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Departmental Programmes

Dáil Éireann Debate, Wednesday - 23 February 2022

Wednesday, 23 February 2022

Questions (1, 2, 3, 4, 55)

Alan Kelly

Question:

1. Deputy Alan Kelly asked the Taoiseach if he will report on the policing reform implementation programme office based in his Department. [5966/22]

View answer

Mary Lou McDonald

Question:

2. Deputy Mary Lou McDonald asked the Taoiseach if he will report on the policing reform implementation programme office based in his Department. [7521/22]

View answer

Mick Barry

Question:

3. Deputy Mick Barry asked the Taoiseach if he will report on the policing reform implementation programme office based in his Department. [8389/22]

View answer

Dara Calleary

Question:

4. Deputy Dara Calleary asked the Taoiseach if he will report on the policing reform implementation programme office based in his Department. [9368/22]

View answer

Catherine Murphy

Question:

55. Deputy Catherine Murphy asked the Taoiseach if he will report and provide a full update on the policing reform implementation programme office based in his Department. [10048/22]

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Oral answers (9 contributions) (Question to Taoiseach)

I propose to take Questions Nos. 1 to 4, inclusive, and 55 together.

A Policing Service for our Future is the Government's plan to implement the report of the Commission on the Future of Policing in Ireland. As recommended in the commission's report, implementation of the plan is being overseen by a dedicated programme office in the Department of the Taoiseach. The policing reform implementation programme office monitors progress on A Policing Service for our Future and supports the work of the implementation group on policing reform, which has an independent chair, Ms Helen Ryan. The office also keeps the high-level steering board on policing reform, chaired by the Secretary General of my Department, apprised of progress being made. In addition, progress is regularly reported to the Cabinet committee on social affairs and equality. The programme office has been resourced with appropriate expertise in the areas of project management, policing, justice and public service reform.

A Policing Service for our Future is a living document which is reviewed and updated by the programme office as required to maintain ambitious but realistic commitments, timeframes and milestones. A Policing Service for our Future is broken down into four stages of implementation, namely, the building blocks phase, the launching phase, the scaling phase and the consolidation phase. The first three phases have been completed and much has been achieved. The roll-out of a new operating model for An Garda Síochána, designed to streamline Garda administration and to provide a more visible, responsive and localised policing service to communities nationwide, is under way. The recruitment of nearly 1,800 Garda staff has supported the reassignment of many gardaí to front-line policing duties, and the roll-out of over 5,000 digital communication devices enables front-line gardaí to perform their duties without returning to stations. An Garda Síochána has established and strengthened resourcing of a human rights unit and re-established the strategic human rights advisory committee. There are pilots of local community safety partnerships in three locations around the country, in Dublin's north inner city, Waterford city and county and Longford county. An Garda Síochána has developed an equality, diversity and inclusion strategy statement and action plan 2020-21 and has launched a three-year Garda health and well-being strategy, which will see the introduction of additional health and well-being supports.

There has also been progress on legislative reform. The Government has approved the drafting of the landmark policing, security and community safety Bill, which provides for the most wide-ranging and coherent reform of policing in a generation; the Garda Síochána (digital recordings) Bill, which concerns the use of recording devices, including body-worn cameras; and the Garda Síochána (powers) Bill, which brings together and modernises police powers of search, arrest and detention.

These measures and achievements represent only some of the wide range of actions completed or being progressed under the plan, and further detailed information on the implementation of the reform programme is available on gov.ie. The implementation group on policing reform and the policing reform implementation programme office have been, and continue to be, actively engaged with key stakeholders to ensure continued momentum on reform. Consideration is currently being given to the best way of approaching the final or consolidation phase of the reform programme to ensure that policing in Ireland is transformed in line with the vision elaborated in the commission's report and that, into the future, An Garda Síochána is well-positioned to manage sustainable and significant organisational improvements that meet the needs of the public.

Sinn Féin Senators will bring forward a Bill this evening to amend the Coroners Act to facilitate a transparent jury selection process for the Stardust inquest. The legislation will allow the coroner to use the same mechanisms as those used by the courts for jury selection, including the use of the electoral register. Most people are unaware of just how opaque and ad hoc jury selection for an inquest is. Reforms of the system have long been sought. Currently, the Garda maintains its own list of jurors for inquests who are, in turn, used multiple times. If the Garda cannot draw a jury from this list alone, the Garda can randomly seek out jurors. Indeed, gardaí have been known to visit public sector places of work to see if anyone is free. It is worth noting, by the way, that An Garda Síochána is a party to the Stardust inquest. Jurors can be known to victims' families, yet legal teams cannot dismiss them. In addition, jurors' work-related income is not protected, as happens in the courts. This is particularly relevant for the Stardust inquest as it will take place over a number of months. It should be clear that a jury is needed for the Stardust inquest, as per section 40 of the Coroners Act. This has been reiterated by the coroner.

The root and branch reform review of the coroner service that was commissioned by a previous Government of which the Taoiseach was a member was never implemented. Just last year, Irish Council for Civil Liberties research found that Ireland's system of investigating death is inadequate and can compound and even aggravate the suffering of loved ones. The Government has given a commitment that the Stardust inquest will be human rights compliant. To deliver on this commitment, the matters relating to juries in terms of selection and income protection must be addressed urgently. Will the Taoiseach commit to this?

We will have to stick to a minute per Member to get everybody in. I call Deputy Barry.

The Garda Síochána Ombudsman Commission, GSOC, investigation into the killing of George Nkencho had a targeted finish date of 30 December, the one-year anniversary of George's death. That deadline was not met. Not only was it not met, but it is now eight weeks past the deadline with no indication of when the investigation will be completed. Can the Taoiseach provide the House and, more importantly, George's family with an indication of when this investigation might be complete? Is he aware of any measure that has been taken either by the Garda Commissioner or the Department of Justice to ensure that all gardaí involved co-operate fully with the GSOC investigation, telling the truth, the whole truth and nothing but the truth with regard to the events of 30 December 2020? I ask this because there are increasing concerns among those close to the Nkencho family that the investigation is running into a blue wall of silence. Finally, if it becomes clear that we are dealing with a blue wall of silence here, will the Taoiseach reconsider his previous position and grant a public inquiry on this matter?

On 13 October last, members of the public and the press and witnesses for Mr. Kieran Hartley, who was the defendant, were excluded from a courtroom by gardaí. Mr. Hartley was making allegations of serious Garda misconduct in the case. When the exclusion of the public from the courtroom was questioned at the time, one garda said that the gardaí had been directed by the court not to allow anyone in.

The Garda press office said the District Court judge had made an order that a voir dire was to be heard in the case and, therefore, nobody was to be allowed in. The Courts Service was clear that the judge did not give any direction to exclude the public. The digital audio recording of the court will confirm this. Last week, the Garda Síochána changed its story. It said people had been inadvertently excluded from the courtroom and accepted this was not at the direction of the judge. It stated a letter of apology had been issued to the judge. This is quite a serious matter for justice not to be done in public at the supposedly inadvertent decision of the Garda. Does the Taoiseach agree that an internal inquiry is entirely inadequate for this and that an external inquiry is necessary to find out how this happened and ensure it cannot happen again?

I want to add my voice to the appeal on behalf of the Stardust families for the Taoiseach to ensure that legal changes are made so we have transparent jury selection and that it is independent of the gardaí who are a party to the case. The jurors should be remunerated for the period during the inquest because it could go on for months. For the Taoiseach not to do so at this stage would be to add to the trauma and abuse the families have suffered. The only reason we have an inquest is because these families have never given up in their quest for truth and justice about the deaths of their loved ones. I was talking to Antoinette Keegan over the weekend. I saw her speak yesterday. This is what she said. She said to do this to them after all they fought for over the past 41 years is unacceptable. The Taoiseach needs to rectify this and ensure the inquest can deliver the truth and justice these families have long deserved.

I thank the Deputies for raising the issues they have raised. With regard to the Stardust inquest, I met relatives at a recent event. The Irish Nurses and Midwives Organisation commissioned a memorial for all those who lost their lives in the Stardust inferno and tragedy. We had a meeting afterwards. The Government has provided resources and amended the free legal aid framework to facilitate the inquiry. The issue on the empanelling of jurors is that existing legislation, including the Coroners Act, does not facilitate the payment of jurors at an inquest. The issue is that this will be a longer process. The relatives have told me it could take four to six months. Neither the Coroners Act 1962 nor the Juries Act 1976 covers this. The inquests were directed by the then Attorney General having regard to the provisions of the Acts. That said, I have spoken to the Minister for Justice and the Attorney General on this. I will ask them to see whether they can come up with an exceptional provision or an approach to deal with the Stardust inquiry to ensure jurors can be empanelled for the duration of the inquest. As soon as I have details of it and clarity on it, I will bring it back to the Deputies and to the House. Given that we have come this far, it is important that we give as much closure as we possibly can, notwithstanding limitations to the coroner's inquest potentially. Nonetheless it is important to bring this to a satisfactory completion.

With regard to Deputy Barry's question I do not have timelines on the investigation. Ordinarily when investigations are pursued it is up to those who are investigating. I am not clear about what he has described as "a blue wall of silence". I will raise the issue with the Minister for Justice to see whether she has an indicative timeline on this. Again, we do not intervene in investigations. This has always been the case. On the other hand, I can see the need for families in very difficult situations such as these to have timelines for the conclusion and completion of the investigations. I do not have the details here in respect of where it is at right now but I will follow through and get an update on the current situation.

I am not familiar with the case that Deputy Murphy has raised. With regard to the level at which inquiries need to take place, whether internal or external, GSOC is there. The Deputy indicated the Garda is doing an internal inquiry at present. Is this the case?

It said it had concluded it.

And they said it was inadvertent. It is a matter then for GSOC if it wishes to take it up, or if people wish to refer it to GSOC. That is why GSOC is there. Where we have agencies such as GSOC and others they should be used to pursue issues of this kind to get them dealt with and to get early closure in respect of such issues. We have put a great deal of resources behind enforcement agencies and agencies responsible for standards. They need to do their work and complete their job.

Deputy Boyd Barrett also raised the Stardust inquest. That is the approach I intend to take on this to see if we can get it adequately resolved.

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