Thursday, 29 January 2004

Questions (5)

Aengus Ó Snodaigh

Question:

4 Aengus Ó Snodaigh asked the Minister for Justice, Equality and Law Reform if he will consider introducing comprehensive Garda reforms in line with the Patten commission model, including a fully independent Garda Ombudsman responsible for complaints investigation, an independent policing board responsible for civilian oversight, and district-level community policing partnerships for local democratic accountability. [2589/04]

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Written answers (Question to Minister for Justice, Equality and Law Reform)

As has already been made clear the Minister will be introducing significant changes affecting the Garda Síochána in the forthcoming Garda Síochána Bill. Preliminary details of these proposals in the form of a draft general scheme of a Bill were published and views on the proposals invited. I understand that Sinn Féin has made a submission on the proposals in the context of that consultation process.

As regards the Patten commission, the Report of the Independent Commission on Policing in Northern Ireland, published in September 1999, has been given detailed consideration and where appropriate its work has been taken into account in preparing the Garda Síochána Bill.

However, I would enter the caveat that the Patten commission itself made it clear in its report that its recommendations were what it believed "would be the best arrangements for policing in Northern Ireland" and that the "problems faced by the police service in Northern Ireland are in a sense unique to a divided society with its own political history and culture".

I would also point out that it looked at structures in the context of the policing structures in the United Kingdom where there are more than 40 different police services associated with specific local authority areas. We, in contrast, have a national police service as do many member states of the European Union, particularly the Scandinavian states.

As regards a Garda Ombudsman, the Garda Síochána Bill to which I have referred will provide for the establishment of a fully independent Ombudsman body which will have wide powers to investigate complaints made against members of the Garda Síochána. The new body will also be able to investigate policies and practices of the Garda Síochána where such policies and practices may be the cause of complaint.

On the question of the establishment of a policing board the position is that this issue has been raised on a number of occasions, but the Minister is not convinced that such a board would be the most appropriate model for this jurisdiction and the proposed Garda Bill will make no provision in that regard. In this State we have one national police force which is answerable, through the Minister for Justice, Equality and Law Reform, to the Dáil. The introduction of a Garda policing board would introduce a further level of bureaucracy into the process and effectively diminish the supervisory role of the Dáil.

As regards district-level partnerships and local accountability, there will be provision in the proposed Bill for the involvement of local authorities and local communities in local policing issues. However, it is not proposed to make the Garda Síochána in any way accountable to any body or group other than the Minister and the democratically elected members of Dáil Éireann.