I have regular meetings and discussions with Commissioner Harris in which he updates me on a wide range of matters. However I’m sure the House will appreciate that it is the Garda Commissioner who is responsible for the control and direction of An Garda Síochána. I, as Minister, have no direct role in these matters. The House would be rightly critical of me if I sought to interfere with the role of the Commissioner in this regard.
Decisions taken with regard to the establishment of specialised units in An Garda Síochána are matters for the Commissioner himself. I do recognise, however, the concerns implied in the Deputy’s question with regard to Gardaí investigating other Gardaí. This new unit will look at potential inappropriate associations by Gardaí with persons involved in criminality, with possible inappropriate behaviour towards vulnerable victims and possible drug use or dealing. These are insidious activities which would undoubtedly undermine the service's integrity and undermine public confidence in the Gardaí.
I know that the Garda Síochána Ombudsman Commission have expressed concerns about the setting up of this new unit. However, I do not believe that the setting up of this new unit is in any way undermining the very important role played by GSOC in investigating alleged wrongdoing by members of the Gardaí. I believe that it can be a useful complement to their work.
As the Deputy will be aware, last December, the Government endorsed the report of the Commission on the Future of Policing in Ireland including its package of proposals for the reform of the Garda Síochána Ombudsman Commission. A key element of this package is that all serious issues of concern about standards of policing or police integrity itself should be the subject of an independent investigation even where no member of the public has made a complaint. Examples of the types of conduct cited by the Commission include potential breaches of law, violations of human rights or corruption, or incidents which appear to indicate a widespread or systemic problem within An Garda Síochána.
Work is underway as a matter of priority in my Department on the preparation of the General Scheme of the Policing and Community Safety Bill to provide for these proposals and other elements of the Commission’s report. As part of that work, my officials have met with relevant stakeholders including GSOC and An Garda Síochána and are considering their submissions. Specifically in relation to the proposed anti-corruption unit, my officials have sought information from the Garda Commissioner regarding its establishment, its intended functions and how they will sit with the Commission model for investigating Garda wrongdoing. A proactive approach by the Garda Commissioner to ensuring high standards of conduct can only be a positive development and I look forward to receiving further information from the Commissioner on his plans.