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.