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Garda Síochána Ombudsman Commission

Dáil Éireann Debate, Thursday - 13 June 2013

Thursday, 13 June 2013

Questions (1, 2)

Niall Collins

Question:

1. Deputy Niall Collins asked the Minister for Justice and Equality the discussions, if any, he has held with the Garda Ombudsman over criticisms of the response time of An Garda Síochána to queries by the Garda Síochána Ombudsman Commission; and if he will make a statement on the matter. [28437/13]

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Pádraig MacLochlainn

Question:

2. Deputy Pádraig Mac Lochlainn asked the Minister for Justice and Equality his initial response to the recently published report of its Public Interest Investigation from the Garda Síochána Ombudsman Commission that outlined serious concerns regarding the ongoing procedures with An Garda Síochána and the poor level of co-operation with their investigation. [28435/13]

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Oral answers (53 contributions) (Question to Justice)

I propose to take Questions Nos. 1 and 2 together.

The Garda Síochána Ombudsman Commission was established under the Garda Síochána Act 2005 to provide for independent oversight of complaints made against members of An Garda Síochána. The commission has a hugely important role in ensuring public confidence in An Garda Síochána is safeguarded. It has extensive powers under the 2005 Act to enable it to carry out its responsibilities. The 2005 Act also provides for protocols on the sharing of information between An Garda Síochána and the ombudsman commission. These protocols set down time limits for the provision of information by the Garda for the commission. It is clearly important that any such agreed protocols be respected and any difficulties in this regard be addressed.

I met members of the Garda Síochána Ombudsman Commission on 29 April to discuss the concerns they had raised in their 2012 annual report regarding delays in concluding their investigations and, in particular, delays in receiving requested information from An Garda Síochána. Concerns regarding Garda response times were also raised by the commissioners in the context of their recent public interest report which dealt with the handling of covert human intelligence sources by the Garda.

Following criticism in the Morris tribunal report, the Garda put in place revised procedures - a code of practice - for the management and use of covert human intelligence sources, including internal review mechanisms. In June 2010 the then Minister for Justice and Equality appointed retired High Court judge Mr. Justice Thomas Smyth as head of an independent oversight authority for covert human intelligence sources. In addition to monitoring compliance with the code of practice, Mr. Justice Smyth's remit requires him to communicate matters he considers appropriate, including recommendations, to the Garda Commissioner and report to the Minister for Justice and Equality annually on the discharge of his functions. As part of my response to the report by the Garda Síochána Ombudsman Commission, I considered it appropriate to publish the most recent report of Mr. Justice Smyth, in which he indicated his satisfaction that An Garda Síochána was in substantial compliance with the code of practice. I have also given a commitment to publish future reports from Mr. Justice Smyth.

The Garda Síochána Ombudsman Commission's comments and recommendations in regard to procedures for handling covert human intelligence sources do raise a series of important issues. These are receiving my fullest consideration and, in the first instance, I am consulting Mr. Justice Smyth and the Garda Commissioner about them. I have also asked the Commissioner for his observations on the concerns expressed by the ombudsman commission in regard to the timely provision of information, following which I intend to convene a meeting with the Commissioner and the ombudsman commission to ensure outstanding issues have been fully resolved. I expect to receive the Garda Commissioner's views in the next few days and hold the meeting within the next fortnight.

The establishment of the Garda Síochána Ombudsman Commission has shown that, in the main, members of the Garda do their jobs in a professional and upright manner. The statistics offer proof of this. Unfortunately, however, what has emerged from the report released by the commission on foot of section 80 of the Garda Síochána Act 2005 which is now in the public domain is very disturbing. Commenting on the report, the commissioners described the level of co-operation by An Garda Síochána as highly unsatisfactory. This lack of co-operation, they said, had a "significant detrimental impact" on the investigation in terms of time limits and completeness. That two members of the ombudsman commission were obliged to take to the public airwaves to articulate these concerns is simply not good enough. I expect the Minister will agree with this. Has he convened the meeting he undertook to hold with the Garda Commissioner and the ombudsman commissioners and, if not, when does he propose to do so?

The great value of the current system is that the Garda Ombudsman Commission is an entirely independent body with an independent investigative remit. I took the concerns expressed by the commission in its 2012 report with great seriousness, arranging to meet members within days of its publication. The second report was published subsequent to that meeting. It is completely appropriate that the ombudsman commission, because it is an independent body, should determine for itself what it will state in public, based on the outcome of investigations it conducts or difficulties it encounters in the course of its work.

In the context of the criticism made of An Garda Síochána in the latest report, it was appropriate and reasonable that the Garda Commissioner be given the opportunity to provide a detailed response. I duly gave him time to do so. As I said, I expect to receive the Commissioner's response within a matter of days. It is my intention, within a fortnight of receiving that response, to have a meeting with both the Commissioner and the ombudsman commissioners. I have deliberately not fixed the date for that meeting until I receive the Commissioner's response. I appreciate that the ombudsman commission may wish to have sight of that response prior to the meeting taking place. I intend to ensure that is done in order that the meeting will be productive and issues that remain to be resolved can be addressed at that forum.

This is not good enough. The seven page summary of the public interest investigation which was released more than one month ago indicates the ombudsman commission's grave concern regarding Garda Síochána practices in the implementation and management of informant handling procedures, both historic and current. The establishment of the Garda Síochána Ombudsman Commission arose from the findings of the Morris tribunal. The summary observes, however, that on a number of key issues such as the retention of contemporaneous notes and the handling of informers, the lessons of that tribunal have, apparently, not been learned.

This is a very serious matter. A month on the Minister cannot confirm that he has engaged with GSOC to elaborate further on its concerns. He has not made a public statement to express his concern about what has been said. This concerns what is known as the Kieran Boylan affair, involving a very serious convicted drug dealer who was apparently found in possession of €1.7 million worth of drugs who then had those charges dropped. It is a matter of profound public concern.

The Garda Ombudsman Commission took it upon itself, without a complaint, to carry out a public interest investigation.

It took four years to get to where we are now because of the 42 information requests that should be responded to within three months under protocols, only 17 have been answered.

This is a very serious matter and we have not had a public comment from the Minister in over a month expressing any concerns about the implications of this report.

When will the Minister make a public statement about what he makes of the Garda Ombudsman and does he condemn in the strongest terms the gardaí who dealt with a number of journalists to voice their spin against this over the weekend following publication of this report?

In the days that followed there were two prominent media reports of senior Garda sources utilising the services of journalists to attack the integrity of this report. Does the Minister condemn that in the strongest terms?

We are all going over time; when I say "we" it is not me - the Deputies are going overboard on the time. Would they please tighten it up?

I recall many of Deputy Mac Lochlainn's colleagues saying over many years that they did not engage in the politics of condemnation, in a different context. My job as Minister for Justice and Equality is to ensure that the Garda Ombudsman Commission can fully and properly do its job, independently of me and of the Garda force. I have said in my response that it is of the utmost importance that protocols that apply to investigations as agreed between the Garda Síochána and the Ombudsman Commission are adhered to. I dealt with this matter very promptly, before the report to which the Deputy referred was published, when I received the 2012 report of the Ombudsman Commission which signalled that it had concerns about the promptness with which information was being supplied to it. If the Deputy reads that report my recollection is that it referred to the fact that it thought some of the difficulties that had arisen had been ironed out. I met with them with great rapidity.

The issues that arose in respect of the second report did not arise on my watch and they did not arise on the watch of Mr. Justice Smyth. I lodged in the House and made available the letter from Mr. Justice Smyth which details matters with regard to the Garda Síochána.

I just want to quote from this letter. It is important that I do. This is from Mr. Justice Smyth's letter of 2 October 2012, or his report, in which he refers to work he undertook in the preceding 12 months:

I have reviewed and monitored the use within an Garda Síochána of Covert Human Intelligence Sources: and I am satisfied that there has been substantial compliance with the Code of Practice of An Garda Síochána of the Management and Use of Covert Human Intelligence Sources.

In the context of the use of such covert human intelligence sources where difficulties are clearly disclosed in the Ombudsman Commission's report they relate to matters that happened some years ago. The most recent report I have from Mr. Justice Smyth - and it is important that we do not undermine the gardaí in these areas - indicates that whatever was happening in the past in the use of covert human intelligence sources matters are now in order. I deliberately referred the Ombudsman Commission's report to the judge as well in case some issues arise with regard to his oversight. I want to ensure now that whatever remaining difficulties exist between the Ombudsman Commission and the Garda Síochána are resolved and I will endeavour to do my best to have them resolved in the spirit within which they should be resolved.

The time is up for this question.

This is highly unsatisfactory. This is so important that we have both sought to raise it through other avenues and we are being corralled into one minute for a supplementary question.

I have not got 20% of the way through the issue. It is just not good enough. The gardaí cannot obstruct the Garda Ombudsman and the gardaí cannot investigate the gardaí. That is exactly what is going on. This is the proper forum to tease these matters out in the public interest.

This morning on the Order of Business-----

This is highly unsatisfactory.

These are priority questions.

These are priority questions.

Whatever about oral questions the Acting Chairman cannot give way on a matter like this.

I do not think the Minister has a problem with this.

My job is difficult and I ask the Deputy not to make it more difficult. The Order of Business this morning was agreed. The Question Time for the Minister for Justice and Equality was agreed. I cannot do anything. I have a clock here and I cannot stretch that clock to make more seconds or minutes in the hour.

To help the Acting Chairman, could the Minister perhaps agree to having a session of statements and questions some time next week because this is very important? We are doing this in a constructive way.

There are three more priority questions. They are so called because they are a priority. I have got a back stop to the Question Time today. Let us all be productive about this and let us wrap up-----

The Acting Chairman said we had eight minutes.

Yes but all of the speakers went over their time. They knew that I was trying to guide them as regards the time.

We have wasted time on this. Can the Acting Chairman give us another minute each?

Will the Acting Chairman give us one minute each?

I am conscious of the other questions but I am very happy to deal with the matter the Deputies are raising.

One minute. I am going to be brutal about this. The Deputies have one minute.

The Minister made a statement on 9 May that he would convene a meeting between GSOC and the Commissioner. It is almost two months later and he has not said-----

It is six weeks since 9 May. The two net issues are, one, that there is non-co-operation between the Garda and the oversight body that we have established through the Oireachtas. Second, gardaí cannot investigate gardaí. There is the issue concerning Deputy Daly and non-co-operation in respect of her investigation which is in the public domain. There is also a case which came before a Wicklow District Court recently about a member of the Garda Síochána who forged an instrument from the DPP. The gardaí investigated that and never notified the Garda Ombudsman under section 85 of the Act. All of this is going on under the radar and we are trying to raise it in the public interest.

That is all Deputy Collins's time.

Can I have a comment from the Minister on that? Is it good enough that the gardaí are citing security of intelligence, questioning why the ombudsman is requiring information?

Can we please have a degree of urgency from the Minister to sort this out in the public interest?

I thank Deputy Collins and call on Deputy Mac Lochlainn. He has one minute.

I thank the Acting Chairman for his co-operation. If the Minister were on our side of the House he would be going purple with indignation now about the fact that such serious terms are used by people who were tasked by the public to do their job. They have said in the seven page summary, which the public can see, that they do not have the ability to do the job that they are asked to do. They cannot ensure independence and oversight of the Garda Síochána to protect the overwhelming majority of the Garda Síochána. It is only ever a handful whose behaviour is questionable. I appeal to the Minister to at least comment today and say what he thinks of this seven page summary. Is he concerned that it uses words such as "grave concern" about the level of co-operation from An Garda Síochána with an investigation into an extremely serious matter where, allegedly, a very big drug dealer-----

That is it. I thank the Deputy.

-----had charges dropped. This involves €1.7 million worth of drugs. This is serious stuff and we need a strong statement in the public interest after all these years.

The Minister has two minutes because I am bundling his two separate minutes into the slot.

I will go back to where I started. It is of crucial importance that the Garda Síochána Ombudsman Commission independently exercises all of its statutory functions. It has available to it the statutory powers that it requires to ensure that it can progress investigations. It has available to it instruments to use should it be obstructed in those investigations.

In the context of this issue there is the Garda Síochána which has a particular statutory function under the Garda Síochána Acts and there is the Ombudsman Commission which performs other functions. Both are very important bodies in this State. They have public duties to perform in the public interest. I do not think it is unreasonable when a report is published-----

The Minister has one minute.

-----setting out the difficulties described by the Garda Síochána Ombudsman Commission that the Garda Commissioner be given an opportunity to furnish a detailed response to that report.

That is what I am awaiting and expect to receive it in a few days.

Mr. Justice Thomas Smyth, an eminent retired member of the High Court appointed by my predecessor to engage in oversight of human surveillance issues, in his most recent report indicated the Garda is properly complying with guidelines in that area. That is a particularly important issue, to which both Deputies have failed to refer, in the context of matters relating to the Morris commission’s report.

I want to see any remaining difficulties dealt with. It is my intention to meet with both the Garda Commissioner and the ombudsman together to tease out these difficulties. The Garda Commissioner had to be allowed to respond. If protocols or legislation need to be changed - I doubt there will need to be legislative change because the original legislation is very robust - I will address that issue in the public interest. I am not going to pillory the Garda force as a whole in this House or make statements of condemnation as the Deputy is inviting me to do. There has to be the maximum co-operation between the Garda and the Garda Síochána Ombudsman Commission.

What about the Garda leaks in the media to attack the Garda Ombudsman? It is a despicable use by senior gardaí of well known journalists to attack the Garda Síochána Ombudsman Commission, GSOC.

The Deputy might notice the media launches all sorts of attacks on people from information it is given. Not all of the attacks are accurate, however.

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