change the structure of the commission so that instead of three people there is a single Garda ombudsman.

I accept that the former RUC is not, in crucial aspects, comparable with An Garda Síochána. None the less important lessons can be gained from the changes to policing in the North as a result of the Patten report and the Good Friday Agreement. In terms of this issue, we have circulated our document to all Oireachtas Members. I invite those who have not had an opportunity to look through it to do so. It is our considered contribution but it is not definitive.

Sinn Féin believes in a new beginning for policing in the South. We want an open and transparent policing service, not a force, which is representative of all people residing in the State. We need to see freedom from partisan political control or influence, operational independence and community policing in order to maximise confidence in the police. I support the Bill but will seek to bring forward the recommendations and amendments I have outlined.

On behalf of the Minister for Justice and Equality, I thank all the Senators who have contributed to this debate. I am pleased that the Bill has attracted a significant degree of consensus, particularly in regard to its key provisions which provide for an expansion of the remit and powers of both GSOC and An Garda Síochána's Inspectorate. I am grateful to Senators for their support in regards to these aspects. I hope, given the level of consensus that has been demonstrated, that it will be possible to enact this Bill as quickly as possible.

As I said in my opening contribution, the Bill is one of a series of measures that have been taken by the Government as part of a comprehensive programme of justice reform which will substantially strengthen Garda accountability. This reform programme is being informed, to a substantial extent, by the excellent work undertaken by the Oireachtas Joint Committee on Justice, Defence and Equality. However, I stress again that the Bill is not and was never intended to be the only or primary legislative response from the Government to the relevant work of the Oireachtas joint committee.

I again draw the attention of the House to the fact that the Minister published the scheme of a Bill for the proposed new policing authority before Christmas. The scheme takes into account a significant number of the recommendations made by an Oireachtas joint committee. The scheme is being considered by the joint committee in the course of pre-legislative scrutiny and the Bill is being drafted on a priority basis.

The Minister intends to bring the Bill before the Oireachtas as soon as is practicable. The establishment of a new policing authority will be a significant element of the Government's programme of reform to tackle head-on the systematic failures which have come to light in An Garda Síochána. The Bill contributes to these reforms by proactively enhancing the capacity of GSOC and the Garda Síochána Inspectorate. Once again I express my gratitude to Senators who have expressed their support for the Bill and look forward to its early enactment.

I shall respond directly to Senator Feargal Quinn's significant contribution on the area of crime prevention. About 18 months ago I read an article by Neil Gaiman, which was published in The Guardian newspaper. He wrote about attending a conference of prison operators in the United States. He mentioned that when they made plans for the potential prison population 15 years hence, they looked at the literacy levels of ten and 11 year olds in any given district. Therefore, I suggest we have a conversation another time on different and more expansive ways to tackle crime.

Question put and agreed to.

When is it proposed to take Committee Stage?

Committee Stage ordered for Tuesday, 17 February 2015.
Sitting suspended at 2.20 p.m. and resumed at 3.30 p.m.