Wednesday, 30 January 2019

Questions (35)

Mick Wallace

Question:

35. Deputy Mick Wallace asked the Minister for Justice and Equality if he is satisfied that the system regarding protected disclosures within An Garda Síochána is functioning properly, if he has had contact with the new Garda Commissioner on this issue since their appointment and if he will make a statement on the matter. [4387/19]

View answer

Oral answers (9 contributions) (Question to Justice)

The Minister has told us that he has established a panel of counsel to assess disclosures made to him by members or former members of An Garda Síochána. Is he happy with the protected disclosures system? Has he discussed same with the new Garda Commissioner?

Under the 2014 Act referred to by the Deputy, members of An Garda Síochána may communicate their concerns to the Garda Commissioner, as their employer if they so choose, or make a disclosure to the Garda Síochána Ombudsman Commission, GSOC, which is statutorily independent in the conduct of its investigations. The legislation also allows that an individual employed by a public body may also make a protected disclosure to the Minister with responsibility for that body. In the case of An Garda Síochána, that is the Minister for Justice and Equality.

The Garda Síochána has published a protected disclosures policy and all Garda members and civilians have been informed of this policy. A protected disclosures manager was appointed. An Garda Síochána works with Transparency International Ireland, TII, and other external providers to create an environment to ensure that whistleblowers are properly protected and supported. TII's Integrity at Work pledge was signed by the Garda Commissioner in 2017. The Garda Síochána code of ethics includes strong commitments for each individual member with regard to "speaking up and reporting wrongdoing".

The Deputy is aware that, in 2016, the then Minister requested the Policing Authority to examine and report on the policies and procedures in place in the Garda to deal with whistleblowers and whistleblowing. The authority was also asked to make any recommendation that it considered appropriate in order to ensure that the policies and procedures in place were appropriate and could provide assurance to whistleblowers that they could make complaints or allegations in a safe environment where they would be properly investigated.

GSOC was supposed to look after protected disclosures, but the Minister has now had to establish a panel. Does that mean that the workload is too much for GSOC or that there is a lack of confidence in its role in assessing protected disclosures?

Section 41(1)(b) of the Garda Síochána Act 2005 reads: "significant developments that might reasonably be expected to affect adversely public confidence in the Garda Síochána". The Garda is supposed to keep the Minister informed of such circumstances. Did the Garda Commissioner advise him of the circumstances around the need to suspend Assistant Commissioner Fanning before or after that suspension, or did the Commissioner give any reason for that suspension?

I am in regular contact with the Garda Commissioner. The issues to which the Deputy referred are, as operational ones, exclusively the prerogative of the Commissioner. My Department's most up-to-date figures for protected disclosures from the Garda made under the Act since its introduction are as follows: 16 to the Garda Commissioner up to last December; 25 to GSOC up to December 2017; and 24 to the office of the Minister for Justice and Equality to date. It may be possible that the same individual has made a number of protected disclosures to more than one of the possible recipients under the Act and there is some overlap in that regard, but I am keen to ensure that the protocols, practice and procedure are working properly so that any complaint or grievance is adequately addressed. That is also the position of the Garda Commissioner. Deputy Wallace has raised these issues before. I assure him that the Garda Síochána, at every level from Commissioner down, has consistently and without exception encouraged all staff, sworn and unsworn, to disclose all and any wrongdoing. There are practices and procedures under the Act that allow for due process to be undertaken.

The Minister stated that the protected disclosure system was working well, but Mr. Nicky Keogh first complained in May 2014 and, as the Minister knows, that situation is still not resolved. Has there been a change of policy? For example, the House will be aware that Mr. Pat Murray and Mr. Aidan Glacken were the subjects of Mr. Keogh's protected disclosure. They were never suspended, yet Mr. Fanning has been. Has there been a change of policy or did the Commissioner-----

Deputy, I would refrain from mentioning names.

Okay. Has the Minister discussed with the Commissioner Mr. Fanning's suspension? Has the Minister or the Commissioner any concern about the manner in which this information was leaked to the media so quickly? It obviously came from headquarters.

The Minister to respond, if he is in a position to.

I do not have anything to say on matters relating to the media. Deputy Wallace probably knows as much about that as I do, or perhaps more. However, the policy on the part of the Garda is to ensure that there is due process and that workers, whether sworn or unsworn, in the Garda can be assured that they will be protected from any form of penalisation or threat in respect of a disclosure made.

Deputy Wallace mentioned the matter of resourcing GSOC. We will have an opportunity to return to that, but I assure the House that it is the Government's priority that GSOC be adequately and properly funded. The budget for this year is in excess of €10 million. Resources and funding are kept under continuing review so as to ensure that the body is in a position to continue to operate in an effective and efficient manner in accordance with its statutory remit. In the budget last autumn, a further €1.6 million was provided, which has resulted in an extra complement of staff for the body.