Private Members' Business. - Garda Síochána Bill, 1996: Second Stage (Resumed).

Question again proposed: "That the Bill be now read a Second Time."

Before we adjourned this debate I referred to paragraph 6 of the Schedule which deals with the election to and membership of the Central Executive Committee.

To redress this imbalance section 6 provides for a number of changes to the structure of the Central Executive Committee. As a result of paragraph 4 (i) (b) the Garda College in Templemore will no longer be deemed a division and, therefore, will lose the right to nominate a member to the CEC. Because there are only 60 gardaí permanently based in the college, their right of separate CEC membership is considered disproportionate. To further redress the imbalance in representation of the high-personnel Dublin divisions, section 6 (2) of the Schedule provides that of the divisions in the DMA — which for this purpose will include Garda Headquarters — the four divisions with the greater number of members will each be allowed to nominate one additional member of the divisional committee to the CEC. The overall effect of the proposed changes, taking into account the recent reorganisation which included two divisions instead of one in Cork, will be that the membership of the CEC will increase from 26 to 30, and that 11 of those will represent DMA divisions.

Suggestions were made to me that a better way of ensuring properly representative voting on the CEC was a system of weighted voting at CEC meetings. Indeed, in a statement I issued in February last, I said that the legislation would provide to each committee member one vote for every ten members in the division which elected that committee member. However, on further consideration of the matter I decided that this arrangement would be too complex to operate in practice and could lead to unnecessary dissension at CEC meetings. It would have the anomalous result that the absence of one member would have greater significance than the absence of another if the first had a substantially greater number of votes. In fact, there is no similar weighted voting at CEC level in any other recognised staff association of which I know. The real issue is to ensure greater representation for gardaí serving in urban areas and the proposals I have now included in the Bill will provide for that.

Paragraph 6 also provides that the CEC shall take office at the conclusion of the annual conference next following the selection of the committee. The reason for this is that the outgoing CEC will have conducted all the preparations for the conference and it seems only sensible to charge it with the actual conduct of the conference. To meet the requirements of the Bill the conference must take place before 31 May.

Paragraph 8 of the Schedule provides arrangements to ensure that standing orders are fixed before an annual conference begins. Difficulties with the fixing of standing orders have been an aggravating factor in the past.

Paragraph 9 of the Schedule provides that the president and vice-president shall be appointed by the annual conference from among the members of the CEC. A candidate for either office shall be nominated by at least two divisions and in either case, if only one person is nominated, he or she shall be deemed to have been elected to the office by conference. This differs from the present system where the central executive committee elects two of its members as president and vice-president of the association without reference to conference. The principle underlying this change is to give a greater say to the delegates at the annual conference in the appointment of the principal officers of the association.

The same principle underlies paragraph 10 of the Schedule. It deals with the appointment and functions of the main officials of the association, the general secretary, the deputy general secretary and the assistant general secretary.

The paragraph provides that the general secretary may be a person who is a member of the association or a member of the Garda Síochána other than a member of the association, or a person who is not a member of the Garda Síochána. In the latter two cases the appointment shall be subject to the approval of the Minister, who may attach conditions to such approval as he-she thinks fit. The provision for a non-garda general secretary is a new one. This is, of course, only an option for the Association and whether it is exercised or not is a matter entirely for the association itself.

Paragraph 10 provides that the appointment of the general secretary, deputy general secretary and assistant general secretary shall be by the central executive committee as at present. However, it also provides that the appointment procedure will be laid down by the annual conference and that the appointments shall be subject to ratification by the next annual conference or special conference held following the appointment of the officials.

Paragraph 10 (8) of the Schedule provides that the general secretary, deputy general secretary and the assistant general secretary shall not be members of the CEC. They may attend meetings of the CEC at the leave of the committee, but shall not vote or propose or second motions at meetings of the CEC.

The House should note that under the existing regulations, specifically section 3 (3) of the regulations of 1990 and section 9 (3) of the 1978 regulations, the membership of the central executive committee is composed exclusively of those members elected by the divisional committees. However, the GRA's amended rule book of September 1990 states that the officials shall automatically be members of the CEC and have the same rights at all CEC meetings as other CEC members, but not the right to vote on issues being voted on by the CEC. Paragraph 10 (8) of the Schedule restates the position as provided in the 1990 regulations.

Paragraph 11 of the Schedule provides for the appointment of five trustees to the association who shall not belong to the CEC. The trustees shall receive the report of the auditors. Under the present arrangements there are three trustees all of whom belong to the CEC i.e. the president, vice-president and the treasurer. The intention here is to have responsibility for the considerable finances of the association vested in a body separate from the executive of the association.

Paragraph 12 of the Schedule provides for the appointment of a treasurer of the association by the CEC from among its members. This remains unchanged from the present position.

The triennial elections of the district committees take place in September. As a result of paragraph 4 (6) these elections will in future take place every three years in March beginning with March 1997. The purpose is to bring the election of the central executive committee closer to the date of the annual conference which will elect the officers of the association.

The reason for bringing the elections of the district committees which take place in September closer to the date of the annual conference which is held the following May is that the officers are in place for approximately six months before their appointments are ratified. As Members can see, it is more difficult where somebody has held a position for six months not to ratify their appointment at the annual conference. It is important, therefore, to bring the elections and the annual conference closer together.

The Bill is one which I had hoped would not be necessary. However, there is now no alternative. All of the changes proposed in the Schedule are reasonable and motivated solely by the desire to bring greater democracy and fairness into the structures and procedures of the association. Most fair-minded persons will find the changes proposed characteristic of the structure and procedures generally found in staff associations. Any association whose structures take into account the need to allow the annual conference to have more say would, I hope, be seen as an association to which one could give allegiance.

One issue which has arisen is how to reengage the former members, who withdrew from the GRA as a result of the dispute, in new elections which will be held under the new structures brought about by the Bill. I have been giving careful consideration to this aspect. What I have in mind is a provision which would automatically entitle those who withdrew from the association since 1 January 1994 to be deemed members and participate in the elections. Any amendment I may have in this regard can be considered on Committee Stage.

I am well aware that there are those in the GRA who are not wholly concerned that 2,500 gardaí approximately do not wish to be in the GRA. Equally, there are members of the federation whose only object is one of recognition. I am also aware that the federation has grave concerns about what would happen in the interim i.e. until next March when new elections would be held. One of the suggestions made to me during recent meetings was that some sort of arrangement be made to speed up the process of change and involve federation members, but I find it hard to envisage how people who are not members of an association can be facilitated in voting for officers of such an association. That difficulty has yet to be resolved.

The Bill represents a fair and equitable resolution to a long-standing problem. I will, consider with an open mind any points of detail raised by Deputies. I had a meeting recently with the GRA, the Garda Federation and what is commonly known as the Group of Four and various points were put to me. Unfortunately, some of them were based on the premise that there were certain actions that it would be desirable for me to take, such as recognising a second association. The point was made that in recognising a second association there would be no further problems, but I do not subscribe to that view. If there were two associations to represent one rank it might have the effect of prolonging the dispute and one association would look for members on the basis of one set of propositions while the other would top that offer and claim, if people joined it, it would get them a bigger and better deal.

I am sure the proposals put to me have also been put to Opposition spokesperson by the groups involved, as is their right. I cannot accept some of them because of legal opinion or because it would not be desirable for me to do so.

I am conscious that comments have been made by some gardaí rejecting the Bill. I am also aware that the GRA indicated that it was having a special delegate conference to change its rules. That is its business, but it will not deflect me from legislating to meet the requirements and exigencies of the day. I commend the Bill to the House.

I warmly thank the Minister for her kind expression of good wishes on my return to the House following a recent illness. I will allow myself a little hint of self-congratulations and say that I was disappointed but not surprised not to receive a message from the Minister hoping that I would be back soon.

I said it in the House.

I thank the Minister. The Bill presents us with the opportunity of reflecting upon, considering and appreciating the role of the gardaí in Irish society. It will be clear to everybody that the force has played a significant and important role in the development and maintenance of democracy here. As a body it has been devoid of even a hint of corruption and that is a testament to its enduring role in Irish life.

Members of the Garda Síochána are admired and respected in all democracies and it is fair to say also that many emerging democracies aspire to their extremely high standards. Whether at the height of the troubles along the Border, in the pursuit of peace internationally or in their major role in the fight against criminality throughout the land, the members of the Garda Síochána have been at the forefront and have acquitted themselves with great distinction and courage.

For these and other reasons it is particularly sad that the members of the Garda Síochána have become embroiled in an argument with themselves about representation. At times this unfortunate and untimely internal disagreement has surfaced in public and it would be less than honest not to say that it has not helped public confidence in the Garda Síochána's ability to effectively tackle crime. That may be seen by some as an unfair assessment but it is the public perception which must be confronted. It would be less than honest to do otherwise.

That is not to say, however, that grown men and women should be treated like adolescents by the Minister for Justice or that they should be lectured in dictatorial tones reminiscent of a matriarchal handbagging society. No amount of dictatorship or high moral tone from the Minister for Justice or anybody else will help to resolve a conflict which is as complex as it is deep-seated.

Inasmuch as there cannot be an imposed solution, it is fair to say there is no simple solution either. On a previous occasion in this House I referred to what the then United States President, Thomas Jefferson, said on hearing of a judgment by the great American jurist, Chief Justice John Marshall: "John Marshall has given his judgment — let him now enforce it if he can".

One has to be realistic and recognise that this is a serious dilemma and that the Bill as presented — to be fair to the Minister — could be figuratively described as a vehicle which may ultimately lead to an amicable resolution of the dispute. It would be remiss of me if I did not take the opportunity to say that the gardaí on both sides of this argument deserve tremendous credit for keeping their eyes firmly focused on the fight against crime and not allowing the dispute to distract them from this to any great extent.

It must be said, however, that there has been and continues to be a palpable lowering of morale within the Garda Síochána in recent times. This has more to do with the lack of ammunition available to the gardaí in the fight against crime than with the dispute which is the subject matter of this Bill.

There is no police force in any democracy which would not be adversely affected by the pirouetting and somersaulting of the Minister for Justice and the rainbow Coalition Government when it comes to the fight against crime. The image has been conjured up in the public imagination of a Minister for Justice tiptoeing through the tulips and avoiding at any cost catching her Achilles heel on the thorny sensitivities of Messrs. Spring and De Rossa.

I am delighted the Deputy is not going to disappoint me. The bed rest did him the world of good.

I could not possibly disappoint the Minister, particularly when the criticism is so well merited. Messrs. Spring and De Rossa are the silent comrades who never say where they stand on matters such as bail and who prefer to take the Fifth Amendment in relation to such crucial issues. At least we know where the Minister for Justice stands, even if she cannot implement her proposal. We do not know where the Tánaiste and the Minister for Social Welfare stand on this and related issues regarding the fight against crime. The haunted face of a Minister for Justice who asks the public to "read my lips" will be forever etched on the minds of the public as the counterfeit which the rainbow Coalition Government tried to pass on to the Irish people as a criminal justice policy.

Inasmuch as the litany of failures, broken promises, considering committees, contemplating commissions, reviewing interdepartmental committees and studying subcommittees have exhausted a cynical public, they must surely have helped to sap at least some of the morale of the Garda Síochána.

A Minister for Justice cannot hope to retain the confidence of the general public, let alone the Garda Síochána, if she publicly announces a referendum on an issue as important as bail in the spring of 1995 only to see the summer of 1996 come with more, and presumably different, proposals on the table, irrespective of the fact that the different proposals may have been forced upon the Minister — and no doubt were — by her colleagues in Government, the Leaders of Democratic Left and the Labour Party. The new proposals the Minister has formulated have not been seen by us; presumably they have been seen only by the Cabinet and have yet to obtain the seal of approval of the Leaders of Democratic Left and the Labour Party.

In the same way, a Minister for Justice cannot hope to retain the confidence of the Garda Síochána or the general public if she defends a decision by the kitchen cabinet to cancel the building of prisons in her absence when she earlier championed them as the cornerstone of her criminal justice policy.

A Minister for Justice who sees the glaring mistakes made by a security firm in the Brinks-Allied raid in January 1995, who does not take any remedial action to introduce regulations for security firms and who then watches in awe one year later when a replica raid occurs in Waterford, cannot inspire confidence in the general public or in the Garda Síochána. It took 100 days following the Brinks-Allied raid for the money laundering provisions of the Criminal Justice Act, 1994 to be introduced by the Minister for Justice even though she had only to lay the regulation before the House. It took approximately 15 months for the Minister for Justice to introduce the regulation whereby assets, the subject of suspected criminal activity, could be frozen even though again the Minister had only to lay the regulation before the House.

For all that, there is an even more unedifying monument to the priority the rainbow Coalition Government attaches to crime. The increase in the Justice Estimates for 1996 in so far as it relates to the prisons, the courts and the Garda Síochána is about the equivalent of the anticipated increase in inflation despite a savage increase in the viciousness of offences committed. It was as if there is not a drugs problem, vicious murders were not being committed and burglaries and robberies belonged to another age. The reality is quite different, and no knight in shining armour, such as Deputy Dukes, sent into this House by the Minister for Justice to pour vitriol on the truth can cover it.

In so far as there has been a criminal justice policy in this State in the past 18 months, it has emanated from Fianna Fáil. In dealing with the fiasco which surrounded the Duncan extradition case in this House, the Taoiseach said he could not be expected to stand by the photocopier while the garda photocopied extradition warrants. I remind him this afternoon that his Minister for Justice is quite good at sitting by the photocopier where Fianna Fáil legislation is concerned. Her Misuse of Drugs Act, 1996 is a poorly watered down version of Part I of Fianna Fáil's Drug Trafficking Bill, 1996, the Criminal Law (Incest Proceedings) Act, 1995 is a replica of the essential provisions of Fianna Fáil's Incest Proceedings Bill, 1995 and her proposed insanity Bill, as reported, is clearly sculpted out of the very rock of Fianna Fáil's Criminal Law (Mental Disorder) Bill, 1996.

Does the Deputy want to tell the House where he got it? Does he want to tell the House it was taken from the Department of Justice in 1992?

It is a pity the Minister did not choose to plagiarize all of Fianna Fáil's Bills and proposals because we would then have a coherent, cogent and effective criminal justice policy.

It is of fundamental importance that we reflect on whether the structures of the Garda Síochána as presently constituted reflect the needs of modern society. Could it be more responsive to a society which is becoming increasingly afflicted by drugs and drug related crime? We must ask ourselves honestly whether the patriarchal role the Department of Justice currently plays in Garda affairs is the most effective way of managing the force. There simply must be a professional examination of the Garda Síochána with a view to ascertaining whether change is required to make the force more reflective of, and responsive to the needs of society as we approach the third millennium.

We must recognise that the nature of crime has changed and it is imperative that we honestly address the question of whether there is a need for the Garda Síochána to change in tandem. In this context, there is clearly a need for a new and imaginative recruitment drive for the Garda. We must recognise that effective policing today truly requires technological and professional expertise in a whole range of areas. Technology, professional expertise and mobility are essential for a modern police force.

It will of course not come as a surprise to anyone to learn that numbers in the force have progressively decreased under this Minister for Justice and the rainbow Coalition Government. There are fewer gardaí than there were at any time since 1993. As of 10 May 1996, the strength of the force was 10,798, which is approximately 100 down on the comparable figure for 31 December 1993. Natural wastage at a time of escalating crime levels and increased viciousness in crime is now outstripping recruitment to the force.

The Association of Garda Sergeants and Inspectors recently highlighted what it describes as the running down of the force. It has called for recruitment to be stepped up and for the extension of the retirement age to alleviate the crisis in Garda numbers to deal with ordinary crime. I put this marker down here for fear of any misinterpretation inside or outside this House: the Association of Garda Sergeants and Inspectors stated there is a crisis with regard to Garda numbers. They also make the point that more than 300 members are now diverted from the city and county to duty on the Border because of the BSE emergency. In a statement issued on 8 May last, the association said the situation, from being extremely bad, has now become intolerable for sergeants and inspectors who bear the primary responsibility for ensuring that gardaí are allocated duties within their units. Supervisors simply do not have enough gardaí now to ensure all the duties are fulfilled.

This rundown is extraordinary at a time when we are experiencing more indictable crime than in any period in the history of the State. How can any rational person justify this when, for example, there were 43 murders in 1995 and 22 so far in 1996? How can any Minister for Justice stand over the decrease in the strength in the Garda Síochána when there were 12 murders committed between 1 January and 30 April 1995, and when this increased to 17 between 1 January and 30 April 1996? Indeed, how could any Government stand idly by while the figure for indictable crime climbs over 102,000 in a given year. I quote only statistics, but it must be remembered that behind them are thousands of innocent victims and their families. Small wonder then that the President of the Garda Representative Association bluntly declared at the GRA annual conference that this Government appears to have no interest in crime. Not for the first time, I must say it is the duty of the Minister for Justice to fight her corner at the Cabinet table to secure a realistic level of resources to enable her Department and its agencies to tackle the ever escalating level of crime.

Last December, a senior Garda officer said certain politicians in the Dáil exaggerated the level of murders committed in the State, when I said in this House that there were 40 in 1995. In fact, the sad and tragic statistic shows there were 43. Instead of wheeling out a senior Garda officer or officers to play down the problem, the Minister for Justice and the Government would be far better engaged in addressing it. To date, the Minister has singularly failed to impress on her Cabinet colleagues the need to prioritise the crime problem in terms of resources. If she fails again in the 1997 Estimates for her Department, the time will certainly have come for her to reflect on the viability of her position and whether it remains tenable.

Fianna Fáil holds the view, having given the matter deep consideration, that it is desirable there should be only one Garda representative body, not only in the public interest but in the interests of the Garda. A strong unified body, representative of all the gardaí, would have the capacity to obtain the best deals and conditions for its members, but the achievement of this objective will require compromise on all sides. Above all, and this should not be forgotten, it demands ordinary, plain common sense. I have every confidence in the rank and file membership of the Garda Síochána, many of whom I would describe as personal friends, having and exhibiting that common sense.

The Garda Representative Association has indicated it will incorporate most of what the Minister has suggested in the Bill. In that context, it appears to have a problem with the idea of a Minister for Justice reserving unto herself or himself the power to dissolve the association. It makes the point that this would not happen with any other trade union and feels strongly that it should not be made an exception in this respect.

The difficulty with the two bodies can best be illustrated by the fact that while the Garda Representative Association has no difficulty with one body it has a difficulty with the Minister reserving unto herself a power of dissolution. The Garda Federation considers there should be two bodies, if necessary. It makes the point that if the Government has a preference for dealing with one homogeneous organisation, the Minister should have the Mulvey report adopted in its entirety. For its part the Garda Federation made it clear that it is not satisfied with the Bill and wants amendments to it. It is clear to me — and I am sure to everyone else at this stage — that the Minister must mediate between the representatives of the Garda Representative Association and the Garda Federation following the passage of Second Stage of this Bill so that common ground can be reached. There is no point in adopting an ostrich-like stance.

Is it true that the Minister for Justice has failed or refused, despite repeated written requests, to meet the Garda Representative Association since taking up office——

Not true.

——to discuss everyday problems affecting the association and its membership? If the Minister adopts the same attitude in relation to the Garda Federation, how does she expect to reconcile the difference of opinion between the two bodies? A direct attempt at mediation must be made by the Minister prior to Committee Stage, otherwise there will be a feeling among the public that the Minister has simply lost control of the force. That is not something I or anyone else would desire.

Have the Deputy and his colleagues tried?

In an attempt to be helpful, Fianna Fáil will support this legislation on Second Stage but I serve due notice on the Minister that she must ensure, following Second Stage, she is not leading us or the Garda Síochána bodies up a blind alley. On behalf of the Fianna Fáil Party I ask the members of the Garda Representative Association and the Garda Federation to reflect on this legislation, not in a simplistic way but in a deeply considered and constructive way and in a spirit of compromise and magnanimity. The truth is that the objective of the Garda Representative Assocation and the Garda Federation is the same. A continuation of the disagreement can only serve to exacerbate it and, ultimately, members of both bodies and the public will be the only losers. For our part, Fianna Fáil will be willing to put forward any reasonable amendments suggested which would help to resolve the impasse, irrespective of which side of the equation they come from.

I welcome the opportunity to contribute on behalf of my party. At a time when Ireland most needs a disciplined, focused and cohesive Garda force to tackle unprecedented levels of viciousness of criminality — some petty, some organised and some subversive — it is a sad irony that we have to legislate in the most public way possible to seek to resolve what is basically a trade union or industrial relations dispute between the Garda. I would prefer to have a real debate on policing but unfortunately, it seems to be out of the range of this House to do so since all operational matters and issues on the deployment of the force are the preserve of the Garda authorities. In that respect, there is a democratic deficit as to how the House can debate policing issues. Many Members are uneasy resorting to legislation to resolve this protracted, personalised and litigious dispute between the organisations involved.

Debate adjourned.