Garda Síochána (Policing Authority and Miscellaneous Provisions) Bill 2015: Second Stage

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

Senators will recall that when I assumed my present office I committed to delivering a sea change in the oversight of policing. Since then I have worked with the Cabinet committee on justice reform to deliver a comprehensive programme of reform of the oversight governance and accountability of An Garda Síochána. The overall objective of this programme is to ensure that the confidence of the public in the Garda Síochána is maintained and to bring forward necessary changes, so that the high quality and respected service of the Garda Síochána can be maintained, developed and enhanced to better meet the realities, requirements and expectations of 21st century policing.

As part of the justice reform programme the Government held, for the first time, an open and independent selection process for the position of Garda Commissioner and the two positions of Deputy Garda Commissioner. Legislation was introduced and enacted to strengthen the role and remit of the Garda Síochána Ombudsman Commission, GSOC. A Commission of Investigation, being chaired by Mr. Justice O'Higgins, has been established and is currently examining matters in the Cavan-Monaghan Garda Division. The terms of reference are fully in line with those recommended in the Guerin report. The independent review mechanism is also under way. Earlier today I announced that I have appointed retired High Court Judge Mr. Justice Roderick Murphy to independently oversee the issuing of responses to complainants. I felt it was important that the review mechanism was seen as independent from beginning to conclusion. The Protected Disclosures Act 2014 has amended the Garda legislation to allow Garda members to make "protected disclosures" to GSOC in confidence in respect of alleged Garda misconduct. The Freedom of Information Act 2014 extends to the Garda Síochána. The Garda Professional Standards Unit, GPSU, on the operation of the fixed charge processing system, penalty points, was published and in response we now have an independent oversight authority for the processing of penalty points.

In November 2014, the Garda Inspectorate published a comprehensive report on crime investigation making a number of short-term, medium-term and longer-term recommendations. The recommendations under way include a review of crime counting rules by the CSO, the establishment of a data quality team in An Garda Síochána, reorganisation within An Garda Síochána, the establishment of a new criminal justice steering group to provide greater co-ordination between all the bodies operating under the criminal justice system, as mentioned in the Toland report. There is also the establishment of a new Garda incident recording process and a very significant development, given that this is the year when the EU directive on victims will be transposed into legislation, a victim support office in every Garda division where certain gardaí have this as a particular task and focus. Recently I held a round table with all the victims groups, all of whom were very supportive of this initiative by the Garda Síochána. In addition, the Government has also focused on resources.

Last September, this Government reopened the Garda college for new recruits for the first time since 2009. Three hundred have already started their training. The first 99 have attested and are working in communities nationwide. We promised seamless ongoing recruitment and we are delivering on that promise. Some 250 more recruits will enter the Garda college in the coming months. Significantly, each intake will comprise 125 recruits, an increase from the 100 recruits taken in as part of the first three tranches since recruitment recommenced last September. This ramped-up recruitment signifies the determination of Government to delivering an effective, responsive police service to protect our communities and respond to emerging crime trends. Crime trends vary over time, therefore particular responses are needed. The additional recruitment will bring to 550 the total number of gardaí who will have been recruited by the Government between September 2014 and 2015.

I would be grateful if I could have a copy of the Minister's contribution.

I apologise to the Senator. I will arrange for that. Obviously there is a need for the delivery of reforms and efficiencies. For example 125 gardaí are returning to front-line policing as a result of civilianisation of Garda immigration functions at Dublin Airport. In addition, due to reforms in rural policing, the Garda Commissioner estimates that 61,000 more man hours and woman hours are available for front-line services following recent decisions.

To date, this Government has invested nearly €29 million in new Garda vehicles since 2012, and they have been coming on stream in recent times. The various reforms have been done by way of context for the establishment of the new policing authority which we are discussing.

The establishment of an independent policing authority is at the core of the Government reform programme and represents one of the most far reaching reforms of the Garda Síochána since the foundation of the State. The authority will provide a new independent and dedicated forum for the public oversight of policing services in Ireland. It will also provide a new engine to drive reforms of the policing system and practices, to ensure that the Garda Síochána is fit to address the ongoing and emerging challenges of modern policing. The new authority will have extensive functions, many of which are currently exercised by the Government or the Minister for Justice and Equality. In particular, these functions will be concerned with overseeing the governance, structures and performance of the Garda Síochána in the policing area.

The Bill proposes that the authority will, in particular, have responsibility for overseeing the performance by the Garda Síochána of its policing functions under a broad range of headings, nominating persons for appointment by the Government to the posts of Garda Commissioner and Deputy Garda Commissioner, appointing persons to the ranks of Garda superintendent, chief superintendent and assistant commissioner - and removing them for reasons related to policing services; appointing persons to senior positions within the Garda civilian staff, determining Garda priorities in policing services, approving the three year Garda strategy statement, approving the annual Garda policing plan, establishing a Garda code of ethics, and promoting and supporting the continuous improvement of policing in the State. The Bill also enables the authority to request GSOC and the Garda Síochána Inspectorate to initiate an inspection or inquiry or to examine Garda practices or procedures. It has the independent right to ask GSOC or the Garda Inspectorate to investigate a particular area.

The legislation has been developed taking into account the outcome of an extensive process of consultation. This included the consultation process I hosted in Farmleigh in June 2014 and the detailed consideration of the Bill by the Joint Committee on Justice, Defence and Equality. The provisions of the Bill are generally in line with the general scheme which was published in November 2014 and which was broadly welcomed by the joint committee in the course of its pre-legislative scrutiny.

The proposals in the Bill have been prepared in close consultation with the Office of the Attorney General, taking full account of the requirements of the Constitution. In particular, consideration has been given to the fact that, under Article 28, as interpreted by the courts, there are restrictions on the extent to which it is open to the Government to delegate important functions relating to the Executive power of the State to another body. Overall, the proposals for the policing authority are designed to strike the right balance between, on the one hand, the exercise by the authority of effective and meaningful oversight of the policing functions of the Garda Síochána and, on the other hand, the retention by Government of essential residual powers in policing, in accordance with what is appropriate under Article 28. In recognition of the constitutional position of the Executive in policing, the Bill provides that a number of authority functions will require the co-agreement of the Minister.

An important issue dealt with in the Bill is national security which is a vital function of government. The Garda Commissioner will continue to account fully to the Minister and the Government on security matters. For the first time the Bill contains a definition of security services. The purpose of the definition is purely to determine which functions of An Garda Síochána will be overseen by the Minister for Justice and Equality and the Government rather than the policing authority. It is important to bear in mind that the Bill does not seek to confer further security-related powers or functions on An Garda Síochána. The definition contains an exclusion for lawful advocacy, protest or dissent, which is an important point. The definition was carefully considered in close consultation with the Office of the Attorney General. It encompasses, among other matters, functions linked with offences under existing legislation, including offences under the Offences Against the State Acts, 1939 to 1998, and the Criminal Justice (Terrorist Offences) Act 2005, as well as espionage and sabotage.

I will set out the position on the chairperson designate and the membership of the authority. Following a process undertaken by the Public Appointments Service in seeking expressions of interest, the Government has nominated Ms Josephine Feehily as chairperson designate of the authority. She has been assisting in the preparation for the establishment of the authority. The selection process for the eight ordinary members of the authority will be undertaken shortly by the Public Appointments Service. This will allow the authority to commence operations as soon as possible after the Bill is enacted.

I will now set out the specific contents of the Bill. The Bill comprehensively amends the Garda Síochána Act 2005, the principal Act, to incorporate the authority into the existing Garda legislative framework. To facilitate Senators, I have arranged for the circulation of an unofficial consolidation of the principal Act which includes the amendments proposed in the Bill. I realise Senators may not have received the document, but I am organising it.

We still have not received a copy of the Minister's speech.

In fairness, she has requested copies from her officials.

I am sorry. I am not in any way reflecting on her personally.

My apologies. I am unsure why it has not happened.

There is a great deal to absorb.

I appreciate that. If we could have a couple of copies circulated, it would be helpful in the first instance.

I am sorry; I did not mean to interrupt. By the way, this is not confined to the Minister's Department and it happens more frequently than it should in this House. Perhaps there should be a greater awareness in advance that copies of speeches will be needed.

Perhaps that is something we can take up with the Committee on Procedure and Privileges. In fairness to the Minister, she has asked an official to obtain copies.

My apologies if copies have not been circulated. I will also arrange for it to be e-mailed to Senators.

Part 1 of the Bill contains the Short Title provisions, as well as definitions and repeal provisions. Section 4 contains a definition of security services for the first time. This is required to help to identify the relevant functions of the authority. As it will not have functions in respect of security services, it is important to provide clarity around what it is comprehended by security services. As I have said, the definition does not expand existing Garda powers in the field of security and provides for a specific exclusion relating to lawful advocacy, protest or dissent.

Section 5 sets out for the first time policing principles which are intended to underpin the provision of policing services in the State.

Part 2 gives the authority a significant role in the appointment and removal of senior Garda personnel. Sections 8, 9 and 12 make provision for appointments to senior ranks. In particular, under sections 8 and 9, the Government will make appointments to the ranks of Commissioner and deputy commissioner but solely on the recommendation of the authority. The Government will be obliged to accept the authority's recommendations but may and only in exceptional circumstances and for substantial and stated reasons ask the authority to nominate another person for appointment. Under section 12, the authority will make appointments to the ranks from Garda superintendent to assistant commissioner. I imagine Senators will be aware of the significance of these changes, for which people have been calling for some time.

Sections 10, 11, 13 and 14 deal with removals. While the Government will retain the power to remove the Commissioner or a deputy commissioner, the authority will be able to recommend removal from these positions on grounds related to policing services. It will be able to remove an assistant commissioner, a chief superintendent or a superintendent on grounds related to policing services. The Garda Commissioner will be required to obtain the consent of the authority for the summary dismissal of a member of An Garda Síochána not above the rank of inspector.

Section 15 continues the current arrangements for the recruitment of Reserve members, with a requirement for consultation with the authority rather than the Minister.

Section 16 requires the authority to publish, within 12 months of its establishment, a code of ethics for Garda members and civilian staff. Again, this is a significant issue.

Section 17 requires approval for the number of appointments of Garda civilian staff to be given by the authority. Furthermore, the authority will directly appoint Garda civilian staff equivalent to or above the rank of chief superintendent.

Part 3 sets out the roles that will be undertaken by the Minister, the authority and the Garda Commissioner. Under section 18, the authority will, subject to the prior approval of the Minister, determine and from time to time revise priorities and performance targets for An Garda Síochána in performing its functions related to policing services. It also inserts a new section 20A into the 2005 Act to allow the Minister to set priorities and performance targets related to security services. Again, this new provision is important.

I have mentioned that the three-year strategy has to be approved. Sections 21 and 22 make provision for the three-year report on the efficiency and effectiveness of the management and deployment of Garda resources and the yearly report of the Garda professional standards unit, respectively, to be submitted by the Commissioner to the authority rather than the Minister.

Section 23 enables the Minister, following Government approval, to issue a directive to the authority on policing services. It also allows the authority to recommend to the Minister that a directive be issued to the Garda Commissioner on policing services.

Section 24 modifies the functions of the Garda Commissioner as set out in section 26 of the principal Act to reflect the relationship between the Garda Commissioner and the authority on policing services. The position is being changed in this regard. In particular, the Commissioner will be required to assist and co-operate with the authority in the performance of its functions.

Section 25 provides a role for the authority in seeking the views of the public on matters concerning policing services. Again, this is an important measure. There can and will be public meetings at which gardaí will be asked by the authority to report on various issues. It will be at the discretion of the authority to decide when it will hold public or private meetings.

Part 4 makes provision for amendments to allow the transfer to the authority of the functions of the Minister related to joint policing committees. This is another area where we will see the transfer of authority and responsibility to the policing authority rather than them residing with the Minister. The same applies to CCTV schemes for the purposes of securing public order.

Part 5 deals in detail with the accountability of the Garda Commissioner for the exercise of his or her functions. The amendment to section 40 is key because this is where we specify that the Commissioner will report to the authority on policing services.

We also deal in the Bill with the secondment of personnel between An Garda Síochána and the Police Service of Northern Ireland.

Part 7 allows for the establishment of the authority, its membership and functions. Section 62 provides that the authority will comprise nine members to be appointed by the Government. The chairperson will be appointed directly by the Government, while the other eight ordinary members will be appointed by the Government from a panel following the holding of a selection competition to be run by the Public Appointments Service. I emphasise that a resolution of both Houses of the Oireachtas agreeing to the appointments will be required. That is a significant power for both Houses. The section also provides that the chairperson designate will become the first chairperson of the authority.

It also provides for the ordinary members designate of the authority to be its first ordinary members. Clearly stringent procedures will have to be put in place if there is any question of removing a member of the board. The Bill provides for this in particular circumstances. Various other provisions in section 62 permit the authority to hold public as well as private meetings. The legislation requires the authority to hold one meeting in public with the Garda Commissioner every three months. Provision is also made for attendance at meetings by the media and for the public broadcasting of meetings. This will ensure public accountability of policing.

Part 8 includes amendments to the provisions of the principal Act relating to GSOC and the Garda Síochána Inspectorate to take account of the establishment of the authority. The key amendments include a requirement in section 45 for GSOC to promote mediation and informal resolution of appropriate complaints and, as I have noted, a provision in section 48 to enable the authority to request GSOC to investigate matters related to policing services. Section 49 enables the authority, subject to the consent of the Minister, to request GSOC to investigate any behaviour of the Garda Commissioner in the context of his or her functions related to policing services that leads it to believe he or she may have committed an offence or behaved in a manner that would constitute serious misconduct. Section 52 allows the authority to request GSOC to examine practices or procedures of An Garda Síochána in policing service matters.

Part 9 contains various miscellaneous provisions.

The establishment of the new policing authority will bring about a fundamental change in policing, but this is not an end in itself. The ultimate aim of the Government's justice reform programme is to ensure the country has the police force it deserves. A number of reports in recent times highlighted key areas in need of reform. We have received responses on the reports from the Garda, but the reforms will not happen overnight. Some are short-term, whereas others are medium-term or longer-term reforms. We have, however, commenced implementation of the recommendations. We want a force that operates to the highest professional standards and is fully capable of dealing with existing and future challenges. The authority will play a pivotal role in achieving the Government's objective of reforming policing. This will be beneficial not only to the public but also the men and women who serve in An Garda Síochána. I commend the Bill to the House.

I thank the Minister for her comprehensive explanation of this substantial legislation. It is unprecedented in the history of the Garda to take away the direct channels of communication between the Garda and the Government since the foundation of the force. We support the establishment of the policing authority in that context. The Bill also brings us into line with what is happening on the rest of the island of Ireland, given that the police authority in Northern Ireland has played an important role in establishing the credibility of policing among the Nationalist population that had always regarded the RUC as a biased and sectarian force. Establishment of the police authority in Northern Ireland has proved to be a positive development, particularly since the Good Friday Agreement, in that an increasing number of Catholics, notwithstanding the fragility of the peace process, have joined the PSNI. I am also pleased that the Bill establishes opportunities for secondment between the North and the South, although if memory serves me correctly, I do not think this has been successful in the past. Perhaps the Minister might clarify the current level of integration. The relationship and level of co-operation between the Garda and the PSNI appear to be at an all time high, but I am interested in learning how secondments have operated heretofore.

Despite the Government's appointment of a chairpersons to the authority, I understand it is yet to agree a budget for it. Concerns have also been expressed that the Bill has been watered down. The Garda Commissioner's accountability to the authority has been reduced; human rights will not now form part of the remit of the authority and it will have reduced powers of oversight over the resources of An Garda Síochána.

Fianna Fáil's first priority in the justice area is to ensure the Garda has the necessary strength and technology to provide a first class police service. We are committed to increasing Garda numbers to 14,000 and maintaining them at this level. I understand the Garda Commissioner has stated services would be undermined if numbers were to drop under 13,000. When asked about the issue, she stated, "In terms of the overall numbers - do I believe we have enough? It's challenging." Numbers will continue to decline, despite new Garda recruitment, as numbers struggle to keep up with retirements. The Commissioner has informed the Government that she needs more than 500 recruits per year to ensure the force will have the capacity to combat crime.

I am aware from speaking with friends in the force that morale in the Garda is at an all time low. I am sure the Government hopes the establishment of the policing authority will go a long way towards restoring morale. New gardaí enter the force on what can only be described as a miserly salary of €23,171, in contrast to the starting salary in 2009 of €27,100, plus a rent allowance of €4,000 until it was abolished by the Government. The current Garda recruitment process commenced in late 2013 and, although it attracted more than 20,000 applications, only 300 have since been recruited, with a further 200 announced in April. I am sure the Minister fights at the Cabinet table for increases in her budget. In the context of the spring economic statement and the improvement in Exchequer figures in recent months, I hope there will be more flexibility in the budget to allow her to increase this miserly salary. We are training police officers to a high degree of skill and competency in a complex world of technology and cyber crime, but we expect them to keep us safe in our beds for €23,000 per year. That is not acceptable. It would not be acceptable in another business and it is a real problem in An Garda Síochána.

I understand the Minister has been operating in the face of a difficulty for her mother and I hope everything goes well.

I will not go into the detail regarding what the authority will be responsible for but I was interested in the Minister's references to the definition of national security and the changes that will take place in that regard. Unfortunately, I have not had an opportunity to reflect on what the Minister said because we have only just received a copy of her speech. It seems that the Garda Commissioner will continue to account fully to the Minister and Government with regard to security matters and that the Bill continues the definition of security services, the purpose being to determine which functions of An Garda Síochána will be overseen by the Minister and Government rather than the policing authority. It is important to bear in mind that the Bill does not seek to confer any further security-related powers or functions on An Garda Síochána. Perhaps we might have an opportunity to tease this out on Committee Stage but in light of the ongoing threat to the security of this State both from internal and external forces, this is a particularly significant aspect of the legislation in that it seems that on a casual reading of it, the relationship between the Garda Commissioner and the Government will continue and that the policing authority might not have any insight or any significant role in the context of national security issues. I would support that view. This matter should be retained between the Garda authorities and the Government of the day.

Some concerns have been expressed. Dr. Vicky Conway, who is a senior lecturer in law at the University of Kent, has said she is concerned that the new legislation will not be enough to end what she calls the cycle of scandal, reform, scandal, reform that has beset the force and has stated that the Bill appears to be watered down. The general scheme of the Garda Síochána (Amendment) Bill published last November contained a provision that a function of the policing authority was "to hold the Garda Commissioner to account for policing matters". The provision is not contained in the current Bill. In addition, in the section on accountability, the general scheme stated that "the Garda Commissioner shall account fully to the authority for any aspect of his or her functions relating to policing matters". In the final Bill, this is changed to a reporting function, with the Bill stating that "the Garda Commissioner shall report to the authority with regard to policing services".

Dr. Conway said that a second area of concern was the removal of the following function in the general scheme that related to monitoring and addressing human rights compliance by the Garda Síochána relating to policing matters. She has said that this provision has been deleted and this is equally as significant as the issue of the Commissioner. The Minister should reflect again. This is a significant deletion and one that is worthy of more debate.

A third matter of concern is the authority's role in budgets and oversight. In the general scheme, the authority would ensure that Garda resources were used to "maintain the highest level of efficiency and effectiveness". In the final Bill, this is changed to providing "advice to the Minister" before each financial year with regard to the resources likely to be required. Again, this is a significant change because it is a cop-out for the Minister of the day. Instead of providing what is nearly an obligation to maintain the highest levels of efficiency and effectiveness, all it can now do is advise the Minister before each financial year. That is a cop-out, particularly in light of the current debate in An Garda Síochána about the status of its technology. The technology used by An Garda Síochána is outdated and according to the gardaí operating the system, it is hindering the effective function of the force in carrying out its duties. The chief inspector of the Garda Síochána Inspectorate has said that gardaí urgently need investment in technology to operate efficiently. Robert K. Olson said that gardaí need computer-aided dispatching, a records management system and an integrated human resources management system. He said he was very concerned about the lack of tools available to gardaí to do their work and he expressed the hope that resources would be found to upgrade systems in the force.

While the Minister has pledged the resources necessary to upgrade the Garda ICT system, we have yet to see any action on the issue. Again, this might be an opportunity for the Minister to respond and tell us what the state of play is regarding the upgrading of the technology. I wish to put i on the record that it is totally unacceptable for any Government to ignore the need and obligation to ensure that we have the state-of-the-art technology in place to combat crime because of the increasing complexity of crime. It is no longer about somebody breaking a window and breaking and entering or committing public order offences. We are now dealing with highly sophisticated criminals. I do not in any way criticise the efficiency of the gardaí but they do not have the necessary tools to make them even more efficient in combatting crime, which is completely unacceptable.

I praise An Garda Síochána for the manner in which it has carried out its public duties over a long period of time against the most intolerable of circumstances in the context of what we have just discussed here concerning technology and resources. In particular, I praise the manner in which An Garda Síochána in my part of the world handled the visit of the Prince of Wales and the Duchess of Cornwall. It did a remarkable job and many of the gardaí, who I knew because they were drafted in from my part of the county, were working 24-7 to ensure that the visit would be peaceful and without threat, not only to the royal visitors but also to the public. They are to be applauded for that. Equally, last weekend with all of the hype that surrounded the Ireland-England football game, the manner in which the gardaí went about preparing for any eventuality was borne out when there was no trouble whatsoever, which is as it should be for a football game between two neighbouring and friendly states. Despite the fact that Ireland will always want to beat England, that everybody will want to beat England in any sporting international and the boredom of the match itself, one must again give praise to An Garda Síochána at all levels for ensuring that the citizenry who visited and those who live in the city of Dublin were protected at all times from any eventuality.

The gardaí are to be applauded for the job they do but for goodness sake, will the Minister give them the tools to carry it out more efficiently?

I welcome the Minister of State at the Department of Arts, Heritage and the Gaeltacht, Deputy McHugh, to the House. He is very welcome in familiar territory.

I also thank the Minister for her contribution, which was, as always, thorough and detailed and which provided this House with the respect it deserves. I also join with the rest of my colleagues in wishing the Minister well in a difficult time and in welcoming our old colleague and friend, the Minister of State, who is doing an exceptional job and who has been in office for almost a year. I believe he has gone from having reasonable Irish to fluent Irish so an-mhaith, a chara.

This legislation is ground-breaking. I welcome Senator Mooney's general support. His reservations are important and well-founded. I urge the Minister to take his reservations on board on Committee Stage because we want this Bill to be enacted with the support of all Members of the House. I have not heard Senator Ó Clochartaigh's views on it yet but I have no doubt that they will be constructive as the Senator is always constructive in his criticism and praise.

I am just back from a visit to Portugal with the Oireachtas Joint Committee on Justice, Defence and Equality. The visit looked at how Portugal has dealt with the decriminalisation of the possession of soft drugs. What Portugal has done is very impressive and the results speak for themselves. It has given me a greater understanding of the issue and shown me what is possibly a new and alternative way of doing business. We need to look at that given the fact that 25% of court time in this country is taken up with people charged with the possession of soft drugs. A young man of 18 or 19 who is caught with a small quantity of cannabis or another of these dreadful things may, in 20 years' time when he is trying to do something having moved on with his career, finds that he has a criminal record because he was caught and brought to court for possessing a small quantity of soft drugs. We need to look at how we deal with these matters. The 25% of court time spent on this issue could be spent on better things.

As part of the trip to Portugal, I was most struck by a visit to the headquarters of the Portuguese police authority - their equivalent of Phoenix Park. They have spent €187 million in recent times building a state-of-the-art facility as the headquarters for their police force.

Even though the country required bailouts, it deemed the position the police held in society as being of such significance that it warranted the investment, difficult and all as times were. Even pre-1974 when the country was a dictatorship, the police were highly respected and had the confidence of the community. That has remained the case to this day. Although all members of the police carry guns, there have been only six shootings in ten years, one of which was fatal.

I would like to think our police force would receive that type of support. Communities throughout the country have a huge regard for An Garda Síochána. The fact that the police force is unarmed is a significant cultural aspect of the Garda Síochána, in that it has not been found necessary for all police to be armed. We would like that to continue but we need to live in the real world. We live in a violent period in world history. We have seen gun crime in Dublin get out of control. Thankfully, the issue in Limerick has been dealt with very successfully. The Bill is an incremental first step in the right direction to constitute the police force properly and in a professional way. The approach to date has been ad hoc, and while the majority of members involved did a superb job, proper control mechanisms were not in place and there was not a proper delineation between the Government and the police force. If nothing else, the structures in place were blurred. The enactment of the Bill should eliminate any blurriness, bring about a crystallisation of what the relationship should be, and ensure it is carried out in a much more professional and businesslike manner.

We have seen what has been proposed in the legislation in terms of the appointment of superintendents and deputy commissioners, for example. We have also heard from the Minister what will be involved in removing such people from their positions and the role of the Government. All such terms are clearly identified in the legislation. One will have a different narrative depending on one's position and how one views the debacle we have seen within An Garda Síochána and its relationship with the Government in recent years. Some call it misinformation and others refer to a misunderstanding, but what will emerge as a result will be far better than what we have had. Perhaps we would not see reform of this scale as quickly if it were not for what has happened. To her credit, since the Minister for Justice and Equality, Deputy Frances Fitzgerald, came to office, to facilitate her having a total focus on justice both in terms of the Department and the introduction of legislation on An Garda Síochána, the defence element of the portfolio was taken over by the Minister for Agriculture, Food and the Marine. Much effort has gone into introducing the Bill in terms of research and wide consultation.

The Oireachtas Joint Committee on Justice, Defence and Equality has made its views known. While not all the views of the committee were taken on board, a majority of them have been accepted. I am very happy with the legislation, but like much legislation, it is evolving. In ten years time the Garda Síochána will have other demands that we could not even imagine today. Who would have thought ten years ago that social media would play such a significant role in society? We saw how social media were used in the situation in Scotland when the poor, unfortunate Irish girl lost her life. We have seen other forces internationally engage with social media. The upgrade of the IT systems in Garda headquarters currently reflects the new reality. I commend the Minister on having the initiative to make significant resources available to the Garda to set up a new IT unit. It is ridiculous that one could not e-mail a Garda station in this country but now the Garda is working on that. ICT is a cornerstone of any operation. The PULSE system was groundbreaking technology at the time of its introduction, but unfortunately the system has not been upgraded because the money was not available to fund the development of the ICT system.

The Minister has done phenomenal work but Commissioner O’Sullivan has hit the ground running in terms of bringing back the type of regard and respect we all want the Garda Síochána to have in the wider community. I compliment both ladies on what they have done in the past 12 months, which has been most impressive. This country has been well served by them and will be well served with the Garda authority and An Garda Síochána.

I welcome the Minister, Deputy Fitzgerald. She began her remarks this afternoon by indicating her commitment to deliver a sea change in the oversight of policing in the State. She also outlined her commitment to delivering a comprehensive programme of reform in the oversight, governance and accountability of the Garda Síochána. I acknowledge what the Minister said and commend her on largely delivering on those commitments in a very impressive way. The Bill represents a key element of that process.

However, I have concerns about one aspect of the Bill, which I expressed previously in respect of the work of the Joint Committee on Justice, Defence and Equality in terms of the establishment of the policing authority. The Minister also indicated in her opening remarks that it is critical that confidence is maintained in the Garda service and the establishment of the policing authority is a key aspect of that. For that confidence to be maintained, the new policing authority must be fully independent. A primary and critical element of the independence of the policing authority is a merit-based recruitment process for the members of the policing authority board, including the appointment of the chair. The new policing authority should be independent from its inception but should also be seen to be independent as well as impartial. As the Minister outlined in her remarks and as Members are aware, the chair’s appointment followed an open process undertaken by the Public Appointments Service, but that process was to seek expressions of interest and on that basis the Government has nominated a chair-designate.

The legislation sets out a different process for selecting ordinary board members. The Minister referred in particular to section 62D where an open selection process is set out for a selection competition for the purpose of identifying and recommending to Government in a selection process carried out by the Public Appointments Service where it first identifies and agrees with the Minister various criteria, which are listed in the Bill. The Public Appointments Service goes through the process and can add criteria in agreement with the Minister. It subsequently goes through a process of selection and identification of the members which are ultimately recommended to the Government. The appointment of the chair is a different process from the one that is undertaken for the ordinary members. The question I would like to ask the Minister at this stage is what is her rationale for the difference in approach between the appointment of the chair and the ordinary members.

It is important that we hear what her rationale is, particularly in the light of the critical issue of the independence of the board of the policing authority.

Has the Minister given any consideration to some aspects of the model implemented under the Irish Human Rights and Equality Commission Act? She brought the legislation through both Houses and the model is very rigorous. It has a couple more stages to what has been suggested for the policing authority, including a selection panel to be managed by the Public Appointments Service. It is not so much that element to which I want to draw attention but the fact that the process was the same for the chief commissioner and the ordinary members of the Irish Human Rights and Equality Commission. What is the rationale for the difference in approach in this case, particularly in the light of my concern about the independence of the board? If there is a different approach, in the Minister's view will the policing authority be viewed as being absolutely independent of the Government and be seen to be so?

I welcome the Minister of State, Deputy Joe McHugh, and the opportunity to speak about the Bill. I am delighted that the legislation has been introduced in the Seanad, something which is always worth noting. The legislation which is welcome provides for significant reform in the governance, structures and performance of An Garda Síochána. This reform is long overdue and represents long-standing Labour Party policy. The legislation provides us with an opportunity to catch up and make good the missed opportunity that was the Garda Síochána Act 2005. Like many others, I made the point that a Garda authority should have been introduced at the time. It was a missed opportunity, but it is most welcome that the Government is now addressing the matter.

I thank the Minister for Justice and Equality, Deputy Frances Fitzgerald, for making available to us, as she had said she would, a consolidated version of the 2005 Act, which will be amended by this legislation. On that note, I have a minor technical quibble with the titles of its sections. When one tries to read it, alongside the 2005 Act, some of the provisions refer to amendments of the principal Act. For example, section 11 reads, "Amendment of section 12 of the Principal Act". In fact, section 10 amends section 11 of the principal Act but instead uses a substantive title concerning the removal of the Garda Commissioner, deputy commissioner and so on. There is an inconsistency in the titles of sections that makes it a little more complicated to deal with. A consolidated version would, therefore, be most welcome.

The Minister has referred to this legislation in the context of the package of policing reform measures she has been introducing and that the Government has introduced. I am particularly delighted by her announcement of the appointment of a retired judge in the context of the independent review mechanism. This development is welcome. Recently in the House we debated the GSOC amending legislation which was welcomed. Many of us have also welcomed the new Garda recruits or the renewal of the Garda recruitment process and the fact that the freedom of information Acts have been extended. There have been some very welcome developments. However, we also need to acknowledge the many structural flaws in and problems with existing policing structures, as identified in the Garda Inspectorate's report last year and referred to by the Minister. The Oireachtas Joint Committee on Justice, Defence and Equality also conducted hearings on the matter when we heard in some detail from the members of the inspectorate about the difficulties they had identified. Clearly, these matters are being addressed.

In the justice committee's 2014 report, to which the Minister also referred, on the 2005 Act we made a number of important recommendations. I am really glad that the Bill has taken these recommendations into account. Many of them will be implemented in this legislation. We recommended that the selection of nominees to the Garda authority become the responsibility of the Public Appointments Service. I am glad to see that this has been done, although I take on board Senator Katherine Zappone's comments in that regard. Ms Josephine Feehily is an excellent recruit as chairperson designate of the policing authority and I have welcomed her appointment in the House.

We also recommended that members of the proposed authority be removed for stated reasons but only by way of a Government resolution passed by both Houses of the Oireachtas. It is welcome that that recommendation has been adopted.

In terms of the membership of the authority, we did not recommend a specific number of number but pointed to the 13-member model in Scotland which we saw as useful. However, having nine members also makes sense.

One of our recommendations was that consideration be given to the inclusion in the new Garda authority of groups to represent current societal issues. I welcome the inclusion in section 44 of the legislation of the proposed new section 62D which sets out specifically the criteria for the appointment of ordinary members of the authority. In particular, they should have knowledge of and experience in matters connected with human rights and related matters. It also stipulates that work undertaken by voluntary or other groups or bodies with local communities and so on should be taken into account. This provision meets in a more detailed and elegant fashion our concern that there be a broad reflection of Irish society and certain expertise in the authority. We will probably debate these issues in more detail on Committee Stage.

We recommended that sections 9, 10 and 13 of the 2005 Act be amended in order that the appointment of senior officers would become the responsibility of the policing authority. I am glad that measure is being introduced and that the authority will be required to account to the Houses of the Oireachtas. I note that there is provision in this legislation that the authority will be accountable to Oireachtas committees, in particular the Committee of Public Accounts.

We recommended that the Garda authority have the power to refer matters to GSOC and the Garda Inspectorate. It is welcome that these recommendations are being implemented in this legislation.

There are a number of very important provisions dealing with matters such as a code of ethics which are hugely welcome. Also, there are the general provisions as regards the functions of the policing authority which fit with what was recommended by the Oireachtas Joint Committee on Justice, Defence and Equality. I am conscious of the fact that we also recommended in 2014 - it is a matter about which we have talked in the House before - the formation of an overall criminal justice inspectorate to oversee and supervise the administration of all aspects of the criminal justice system. This development may be further down the line. However, it very welcome that we will finally have a policing authority which, as I said, has been a long-standing policy of my party. It comes ten years after the hugely reforming 2005 Act. All of this shows that the Government is dealing with many legacy issues concerning inadequacies in the governance and accountability structures for policing. It is welcome that we are addressing the matter.

As others have done, I acknowledge the important and often dangerous work done on a daily basis by members of An Garda Síochána. The Bill will genuinely assist, help and support those members who carry out their functions with such diligence. I welcome the legislation and look forward to the Committee Stage debate.

Cuirim fáilte roimh an Aire Stáit. Tá mé sásta go maith go bhfuilimid ag déanamh plé ar an mBille seo inniu. Caithfidh mé a rá, áfach, gur mór an trua é go raibh orainn tamaillín a chaitheamh ag fanacht leis. Caithfear a rá freisin, i gcomhthéacs an réimse fada a bhaineann le riaradh agus cur i bhfeidhm cúrsaí dlí agus cirt sa Stát seo, go raibh cúlra trioblóideach go leor ag baint leis an reachtaíocht seo agus go bhfuil muinín an phobail imithe i léig, i ndáiríre, mar thoradh ar sin. Tógfaidh sé tamall an mhuinín sin a thógáil arís. This Bill is a small step in the right direction, albeit one that requires some tweaking.

Sinn Féin has consistently called for the establishment of an independent policing authority. Such an authority is central to the reform of policing. An independent policing authority formed an integral part of our reform document published last year, following all of the submissions made in this state and given the experiences of our team who negotiated the changes in policing in the North. Therefore, establishment of a policing authority is welcome.

There are a number of provisions in the Bill which are commendable. The consultations and co-ordination with joint policing committees, in particular, are welcome. The creation of Garda performance targets is also commendable, as is the establishment of a code of ethics for the Garda. The overall objective in holding An Garda Síochána to account and providing for effective oversight is what is needed. Unfortunately, there are a number of missed opportunities. The Bill should have ensured the policing authority would be truly independent in carrying out its functions. I note its limited independence in the appointment of the Garda Commissioner and deputy Garda commissioners. We support the recommendation of Transparency International that the authority have an unrestricted ability to appoint and remove senior officers of An Garda Síochána, irrespective of rank. Sinn Féin believes an independent member of the Judiciary, as appointed by the Chief Justice to do so, not the Minister, should be responsible for the final determination of disputes about whether a particular matter relates to policing or security services.

In a number of areas the Bill should be amended to remove the requirement that the authority should seek the consent of the Minister before exercising a particular function. The requirement that the authority should seek the consent of the Minister before approving the annual report, as well as the Minister's - as opposed to the Garda Commissioner's - involvement in setting Garda priorities limit the independence of the authority and undermine its purpose.

I note the membership of the authority. Sinn Féin has called for a 21-member authority to allow for a diverse membership that is representative of society. Such an authority would comprise 12 ordinary members who are representative of society and nine political members elected based on the d'Hondt method. The chairperson should also be elected by the ordinary members as opposed to being appointed by the Minister.

The absence of political representation on the authority is a mistake. Political representation, as in the North, would ensure public accountability and help to develop confidence in the policing authority. The make-up of this political representation, as proposed by Sinn Féin, would not compromise the independence of the authority, as it would ensure an inbuilt independent majority of 12 members at all times.

Sinn Féin welcomes the establishment of the policing authority. However, the challenge remains to ensure that the authority is truly independent in the exercise of its functions. We believe in a new beginning for policing similar to what happened in the Six Counties. We want an open and transparent policing service that is representative of all residing in the State. It needs to be a service that is strengthened, sustainable and capable of delivering on the needs of a modern force, helping to rebuild public confidence in our justice system. The Bill goes some of the way to creating such a service. However, as I have outlined, the authority could be strengthened in a number of ways, particularly regarding its independence and oversight responsibilities. Sinn Féin will seek to make such amendments on Committee Stage.

The Minister raised the issue of rural policing when she was here. Members of An Garda Síochána have recently brought to my attention their concern with the new rostering system which they feel does not suit rural areas. In Connemara, for example, due to reduced numbers in urban areas, such as Salthill, gardaí on a regular basis are being brought in from the rural stations to service the core needs in the urban stations, which leaves the rural stations without cover on many occasions. I believe part of the issue relates to the new rostering system that has been introduced. That is what gardaí on the ground are telling me and we need to debate the matter again at another juncture.

I recognise that there have been quite a number of Bills, as mentioned by Senator Bacik. However, when the Freedom of Information Bill came before us, it was quite detrimental that justice systems, such as the refugee and asylum system, were not brought under the remit of that Act as called for by the Ombudsman and the Ombudsman for Children. I hope we revisit that decision. In addition the Ombudsman's remit should be extended.

Cé go gcuirimid fáilte roimh an reachtaíocht seo, tá sé i gceist againn teacht chun cinn le leasuithe ar Chéim an Choiste. Tá súil againn go dtógfaidh an tAire ar bord na leasuithe sin. Táimid ag tacú leis an mBille ar an gCéim seo.

I welcome the Minister of State, Deputy McHugh, to the House. I want to make some brief observations on the legislation, to which I give a general welcome. I concede I do not have the expertise in responding to the legislation that the party spokespersons have. They are obviously members of the Joint Committee on Justice, Defence and Equality and went through the matter in the pre-legislative stage in great detail. I am looking at it more from a layman's perspective.

When we are attempting to fix a problem, we should not forget as a society and country that our people have been generally very well served by the Garda Síochána and the forces of law and order over many decades, and their record speaks for itself. There have been difficulties of course and the matters in spring 2014 come to mind and much of the new legislation probably stems from that. We must acknowledge that the record of the Garda Síochána since its inception has been very positive.

When we discuss accountability and transferring powers to new authorities and structures, the initial response is that it is obviously very positive and something we should welcome. We also must acknowledge from a political perspective that the elected Members of the Dáil vote for Ministers to head each Department, including the Department of Justice and Equality, and they work with Ministers of State on the whole. It was a strong tradition in this country that a Minister was accountable for every decision made within his or her Department and within all the agencies under the aegis of that Department. That was the tradition of politics and public administration.

Across virtually every Department there is such decentralisation of decision-making and such a transfer of power and accountability that while it may seem positive and a sharing of responsibility, accountability is becoming ever more difficult to define. We have all contacted Ministers across all Departments making representations and raising queries on behalf of the public only to be informed that the Minister has no responsibility and that the matter is the responsibility of a particular agency. When I first arrived in this House many moons ago, if I had a question for the Department of Health, the Minister would respond to virtually every question be that in the Dáil or Seanad.

It should be like that again.

We are now told that the Minister has no responsibility and it is passed on the HSE. The same applies in other Departments. While setting up authorities, and transferring powers and responsibilities from the Minister's desk elsewhere initially sounds very positive we must reflect on the downside that we always need political accountability.

This can be contrasted with the system in countries such as the United States where every position of responsibility from president to dog catcher is voted upon by the people. There is a very clear chain of command between citizen and politician and the buck stops with someone. However, we are arriving at a political place where it is impossible to know where the buck stops. Notwithstanding the perhaps desirable improvements which will flow from this legislation I am a bit worried that it adds to this chain of new commands where everybody is in charge but nobody is accountable.

I am sure we will go through this in greater detail with the Minister on Committee Stage. However, I wanted to put that on the record because it is something I have seen over recent decades in this place. It is becoming increasingly difficult to find who is in charge and where to pin accountability. I do not say that in a negative fashion. The public elect Members of the Dáil, who in theory elect a Taoiseach, who appoints a Cabinet, which is approved, on behalf of the people, by the Houses of the Oireachtas. Across all Departments those people should be responsible and accountable. However, we are actually moving away from that.

I would certainly welcome very much a Garda code of ethics. We should not need a new authority to have such a code. The new system for appointment of a Garda Commissioner appears relatively transparent, and if that is how it transpires, I would welcome it.

The Bill states that the principal Act will be amended to give the authority a role in the training etc., and provision of powers and duties to the reserve members of the Garda Síochána. I raised the matter with the Minister, Deputy Fitzgerald, approximately 12 months ago. Whether it is the Garda, the Minister or the Government, we have all failed to advance the reserve force to the successful body of men and women it could be. One of the pluses may be that the new authority will focus on that sort of thing. A large number of people could play a very constructive role in the Garda reserve force if they could be encouraged to join, but we need to work on that.

I welcome the possibility of the local authorities becoming more hands-on in conjunction with the new authority regarding local policing, community CCTV, etc.

The joint policing committees work well and if we can expand them, all the better.

I welcome Part 6 of the Bill on co-operation with other police services and the particular reference to our friends across the Border. It is also welcome that the legislation will allow for the policing authority, with the approval of the Government, to appoint members of the PSNI to the ranks of An Garda Síochána at a level not above assistant Garda commissioner and not below superintendent. This is a senior level in the force. Reading this Part of the Bill again causes me to pose the question of where we are exactly in the appointment of people from outside the force to positions within it at that level. This relates to positions that require particular expertise. It is a little like the old argument my former colleague Austin Deasy was wont to make on many occasions about the appointment of people from outside the public service to particular ambassadorial roles in certain embassies of strong commercial importance to the country. We should reflect on the possibility of appointing people who are not members to the Garda force at certain senior levels. It is something which could prove useful. Perhaps this is being considered in other legislation or perhaps it is included elsewhere within the ambit of the legislation. Section 39 allows me to reflect on the issue.

I will take up the issues raised more fully with the Minister on Committee Stage. In her absence I give a general welcome to the proposed legislation. I concede that I am far from expert on the matters raised, but I outline my concerns to the effect that while new authorities sound very progressive, no word is abused more in politics than "progressive". The authority sounds progressive, but I sound a word of caution because the more we remove decision-making from the Minister, the Cabinet and the Oireachtas, the more we remove the concept of someone being held accountable.

I thank all of the Senators who contributed to the debate. I am pleased that the Bill has attracted a significant degree of consensus, in particular on the establishment of the new policing authority. As the Minister for Justice and Equality, Deputy Frances Fitzgerald, mentioned in her introductory remarks, the Government's overall objective is to maintain public confidence in An Garda Síochána and ensure the service it provides is of the highest quality. Significant progress has been made in implementing the Government's comprehensive justice reform programme. This is an area to which it attaches the highest priority. The establishment of an independent policing authority is at the core of its reform programme and it is designed to substantially improve the accountability of An Garda Síochána. In addition to strengthening Garda accountability, the new authority will provide an independent forum for the public oversight of policing services in Ireland and a new engine to drive reforms of the policing system and practices. This will contribute significantly to ensuring An Garda Síochána will be fit to meet ongoing and emerging challenges in 21st century policing.

The Bill reflects many of the relevant recommendations contained in the Oireachtas joint committee's review of the Garda Síochána Act 2005 published in October 2014. In particular, provision is made for the policing authority to initially operate in shadow format. Further recommendations of the Oireachtas joint committee are being considered, including the establishment of an overarching criminal justice inspectorate along the lines of the model adopted in Northern Ireland. The authority will be independent in carrying out its functions and will have extensive powers in key areas such as the appointment and removal of senior Garda personnel.

As the Minister explained, arising from the requirements of the Constitution, a number of the functions of the authority will be exercised on the basis of co-agreement with the Minister. In addition, as indicated by her, a large body of reforms have been undertaken within An Garda Síochána and there will be a central role for the policing authority in supervising their implementation.

The Minister is grateful for the support expressed for the Bill in this House. I hope, given the level of consensus demonstrated, that it will be possible to have it enacted quickly. I appreciate that there may be certain aspects of it that Senators will wish to discuss in more detail. Certainly, the Minister will be happy to address specific issues that may be raised today or in the future. She intends to introduce on Committee Stage a limited number of amendments, principally related to governance and other matters of a technical nature, to sections 37, 43, 44 and 46. She is also looking at the introduction of amendments with regard to the informal resolution of less serious complaints made against members of An Garda Síochána. In addition, it is possible that, for technical reasons, there may be some further amendments brought forward.

I extend my personal condolences to the family of the late Sergeant Michael Galvin and his colleagues in An Garda Síochána on their recent tragic loss. As the Acting Chairman is aware, it is a very difficult time for the family and the force in County Donegal and the wider Sligo-Leitrim area.

I am keen to express my gratitude to the Senators who have supported the Bill and look forward to its passage through the House. Ba mhaith liom mo bhuíochas a ghabháil le achan Seanadóir a thug tacaíocht i dtreo an Bhille. Tá mé ag súil go mór leis an turas reachtaíochta fríd an Teach seo.

Question put and agreed to.

When is it proposed to take Committee Stage?

Next Tuesday, 16 June 2015.

Committee Stage ordered for Tuesday, 16 June 2015.
Sitting suspended at 6.50 p.m. and resumed at 7.35 p.m.