Public Service Superannuation (Amendment) Bill 2018: Second Stage

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

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.

We are supporting this Bill. It is important that the base from which the next Garda Commissioner is chosen is as wide as possible and this Bill allows the net to be broadened. Equality must reign supreme when we are choosing the next Garda Commissioner and the best person for the job should be chosen. It is a very important role. I support this Bill on behalf of the Fianna Fáil group.

That was short and sweet.

I will also be short and sweet. I thank the Minister for his comprehensive background to this issue. I note the Bill passed all Stages in the Dáil on 21 February 2018. It is a short Bill, as he said, that seeks to alter the current position that had the effect of barring an external candidate aged over 55 years from applying for the position of Garda Commissioner. That raises serious concerns and is something of which I was not aware. I do not know how that arrangement was allowed sit for so long. It is extraordinary.

Let us be clear. I am a great believer in simple messages and one of the things I have found since becoming a Member of this House is that when a fellow says that something is complicated, one wants to sit up and look. I refer to that as a type of diversionary tactic. When politicians say, "It is all very complicated" or "It is in the Bill for a very good reason", one really needs to start digging. However, I was amazed that the legislation precluded external candidates over 55 years of age from applying for the position but if they were internal candidates, that was grand. They could stay on until the age of 60. The issue has now come to us today for discussion. That is my simple message because sometimes setting the narrative is important and the narrative that needs to be set is that at this late stage, the issue is being addressed and that has to be welcomed.

The sole purpose of the Bill is to ensure that the same age limit applies internally and externally to the candidates for appointment to the rank of Garda Commissioner and deputy Garda commissioner. The Minister is right. It is a fundamental position within our State. I wish him well with the Bill. Originally, I thought this job was advertised but I understand now that it has not been advertised.

It will be advertised.

The Minister set out the timeframe for that. I support the Bill and I know from speaking to my colleagues that they are very supportive of it also.

I welcome the Minister to the House and thank him for bringing the Bill before us. As the Fine Gael Leader of the House, I confirm we will be supporting this Government Bill. As Senator Boyhan rightly said, it is about ensuring that we have the same age limit for external candidates and that they are not barred from being able to apply and be interviewed for the position.

The next Garda Commissioner is pivotal in terms of the reform of An Garda Síochána. It is fair to say that the Garda has suffered in the eyes of the public for a variety of reasons but it is important now that we restore that morale.

As the first female Commissioner, Nóirín O'Sullivan deserves our thanks and praise for the role she played. I always found her to be a very amicable and fair-minded person to engage with who did her best and wanted to see An Garda Síochána advance. Equally, we are very fortunate with the men and women who serve in An Garda Síochána in our towns and cities who do Trojan work to protect but also build a sense of community. It is now opportune that we bring reform to An Garda Síochána.

I welcome the fact that we will have an open, international recruitment campaign. I welcome the age barrier being changed. It is a pity the 5 ft 9 in. height barrier could not have been changed over time. Many of us who are of a smaller height might have been considered for An Garda Síochána. I always found that to be discriminatory and unfair because the many of us who might have considered applying were precluded from doing so because of the height restriction. That was wrong, and I am glad that has changed.

The Senator could be Sergeant Buttimer.

I could be assistant Commissioner or even Commissioner now, never mind sergeant.

(Interruptions).

The point I am making is that I would have been very happy to have been a member of An Garda Síochána. The change to the age limit of 55 for external candidates is welcome. I am wondering aloud now but the Pontiff, US President Trump, President Michael D. Higgins and, I understand, Senator Norris are over 70.

Seventy three and three quarters.

I am curious as to the reason we are putting in caveats in terms of the age of applicants for this position, but we are open to change.

I welcome that an independent appointments commission will be set up. Who will sit on the interview panel? Who will be the people with the competency and expertise? Will they be from inside or outside the jurisdiction? Will they have a set modus operandi and terms of reference stating who they may recruit?

This is a wonderful opportunity to renew An Garda Síochána. I wish the Minister and the independent body well in doing the work that is now ahead of us. The Minister said in his speech that it will take four months or so. It is important that we get it right. The process should be open and transparent. I commend the Minister on his stewardship of the Department. It is important that we thank acting Garda Commissioner Ó Cualáin for his work, and Ms Nóirín O'Sullivan.

Cuirim fáilte roimh an Aire. I hope he will forgive me for reading notes from my iPad. I know Senator Norris will not.

I will on this occasion.

I will just have to plough on regardless.

Sinn Féin will be supporting the Bill. To a large extent, it is a relatively minor technical Bill. It is intended to address the unintended effect of the retirement provision applying to members of the Garda Síochána who entered service on or after 1 April 2004 and external candidates for appointment to the rank of Garda Commissioner or deputy Garda commissioner. It relates to section 4 of the Public Service Superannuation (Miscellaneous Provisions) Act 2004, which states that such members of the force shall cease to be members on attaining 55 years of age but may continue until 60 years subject to checks. The provision, however, has the unintended effect of creating a bar on the appointment of persons aged 55 or more to the rank of Garda Commissioner or to the rank of deputy Garda commissioner where those persons are external applicants. Clearly, that is not sensible. We support legislation to rectify such an unintended but obvious anomaly and consequence.

As colleagues have said, it is vital that the process be as open as possible to external candidates. We previously expressed that it would be preferable to have an external candidate take on the position of Garda Commissioner for a number of reasons, one of which is that it would be invidious at this stage for somebody within An Garda Síochána to take on the position. A person from within the force would find matters difficult from the outset. We should be considering external candidates and, very likely, people from outside the jurisdiction. It is possible that the Minister has commented on this already but, if he has any update on the process for the appointment of the Garda Commissioner, it will be very welcome.

My colleagues in the Dáil expressed the view to the Minister that we would have believed it preferable to have an extended period with an acting Garda Commissioner, as is currently the case. They also expressed the view that it would have been preferable for the recommendations of the Commission on the Future of Policing in Ireland to have been reported before a Garda Commissioner was appointed in order to allow the Public Appointments Service and the Policing Authority to take account of them. While the Minister is proceeding in any event, we still have some concerns in this regard.

This is going to be a crucial appointment. With the right appointment, together with enthusiastic implementation of the recommendations of the Commission on the Future of Policing in Ireland, it may be possible to draw a line under recent controversies and begin a new future for policing in this State. As has been said, however, that would require the commission to come up with radical proposals, and these must be implemented fully and enthusiastically by the Government. It is essential, therefore, that we get the appointment right.

Let me add to previous observations regarding the maximum age, which, even after the enactment of this legislation, will still be 60. It is unusual that we require gardaí to retire at that age when in other areas we force employees to work for a longer period, perhaps up to the age of 67 or 68, in places they would rather not be. This is the other extreme. In many circumstances, those who would be forced to work for longer would be least likely to be able to do so. In the case of gardaí, however, there are people who would very much like to remain in service and who are perfectly capable of so doing but who are prevented from doing so. I ask the Minister to reconsider this.

The legislation is technical and is intended to rectify an anomaly. We will support it. I will assist in ensuring the process for appointing a new Garda Commissioner is robust.

The right person must be appointed to ensure that there is a new era in An Garda Síochána. It is not very often it happens, on which basis I hope Senator Norris forgives me for using my script.

At the age of nearly 75, 55 looks pretty young to me. For a responsible position such as Garda Commissioner, not many people under 55 would apply. One would need that degree of experience. A large number of commentators have suggested that it would be a very good thing to have someone from outside the jurisdiction take up the role. As such, I am very happy to support the legislation, which rectifies a technical anomaly, as the Minister said.

I want to raise something else because this legislation deals with the terms and conditions of work of civil servants. I would like the Minister to take back to Cabinet my view, which I think is widely supported in the House, notwithstanding that people are reluctant to say it in public because of voter reaction. There are 111 civil servants in Leinster House who get more than we get as Senators. That is a pretty astonishing situation. Approximately half a dozen of them at least get three times what we get. During the financial emergency, the long-service increment was removed. I cannot think of another job where one does not get a long-service increment. Certainly, everyone around here gets it, including the secretaries. What is wrong with us? Why are we so utterly mealy-mouthed?

The Senator might be surprising the Minister with this extra-curricular matter.

I am but it is to give him a little message to take back to Cabinet. It is time we did something about this anomaly. We do not need to be mealy-mouthed. I can tell the Minister that the public of Ireland would not give a toss if we gave away every penny we had to St. Vincent de Paul and danced naked across the roof of Leinster House. They would not be impressed. This is a very serious thing. I must say the civil servants were shrewd enough. I see one of them having a good smile. They got it. It is the smile of the cat who got the cream.

She is smiling at the Senator's comment about dancing across the roof of Leinster House.

The civil servants were cute enough to get it streamed into their main income. We did not. It was quite extraordinary.

This affects pensions, which will be seriously reduced as a result. My pension, for example, will be less than it was ten years ago. I ask the Minister, therefore, to take back to Government a feeling which is shared very widely in the House, but which many of my colleagues are afraid to say anything about. We really need to look at the terms and conditions of our own employment. If we do not, we will not get really good people into politics. They will get a hell of a lot of abuse from the media and very little thanks from the public. If they are paid buttons as well, it will have an effect. I appeal to the Minister to mention this to his colleagues as something which should be looked at. I thank the Chair for his indulgence.

I thank the Senator for that extra unplanned item for the Minister. It is a matter for his own discretion as to whether he replies to it.

Senator Norris is, as always, fearless in the teeth of voter backlash.

Fearless in defence of his wallet.

You are a fat one to talk, McDowell. I just got your bill of costs.

It is an indication that the first shots have been fired in the Seanad election as Senator Norris takes on the electorate, fearless of any backlash as usual.

I would not say that was a great vote getter.

It would not be a great vote-getting slogan, all right.

The Senator has not often been on the side of the voter.

I ignore the electorate largely.

We should get back to the Bill.

I appreciate the support of the House for this short Bill and for the positive comments of Members. In particular, I acknowledge the support of Senator Clifford-Lee and Fianna Fáil, Senator Ó Donnghaile of Sinn Féin, Senator Boyhan and, indeed, Senator Norris, in our objective of ensuring the best possible candidate is appointed to lead An Garda Síochána.

I reiterate that Government has absolutely no preference as to whether the person is an internal or external candidate, but whoever comes through the process, whether they be a member of An Garda Síochána or otherwise, will face a significant task. The person will be required to continue the implementation of the major reform programme, to improve governance of An Garda Síochána, improve performance management, build managerial capacity, and enhance service delivery while continuing to ensure that the organisation has the capability to secure the State and keep citizens safe. The person will also be required to implement any further strategic reforms to the sector generally that may flow from the work of the Commission on the Future of Policing.

I note Senator Ó Donnghaile's view that it might be best to delay the appointment of the Garda Commissioner until the Commission on the Future of Policing has completed its work. The commission's work is well under way and I acknowledge its work under the leadership of the experienced former police officer Kathleen O'Toole. It will produce its report by September this year at the latest. I am sure Senators will agree that it is not in the public interest or that of An Garda Síochána that we allow a state of uncertainty to persist. We must proceed and ensure that there is not a vacuum around the leadership of the police service. It is some time since former Commissioner Nóirín O'Sullivan retired, whose leadership of An Garda Síochána and whose contribution I want to acknowledge, and it is important that we move swiftly towards a replacement. I know from my engagement with Kathleen O'Toole, the chair of the Commission on the Future of Policing, that she shares my concern that after a careful and deliberative approach to the recruitment process we need to proceed to ensure the best candidate is selected. The approach has been followed that has allowed the policing authority to engage with the Commission on the Future of Policing to see how it sees the future role and responsibilities of the Garda Commissioner.

I will refer briefly to points raised by Senators Buttimer, Ó Donnghaile and Norris on the maximum retirement age of 60 years. It is less than that which applies to the majority of public servants with the exception of other uniformed services such as the Defence Forces and Prison Service. The distinguishing feature of the uniformed services is justified by the physical nature of the role and need to maintain operational capacity at all times. That also means the retaining of talent and refreshing the supervisory and management tiers in organisations that are often seen as having somewhat limited promotional opportunities. I have listened carefully to Senators on this. I believe there is merit in considering whether these justifications hold the same sway for the leadership tiers of the police service, particularly in the context of open competitions. I have asked my Department to undertake a review on this matter. Any proposal for change will have to be carefully managed to avoid a silting up of senior leadership tiers for several years that might be a consequence. I acknowledge the input in any such change of my colleague, the Minister of State at the Department for Public Expenditure and Reform, Deputy Patrick O' Donovan. I understand he will bring forward a Bill later in the session to amend the 2004 Act to extend the retirement age for the majority of pre-2004 public servants to 70 years. This Bill may provide a timely vehicle for any proposals for change in the retirement arrangements applying to the office of the Garda Commissioner and other senior leadership ranks in An Garda Síochána.

Indeed, the Minister of State's Bill may provide a timely vehicle for any proposal for change in respect of the retirement arrangements applying to the Office of the Garda Commissioner and other senior leadership ranks in An Garda Síochána.

As regards an interview board and who will manage this process, I reaffirm that this is a matter for the Public Appointments Service, PAS. Its staff will manage the competition and arrange the selection procedures in conjunction with the Policing Authority. I expect the advertisement to be placed in national and international newspapers and on appropriate online services within a couple of weeks. I am keen that the process formally gets under way without undue delay and I suspect it may well be completed within four months of the launch. I expect the launch to be on or about the date the advertisement is placed. There will be an accompanying booklet setting out the terms and conditions, and the information regarding the vacant position. It is important that the successful person be required to implement reforms to An Garda Síochána of a significant nature. In the meantime, the enactment of the legislation is necessary to ensure we have the widest pool of candidates for competition.

With regard to Senator Boyhan's comments, there is no diversionary tactic or ulterior motive other than to ensure a level playing field for those who wish to apply from outside An Garda Síochána, those who wish to apply from within, those who wish to apply from within the State or, indeed, persons on the international stage. I would welcome the passage of all Stages this evening in order that the Policing Authority and the PAS can launch the competition. They are almost ready to do so and it could well happen within a matter of days. I hope it will but adhering to a strict timeframe is desirable in view of the time involved for selection processes for senior posts. Further time may be required in the making of the appointment as well.

I thank the House for facilitating the process and I look forward to returning-----

Will the Minister take my message to Cabinet?

Of course I will.

I thank the Minister.

I always give the Senator's messages due and careful consideration and I am happy to bring that message to Cabinet. However, I could not guarantee that favourable consideration will be given to the points at issue.

No, they are too gutless.

I would like to acknowledge the presence in the Visitors Gallery of Deputy Joe Carey and his guests. He comes occasionally to pay homage to this Chamber and we are grateful for that.

Question put and agreed to.