I am pleased to present the Public Service Superannuation (Amendment) Bill to the House. I thank Members, in particular Senator Buttimer, for facilitating the Bill this evening. It is hoped that with the consent of the House we might conclude matters by taking all Stages. It is a short Bill, with the the sole purpose of ensuring that the same age limit applies to internal and external candidates for appointment to the ranks of Garda Commissioner and deputy Garda commissioner. The immediate impetus for this Bill is the upcoming competition for the next Garda Commissioner. Before proceeding, I want to acknowledge the dedication and service of acting Garda Commissioner Dónall Ó Cualáin.
The former Garda Commissioner announced her retirement last autumn. For the first time, the independent Policing Authority, working in conjunction with the Public Appointments Service, will now conduct the selection process for a Garda Commissioner. Shortly after the former Commissioner announced her retirement, I engaged with the chairperson of the Policing Authority. The authority has undertaken a significant amount of work to prepare for the appointment process, and I wish to acknowledge that. Members of the House will be aware that the Government triggered the statutory process included in section 9 of the Garda Síochána Act 2005, as amended, for the selection and appointment of the next Commissioner last December. I am pleased to say that preparations for the competition, which will be an open international competition without any restriction as to nationality or policing experience, are almost finalised. However, before the competition can proceed, I seek the support of this House to rectify an anomaly that has the effect of barring an external candidate aged 55 years or older from appointment as Commissioner.
The anomaly dates from 2004. It is an unintended effect of the retirement regime introduced at that time for new entrants to An Garda Síochána. At that time, the long-standing tradition, dating from the 1960s, was to appoint the Commissioner from within the ranks of An Garda Síochána. This unintended age barrier has no logical basis, and in the context of an open, competitive process, unnecessarily restricts the field of candidates for one of the most important public service leadership roles in this State.
As I have already stated, the Government's overriding concern, a concern I believe is shared in this House, is that the best possible candidate is selected to take up the leadership of An Garda Síochána. The Government has no preference as to whether the person is an internal or external candidate. Rather, the Government's concern is to ensure that the selection process attracts the widest possible pool of high calibre candidates, and that whosoever is selected and nominated by the authority for appointment by the Government is tested against a strong field. Seeking to ensure a level playing field where the age of the appointment is concerned is part of this concern. It has the support of the Policing Authority and the Public Appointments Service.
I will turn briefly to the Bill itself.
It amends the Public Service Superannuation (Miscellaneous Provisions) Act 2004. It contains two sections. Section 1 is the substantive section while section 2 contains the general provision in regard to the Short Title, collective citation and commencement.
Section 1 amends section 4 of the 2004 Act. For the assistance of Members, I will set out the background and purpose of section 4. In essence, section 4 introduced a new retirement regime for members of An Garda Síochána who enter on or after 1 April 2004. The retirement of those who entered prior to that date continues to be governed by regulations made under the Garda Acts. While section 4 maintained the maximum age of retirement of 60 for all members of An Garda Síochána, it made it conditional for new entrants on or after 1 April 2004 on health and other checks. The purpose of this conditional approach is to ensure the operational capacity of the police service. Specifically, section 4 provides that a new entrant shall "cease to be a member" of An Garda Síochána, "on attaining the age of 55 years" but may continue to 60 years subject to the Commissioner being satisfied that, "the member is fully competent and available to undertake, and fully capable of undertaking, the duties of his or her position as a member of the Garda Síochána". Where the member concerned is the Commissioner, it is the Minister for Justice and Equality who must satisfy himself or herself as to capability and competency.
The Attorney General has advised that the manner in which section 4 is constructed has the effect of excluding the appointment of a person, who is not already a member of An Garda Síochána before the age of 55, to the rank of Commissioner. It has the same effect in regard to the rank of deputy commissioner. Accordingly, the Government has made the decision to amend the legislation to better support an open competition. Quite apart from the importance of ensuring a level playing field between internal and external candidates, it puts prospective external candidates who may already be 54 years of age in the unenviable position of trying to determine whether it is worth their while applying for the competition and running the risk of ageing out before the process concludes. To rectify this anomaly, section 1 inserts a new subsection (4) in section 4. It provides that nothing in that section shall prevent the appointment, in accordance with the Garda Síochána Act 2005, of a person who has attained the age of 55 years but is under the age of 60 as a new entrant to An Garda Síochána to the rank of Commissioner or deputy commissioner. Section 1 also inserts a new subsection (5) to clarify that the regime in section 4 in regard to medical and other checks applies to such appointees.
It is important to note that these amendments make no change to the retirement regime in operation for members of An Garda Síochána. The regime approved by the Oireachtas in 2004, under which all those who join An Garda Síochána on or after 1 April of that year cease to be members on attaining the age of 55 but may continue to the age of 60 subject to certain conditions, remains intact. This provision, in conjunction with regulations made by the Government recently, means that any person appointed to the office of Commissioner on foot of the upcoming competition shall serve for five years or until he or she attains the age of 60 years, whichever is the earlier.
As I previously stated, on this occasion for the first time, the independent Policing Authority, working in conjunction with the Public Appointments Service, will conduct the selection process for a Garda Commissioner. I am advised that the selection process itself is likely to take some four months from the launch date. Further time may then be required depending on the candidate. I and my colleagues in government are keen to remove any possible obstacle or barrier to ensuring the best possible candidate can be identified to lead An Garda Síochána and deliver the best policing services to the people of Ireland. I am keen that the competition proceed without delay. In that regard, I want to specifically thank the Members of this House for their co-operation with the passage of this Bill. I commend the Bill to the House.