Wednesday, 20 June 2012

Questions (1)

Dara Calleary

Question:

1Deputy Dara Calleary asked the Minister for Justice and Equality the steps he will take in response to the Garda Ombudsman Commission Report; and if he will make a statement on the matter. [29852/12]

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Oral answers (5 contributions) (Question to Minister for Justice)

I assume the Deputy is referring to the Garda Síochána Ombudsman Commission's annual report for 2011 which was published last week. Copies of the report have been laid before both Houses of the Oireachtas and it is also available on the commission's website. It was presented by the new ombudsman commission which took office in December 2011. The office is anxious to build on the foundation work of its predecessors. The report outlines details of the 2,275 complaints, containing 6,230 allegations, received from members of the public. A total of 1,424 of these allegations were deemed to be inadmissible. Of the allegations received, 39% related to abuse of authority, 26% to neglect of duty, 12% to discourtesy and 11% to non-fatal offences against the person. These figures are in keeping with those of previous years and the new commission will, in its new strategy, attempt to address recurring issues. The Garda Commissioner made 90 referrals during 2011.

In 2011, 154 sanctions were applied by the Garda Commissioner following investigations by the ombudsman commission. Eighteen files were submitted to the Director of Public Prosecutions relating to 19 Garda members. The Director of Public Prosecutions directed prosecutions in eight of these cases relating to seven Garda members and two people who were not gardaí. Also during 2011 there were convictions against six gardaí and one against a civilian following investigations by the ombudsman commission.

The ombudsman commission is aware of the Garda Commissioner's commitment to continuous improvement and, in its new strategy, will try to examine the reasons for the recurrence of certain types of complaints. I wholeheartedly welcome this approach. It is important from a public service point of view that we continue to learn and improve the way we conduct ourselves. Already the new ombudsman commission has submitted to me suggestions for legislative change aimed at enhancing the investigation and resolution of complaints. I will carefully consider the case for this.

I thank the Minister for his reply and join him in thanking the former ombudsman. I wish the new board every success.

I am concerned about the high number of queries and complaints deemed inadmissible. The Minister said twice that the new ombudsman commission was committed to considering issues that were recurring. Are there specific trends or issues pertaining to the inadmissible complaints? What resources are being used by the commission in assessing this issue? The Minister stated the high level for 2011 was consistent with that in previous years. Does the new ombudsman have a strategy to address this issue? When will there be a reduction in the number of vexatious or inadmissible claims?

To return to the statistics, the ombudsman commission received 2,275 complaints from members of the public in 2011 and they contained a total of 6,230 allegations of misconduct. A total of 1,424 of these allegations were deemed to be inadmissible. The corresponding figures for 2010 were 2,258 complaints, containing 4931 allegations, of which 1087 were deemed to be inadmissible. The reasons for inadmissibility varied from complaints being outside the six month time limit or relating to the general control and direction of the Garda Síochána to being of such a minor nature as to be deemed by the ombudsman commission to be frivolous or vexatious. Vexatious, in this context, should not necessarily be taken to mean mischievous or malign but that, in general, the allegations were so minor as not to warrant investigation.

Most of the complaints came from the north, south and south-central Dublin metropolitan regions, Cork city and Donegal. Are there areas that are giving the ombudsman commission's office cause for concern? Is the office directing resources at particular areas?

I am not aware of a particular area giving cause for concern. The complaints are well spread around parts of the country. Obviously, this is an issue the new members of the ombudsman commission may consider, but there was certainly nothing in the report laid before the Houses that indicated there was a substantial problem in a particular identifiable part of the country that would give rise to concern. It is desirable that the number of complaints be reduced. In particular, it is important that members of An Garda Síochána who have an extremely difficult job and operate frequently in difficult circumstances regarding certain individuals with whom they come into contact show appropriate courtesy in their interaction with the general public. Some 11% of the complaints made related to discourtesy. I hope this issue can be readily addressed. It is important that, when ordinary members of the public are in contact with the Garda, they feel they have been dealt with courteously.

One of the issues the new ombudsman commission is examining is whether there could be a different approach to what I describe as service level complaints, as opposed to complaints of alleged misconduct. It is often the case that people who have made a telephone call do not believe they have received the immediate service they want. In such cases, there is no issue of misconduct. In the context of the communication I received, dated 31 May, and to which I want to give detailed consideration, the new ombudsman commission will examine the issue. It could be to the benefit of both An Garda Síochána and the public.