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Thursday, 13 Jun 2013

Other Questions

Garda Deployment

Questions (6)

Seamus Kirk

Question:

6. Deputy Seamus Kirk asked the Minister for Justice and Equality the total number of Garda serving in the traffic corps in 2010, 2011, 2012 and to date in 2013; and if he will make a statement on the matter. [28283/13]

View answer

Oral answers (4 contributions) (Question to Justice)

The Deputy will be aware that the Garda Commissioner is responsible for the deployment of Garda personnel and the allocation of resources throughout the force, and that I have no function in the matter. These deployments and allocations are kept under continuing review by the Commissioner, and may be adjusted from time to time in the light of operational requirements.

I have been informed by the Garda Commissioner that the personnel strength of the traffic corps on the dates referred to by the Deputy are set out in the table.

Of course all operational gardaí may, as the need arises, enforce road traffic law. In this respect it is worth noting that, while the number of gardaí assigned to the traffic corps has reduced over the last four years, the number of mandatory alcohol testing check points has in fact increased during this period. Some 57,568 such checkpoints were operated in 2010; 70,861 in 2011; 71,960 in 2012; and 30,170 to the end of May, the first five months of this year.

In that regard, the Garda Síochána is continuing to perform the necessary functions conferred on it in the context of important issues that come under the remit of the traffic corps.

Date

Strength

31 December 2010

1,018

31 December 2011

947

31 December 2012

877

30 April 2013

846

The AA conducted a survey of 20,000 drivers and almost 75% of those believed that there were fewer gardaí on the road performing their functions. My question is linked to the wider functions of the Garda Síochána and comes back to the question of recruitment. Can the Minister give any indication on this occasion - he has given it previously, we have been down that road and he U-turned on it - as to when recruitment to An Garda Síochána and training will resume?

As I have said to the Deputy in the past, it is my intention that there will be a move to recruit as early as is possible. The Deputy will recall that when a decision was made initially with regard to Croke Park II, which indicated that there would still be difficulties in effecting the savings of €1 billion by 2015, the matter of recruitment had to be delayed. I am pleased that in the context of the further talks that took place, the Garda representative bodies have agreed arrangements with regard to effecting the crucial savings that were necessary in that particular area. I am very conscious that they are matters on which members of the force have to deliver their view and that these matters have yet to be finally resolved by the decision of members of various unions and representative bodies.

I can tell the Deputy that work is moving forward with a view to commencing a recruitment campaign and I hope, when there is clarity finally on the savings that have to be effected, to be in a position to bring the proposal before Government and that matters will proceed from that point.

I would remind the Deputy that in the troika agreement his party entered into no provision was made for any Garda recruitment nor did it envisage any Garda recruitment up to 2015.

Why did you not renegotiate it? Shame on you.

Garda Overtime

Questions (7)

Timmy Dooley

Question:

7. Deputy Timmy Dooley asked the Minister for Justice and Equality the total Garda overtime budget in 2010, 2011, 2012 and the estimated budget in 2013; and if he will make a statement on the matter. [28300/13]

View answer

Oral answers (33 contributions) (Question to Justice)

Expenditure on Garda overtime has been reducing as part of the necessary reduction in public expenditure. Provision for Garda overtime was €78.2 million in 2010, €80.9 million in 2011 and €42.4 million in 2012. It should be noted that the 2011 figure includes overtime in respect of duties carried out during the State visits of President Obama and Queen Elizabeth II.

The Garda overtime provision for this year is €39.6 million. While this is a slight decrease on the provision for 2012, two additional factors must be taken into account. The first is that the Haddington Road agreement contains a proposal to reduce the cost of voluntary Garda overtime. The second is that separate provision has been made in the Garda Vote in 2013 for Garda costs, including overtime, arising in connection with the current Irish EU Presidency.

More generally, Garda management, as part of the efficiency drive which must continue right across the public service, is keeping under continuing review the scope for measures, whether through revised rosters, better deployment or otherwise, which have the potential to reduce the need for overtime.

The priority will remain the deployment of the maximum number of gardaí on front-line operational duties, and indeed the latest crime statistics published by the Central Statistics Office reflect the excellent work being done by the Garda Síochána in this regard.

We have questioned the Minister several times in respect of the Garda budget that has been voted for this year. We outlined to the Minister details of the shortfall which was reported by Tom Brady in the Irish Independent and the Minister has consistently denied that there will be a shortfall in the Garda payroll budget for this calendar year. I wish to ask the Minister about this again. Is the Minister confirming again today that there is no shortfall? Can the Minister confirm that he will not have to arrange for a Supplementary Estimate to meet the expected shortfall which, it has been put to me and others, will be required by virtue of the fact that the payroll budget afforded to An Garda Síochána will not meet the present complement in the force, which is in the region of 13,300 members?

It has been reported by reputable people that the Garda management in the Phoenix Park does not have sufficient funds to pay the force for the full year. What is the position? Will the Minister confirm - he has not done so to date - that the force has a sufficient payroll budget and that it will not require a supplement?

The Deputy constantly moves from one issue to another. He was trying to suggest some time ago-----

Minister, will you just address the questions, please?

Yes, I am going to address the question.

There is no need for the Minister to give a commentary. Answer the question.

Deputy, I am actually in the Chair. Did you notice? Let me handle this, please.

The Deputy has previously suggested that the Garda is unable to fight against crime because of diminished numbers. Now, it has been absolutely established that the crime figures are reducing.

No. I am asking the Minister if he will pay the gardaí for doing their jobs.

The Deputy is now suggesting that members of the Garda will not be paid for doing their jobs.

It has been reported that the Minister is not paying them and that he has not given them a proper payroll budget.

I am asking the Minister to address that issue.

If the Deputy keeps on shouting at me I cannot reply.

I am not shouting at the Minister. I am simply trying to get him to address the issue.

Does anyone notice that I am standing? The rules of the House are that you resume your seats when I am standing. Thank you. Minister, please, let us make this a pleasant question-and-answer session for all of us.

It is fine and pleasant on this side.

I am in charge. Minister, will you please answer the question succinctly?

To continue, the Deputy is now suggesting that gardaí will not be paid until the end of the year.

No. I am not suggesting it. It was reported and, by the way, the Minister did not deny the report.

A Cheann Comhairle, it is not really possible to respond to questions when one is shouted at by a Deputy.

I am not shouting at the Minister.

Either he wants to hear the answers or he does not.

The Minister has obviously been to the Terry Prone school of presentation.

No one is shouting at the Minister. He should simply answer the question.

Minister, you can say there are funds to pay the Garda until the end of the year. Just keep it simple.

I will reply as I deem appropriate, not as instructed. I can say to the Deputy that gardaí will of course be fully and properly paid for doing their duties throughout the year. If the Deputy's party had had its way there would be €90 million less available this year to pay the Garda Síochána and to provide for resources than happens to be the case.

This is a drum, I suggest, that the Deputy should stop beating. The Deputy is trying to cause alarm and concern within members of the force.

The drum the Minister is beating is not gaining any traction. The Minister should live in the present.

The reality is, as the Deputy is aware, that there is no question of members of the Garda not being properly remunerated.

Magdalen Laundries

Questions (8)

Mary Lou McDonald

Question:

8. Deputy Mary Lou McDonald asked the Minister for Justice and Equality if he has received Mr. Justice John Quirke’s recommendations taking into account the findings of the Report of the Inter-Departmental Committee to establish the facts of State involvement with the Magdalen laundries in view of details supplied; his views on the United Nations Committee against Torture’s opinion (details further supplied); and if he will clarify if the Magdalen fund or commission will be placed on a statutory footing with independent statutory powers, be transparent, be subject to an appeals process and be independently monitored. [28248/13]

View answer

Oral answers (28 contributions) (Question to Justice)

I can confirm to the House that Mr. Justice Quirke forwarded his report to me on 30 May 2013. I expect it will be considered by Government within the next two weeks and that the report and the Government's response to his recommendations can then be published. I do not believe that it would be helpful to pre-empt the publication of the report or the consideration of the matter by Government by going into any detail at this stage. However, if the Deputy is advocating that any fund or commission should be placed on a statutory footing with independent statutory powers, I presume she is doing so in the knowledge that the preparation and enactment of legislation and the establishment of a new independent body would take several months at a minimum.

I have already set out the position on the letter recently received from the rapporteur for the follow-up on the concluding observations of the UN Committee against Torture, UNCAT. The UN committee 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 that impact on the remit of several Departments.

The committee recommended in respect of the Magdalen laundries that "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, Dr. McAleese, was not established in response to that recommendation and was never intended to be a criminal investigation. It 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 almost 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.

Additional information not given on the floor of the House

It also showed that many of the preconceptions about these institutions were not supported by the facts.

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. Irish 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 in respect of the Magdalen laundries are matters that can be investigated by the Garda.

The rapporteur is 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 the committee has received information from non-governmental sources that raise issues and it is now seeking clarification and further information from the State in order that it can consider the matter in a fully-informed manner. As I have stated, 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 has referred to no pre-emption in respect of the report from Mr. Justice Quirke. I put it to the Minister that there was a level of pre-emption from somewhere within Government, because details of at least elements of that report and its recommendations were, it seems, comprehensively leaked to RTE last weekend. This has caused serious upset among many women who have contacted me and who are survivors of these institutions. The Minister has known all along that the survivors are in many cases elderly and some are in poor health. Therefore, time is of the essence in dealing with these matters.

The Minister asserted that the McAleese report was not established to meet the recommendations and requirements of the UN committee against torture. I put it to the Minister that if the McAleese report was not designed to do that then where is the mechanism to meet these requirements? In its observations of May 2013, to which the Minister referred, the UN committee was particularly critical of the McAleese report. It stated that the report lacked many elements of a prompt independent and thorough investigation. It stated that the inquiry did not conduct a full independent investigation into allegations of arbitrary detention, forced labour or ill-treatment. It further stated that it was concerned that as a consequence Mr. Justice Quirke's work was premised on incomplete investigations carried out by the McAleese committee and it called for clarification on whether the Quirke investigation process and the system envisaged in his recommendations would have independent statutory powers, whether it would be transparent and whether it would have an appeals process.

The Minister has one minute to reply. Deputy Wallace wants to ask a question on this matter as well.

I can inform the Deputy that I had no hand or part, nor did anyone in my Department, in the RTE report. The Deputy should not believe all reports of alleged leaks she hears on RTE, nor should she believe everything she reads in our newspapers. I can inform the Deputy that the particular report, which I heard, does not bear any relation to the detailed and comprehensive recommendations and the considered approach taken by Mr. Justice Quirke to this issue.

It would be most unfortunate if any former resident of a Magdalen laundry took that report seriously as the outcome of the deliberations of Mr. Justice Quirke. I cannot help it if rumours are generated, or if the media claims to have some sort of scoop on a certain matter in advance of the publication of a report. There is nothing I can do about that. I can tell the Deputy that these particular reports should not be treated with seriousness. My concern on this issue has always related to the former residents of the Magdalen laundries. I wanted to ensure we got to the truth of what occurred. Dr. McAleese did that in a considered and comprehensive way. He had access to documentation that was never previously available when reports were being done. He did an extraordinary and comprehensive job. It is unfair-----

Thank you, Minister. Deputy Wallace wants to ask a question.

I am going to deal with the issues that have been raised. It is unfair to Dr. McAleese to suggest that he did anything less than a comprehensive job in addressing the issues and the plight of the women in the laundries. I know from all my experience of meeting the women in question that they have a substantial appreciation of the work done by Dr. McAleese. They appreciate that the Government has taken a particular approach to this matter. When Mr. Justice Quirke's report is published and the Government's response to it is announced, I hope it will receive substantial support from all sides of this House.

Do I get an opportunity to respond?

The trouble is that from the outset of Question Time this afternoon - throughout Priority Questions and these Other Questions - all Deputies have exceeded by 100% the time limits I asked them to observe. It is not fair on me, on the Deputies, or on the whole forum for questions and answers.

What about Dáil reform?

That is not my job, Deputy Collins.

I know it is not. It is the Government's job.

I ask Deputies to think about what I have said.

The Government's approach to Dáil reform is a joke.

There are 15 minutes left on Question Time. If Deputies want to be tight and efficient about things, they should omit the preambles and epilogues and confine themselves to questions.

I know they will say that I offend-----

Tell that to your colleague over there.

Please, now. Let us all subscribe to what I have said. I ask Deputy Wallace to keep his contribution tight.

I will be very brief. Did the Minister give Mr. Justice Quirke any guidelines to ensure that any proposed support scheme would pass muster in the context of the concerns of the UN Committee against Torture?

There is a good example for the Minister.

The Deputy will have full sight of Mr. Justice Quirke's report when it is published. He can then make his own judgment on the content, the substance and the benefits of what is proposed.

Does the Minister accept that the UN Committee against Torture was critical not of Dr. McAleese but of the McAleese process? Does he accept that the committee views the report as incomplete because it does not pass muster in terms of the committee's recommendations? I would like to mention three of the key exclusions from the proposed redress scheme - the Summerhill centre in County Wexford, the Sisters of Mercy laundry in Clifden and the St. John's school and laundry in Birr, County Offaly. There could be others, which is the difficulty when one has an incomplete process.

I ask the Minister to keep his contribution tight.

I have the greatest respect for the work done by Dr. McAleese. As I said in my response, it was welcomed on all sides of the House.

What about the UN recommendations?

The questions raised by the UN rapporteur are being considered and will be responded to.

I want this rhythm to continue when we move on to Question No. 9.

Penalty Points System Offences

Questions (9)

Barry Cowen

Question:

9. Deputy Barry Cowen asked the Minister for Justice and Equality his plans to establish an independent inquiry into the penalty point controversy; and if he will make a statement on the matter. [28293/13]

View answer

Oral answers (9 contributions) (Question to Justice)

As the Deputy is aware, I asked the Garda Commissioner to conduct an examination into the allegations surrounding the cancellation of fixed charge notices. I believe it was right to refer the allegations to the Garda Commissioner for a fact-finding investigation in the first instance. The investigation, which was carried out by assistant commissioner John O'Mahoney, was a considerable task that took almost six months to complete. It involved 28 staff, including five chief superintendents and six superintendents. The O'Mahoney report, which constitutes a detailed examination of the allegations, found no evidence to suggest any act of criminality but did identify certain departures from administration procedures. Files in respect of three members of the Garda Síochána have been forwarded to the assistant commissioner in charge of internal affairs for further investigation under the disciplinary regulations. The O'Mahoney report, and a related report by the Garda professional standards unit, recommended a number of changes aimed at ensuring administrative procedures are correctly followed throughout the force in relation to the cancellation of fixed charge notices. I have asked the Garda Síochána Inspectorate to consider these changes prior to implementation to make any necessary supplementary recommendations and to review their implementation after 18 months. With regard to the need for any further examination of this issue, I have referred both reports to the Joint Committee on Justice, Defence and Equality. I look forward to hearing the views of the committee on this issue, particularly on whether any additional procedural or legislative changes are desirable. I understand the Joint Committee on Public Service Oversight and Petitions agreed yesterday to forward the reports to the Garda Síochána Ombudsman Commission.

Can the Minister tell me why neither he nor the Garda Commissioner involved the Garda Síochána Ombudsman Commission in this exercise before now? Section 85 of the 2005 Act stipulates that a complaint about the Garda to the Garda has to be notified to the Garda Síochána Ombudsman Commission, but I do not think that happened in this instance. Does the Minister think it is right or appropriate to have the Garda investigating the Garda?

As the Deputy knows, the allegations made in this instance came from two members of the Garda Síochána. In those circumstances, it was completely appropriate for the matter to be investigated as it was. At that point in time, the Garda Síochána Ombudsman Commission was not an appropriate body to deal with it. Of course it was open to any individual to refer the matter to the Garda Síochána Ombudsman Commission if he or she deemed it fit, but it was not in the context of the legislation an approach to be taken by two serving members of the force. This matter has been substantially investigated. I recall the Deputy acknowledging during the debate on this issue the good faith of the Garda in the manner in which it does its substantial work.

I was anxious to ensure we had the maximum level of transparency. The report I received was published in that context. A second report was also published. As I have said, the joint committee has an opportunity to bring further daylight to this matter. It is open to the committee to determine how it proceeds. I have no difficulty with its asking those who have complaints to make to do so, asking those who disagree with the report to detail the substantive evidential basis for their disagreement, or asking the Garda Commissioner to address those matters. That would ensure there is the necessary transparency. Of course the other bodies I have mentioned can determine how they wish to approach these matters.

I wonder if the Minister is concerned that the Road Safety Authority is calling for an independent inquiry. I would like to point out once again that there was a lack of natural justice in the report. It offended the rule against bias because the force was investigating itself. It ignored the principle that the other side should be heard, because the whistleblowers were not interviewed. The report found evidence of widespread non-compliance with the rules governing the keeping of records and files. It showed there have been many cases of points being cancelled outside the relevant districts. There was no auditing even though there was supposed to be. The mandatory requirement to fill in a comment box was circumvented by the insertion of blank spaces. The PULSE and fixed charge processing systems were at odds with each other, and both of them were at odds with the 2005 Garda cancellation policy. The legality of the system is being called into question, as the Minister knows. I am surprised he did not seek the opinion of an independent senior counsel.

I reiterate that as a Member of this Parliament, Deputy Wallace will have an opportunity to have any complaints he wishes to make considered and addressed by the joint committee. He can furnish to the committee any evidence he has to indicate that there was some failure in the investigation that was conducted and the report that was published. If he wishes to pursue this matter further, I suggest he will have every opportunity to do so in the manner I have outlined.

Is it not very strange that it took an Oireachtas committee to make the blindingly obvious decision to refer this matter to the Garda Síochána Ombudsman Commission?

How can the Minister make any claims of transparency or stand over the process when he did not do the very thing that was so apparently necessary? The Oireachtas committees themselves have been in correspondence with each other, as I understand it, and the decision was made by them that the ombudsman was appropriate. Indeed, the Minister's own colleague, the Minister, Deputy Varadkar, is also, along with the Road Safety Authority, of the view that independence of inquiry is necessary in this matter.

I should have added to my response to Deputy Wallace that, in so far as the Road Safety Authority has any evidence to present on this matter to suggest there is anything inaccurate in the report furnished to the joint Oireachtas committee, I would welcome the Road Safety Authority making that submission to the joint committee and, no doubt, the joint committee can call before it members of the Road Safety Authority who have those concerns and let them present their case.

In the context of this matter, transparency has been provided by the publication of the two reports that were published by their furnishing to the joint committee. One cannot have greater transparency than a parliamentary committee being given the opportunity to address issues that may be of concern or conclusions that may be criticised in a report that was published. It, of course, remains for the Garda Inspectorate, or an independent body entirely independent of the Garda Síochána, to address issues in the manner in which they deem appropriate. I have no difficulty with Oireachtas committees deciding how they wish to proceed. It remains to be seen whether the Garda Síochána Ombudsman Commission, if it receives a communication from an Oireachtas committee, determines it an appropriate matter for it to engage in.

My only interest in this is to ensure we have a system that is above reproach and that we still have a system that is humane and ensures individuals are given the benefit of a discretion in circumstances where it is appropriate and where justice is not done, and that there is no question of there being any question mark hanging over the manner in which this particular issue is administered. I would not disagree with Deputy Wallace on one aspect of this. It is quite clear there was serious administrative dysfunction, and I have acknowledged that in regard to the manner in which this was dealt with in some districts. That is why the new recommendations made and the code or protocols proposed to be implemented are of importance.

Domestic Violence Policy

Written Answers follow Adjournment.

Questions (10, 31, 48)

Brian Stanley

Question:

10. Deputy Brian Stanley asked the Minister for Justice and Equality when he will sign the European convention on preventing and combating violence against women, including rape and domestic violence. [28246/13]

View answer

Jerry Buttimer

Question:

31. Deputy Jerry Buttimer asked the Minister for Justice and Equality his position on the Council of Europe convention on preventing and combating violence against women and domestic violence; and if he will make a statement on the matter. [28219/13]

View answer

Mick Wallace

Question:

48. Deputy Mick Wallace asked the Minister for Justice and Equality when he will sign the European convention on preventing and combating violence against women and domestic violence; the reasons he has not signed the convention to date; and if he will make a statement on the matter. [28217/13]

View answer

Oral answers (3 contributions) (Question to Justice)

I propose to take Questions Nos. 10, 31 and 48 together.

Ireland supports, in principle, the aims and terms of the Council of Europe Convention on Preventing and Combating Violence Against Women and Domestic Violence. It is a detailed convention, with a very broad scope across a number of policy areas with potential policy and legislative implications. The provisions of the convention, and the legislative and administrative arrangements that would be necessary to allow signature and ratification of the convention by Ireland, are being examined in my Department in conjunction with the Government commitment to introduce consolidated and reformed domestic violence legislation to address all aspects of domestic violence, threatened violence and intimidation in a way that provides protection to victims.

A particular difficulty to be addressed in Ireland’s consideration of the convention relates to reconciling property rights under the Irish Constitution with the requirement under Article 52 of the convention - the availability of emergency barring orders. The development of the consolidated and reformed legislation, including consideration of the convention provisions, will be progressed as soon as possible having regard to the need for consultations and other legislative priorities in my Department.

Cosc, the National Office for the Prevention of Domestic, Sexual and Gender-based Violence, is undertaking the preliminary work in developing proposals for consideration. Cosc has met with relevant groups from the NGO sector and received some proposals for consideration. Further material is also awaited from the sector.

The convention has not yet entered into force as this requires at least ten ratifications, including eight Council of Europe member states, which has not yet occurred.

I am sure the Minister is aware Ireland has just one third of the refuge capacity recommended by the Council of Europe. The latest statistics from Safe Ireland show that on over 2,500 occasions in 2011 domestic violence services were unable to accommodate women and their children because the refuge was full or there was no refuge in their area. It is a fact that one in five women have been subjected to domestic violence in Ireland. While there have been Government commitments in recent years to deal with the crisis, progress has been very slow. NGOs providing services to women experiencing domestic and sexual violence are witnessing an unprecedented growth in demand for their services.

Do I take it Ireland will not be signing the convention before the end of Ireland's Presidency of the EU? What plans has the Minister to increase refuge capacity in Ireland?

I can confirm to the Deputy that we will not be signing the convention before the end of the EU Presidency, which finishes at the end of June. As someone who spent many years of his life working with victims of domestic violence and seeking to ensure our laws were as robust as possible, I have a particular personal interest in us trying to bring about a situation where we can be parties to this convention. However, when the convention was put in place, it is my understanding that the previous Attorney General raised constitutional issues with the particular provision I mentioned. I am examining whether we can get around that difficulty and I believe it may be possible for us to do so. Nonetheless, for us to sign up to the convention will require a change in our law, and that is something to be addressed in the new consolidated legislation bringing together all of our existing law on domestic violence and implementing some additional reforms. I do not envisage this legislation will be published prior to 2014 because of the major legislative agenda and some of the other areas we are dealing with and addressing in the family law area, such as the children and family relations Bill that is under substantial preparation. However, it would be my objective that we do everything possible in this area to provide the best possible protection to victims of domestic violence.

Written Answers follow Adjournment.
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