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Thursday, 13 Jun 2013

Priority Questions

Garda Síochána Ombudsman Commission

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]

View answer

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]

View answer

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.

Magdalen Laundries

Questions (3)

Mick Wallace

Question:

3. Deputy Mick Wallace asked the Minister for Justice and Equality his plans to set up an independent inquiry body to investigate all complaints of abuse in relation to the Magdalen laundries, as recommended by the United Nations Committee against Torture and re-emphasised by UNCAT vice-chairperson (details supplied); and if he will make a statement on the matter. [28436/13]

View answer

Oral answers (7 contributions) (Question to Justice)

The UN Committee against Torture, UNCAT, issued its concluding observations on Monday, 6 June 2011, following Ireland’s first examination in Geneva, under Article 19 of the UN Convention against Torture and Other Cruel, Inhumane or Degrading Treatment or Punishment. Its concluding observations covered a wide range of areas which impact on the remit of several Departments.

The committee recommended on Magdalen laundries:

The State should institute prompt, independent, and thorough investigations into all allegations of torture, and other cruel, inhuman or degrading treatment or punishment that were allegedly committed in the Magdalen Laundries and, in appropriate cases, prosecute and punish the perpetrators with penalties commensurate with the gravity of the offences committed, and ensure that all victims obtain redress and have an enforceable right to compensation including the means for as full rehabilitation as possible.

The interdepartmental committee chaired by the former Senator, Mr. Martin McAleese, was not established in response to that recommendation and was never intended to be a criminal investigation but was a necessary preliminary step in establishing general facts. The Government is satisfied that the McAleese report provides an independent, comprehensive, factual account of the Magdalen institutions. Some of these institutions had ceased operations nearly 50 years previously and there was no reliable account available of their operations. It brought into the public arena a considerable amount of information not previously known. It also showed that many of the preconceptions about these institutions were not supported by the facts.

With regard to prosecutions, the only mechanism to prosecute and punish perpetrators for offences committed in this jurisdiction requires a criminal investigation, a decision by the Director of Public Prosecutions to prosecute and then a criminal trial. The law does not provide for any other type of inquiry to lead to criminal prosecutions. Any complaint of criminal behaviour made by any individual to the Garda regarding Magdalen laundries are matters that can be investigated by the Garda.

The rapporteur for the follow-up on concluding observations of the UN Committee against Torture has written recently seeking clarification and further information on several matters, including matters relating to Magdalen laundries. It would be unfair to the UN committee to suggest that such a committee would come to conclusions without hearing from all sides. Rather, my understanding from the letter is that it has received information from non-governmental sources that raises issues. It is now seeking clarification and further information from the State so that it can consider the matter in a fully informed manner. A detailed response to the queries raised is being prepared and will be forwarded to the rapporteur through the correct channels in due course.

The Minister is aware that Felice Gaer of the UN Committee against Torture was not impressed with the report into the Magdalen laundries. She has asked Ireland to clarify whether it intends to set up an independent inquiry body with definite terms of reference, as well as statutory powers to compel evidence and retain evidence obtained from relevant religious bodies.

The Minister told me in reply to another parliamentary question recently that he would decide in the next few weeks as to whether the former residents of the Magdalen laundry at Summerhill, County Wexford, would be included in the redress scheme. Has he met or is he prepared to meet any of the former residents or their family members to discuss their experiences before he makes his decision?

I welcome the Minister’s assertion that he has no reason to doubt there was a commercial laundry attached to Summerhill. A constituent, Annette Larkin, told me there were many similarities in the treatment of the girls at Summerhill and those in other Magdalen laundries. The girls at Summerhill also suffered loss of identity, had their personal belongings removed, their hair cut short and were made to wear the same clothing. Another resident, Mary, stated:

Life in the laundry was hard with no education. We worked in groups but we were not allowed to speak to each other while working. If you were found to be speaking, you would be punished. We would also be punished for not working hard enough or for crying.

Another former resident, Theresa Larkin, pointed out that the priority at Summerhill was for laundry to be cleaned. There were no classrooms, pens, copies or books.

Is the Minister prepared to meet some of the former residents before he makes his decision on Summerhill?

Having met many of the former residents of the Magdalen laundries prior to the setting up of the McAleese inquiry and subsequent to the publication of its report, I know the majority of former residents welcomed the report and regarded it as an accurate account of events that took place. They also welcomed the Taoiseach’s announcement in acknowledging the failures that occurred over the years, as well as the Government’s appointment of Mr. Justice Quirke to produce a report on how we deal with the issue of making appropriate payments and taking other actions to provide for the assistance of and acknowledge the work done by those who were in Magdalen laundries. I anticipate in two weeks we will be publishing that report, together with the Government’s response to it, setting out the future action to be taken.

Including the Summerhill institution remains a matter under consideration.

I accept some of the former residents were happy with the McAleese report as not all of them suffered abuse and difficult conditions. Others were not happy with the report, however. We know 700 pages of documented evidence did not feature in the final report.

Will the Minister guarantee that the compensation scheme will be transparent? Will there be an appeals process? Will it be independently monitored? Will institutionalised survivors be afforded independent representation?

I am sure the Deputy does not expect me to pre-empt decisions yet to be made by the Cabinet. A comprehensive, sensitive and considered report has been received from Mr. Justice Quirke which addresses the many issues involved. I look forward to my Cabinet colleagues dealing with that report and there is ongoing work on it. When a decision is to be made by Cabinet on it, I hope it will be widely welcomed and be seen as this Government keeping faith with the manner in which we approached an issue that was ignored by a succession of Governments over decades.

Judicial Appointments

Question No. 5 lapsed.

Questions (4)

Niall Collins

Question:

4. Deputy Niall Collins asked the Minister for Justice and Equality the total number of new specialist judges to be appointed under the new personal insolvency regime; the number appointed to date; and if he will make a statement on the matter. [28438/13]

View answer

Oral answers (33 contributions) (Question to Justice)

The Deputy will be aware that, under the Constitution, judges are appointed by the President on the advice of the Government. Applications are dealt with by the Judicial Appointments Advisory Board established pursuant to the Courts and Court Officers Act 1995.

The Personal Insolvency Act 2012 amended the Courts Acts to allow for the creation of a cadre of specialist judges of the Circuit Court to facilitate the speedy consideration of insolvency applications by that court. As I explained when introducing the legislation, although it provides for a maximum of eight specialist judges the Government has decided to nominate six judges at this time. Any future increase in the numbers will depend on the volume of work that arises. In this regard it is my intention that these new judges will also be given jurisdiction to deal with applications to the Circuit Court under the forthcoming assisted decision-making (capacity) Bill 2013 to be published shortly.

As the Deputy may be aware, in order to save Exchequer funds, the 2012 Act provides that eligibility for these new judgeships should be initially confined to serving county registrars with the necessary legal qualifications and practice experience. In accordance with the legislation, I received recommendations from the Judicial Appointments Advisory Board which considered applications from serving county registrars for the posts. In accordance with constitutional procedure, the Government has this week nominated six persons for appointment by the President as a specialist judge of the Circuit Court.

The evolution of the personal insolvency legislation has been very slow in meeting all its critical deadlines. Since the tabling of this question we have had the appointment of the specialist judges. Given that we know the shortcomings of the system and the legislation in that it gives the banks a complete veto on proceedings and given that the Minister and the Government have ignored that aspect of the process, which we think will completely encumber the process, what is the expected launch date for the personal insolvency service? We still have issues around the regulation and the operation of the personal insolvency payment scheme, PIPS. We have just had the announcement that the judges are being appointed. The process is dragging on and on, and I think the Minister will agree with me on that. We are not moving along at any degree of pace or with any degree of the urgency that is required. We are missing all the timelines all the way along. Can the Minister give us some degree of clarity or certainty as to when cases can be received, cases will be processed and people can test the legislation, which has an inherent bankers' veto built into it?

The Deputy should stop throwing stones because he likes to think that people outside this House forget that his party was in government for a continuous period of 14 years and over that period it destroyed the economy and the financial base of the State, contributed to the creation of a property bubble-----

The Minister cheered it on the whole way.

-----to ten of thousands of people borrowing beyond their means and to the collapse of the banking system-----

That is not true.

Only half a minute remains for the reply.

-----and, ultimately and totally, it failed.

The Minister is not addressing the question.

Is the Minister going to address the question or is he going to give his revisionist version of history?

Deputy, please take your seat. Only 30 seconds remain for the reply.

Yes. I would reply if the Deputy-----

The Minister is not replying. He has not answered any questions today.

Apparently the Deputy feels he can voice criticisms but he-----

For nine of those 14 years that the Minister was a Member of this House - he will remember that he was thrown out for five of them - he never ever voiced any criticism-----

The Deputy's party was in government.

-----all he wanted was less taxation and more spending.

The Deputy's party was in government.

That was the Minister's position and the position of his party during that time.

Deputy, resume your seat, I am standing. I will suspend the Dáil. I am not going to witness this sort of interchange.

We might get more information if the place was empty.

Deputy, please. The Minister has 30 seconds to reply to the questions.

During those 14 years the Deputy's party failed to introduce any legislation to reform our insolvency laws.

The Minister failed during that time to introduce any legislation either.

We have enacted the insolvency legislation.

The bankers' veto.

We have put in place the architecture necessary for the insolvency agency. We have appointed the head of the insolvency agency. Most of the regulations applicable have been put in place.

When will it be up and running? That is the question.

The specialist judges are now appointed. The regulations in relation to the personal insolvency practitioners will shortly be published and the legislation will, and I know the Deputy will find this a source of personal disappointment,-----

-----be up and running in July as we promised.

In accordance with Standing Orders, as the author of the next listed question is not here we will move on to Other Questions.

Question No. 5 lapsed.
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