9. Deputy Joan Burton asked the Taoiseach when Cabinet Committee F, national security, last met. [30675/18]View answer
Dáil Éireann Debate, Wednesday - 26 September 2018
9. Deputy Joan Burton asked the Taoiseach when Cabinet Committee F, national security, last met. [30675/18]View answer
10. Deputy Mary Lou McDonald asked the Taoiseach when Cabinet Committee F, national security, last met; and when it is scheduled to meet again. [30679/18]View answer
11. Deputy Brendan Howlin asked the Taoiseach when Cabinet Committee F, national security, last met; and when it next plans to meet. [37753/18]View answer
I propose to take Questions Nos. 9 to 11, inclusive, together.
The committee last met on 8 February this year. The meeting was attended by Ministers and senior officials from the Departments of Finance and Public Expenditure and Reform, Foreign Affairs and Trade, Justice and Equality, Health, Communications, Climate Action and Environment, Transport, Tourism and Sport, Housing, Planning and Local Government, and Defence. Arrangements are being made for the next meeting of Cabinet committee F but a date has not yet been finalised. The role of the Cabinet committee is "to keep the State's systems for the analysis of, preparation for, and response to threats to national security under review and to provide high-level co-ordination between relevant Departments and agencies on related matters". Given the recent publication of the O'Toole report on the reform of the Garda, we intend to have a meeting of this Cabinet sub-committee and the justice sub-committee to examine the Government's response.
Did I hear the Taoiseach correctly in saying the committee met last February?
With all the difficulties besetting the Garda and given the important matters of national security, as well as Brexit issues, I find it unusual that such an important committee would meet so infrequently. We could also bear in mind that we have had a change of Garda Commissioner, among other changes in the Garda.
I ask about the long-standing discussion about how national security be addressed. The report on the future of policing has recommended the immediate creation of a national centre for intelligence collation and analysis. It would be a strategic threat assessment centre, STAC, situated centrally within Government, and which should be headed by a national security co-ordinator.
That would be a new post and that person would answer directly to the Taoiseach. Does the Taoiseach agree with this recommendation and will he implement it?
It also recommended the updating of our capacity to cope with cybersecurity strategy, which, as the House will be aware, particularly based on events in the UK, is important, and there is a proposal that the national cybersecurity centre should answer to the national security co-ordinator and, therefore, indirectly to the Taoiseach.
On the role of the Naval Service in the Mediterranean, I am sure the Taoiseach will be aware that the ship that Médecins Sans Frontières, MSF, has been using to save lives, the MV Aquarius, has been deflagged by Panama. Has the Government considered offering to register that ship so that it can continue to save lives? I understand the responsible line Minister is Deputy Ross. Will the Taoiseach ask the Minister for Transport, Tourism and Sport to do that because MSF carries out important life-saving work in the Mediterranean?
I am delighted that the Taoiseach raised with the Palestinian President, Mr. Abbas, issues relating to women's rights and LGBT rights. No doubt in giving Mr. Abbas the benefit of his wisdom, the Taoiseach would also have reflected that he and his colleagues themselves are relatively recent converts to those causes. I am sure the Taoiseach can assist Mr. Abbas in walking that journey.
I welcome the publication of the report of the commission on the future of policing. I thank Ms Kathleen O'Toole and the commission for its considerable work. It is undoubtedly a significant and detailed report and it includes many positive recommendations in respect of modernising policing. I commend the important strong emphasis on community policing and policing within the community. I commend the emphasis on human rights and tackling cybercrime and on providing quality training for gardaí, as well as an access programme. All of these are welcome but there are some areas on which we will need further clarification and that we need to pause to consider.
We have concern around the proposal to abolish the Policing Authority and to reassign some of its functions, for example, with regard to appointments to a new statutory Garda board and the Garda Commissioner. It is not insignificant that there were differing views on that point within the commission itself and I note the minority view of Dr. Vicky Conway and Dr. Eddie Molloy contained in the report in that regard. We, in Sinn Féin, had sought more power for the Policing Authority, including in respect of appointments, because the authority was making progress and was advancing. An independent appointments process is essential and transparency has to be kept front and centre. It is our view that the current process is the best way of doing business and the removal of such powers from the authority is a regressive step.
Can the Taoiseach tell us whether the Government has considered the report, when will we have a debate and what is the current state of play? Can we have some sense of the next steps in the process?
In the context of the national security committee and its work, the report led by Ms Kathleen O'Toole is an important piece of work. The report is comprehensive and deals in a fundamental way with many of the issues that require reform in relation to security and in relation to Garda Síochána. I support, for example, its emphasis. Many of the recommendations tally with much of Fianna Fáil's submission to the review. We had called for this review originally. We were the first party to call for a fundamental Patten-style review of An Garda Síochána and we welcome it.
We are weak as a country when it comes to cybersecurity. It is a vulnerability and I note that countries are telling the Taoiseach that Ireland is vulnerable to cyberattack. We need more specialisms and we need faster routes to recruit specialists to An Garda Síochána in cybersecurity and related fields.
There are issues around the Policing Authority and the Garda Inspectorate. I can recall someone articulating at one stage that there were five bodies to which a Garda Commissioner had to answer, including an Oireachtas committee, and there are question marks about that. Simplifying and streamlining that is important. I believe in a strong Policing Authority but there has to be a clear delineation of roles. The operational responsibility has to be with the Garda Commissioner and his team. A policing authority that is only about public commentary is not what I envisaged the authority to be about, for instance, every time an incident happens. I do not like the look of that. That is not where an authority should be. I would look at the minority view in the report and accept there is a debate to be had on that.
GSOC has not worked out. There are gardaí investigating gardaí. There are two many minor issues getting in GSOC. Gardaí are being sent to investigate every kind of complaint whereas their primary responsibility should be to continue to do their job. I refer to a higher management rank in certain parts of the country.
Unfortunately, the sense of satisfaction with GSOC inquiries among the public does not seem to be high. I base this on those who have come to my party seeking inquiries. I find it difficult to recommend to such persons that they should pursue serious issues with GSOC. I am reluctant because it could extend the trauma for the individual without any definitive sense of there being closure at the end of the GSOC process. The process is far too long altogether.
There has to be a radical look at GSOC. Its operation should be concerned with more serious complaints as opposed to those that should be primarily dealt with by the internal governance structure within An Garda Síochána, which has not worked in practice for the past while.
Cabinet Committee F is a new committee, which I set up to deal with national security issues. It is not designed to meet on a regular basis but on an ad hoc basis as needed. A separate Cabinet committee deals with public sector reform, including justice reform.
My practice, as I have explained to the House in the past, is to deal with more issues in the Cabinet as a whole. I believe in collective Cabinet responsibility and where important matters need to be discussed such as Brexit, I prefer to have them discussed by the whole Cabinet rather than a sub-committee of the Cabinet. Sometimes that takes more time. It is why we often must have two meetings a week or why meetings take longer than they did in the past, but, as much as possible, I prefer to have a matter, if something is of great importance, discussed by the Cabinet as a whole rather than a sub-committee. I appreciate one needs different types of government and different styles of government for different times, but I certainly felt during the previous Government that many matters were decided by the party leaders or decided by the Economic Management Council, EMC, and then rubber-stamped by Cabinet. I have tried to adopt a different approach, involving the Cabinet more collectively in making decisions. For example, the O'Toole report was discussed by the full Cabinet first. We got to discuss it as a whole rather than sending it to a Cabinet sub-committee, which would then just refer it on for a short discussion by the full Cabinet. The same applied to the appointment of the Garda Commissioner. That went straight to the full Cabinet rather than to a Cabinet sub-committee.
With regard to the commission on the reform of policing, I want to put on the record my profound thanks to Ms Kathleen O'Toole and her team for the good work they have done over the past few months to produce this report on time and to inform us regarding a roadmap for the reform of the police service between now and 2022. The commission identified that date as the centenary of the creation of An Garda Síochána and suggests that we set it as our target date for introducing a reformed policing service in Ireland.
Among points that are particularly appealing to me in the report are the acknowledgement that policing is about more than the Garda, the need for more of what we saw yesterday, for example, which was a joint approach between the Garda and social services to responding to crime, preventing crime and preventing recidivism, and some of the proposals in respect of GSOC.
I agree with Deputy Micheál Martin regarding some of the proposals in respect of GSOC. It makes sense to move GSOC from being what it is now into an independent office as the police ombudsman, to use its permanent staff more and second gardaí a little less, and have minor complaints dealt with at Garda level rather than at the level of the ombudsman. It was correct to establish GSOC but it needs to be strengthened and modernised. The report also allows for the Garda Commissioner to be allowed to do his or her job, which is also important. The current accountability arrangements where there is a garda inspectorate, a Garda authority, GSOC and regular requests to appear before at least two committees of the Houses of the Oireachtas, namely the Joint Committee on Justice and Equality and the Committee of Public Accounts, are quite strange. One must get the balance right between allowing people to do their job and being accountable for it and then spending all their time accounting, which can make it hard to execute the job. The reports suggestions on the Garda Commissioner may be a step in the right direction in that regard.
The Government considered the report at Cabinet, noted it and provided for its publication. We have committed to study it, respond to it and develop a reasoned response and a timelined action and implementation plan before the end of the year, which is the next step. The Minister for Justice and Equality will develop a reasoned response to the report and to each of the recommendations and then a timelined action and implementation plan, which will go to a Cabinet subcommittee and then to Cabinet.
It would be useful and welcome to have a discussion on this very good report in the House. I do not want any of my comments to be misconstrued as the Government not accepting the report or the vast majority of it. That does make good sense. There are one or two particular recommendations which are controversial and, as has been noted, on which there is disagreement.
What about on national security-----
No, we have not made any decisions in principle. We said that we would note the report, publish it and develop a reasoned response and implementation plan before the end of the year.
As we only have three minutes left, the Taoiseach would not have time to answer the next question and do it justice.