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]View answer
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]View answer
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.
2Deputy Jonathan O’Brien asked the Minister for Justice and Equality the date on which the Garda investigation into Anglo Irish Bank will be complete; if his attention has been drawn to the contents of the files which have been sent to the Director of Public Prosecutions; the number of officers from the Garda Fraud Squad involved in the investigation; and if he will make a statement on the matter. [30065/12]View answer
As I am sure the Deputy will be aware I, as Minister, have no role in the conduct of criminal investigations or in decisions on prosecutions. These are matters for the Garda and the Director of Public Prosecutions, DPP, respectively, and it would be most inappropriate for me to attempt to become involved in assessing the content of any particular files.
I can inform the Deputy that the Garda Commissioner has advised me that the Garda investigations in relation to Anglo Irish Bank are substantially complete. A number of Garda investigation files have been submitted to the DPP and her independent directions are still awaited. A full investigation team remains employed at the Garda Bureau of Fraud Investigation to conduct necessary follow-up inquiries. The Garda Commissioner has assured me this work is receiving absolute priority. The latest information I have from the Garda authorities indicates that 23 members of An Garda Síochána were engaged in the investigations into Anglo Irish Bank, including nine members of An Garda Síochána currently seconded to the Office of the Director of Corporate Enforcement, ODCE, and 14 personnel at the Garda bureau of fraud investigation.
I have previously stated in this House that I shared the impatience of many at the pace of the investigations into possible criminal behaviour at Anglo Irish Bank. I also appreciate that the investigators and prosecutors face particular challenges as a result of the complexities of the matters being investigated. This is the most complex investigation of its kind ever undertaken in the State. I am advised there are ten strands to it. It requires the analysis of a huge range of records - more than 800,000 separate documents and 250,000 recordings of telephone conversations. Of the telephone recordings, 15,000 were identified as being relevant to the investigations. A significant number of witness statements have been taken, and inevitably in a case like this, the statements can be extremely lengthy. Search warrants and court orders have been executed and persons arrested. It has also been necessary to carry out inquiries outside the State.
In the context of the challenges arising in the investigation, shortly after assuming office I published the Criminal Justice Bill 2011 which was enacted in July last. This Act provided new procedures to An Garda Síochána to facilitate its obtaining crucial information and documentation and accessing electronically held information of importance.
Additional information not given on the floor of the House
It is now for the DPP to determine on the basis of the files and all additional information furnished to her whether a prosecution or prosecutions should be initiated. This is a matter for the independent judgment of the DPP. Like everyone else, I am anxious that clarity be brought to these crucial matters as soon as possible. What is important now is that nothing be said which would in any way risk the possibility of prejudicing any criminal proceedings which might arise.
Is that answer related to any other question? There are similar questions. Is that merely the answer to Question No. 2?
This is merely the answer to Question No. 2. There are other questions of a similar nature. In fact, there is some additional information in my reply which, perhaps, I will have the opportunity to give to Deputy O'Brien in response to a supplementary.
I do not want to repeat this, but it would be useful if we could get the written answers. Sometimes the Minister does not have enough time and is cut off and then we try to ask supplementary questions on half an answer. The Oireachtas Service might take this into account and supply us with the written answers as well in order that we can ask informed supplementary questions.
I am well aware of the Minister's remit and the constraints placed on him in terms of an ongoing criminal investigation but it is appropriate in this case that there is some update given, and I appreciate the fact that he has given that today. I agree it is probably the most complex investigation undertaken by both the Director of Corporate Enforcement and the Garda. My information is that there was only one forensic accountant available to this investigation and perhaps the Minister could confirm that.
Search warrants were issued as part of this investigation. Can the Minister confirm whether any of those were issued under section 29, the one that was recently found to be unconstitutional? If there are potential problems coming down the road as a result of evidence obtained under section 29, it is important we are aware of it, that it is recognised at least, and the Minister is taking steps to ensure these investigations do not collapse.
On the latter issue, I have no information. A substantial amount of the information was obtained as a consequence of the Criminal Justice Act being enacted in 2011 and a great deal of it would have no relevance to the section 29 issue that has given rise to difficulty. In the context of the investigation, I do not know whether that issue arose. If it did, I am sure it is an issue to which personnel in both the Garda and the DPP's office will direct their minds. I have no information to suggest it is a problem or an issue, and I would not like it to give rise to any misunderstanding outside this House that it creates any particular difficulty in this investigation.
It is now for the DPP to determine on the basis of the files and all additional information furnished to her whether a prosecution or prosecutions should be initiated. This is a matter for the independent judgment of the DPP. Like everyone else, I am anxious that clarity be brought to these crucial matters as soon as possible. It is also important I do not say or do anything that could in any way prejudice any investigation into the matter. I am conscious an enormous amount of work has been done in this area by the Garda Síochána and the Office of the Director of Corporate Enforcement. There is a considerable volume of information within the office of the DPP.
I welcome that both Deputies O'Brien and Calleary have from time to time asked me about these matters. It is important we have some sense, as best as I can provide, of where matters are going. The DPP is entirely independent. It is now for her judgment to determine, based on the enormous volume of evidence, documentation, information and, particularly, the files furnished to her, whether there are adequate grounds for the initiation of any or one or more prosecutions in respect of the different strands of investigations undertaken. Like every other Member of the House, every member of the Government is anxious to know the position. We would hope that prosecutions, should they be appropriate, would be initiated as soon as is possible.
It is important that people know the investigation is, in the Minister's words, substantially complete, the files are with the DPP and it is a matter for her. We look forward to the outcome of her deliberations on it.
Perhaps the Minister could comment on the fact there was only one forensic accountant attached to the Garda investigation. In the Minister's opinion, was this appropriate? Was that one of the reasons, or part of the reason, the investigation took so long? I would appreciate the Minister's comment on that.
As Deputies, probably to the point of boredom, have heard me say to the House, on the first day I was in the Department of Justice and Equality following my appointment, I raised queries with regard to the investigations being conducted and whether there were additional resources required for the Garda or the Office of the Director of Corporate Enforcement. I arranged that staff of my Department would meet the Garda Commissioner, the Director of the Office of Corporate Enforcement and the Department of Jobs, Enterprise and Innovation in order that those issues would be discussed. I raised that issue particularly directly with the Garda Commissioner. At all times, I was informed that the Garda and the Office of the Director Corporate Enforcement had all the resources they needed.
I specifically raised the issue of whether they needed anyone additional in the forensic accounting area or in any other area, and on all occasions I was assured they did not. It was explained to me - it is not breaching confidence in any way - that it was not a question of needing a number of additional staff, but that one needed the same group of staff who had knowledge of the documentation through which they were going to engage consistently in the investigation with the prior knowledge they had. It could not be segmented. If one drafted in 100 staff, it would not have been of assistance given the way the investigation developed. That is the way matters were explained to me.
As I stated, the investigations are substantially complete. The documentation, information and files are with the DPP. It is always possible there would be some additional query on some aspect of matters, but as I understand it, what is now there is substantial and matters rest now with the DPP, exercising her discretion in accordance with law as to whether there is adequate information available to indicate that either a prosecution should be brought and is appropriate against one or more individuals, or that a prosecution cannot be brought and is not appropriate. These are matters on which there is legislation laid down for the independent remit of the DPP and cannot be in any way influenced by me, as Minister, by the Government or, indeed, by Members of this House.
Deputy Mattie McGrath is not here for Ceist Uimh. 3 and we will go on to Ceist Uimh. 4.
3Deputy Mattie McGrath asked the Minister for Justice and Equality if the Metal Theft Forum has finalised its report on the metal theft crime prevention and reduction plan in view of the fact that it was expected to do so by the end of March; the reason for the delay in finalising this report; when this report will be published; his plans to deal with the growing problem of metal theft; and if he will make a statement on the matter. [30003/12]View answer
I am informed by the Garda authorities that the drafting of a metal theft crime prevention and reduction plan is at an advanced stage and that this work is proceeding in consultation with the stakeholders represented on the metal theft forum. I understand the plan will be finalised shortly. I look forward to the outcome of this process and will study any Garda recommendation concerning regulation, in conjunction with all stakeholders and relevant Departments. Consideration of such recommendations will also need to have regard to the issues arising from the report on the cash for gold trade which was prepared by my Department and which I published yesterday.
In addition, my colleague, the Minister for the Environment, Community and Local Government, is examining waste licensing and permitting legislation to ensure all necessary provisions, particularly those relating to traceability, are in place to avoid circumstances which could be exploited by criminals. A draft set of regulations was circulated informally to relevant stakeholders earlier this year. Following feedback from this process, the Minister will shortly consult on a second set of draft amending regulations to counter metal theft.
An Garda Síochána is very much aware of the increase in the theft of metal and targeting such crime, as well as burglaries and theft related crimes generally, through a number of initiatives, including its work with the metal theft forum. This Garda operational response is ongoing and taking place in parallel with the formal development of the plan.
I share the Deputy's desire that the metal theft crime prevention and reduction plan be finalised in order that the overall response to this type of crime is as effective as possible. I am confident the Garda is doing everything it can to progress this complex matter, in consultation with the other stakeholders, so as to ensure a properly considered and strategic response.
I apologise for my absence when the question was due to be taken. A report on the cash for gold business was published yesterday. We are thinking around the problem of scrapping precious metals. I welcome the publication of the metal forum report and the decision to submit it to the Joint Committee on Justice, Equality and Defence. However, as the Minister knows better than anyone, action is needed. It would be better for him to address this problem rather than consulting the archives to enable him to comment on speeches people may have made six or seven years ago before they entered the Oireachtas. The theft of metals is a problem. I introduced a Bill in March which the Minister rejected out of hand.
The Deputy should ask a question.
Why did the Minister not allow my Bill to pass on Second Stage in order that it could go before the Select Committee on Justice, Equality and Defence? The report being sent to the committee will probably be followed by another. While the Garda is doing its best and enjoys my support in this matter, it does not have the tools of the trade and is being led a merry dance because there is no traceability. As a result, people can take what they like and plunder homes and protected buildings without anyone doing anything about it.
The publication of the report yesterday means my question is out of date. However, I am tired of reports and consultants and want action to be taken for the people I represent. The Minister is more interested in referring to the city of Derry as Londonderry than he is in dealing with the problems people are facing.
It is very difficult in the context of the ramblings of the Deputy-----
They were statements of fact, not ramblings.
-----to know what I should reply to.
The Minister should do his job.
On the basis that the Deputy has a serious interest in these issues, I hope shortly to receive the forum report from the Garda which is anxious to ensure it is comprehensive. I anticipated originally that I might have received it by this date. As soon as I receive it, I will consider its contents. I expect it will also be made available to Members.
On the cash for gold issue, the Deputy knows the reason his Bill could not be accepted. While I am sure it was a well intended measure, it failed to take cognisance of other relevant legislation and did not address the issue in the appropriate manner. It would have given rise to a range of unnecessary side-effects, including unnecessary expense.
I kept faith with the Deputies. I told the House that we would publish a detailed report on the issue. The report clearly raises a number of matters. The Garda Commissioner has confirmed that all of the cash for gold outlets have been visited by the Garda Síochána. In his view, there is no direct relationship between the opening of these outlets and any increase in burglaries. Between 1999 and 2011, there has been a 2% increase in burglaries. While one cannot ever condone the offence of burglary, given the context of the current economic climate, this is not a dramatic increase in burglaries. There is no evidence to indicate a connectivity with cash for gold outlets.
Another difficulty with the Deputy's report is that he would have provided for legislation which did not address the blindingly obvious, which was that the cash for gold industry is partly web based. People see advertisements on the Internet and they send goods through the post. This does not involve people entering retail outlets. The report ignored entirely the reality that for decades, jewellery shops and antique shops have traded in second hand jewellery. The Deputy's legislation did not address that issue. As a result of the very detailed submission furnished to the joint Oireachtas committee, I hope that that committee, in conjunction with the enterprise committee which has some remit in this area, will consider that report and make proportionate and appropriate recommendations.
Where there is lawful business being conducted, it is important that we do not introduce some extra layer of bureaucracy which results in legitimate businesses incurring unnecessary expense to no benefit to the general public, or to the investigative capacity of the Garda Síochána.
The Minister has his head in the sand. My Bill has shortcomings in it and I would be the first to admit that. It was sent in last November and it only reached the floor here in March, so there was plenty of time for him and his officials to look over it and advise me in whatever way possible. The fact is that homes and precious buildings are being plundered. The Minister had a taste of that when he was abroad, so he knows what it is like. I do not wish that to happen to anybody, because it is a terrible intrusion on people's privacy.
Going to committees, sending reports and listening to what the Garda Commissioner says is one thing, but I am meeting senior officers up and down the country who are saying something different. They know the facts. I would be the last person to call for more punitive legislation to affect small businesses, but we have to regularise the situation. Jewellers are dealing with this for years, and rightly so, but they have a code of practice and I was not talking about them, nor was I referring to cash for gold solely. I was talking about precious metals that have been taken from farms, historic buildings and everywhere else. If somebody is telling me that burglaries have only increased by 2%, then the Minister must be living in Londonderry.
I thank the Deputy for his usual constructive and coherent contribution to the debate on a serious issue. I look forward to receiving his report from the justice committee on the matter.
4Deputy Dara Calleary asked the Minister for Justice and Equality the action he has taken to address the spate of crime that has hit rural Ireland; and if he will make a statement on the matter. [29853/12]View answer
While the latest recorded crime statistics show a decrease in most types of crime during 2011, as I have previously stated, I am concerned at the increase in certain categories of crime, notably burglaries and other property crimes. In particular, I share the widespread outrage at recent incidents of aggravated burglary, where elderly people were terrorised in their own homes and subjected to barbaric brutality. Although the overall incidence of crime is generally lower in rural than in urban areas, I am conscious of the deep distress these disturbing assaults can cause and the fear they give rise to in rural communities. I am sure the Deputy will agree that An Garda Síochána has been relentless in its efforts to bring to justice those involved in this type of crime.
I welcome that all crime trends are monitored closely by Garda management, with intelligence-led initiatives put in place to target burglary and other criminality in rural as well as all other areas. The Deputy will be aware the Garda Commissioner has introduced a wide range of measures as part of a new operation aimed at tackling gangs involved in burglaries. These measures, which are showing welcome results, are encompassed in Operation Fiacla, which is particularly focused on identifying and targeting mobile gangs involved in burglaries throughout the country so as to disrupt their activities and bring them before the courts. Specific burglary related initiatives are being implemented in each Garda region in support of the operation. This is a co-ordinated, intelligence-led strategy designed to maximise organisational resources to proactively target prolific offenders.
In addition to the concerted law enforcement efforts which are being pursued by An Garda Síochána, crime prevention is a key component in tackling burglary and other property crime. In this regard, the Garda national crime prevention unit and crime prevention officers at divisional level provide advice, information and support to organisations, businesses and individuals aimed at reducing burglary and property crime. Similarly, the Garda national model of community policing plays a key part in responding to crime by taking into account and responding to local conditions and needs. In this regard the Garda continues to work closely with communities to enhance community safety in a wide range of local fora, including through partnership programmes such as community alert and neighbourhood watch.
I am full aware of the concerns that exist at the incidence of certain property crimes as well as the specific concerns felt in rural areas, and I welcome, therefore, the fact the Garda Commissioner is deploying the substantial resources available to him in a targeted and strategic approach to confront those engaging in this form of criminality.
I thank the Minister for his reply and join him in paying tribute to the Garda for the work it is doing. I raised the issue of recent attacks on vulnerable people with the Minister of State, Deputy Dinny McGinley, during the Topical Issue Debate. Since these attacks, the level of concern in rural areas has increased significantly. In the light of the cuts in the Department of Justice and Equality, including to the community alert and senior alert schemes, I raised with the Minister of State the possibility that he, wearing his Gaeltacht affairs hat, the Minister for the Environment, Community and Local Government, Deputy Phil Hogan, wearing his community affairs hat, and the Minister for Justice and Equality would discuss whether additional funding could be made available to support the community alert scheme and, in particular, the senior alert programme. If Departments have underspent, they could release funding for the schemes in the coming weeks, thereby offering people a degree of security as we approach the winter months.
Last month, in response to an oral question, the Minister provided an update on the number of investigations that had taken place under Operation Fiacla. Will he provide a further update?
I do not have definitive figures, but I can provide some information for the Deputy. Again, I must be careful not to say anything that could prejudice prosecutions. Operation Fiacla has been particularly successful. A number of individuals will find themselves before the courts in the not too distant future as a result of successful investigations. Some of those who have been engaged in appalling thuggery will find themselves before the courts. The Deputy will understand, therefore, if I do not say anything more on the matter. I pay tribute again to the Garda for the work it has done in this area.
I am conscious of the value of community alert schemes which have been funded through my Department. Unfortunately, owing to the financial and economic legacy the Government has inherited, we must reduce the levels of public expenditure. I have approximately €100 million less available in my Department in 2012 than I had in 2011. However, we are doing our best to ensure community alert schemes are adequately funded. Towards the end of last year we managed to find additional funding to meet needs. We are operating with substantial efficiency in the Department. An initial allocation of funding is being made to the community alert scheme this year and if the schemes require additional supports, I am hopeful we will be able to provide them towards the end of the year.
The senior alert scheme, under which an emergency pendant is provided in the home, gives people great security. Will the Minister ascertain from his colleagues whether further funding is available for the scheme?
The Law Reform Commission has issued a consultation paper on mandatory sentencing for certain crimes. I understand a final document has not been published by it. When does the Minister envisage he will be in a position to bring before the House proposals on mandatory sentencing for aggravated burglary?
Heavy sentences can be passed in cases of aggravated burglary. In the context of the mandatory sentencing issue, clearly we have to wait for the final report. I understand the Law Reform Commission has published a consultative document, but it has not yet published its final report. If that is the case, we have to wait to see the contents of the final report.
5Deputy Jonathan O’Brien asked the Minister for Justice and Equality if he will provide an update on the Policing Plan that the Garda Commissioner is currently putting together; when it will be complete; when he expects to receive same; and if he will make a statement on the matter. [29761/12]View answer
Section 20 of the Garda Síochána Act 2005 provides that the Minister for Justice and Equality may determine the policing priorities for the Garda Síochána for the coming year in consultation with the Garda Commissioner. The Commissioner, in turn, must take account of the policing priorities identified and submit to me by the end of October a draft policing plan for the following year. Section 22(1) of the Act provides that the policing plan prepared by the Commissioner shall set out the proposed arrangements for the policing of the State for the following year, including any proposal to establish or dissolve a national unit of the Garda Síochána; alter the boundaries of a regional geographical area under the control of an assistant Garda Commissioner or of a divisional geographical area under the control of a chief superintendent; establish or relocate a divisional headquarters under the control of a chief superintendent or of a district headquarters under the control of a superintendent; or open a Garda station in a new location or cease stationing members in an existing station.
As Minister, I must approve the policing plan as submitted by the Commissioner, or with amendments determined in consultation with the Commissioner. The Deputy will appreciate, therefore, that I cannot comment on the contents of a policing plan for 2013 as it is not yet drafted. Consultations relating to the drafting of the 2013 plan will start in the third quarter of this year.
I find the answer a little strange, because there have been many media reports on the potential contents of this plan. In my own area, we have had media reports of a Garda district being closed down. We have had reports in Donegal of meetings between senior officers and rank and file gardaí about the potential closure of another district, and the impact that will have. I find it bizarre to hear the Minister say that consultation has not yet begun, yet we are hearing reports across the State of consultation being underway, with elements of it reported in the media. This is causing concern. There has been a media report in Cork that the Cobh district will be amalgamated with Mayfield and another district. A number of rural Garda stations have already been shut down, and now we are hearing about Garda districts being shut down as well.
If the consultation has not started, when will it start? The Minister said that it will be reported back to him in October, but I find it strange that he says the consultation has not started, yet we are hearing and seeing media reports to the contrary.
The statutory consultation that takes place between myself, as Minister, and the Commissioner on a draft plan has not started. I have absolutely no doubt that he is engaging in work with a view to developing a policing plan for 2013, and I do not think that matters simply stop and he does not direct his mind to this. I am not privy to any internal consultative process he may be engaged in within the Garda Síochána. I know he was engaged in a process in 2011 for the 2012 plan.
I am responsible for a lot of things, but happily I am not responsible for media reports on anything. That is just as well, based on the level of inaccuracy often seen in media reports. I have already stated that my Department has €100 million less available to it. Under the multi-annual budgeting position, we know we will have at least €60 million less in 2013 than we have in 2012. The Garda Commissioner has an obligation, bearing in mind the financial condition of the State and the amount of funds available to be allocated to Garda matters, to look at how to use resources to the maximum efficiency, to maximise Garda capabilities, to modernise where appropriate, as well as to engage in some restructuring of the force if he believes that will produce a more efficient police service for the benefit of the general public.
I am not privy to any of the rumours mentioned by the Deputy. In the run-up to the announcements about Garda stations, I recall reading in the media somebody projecting - this became theology within two weeks - that there would be 200 Garda stations closed at the end of 2011 and the beginning of 2012. That proved to be wildly inaccurate speculation in the media. I expect the Commissioner is engaged in some internal discussions. There may be different issues discussed with a view to assessing what steps might be taken, but I am not privy to any of that. I suggest that the Deputy should not rely on media reports.
I probably rely less on media reports than anybody else in this House because I know how inaccurate they can be. I understand the Minister's position on the Garda Commissioner's internal consultation in the sense that such a consultation will take place before the Commissioner consults with him. How does that consultation work? Is there any role for the JPCs in it? Is there any consultation with local community groups, or does a complete internal consultation process take place in the first instance, after which the policing plan is drafted and brought to the Department? I am aware that it is the Minister's responsibility to approve or reject the plan. However, the Oireachtas committee should have an opportunity to consider it because the time has come to engage in a serious discussion on the type of policing we require in this State. Such a debate might focus on whether restructuring should take place and on the nature of policing. There has been a great deal of discussion about community policing. We must consider exactly what is meant by the latter and how such policing is filtered down. Will the Minister provide a commitment that prior to this making a decision - I understand the decision is his to make - that there will be at least some consultation with the Joint Oireachtas Committee on Justice, Defence and Equality on the matter?
The statutory position is that the Garda Commissioner presents the draft report to the Minister and then they consult on it. In the context of there being security matters relating to that issue, it is a decision for the Minister to make. I do not intend to furnish a draft report from the Commissioner to the Joint Oireachtas Committee on Justice, Defence and Equality. It is open to the committee to discuss policing issues in a general way and to examine what it may consider to be appropriate reforms. When it comes to addressing some of these issues, however, there is a tendency - my comments in this regard are not aimed at the Deputy - for some Members of the House and other individuals outside it to live in a financial fantasy world where there is an assumption that an unlimited amount of money is available and that nothing should ever change in the sphere of policing. There are those who believe that because we had X number of Garda stations in 1922, we should still have the same number in 2012 and that we should have no regard for modern communication or transportation systems.
A constructive engagement at committee level, where a committee would formulate views as to structures within the Garda Síochána, would not in any way be binding on the Commissioner or on me, as Minister. However, such an engagement would of course contribute to the public debate on and consideration of the issue. It is open to the members of JPCs to raise any local issues of concern and to constructively engage with members of the Garda at meetings of these committees. The consultative process in which the Commissioner engages would principally involve those in supervisory, managerial and officer positions across the country. Some of these individuals attend JPC meetings and can feed into the process. As I understand it, this is a fully considered and comprehensive consultative process. Ultimately, the statutory obligation rests with the Commissioner to furnish to me his policing plan for 2013 as he deems appropriate.