Léim ar aghaidh chuig an bpríomhábhar

Dáil Éireann díospóireacht -
Tuesday, 10 Apr 2001

Vol. 534 No. 3

Private Members' Business. - Garda Reform: Motion.

I wish to share my time with Deputies O'Sullivan, Rabbitte and Wall.

I move:

That Dáil Éireann:

–recognising the escalating impact of crime on our citizens and recognising, in particular, the continuing and unacceptably high level of murder, gangland shootings, intimidation, drug dealing, joy-riding and public disorder afflicting both urban and rural communities;

–believing that crime is demoralising people, terrifying our elderly and destroying the lives of many young people and that to tackle crime we need an efficient and effective police force operating in and with the full confidence, support and co-operation of the population it serves;

–acknowledging that the Garda Síochána has served us well since the foundation of the State, that its bravery, particularly in standing up to the threat posed by the IRA and other paramilitaries, must never be forgotten but believing that, like every other organisation, the Garda has to change and evolve, in accordance with principles of accountability and modernisation;

–aware that at present the Garda operates under legislation dating back to 1925 and that since society and the demands of policing, have changed radically in the past 75 years, it is therefore time the law governing the Garda changed as well;

–affirming that an essential part of that change is the forging of a new relationship between the Garda Síochána and the communities it serves so that those communities are involved in deciding policing priorities in consultation and real partnership with the Garda;

–convinced that policing works best when it is based on partnership between local people and the local gardaí and aiming therefore to give ownership of our policing strategy back to the community;

–conscious of the danger that, in the absence of such close liaison, paramilitaries and vigilantes are in a position to organise in recognition of the unmet need of local communities and to take the law into their own hands;

–noting also the need for a new system for investigating complaints levelled against the Garda;

–bearing in mind the comprehensive package of recommendations proposed by the Patten Commission on Policing in Northern Ireland, many of which are of direct relevance and applicability in this jurisdiction;

condemns the Minister for Justice, Equality and Law Reform for his inaction in the area of systematic reform of policing, both at legislative and administrative level; calls upon the Minister to introduce a legislative package of reform, including at least the following three elements so as radically to reform policing in Ireland–

(f2>a)the establishment of a new Garda Authority, to set the priorities for fighting crime at national level, to make the key decisions relating to policing more open and accountable, to be responsible for senior appointments in the Garda Síochána and to receive and consider reports from the Garda Commissioner on operational decisions,

(f2>b)the establishment of county policing liaison committees, to agree a county or city policing plan, with regular meetings between the committee and local gardaí to monitor progress and address the concerns of local communities, and

(f2>c)the abolition of the Garda Complaints Board, the role and functioning of which is widely agreed to be unsatisfactory, and its replacement with a Garda Ombudsman to be responsible for investigating complaints against the Garda, such an officer to be provided with his own staff and to be responsible for a new, independent system for ensuring Garda accountability; and

calls also for a significant increase in Garda resources and personnel so as adequately to equip the force to meet the challenges which it faces. It goes without saying that confidence in effective, efficient and accountable policing is a critical component of any normal democratic society where the rule of law prevails. The police force in democratic society is a bulwark against crime and disorder and a sustenance for the people. While nobody likes to come to the attention of the police force, we like to know it is there and that we can turn to it with absolute confidence in times of crisis or trouble.

This country has been exceptionally lucky with its police force. There is a general recognition that the members of the Garda Síochána have served us very well since the foundation of the State and that they have shown particular courage in standing up to paramilitary organisations and organised crime. In doing that they have paid a very high price. We owe a particular debt of gratitude to courageous officers like Detective Garda Jerry McCabe and Detective Garda Seamus Quaid of my home town in Wexford, a near neighbour of my own, who paid the ultimate sacrifice in defending our democracy and our laws.

We were very fortunate that the political figures who presided over the formation of our pol ice force and those who led it in the early days displayed wisdom and judgment. Their decision to have a generally unarmed police force, despite the great disorder in which the State was born, was wise and courageous. The first Commissioner, Michael Staines, set the standard and the force was to consistently meet that standard in subsequent decades when he said: "An Garda Síochána will succeed, not by force of arms or numbers, but by the moral authority as servants of the people".

As with every other organisation or institution, however, and it is coincidental that I am making this contribution directly after a contribution on judicial accountability and the need to have the wind of change blow through the judicial system, the Garda Síochána also has to change and evolve in accordance with the principles of accountability and modernisation.

The gardaí operate under a body of legislation, some of which goes back as far as 1925, but the nature of society and the demands on policing have changed enormously in that period. It is therefore an appropriate time for a radical overhaul of the structures governing the Garda Síochána.

Policing in Northern Ireland is currently going through a major and dramatic transformation and while the problems of policing in a politically divided society are somewhat different than those we face in this jurisdiction, there are many lessons we can learn from the Patten report and the process of change now going on there.

I notice that the Government's response to the Labour Party motion is basically to attack it because it reflects many of the proposals of Patten. I find that disturbing on so many fronts. I say in passing – and it is an issue I intend to raise at the next meeting of the Oireachtas Select Committee on Justice, Equality, Defence and Women's Rights – this is the second occasion on which a Fianna Fáil headed statement has been issued in the name of the chairman of that committee. Chairpersons should not use their office to propose partisan views of a political nature. That is not the way it normally operates. The only meaningful objection to the proposals is that they are reflective of proposals we are advocating take place in Northern Ireland. That is a lame attack on the proposals we are putting forward.

The recommendations in the Patten report that have proved most controversial – those relating to badges, emblems, oaths and politically contentious matters – amount to no less than ten out of a total of some 175. Many of the Patten report recommendations set out best practices for policing that would be applicable in any modern society, and I predict that many of them will be reflected in reforms in police forces throughout the western world. We should not be afraid to borrow from the Patten report and I am already on record as saying that in preparing our proposals we want debated in this House, we studied the Patten report very carefully and drew from its conclusions.

There is a desire among members of the public, and among members of the Garda, for radical change. There is some worrying evidence that the confidence the force traditionally enjoyed is not as strong as it once was. People are concerned about what they perceive to be the lower visibility of the Garda on their streets and in their communities, the closure of Garda stations, especially in rural areas, and the continuing problems of crime and vandalism that those of us who are spokespersons now hear about on a daily basis. All of those concerns, as our motion states, demoralise people, terrify the elderly and destroy the lives of so many young people.

As virtually every Member of this House will be able to attest, there is probably no other issue that so concerns local communities as crime. Despite the claims made by the Minister about the reduction in crime levels, that is not reflected in the experience of life on the ground where people see for themselves the continuing and unacceptable level of murder, gangland shootings and beatings, intimidation, drug dealing, joy-riding and public disorder, which was again discussed on the national airwaves this morning when one taxi driver described the mayhem of the last weekend which apparently is a regular occurrence in this city.

There is evidence that a considerable amount of crime is going unreported and rather than an overall reduction in crime, that may account for the improved figures. Statistics produced by the Central Statistics Office suggest that crime is considerably higher than the official figures relate. Statistics produced by the CSO in November 1999, based on the findings of the national household survey, show that about 12% of households, one in eight, are affected by crime each year. One household in 30 has been burgled. More than 5% of households with a motor vehicle had either the vehicle stolen or something stolen from the vehicle. Almost 5% of households suffered vandalism in the previous year. Exposure to crime was highest in Dublin where close to one-fifth of all homes surveyed had been victims of crime. The survey found that approximately one in every 100 persons aged 18 or over had been a victim of non-violent theft. Violent thefts and assaults affected about one in every 200 adults. Young adults were found to be most at risk, with more than 3% claiming they had been a victim of assault or theft.

There is also strong evidence in the survey to support the suggestion that such crime is not reported. While 95% of all car thefts were reported, less than 40% of cases of vandalism were reported to the gardaí.

This is all a long way from the picture presented by the Minister for zero tolerance who painted a picture of crime levels in the new century returning to the level of the 1950s. When we take into account that much of this crime is concentrated in particular areas, we have to acknowledge that as a society we are failing to provide adequate protection to the majority of law abid ing citizens against the unacceptable activities of a criminal minority.

Among the reasons for not reporting is a belief, again concentrated in some areas, that it is simply not worthwhile, that it will take the Garda too long to respond and that, when they respond, nothing will be done. That may be entirely unfair to the Garda, who are working under incredible difficulties with limited resources, but it is a real perception that we will ignore at our peril. That perception is being exploited by unscrupulous individuals, many of whom are members of or associated with the republican movement, who offer communities what they claim are simple solutions to the crime problem. These solutions involve violent assaults on people or shooting those alleged to be involved in crime. There is no due process in these kangaroo courts; no right to silence, no right to legal representation and no right of appeal. We have seen the appalling toll these sorts of activities have inflicted in Northern Ireland.

In my constituency within recent weeks, a person of exemplary character was brutally shot in both legs before members of his own family in the kitchen of his home. Apparently, the man was not the intended victim of the assault. Such events came as a shock to the community in Wexford.

If we do not want to allow the situation to deteriorate even further, we must work to restore full public confidence in the Garda Síochána and provide the resources they need to be effective. The Labour Party believes the only way in which we can defeat crime and vandalism is through a partnership between the community and the Garda Síochána. The community cannot combat crime on its own. Without the support, commitment and confidence of the people, gardaí face an almost impossible task. Labour is determined to forge a new relationship between gardaí and the communities they serve. Communities must be involved in deciding policing priorities and made to feel part of the policing process. We will then have real partnership in terms of fighting crime.

There are other issues that must be addressed, not least the question of resources and whether existing personnel are being used in the best possible way. Figures are produced from time to time to suggest that Ireland does quite well in regard to the number of gardaí per head of population, but these require close examination. According to the Garda website, there are 11,230 members of the force. However, in the Garda report for 1999, the most recent to be made available, the cumulative figure for each of the six Garda divisions comes to only 9,791. The balance is, presumably, accounted for by those serving at headquarters and in specialist units.

We have been told by the Garda authorities that in effect, 5.1 gardaí are required to maintain each Garda position. This is due to a three shift system, holidays, sick leave, etc. While there may be 11,230 gardaí on paper, the operational level of the force, at any given point, may be as low as 2,500. The huge western region, which stretches from Mayo to Limerick, has, on paper, 1,068 Garda personnel, but when the effective ratio is applied, the level of policing in this region could be as low as 210. A number of colleagues and I spoke to senior Garda officials during the week and discovered that, because of the foot and mouth disease crisis, only a skeleton staff of gardaí is operating in certain towns and rural areas. We accept that this is necessary but there are real consequences for many local areas as a result.

There is also the question of how existing resources within the Garda are used. From dealings I have had with the Garda, I know that many members of the force are conscious of the limitations of the existing structures. Gardaí have expressed concern at the inadequacies of the training they receive. A survey highlighted at the annual conference of the Association of Garda Sergeants and Inspectors last April found that almost half those questioned said they had experienced bullying in the workplace. At the same conference the acting president of the AGSI, expressed concern that gardaí were in danger of losing the common touch and that this could jeopardise the close relationship between the force and the public. There have been increasing calls among members of the force to allow trade unions to be organised and to grant limited rights to strike. There is a compelling case for allowing the representative bodies to acquire trade union status.

It is against this background of disquiet within the force and public concerns over crime and policing that we produced our proposals for a package of radical reforms to transform the relationship between the Garda and the community. There is no more urgent issue than this and nothing deserves a more considered debate than the proposals we wish to place before the House.

There are three key elements in the Labour Party proposals. The first of these involves the establishment of a new Garda authority. The role of the new authority would be to set priorities for fighting crime at national level, to make key decisions relating to making policing more open and accountable, to be responsible for senior appointments in the Garda Síochána and to receive and consider reports from the Garda Commissioner on operational decisions. We envisage that there would be approximately 15 members of the authority who would be appointed by the Government, following consideration by the appropriate Committee on Justice, Equality, Defence and Women's Rights. These five members would be selected from a range of bodies, including those involved in public administration and business, trade unions, voluntary organisations, community groups, the legal profession and seconded representatives of various ranks from the Garda organisations. While the authority would have overall responsibility for policing strategy, the Commissioner would retain full operational responsibility for the exercise of his or her functions and the activities of Garda officers and civilian staff under his or her direction or control.

Our second key proposal is the establishment of county policing liaison committees, the function of which would be to agree a county or city policing plan, with regular meetings between these committees and local gardaí to monitor progress and address issues of real concern to people in each community. We envisage that there would be regular meetings between county policing committees and senior Garda officers in each district at which reports could be presented, strategies discussed and answers given. This simply mirrors proposals I put forward, as Minister for the Environment, for strategic policy groups to consider every other area of local administration. Those proposals have been taken up by my successor and the groups have been put in place.

The county policing committees would reflect community concerns and priorities to the force. They would act purely as liaison bodies and would have no operational function. However, they will give the force new ways of identifying the needs of communities and greatly enforce the community dimension of policing which is currently being eroded.

The third main pillar of our proposals is the establishment of a Garda ombudsman. It is widely acknowledged that there is a strong case for the abolition of the Garda Complaints Board, the role and functioning of which is unsatisfactory. The members of the Garda Síochána and those who have cause to make complaints find it unsatisfactory and, from comments the Minister has made, it appears he and his Department are at least proposing to put forward radical reforms in this area. It is not good enough to try to tinker with the Garda Síochána (Complaints) Act which has been found to be unsatisfactory and virtually unworkable.

One of the major innovations in policing in Northern Ireland has been the appointment of an independent ombudsman. I have had the opportunity to speak with her and discovered that her office has an effective role in giving a speedy response to local need. This model will be replicated elsewhere. I beg the Minister not to dismiss the concept of an independent ombudsman by stating that just because one has been appointed in Northern Ireland does not mean there is a need for one here. The Northern Ireland model is eminently suitable for implementation in this jurisdiction.

I have only been able to touch on some of the details of the main proposals outlined in the document, Policing Change, which I had the honour to publish on behalf of the Labour Party a few months ago. My party is seeking the broadest possible debate on these issues and I hope the Minister will address our proposals and not merely dismiss them because they emanate from this side of the House. It is not a question of pro posing change simply for the sake of change. The aim of these proposals is to better equip the Garda to combat crime and to renew the relationship between the people and its members.

The new structures we are proposing will help restore public confidence in the Garda and open the way for improved co-operation between the police and the public, which is the only way to effectively combat crime and vandalism. As already stated, I hope the Government will resist its normal instinct to oppose these proposals, which we offer in good faith, simply because they are being put forward from this side of the House and will consider them on their merits.

There seems to be an unspoken assumption that the Garda Síochána is immune from the dramatic changes which have taken place in this society, particularly in recent years. However, it is not. A modern police force must contend with circumstances unimagined in Ireland 20 years ago. The traditional respect and regard in which the members of the Garda were held is under strain, particularly in certain urban communities. In extreme cases, law abiding citizens have become alienated from the gardaí because they cannot access them when they need them, they are not visible and thus they have little relationship with the community and attempts are made to fill the policing lacuna by paramilitary groupings.

The reality of lawlessness in parts of urban Ireland cannot be denied and threatens the fabric of society. Thousands of people, for example, in parts of my constituency have been deprived on and off since Christmas of public transport as a result of the depredations of marauding youths. The county council in my area retrieved more than 2,000 cars burnt out last year. The chronic misuse of drugs which was allowed to take hold over the years deepened the environment of lawlessness, fuelled the crime statistics and facilitated the growth of paramilitary inspired vigilantes. An occasional Garda car speeding through an estate does not constitute effective policing. In a parliamentary reply to me last week the Minister said that prior to the foot and mouth alarm there were 159 gardaí in Tallaght in a three shift, five day system. That is a completely inadequate policing allocation for a community of 80,000 people. It has a single Garda station which was, until the lifetime of the last Government, a sub-division of Crumlin. Despite its success, where implemented, this is a completely inadequate allocation of resources to community policing.

There were approximately 35 murders on the streets last year. Dublin, Limerick and Dundalk have seen the return of lethal gangland shootings and intimidation. Drug dealing is continuing to tear at the fabric of working class communities. Joyriders regularly take over control of the streets and housing estates. Paramilitary groupings are attempting to take over the policing of certain areas. Contrary to what happened in the last Dáil, the Opposition parties have refused to exploit this situation for short-term political advantage. Instead of whipping up a neurosis under the fatuous zero tolerance mantle, as was recklessly done by the Minister for Justice, Equality and Law Reform, we have prepared policy proposals designed to address the present day realities and the changes which have taken place in Irish society.

The proposals outlined by Deputy Howlin are good for society and for the gardaí. The Labour Party proposals for a new Garda authority and Garda ombudsman are directly grounded in our recognition of the impact of crime in our community. Crime demoralises people, terrifies our elderly and destroys the lives of many young people. We need an efficient and effective police force to tackle crime. At present, the Garda operates under legislation which dates back to 1925. Society and the demands of policing have changed radically in the past 75 years. It is time the law governing the Garda changed as well.

An essential part of that change is the forging of a new relationship between the gardaí and the communities they serve. Communities must be involved in deciding policing priorities in consultation with the gardaí. There is no future without a partnership approach to fighting crime. We also want to see a new system for investigating complaints levelled against the gardaí. The current controversies involving the shooting of John Carthy and the unfolding events in the McBrearty case in Donegal demand a response. Unfortunately, these are not isolated cases. The Garda Commissioner has recognised the need for change.

The Labour Party is proposing three new initiatives to radically reform policing in Ireland. We propose the establishment of a new Garda authority. This new authority will set the priorities for fighting crime at national level. The members of the new authority will be proposed by groups, such as trade unions and community and Garda organisations. Nominees will be considered by the Oireachtas Committee on Justice, Equality, Defence and Women's Rights and appointed by the Government. The Garda Commissioner and the authority will work together to draw up an annual policing plan and set national objectives to be achieved over a four year period. The authority will be responsible for senior appointments in the Garda. This power is currently held by the Minister for Justice, Equality and Law Reform. The Garda Commissioner will retain operational control of the Garda but will be required to report to the authority on operational decisions. This new authority will make the key decisions relating to policing more open and accountable at national level.

The Labour Party is also committed to seeing these principles brought in at local level. We want to see the establishment of county policing liaison committees. Each county or city council would form such a committee and agree a county or city policing plan. There would be regular meetings between the committee and local gardaí to moni tor progress and address the concerns of local communities. There would also be consultation and direct input into policing plans at local and sub-county level. The danger is that in the absence of such liaison, paramilitaries and vigilantes are in a position to organise in recognition of the unmet need of local communities and to take the law into their own hands. Despite the respect I have for civil servants, I am not sure many of the civil servants in a position to influence policy understand policing and lawlessness in the heart of many urban working class communities today.

Both these proposals aim to give ownership of our policing strategy back to the community. At present, the relationship between a community and the gardaí, if it exists at all, is developed on an ad hoc basis through the initiative of local gardaí and community leaders. We need to put this relationship back at the heart of policing in Ireland. We are convinced that policing works best when it is based on partnership between the local people and the local gardaí.

The Labour Party has also proposed the abolition of the Garda Complaints Board and its replacement with a Garda ombudsman. There is now widespread agreement on the unsatisfactory role and functioning of the Garda Complaints Board, most of which is probably due to inadequacies in the law which set it up. Few, including the gardaí, will regret its departure from the scene. The new Garda ombudsman will be responsible for investigating complaints against the gardaí and initiating his own inquiries into Garda policies and practices. The ombudsman will be provided with his own staff and will be responsible for a new independent system for ensuring Garda accountability.

These three proposals have the capacity to bring policing in Ireland into the 21st century. The Labour Party's plan draws heavily on the Patten proposals, as Deputy Howlin said. We believe our proposals are good for the public and for the gardaí. They will provide the gardaí with a modern and effective legislative base. They will ensure that the interests of the community are at the heart of Garda planning. They will give people an independent avenue to investigate complaints against the gardaí while protecting gardaí against malicious complaints designed to undermine the force.

The gardaí have served us well since the foundation of the State. Their bravery, particularly in standing up to the threat posed by the IRA and other paramilitaries, is rightly recognised. Like every other organisation, the Garda must change and evolve. Accountability and modernisation are the key principles of the Labour Party's policy. We have Garda legislation based in the 1920s and a Minister for Justice, Equality and Law Reform living in the 1950s. It is time to change both.

The intention of this motion is to make a positive contribution to a much needed debate on how we can make our police service more responsive and effective in the context of a society which has changed dramatically since the structures of the Garda Síochána were put in place. Both this motion and the proposals in our document are intended to lead that debate. We would like a positive response from the Minister tonight. Deputy Howlin outlined the substance of our proposals and why the reform of policing in Northern Ireland is an added impetus to provide for equally inclusive and transparent operations in the State.

One of the most disturbing aspects of this issue is the dichotomy between the statistics the Minister likes to repeat at every opportunity which show that crime is decreasing and the experience of people in every corner of the country who are not safe in their homes, streets and communities. It is true that there is a very high level of unreported crime. There are not nearly enough gardaí visible at night to prevent crime and anti-social behaviour. Practically every public representative has the same experience of residents' groups pleading for greater Garda presence especially at night. Community gardaí are doing a fantastic job. They cannot cope with the work they need to do. The Garda generally cannot cope with the level of lawlessness and crime in our communities. Deputy Rabbitte referred to that and it is particularly true in urban areas. People in their own homes and communities are terrified at times. Numbers of people are gathering for various anti-social activities. Drugs are being sold to young people on street corners. Old people are frightened in their homes at night time.

The experience of people is not of zero tolerance of lawlessness in their communities. Our proposal on county policing liaison committees is particularly worthy of consideration by the Minister and it should be put in place as quickly as possible. That will provide the forum where these issues that are of huge concern would be addressed by the people who know best what is going on in our communities and could be dealt with in a practical way. Much Garda time is spent waiting unnecessarily for court cases to be called and providing county policing liaison committees can help. That is one of the three proposals we are making.

As Deputy Rabbitte said, the lawlessness has meant that even bus services cannot be provided in some communities. I had to arrange a meeting because a postal service could not be provided in a particular community and it was only by gathering together the various groupings that we were able to re-establish that postal service. That is the kind of issue that the county policing liaison committees could address.

In Limerick we have the worst of both worlds. There is a perception that we have a very high level of violent crime. However, the figures the Minister uses have resulted in us having fewer gardaí than we had when the Government came into office. In the recent allocations we got only two gardaí when other areas got much larger numbers. The reality is greatly different from the picture that is being presented.

Even the Minister admits there is an increase in acts of violence against women, particularly cases of rape and aggravated sexual assaults. From 1992 to 2000 these numbers have increased by 265% and in the majority of these cases, women were the victims. I urge the Minister to address this issue. It is of very serious concern, particularly to women who feel they cannot walk their streets safely. Quite recently, the gardaí in Limerick issued a warning to women not to walk the streets alone. Surely this is a cause for very serious concern and something that must be addressed immediately. I plead for him to address this problem and ensure that women and all citizens can walk the streets safely.

There is a very serious problem. We have not had reform of the Garda and the institutions for many years. We are proposing positive measures that will address these concerns and we ask the Minister to take seriously all the aspects of what we are saying and to respond not just in the interest of Members of this House, but in the interest of the general public for whom this is an issue of major importance.

I am pleased to contribute to this debate. There are serious concerns and worries among communities. I listened with interest to Deputies Rabbitte and O'Sullivan talk of the urban aspect of this problem but it is no different in rural areas. There are 160,000 people in the area presided over by the Carlow-Kildare division of the Garda. There is dismay over what is seen as a drug culture developing in that area. There have been major developments in Kildare and there has been a huge population increase there. However, we only got three additional gardaí in the last allocation, one each in Tullow, Maynooth and Athy.

Despite such a rise in the population, we cannot guarantee a 24-hour service to the people in the large towns of that area. It is well known to the criminals in Dublin that many of the towns in rural Kildare do not have such a service and they feel free to come on rampages at night. Many small shops and garages have practically been put out of business because of the robberies and intimidation of workers. However, this is not being reflected in the numbers of gardaí appointed to Kildare.

In a recent parliamentary question I asked the Minister about the escalation of the drug culture. Based on the Minister's figures, it is clear that I am right and that a drug culture has been allowed to develop in the country. In Kildare and Carlow the number of convictions were as follows: in 1995 there were 59; in 1996 there were 90; in 1997 there were 113; in 1998 there were 158 and in 1999 there were 319. This is a dramatic increase. In 1995 when there were only 59 convictions, we felt that the problem was limited to the higher populated areas of County Kildare. Alas that is no longer the case and the whole of Kildare and Carlow are now affected.

My greatest concern is over the number of seminars that the gardaí are carrying out. These are going in the opposite direction. In 1995 there were 143 seminars; in 1996 there were 125; in 1997 there were 123; in 1998 there were 69 and last year just 20. If this is what we are doing to protect youngsters going to school, then there is a grave need to change the methodology we are adopting on law and order. If we do not teach these children that taking drugs is wrong, then we are saying that a drug culture is acceptable to us and that would be a catastrophe. I seriously doubt if any Member of this House would want such a thing to be their legacy of what they did in Dáil Éireann. I want to see an effort made by the Ministers for Justice, Equality and Law Reform, Education and Science and Health and Children to protect the children through providing seminars. They need to go to the schools and involve the parents and community leaders to ensure that the next generation will be a healthy generation and not dependent on drugs and the drug barons who are destroying our society.

There is an obligation on the Minister to reverse the figures and to protect the children so that people can go on to rear their families in the way we want them to be reared, free from a drug culture.

I move amendment No. 1:

To delete all words after "Dáil Eireann" and substitute the following:

"–welcomes the substantial decrease in serious crime of the order of 25% since the Government took office and the role which the Garda Siochána has played in bringing this about;

–notes the unprecedented level of resources which have been made available to the Garda Siochána, including the increase of £226 million, 48%, in the Garda Vote from £472 million in 1997 to £698 million in the current year; by the end of this year the strength of the Garda Siochána will be close to 11,800, which represents an increase of approximately 1,000 gardaí since the Government took office and is well on target to reach the planned strength of 12,000 by 2002;

–acknowledges that for the first time, the Garda Siochána has the resources and equipment to enable it to police not only the streets of this country but also our waterways and airspace;

–endorses the measures that have been adopted on the basis of the additional funding in the sum of £87 million allocated under the national development plan for crime prevention directed towards young offenders; in that context youth diversion projects have already been successfully established and others are on the way;

–welcomes the expansion of the Garda CCTV programme for which £12 million has been allocated over the next three years – with £4 million allocated in 2001;

–recognises the provision of substantial additional resources to other areas of the criminal justice system to underpin the work of the Garda Siochána including increasing the number of prison places by 1,207 to date, with approximately 700 additional closed places on the way;

–acknowledges the significant structural reforms being made to the criminal justice system through, for example, the appointment of additional judges, the establishment of the Courts Service and the Prisons Service and the significant progress which is being made in reforming the administration of the Garda Siochána particularly through the strategic management initiative;

–notes the important steps that have been taken in relation to dealing effectively with crime through the establishment of the national crime forum and the national crime council;

–supports the measures that have been put in place and the results that have been achieved in connection with the establishment of the witness protection programme;

–acknowledges the successful operations undertaken by the Criminal Assets Bureau and the excellent results it has secured;

–approves of the intention of the Minister for Justice, Equality and Law Reform to bring forward at an early date considered proposals to improve arrangements for the making of complaints against the Garda Siochána;

–recognises the underpinning of the work of the Garda Siochána through the Government's unprecedented and comprehensive programme of criminal law reform;

–acknowledges that the Garda Siochána has served the country well since the foundation of the State particularly in dealing with threats to the State;

–welcomes the high level of support among the community for the Garda Siochána; and

–approves the Government's continuing commitment to give priority to resource structural and legislative measures to build on the significant advances which have been made in the fight against crime.

I welcome the opportunity to debate the issues referred to in this motion.

The Minister does not refer to them in the entire speech, it is a disgrace.

While I might express some cynicism as to the motivation behind the original motion in the name of the Labour Party who, since the date of the rainbow coalition, have at last woken up to the fact that we have a police force in this State, we have crime and the forces of the State are arrayed against the criminal need to be resourced and developed.

The Minister is in no position to express cynicism.

We can all remember 1995, the first full year of the rainbow coalition, the year of the criminal. That was the year in which well more than 102,000 crimes were recorded in this State, an all-time historic high.

People do not bother reporting crime any more.

It was the beginning of a time of utter paralysis in Government which communicated a sense of despair and of hopelessness to our citizens as the criminal fraternity ran amok.

This is appalling. We deserve better.

It took members of this Fianna Fáil-led Administration, then in Opposition, to provide the necessary leadership in our Legislature which laid the foundations for the fight-back against the so-called untouchables of the criminal fraternity. We continue, now in Government, to strengthen the capacity of the State to reclaim our country on behalf of our citizens so that the unparalleled economic and social advances, again enduring legacies of this Government, can be enjoyed by all.

Keep it for the back of the wagon. We deserve better than this.

It is this Government which has demonstrated its commitment and willingness to back-up the efforts of the Garda in the fight against crime. Prior to entering Government, we said we would adopt a zero tolerance of crime. To assist us in the task on entering Government we said we would increase the strength of the Garda Síochána to 12,000, an all-time historic high and we are almost there; provide the resources to enable the force to do its job effec tively, we are doing so; increase the capacity of the prison system by 2,000 – 1,207 have been provided and 700 more are on the way, an increase of almost 100%; introduce tough legislation to provide for severe penalties including mandatory penalties for drug trafficking offences and asset audits on those convicted of serious offences – we did so; reform the courts system by establishing a Courts Service Board – that has been done; reform the prison system – we have a new Prison Authority; establish a witness protection programme – we succeeded in doing so; establish a Garda aerial wing – we did so; establish a mounted police unit – we did so; fund an unprecedented information technology programme for all areas of the criminal justice system and in particular for the Garda, the prisons and the courts – that has been done.

My task, on becoming Minister, was to translate those promises into reality. I am confident I can let the record speak for itself. The Government does not deal in airy statements of intent but in practical realities. Under this Government recorded crime in this State has fallen at an unprecedented rate.

Unreported crime has gone through the roof.

This has been achieved through the Government's three-pronged commitment to ensuring that there is a clear and determined focus on tackling those engaged in crime, ensuring there is a determination that the law enforcement agencies will be properly equipped and resourced to deal with crime and through a commitment to address, and where possible to ameliorate, the cause of crime. As a Government, we are unyielding in this approach and we make no apologies for that. The results we have achieved, I remind the House, are no accident.

The Labour Party motion speaks of this House being: "Conscious of the danger that, in the absence of such close liaison, paramilitaries and vigilantes are in a position to organise in recognition of the unmet need of local communities and to take the law into their own hands." I presume the Deputy has in mind recent reports about the activities of some members of Sinn Féin in North Kerry.

Yes, and other activities in west Dublin and Waterford. Is the Minister deaf and blind to the reality?

If that is so, Deputy Howlin should have thought long and hard before coming into this House with a motion which contains a form of pseudo-justification of activities of the kind in question. Is anyone seriously suggesting that the so-called anti-crime activities of Sinn Féin in North Kerry arise because the local gardaí are not in touch with the community? The reality is that what we are faced with are people who seek to go behind the rule of law apparently expecting to gain at the ballot box for behaving in what is a profoundly undemocratic way. The Deputy's motion may be equivocal about this but let me state the Government's position plainly.

This is disgraceful.

There is no place in our society for vigilantism no matter how it is dressed up.

What is the Minister doing about it? Nothing.

Try as they might people will not be allowed to electioneer by disregarding the rule of law. Anarchy ensues where summary justice is dispensed by people who act as judge, jury and executioner.

I have received a report from the Garda about the activities in question. A Garda investigation is continuing and precisely because we believe in the rule of law the House will appreciate why it would not be proper for me to go into detail while that investigation is continuing.

There are so many investigations continuing. Will they ever conclude?

Recorded crime levels have fallen for each year in which this Government has held office. Last year's provisional figures show that levels of recorded crime fell by almost 5% on the 1999 figure, representing a cumulative fall on the all-time high in 1995 levels of 25%. People in this House have stated that crimes go unreported. Yes, they do but the criteria employed today for the collection, collation and recording of crime are precisely the same as those utilised during the period of the rainbow coalition Government.

The reports of the Garda Commissioner which set out the levels of crime during the period of this Government were compiled utilising precisely the same criteria used during the rainbow coalition Government. Compare and contrast an unprecedented increase in indictable crime during the period of the rainbow coalition Government, particularly in 1995 when there was an unprecedented drop of almost 25% during the period of this Government. Facts speak for themselves when one is comparing like with like.

Lies and statistics.

Not if the statistics are compiled on the basis of precisely the same criteria which these unquestionably are.

Ask the people what they think.

The Minister has lost the plot.

Furthermore, it is very important to note that the detection rate for recorded crime has increased significantly in recent years. Ireland now has a detection rate of 44% compared to 21% in the United States of America and 26% in the United Kingdom.

Any long-term anti-crime policy must engage local communities in co-operation with the Garda Síochána, and this is why a National Crime Forum was established in 1998. Furthermore, recognising the importance of an informed public debate on crime as an aid to policy making and as a means of dispelling the real but disproportionate fear of crime in some communities, I have established a National Crime Council, the first in the history of the State, to examine public awareness of the issues surrounding crime and public perceptions of crime. The council will also advise me on additional crime prevention measures.

Between 1997 and 1999, the last year for which published statistics are available, the number of recorded murders has remained annually constant at 38. This compares with murder levels of 43 and 42 for the years 1995 and 1996, respectively. Moreover, there has been a steady decrease in the number of cases of manslaughter since the Government took office, from 15 in 1997 to 13 in 1998 and nine in 1999.

What about 2000?

Research has demonstrated that this country continues to have one of the lowest rates of homicide in the developed world.

I have been informed by the Garda authorities that prevailing trends indicate that there is no appreciable increase in public order offences. In fact, a downward trend has been recorded in some of the flash points in our major cities.

It is unreal.

Nevertheless, in response to public concerns on the matter, the Garda Commissioner has launched a national public order initiative known as Operation Oíche to tackle street violence and public disorder on the main thoroughfares of the larger towns and cities. The operation is focused on public disorder, public intoxication, under-age drinking, illicit drug use and under-age alcohol sales. Within Operation Oíche, locations of recurring incidents are receiving particular Garda attention, with an emphasis on high visibility policing. Special resource units and unmarked crime task force units are being utilised and selected locations are receiving intensive patrolling involving the Garda mounted unit, Garda dog unit and Garda air support unit.

The Government has overseen the establishment of county and city development boards, or CDBs, as a co-ordinating structure at local level to develop and implement agreed strategies for the economic, social and cultural development of the county or city. The boards comprise representatives of local government, the social partners and relevant State agencies, including the Garda Síochána and the probation and welfare service. Their purpose is to bring together the plans of all CDB member groups and agencies to arrive at a shared vision of county or city development. In so doing, they will address the specific difficulties experienced by local communities which contribute to high crime victimisation rates.

Last February, the Government launched RAPID, that is revitalising areas by planning, investment and development, which is a focused initiative targeting the 25 most concentrated areas of disadvantage in the country. The areas will be targeted for investment in relation to policing as well as health, housing, education, child care and community facilities. This will mean that, at the local level, any individual household identified as in need of support will be able to avail of the services of a number of agencies at once rather than the independent system of provision as before.

I was surprised to see that the Labour Party motion raises the question of resources for the Garda Síochána. The Garda has never been as well resourced and financed as under this Government. Since taking office I have increased the strength of the Garda Síochána from a base line of 10,800 and I am on target to reach the planned strength of 12,000 by the year 2002. Recruitment already under way will bring Garda strength to 11,800 by the end of 2001 and a new competition will bring Garda numbers up to 12,000 next year. This means that, during my term of office, the Government has already achieved the highest strength levels ever, and that process is being reinforced further.

Furthermore, the Estimates for the Garda Vote have increased from £472 million in 1997 to £698 million for 2001, an increase of 48%. The overall Department budget has also increased very substantially since the last Administration. I am determined that the Garda should have the best, the most modern and the most effective equipment possible to carry out its tasks. For instance, a contract has been entered into for the supply of a new EC 135 helicopter for the Garda air support unit. The helicopter is currently being fitted out with police mission equipment and it is expected that this work will be completed shortly. Pilot and observers training will be completed before the EC 135 commences active Garda operations later this year.

CCTV has shown that it can play a vital and important role in the fight against crime and disorder. As part of the Garda CCTV expansion programme, last November I announced the allocation of a total of £12 million towards the installation of CCTV systems nationwide over the next three years – with £4 million being allocated in 2001. As part of the first tranche, Garda CCTV systems are to be installed in the following areas – Athlone, Bray, Clondalkin, Dundalk, Dún Laoghaire, Finglas, Galway, Limerick, Waterford and Tallaght. At least a further six areas will commence in 2003 and they will be announced in due course. It is anticipated that the ten CCTV systems referred to above will be installed in the period 2001 to 2002.

I understand that tenders will soon issue for the provision of town centre CCTV systems in Bray, Dundalk, Dún Laoghaire, Finglas, Galway and Limerick. The planning, including the consultation process, for the location and operation of Garda CCTV systems for Athlone, Clondalkin, Tallaght and Waterford will commence later this year with the objective of having the systems installed and operational in 2002. While these Garda systems will be funded by my Department, co-funding will also be a feature of them and will be addressed when detailed costings are available and before work on the installation of the CCTV systems commences. I am, however, also conscious that some applications for CCTV systems that have been received by the advisory committee that was established by the Garda Commissioner to evaluate applications for Garda CCTV systems, relate to relatively small schemes which, while of importance to the local community, cannot be regarded as a national Garda priority.

I have given careful consideration to how assistance can be provided to areas which are not rated as a high level Garda priority. To this end, I plan to introduce a grant scheme this year to cater for those communities which would like to press ahead on their own with a local CCTV system. It will be up to local interests to install and monitor the CCTV schemes. However, grant assistance will be provided. To qualify for grant aid, certain minimum standards will have to be met and the gardaí will have to be allowed access to the system when and as they require it. Local authorities will have an important role to play. The details of this new scheme are being finalised and full details of the scheme including relevant conditions and grant levels will be announced soon.

A key priority for the Minister for Justice, Equality and Law Reform must be criminal law reform. Naturally when I became Minister I was determined to lose no time in undertaking a major programme of criminal law reform and the results of my determination in that respect are there for all to see. Our law reform programme must be able to respond to the challenges which society faces from the modern realities of crime – in particular, organised crime and drug related crime. I have met, and will continue to meet, these challenges with measures which are as strong as they need to be so that society can protect itself.

Members will be aware of the range of criminal law that I have introduced from the debates in this House over the past four years. Its purpose is to ensure that the criminal justice system is equipped to respond effectively to the investigation and prosecution of modern day manifestations of crime. There is one proposal which I should mention. In February last year I announced that I had secured Government approval for the drafting of a criminal justice Bill based on the report of the expert group, established under the chairmanship of senior counsel, Mr. Eamon Leahy, to consider changes to criminal law recommended in the report of the steering group on the efficiency and effectiveness of the Garda Síochána, that is, the Garda SMI Report. This development is further evidence of my commitment to ensuring that our gardaí, who are on the frontline in the battle to prevent and investigate crime, have at their disposal full legislative support to do their job fully and effectively on a daily basis.

Contrary to what the Labour Party motion seeks to imply, I have been extremely active in promoting and developing change within the Garda Síochána to enable it to meet the demands of our modern society and to carry out its tasks as efficiently and effectively as possible. This is an operation that has been undertaken, to a large extent, under the Garda SMI process. The Garda SMI programme commenced in 1998 and significant progress has been made since then in developing and implementing the wide ranging recommendations contained in the Garda SMI report. The aim is to bring about administrative reform which will position the Garda organisation to respond to the challenges of the new millennium.

One major development to date under the SMI process is a report on the potential for further civilianisation in the Garda Síochána and it recommends the civilianisation of posts in administrative and technical areas currently held by gardaí.

This report was recently endorsed by the Garda SMI steering group which includes representation from Garda management, my Department and the staff representative associations.

The report envisages the release of 556 members to operational policing. This will permit a substantial body of Garda personnel to be made available, in particular to tackle and prevent crime. The release of these members will not affect the Government policy of increasing the strength of the force to 12,000. I look forward to the impact of the report which will undoubtedly result in enhanced public safety and reduce public fear of crime and street violence. Releasing members to operational duties will also put their expensive training and experience to the best use.

The report on civilianisation represents a true partnership approach to the future of the Garda Síochána as an organisation and I commend Garda management and the representative associations for their professional approach in engaging so constructively in its development. I will bring the civilianisation report to Government shortly and am convinced of the merits of proceeding with its early implementation.

Another major project under Garda SMI is the review of all aspects of the organisational structure and operating systems within An Garda Síochána. In December 2000, the Garda SMI steering group recruited consultants to commence this comprehensive review. Under the terms of reference, the consultants are required to develop the "HQ specific" and core role functions, to review the roles of ranks and to develop criteria in relation to stations. In completing the work programme, the consultants must evaluate a range of options identified under the SMI programme, make clear recommendations and develop a clear implementation plan. In assessing criteria in relation to stations, for example, the consultants will focus on the best use of Garda resources to deliver a policing service to the community. Contrary to recent media reports, the consultants will not recommend the closure of any Garda stations but will highlight criteria which could be taken into account in any future assessment of how the function or location of Garda stations best serves the community. This review should be completed by August or September this year. The recommendations brought forward in the consultants' report will then be considered by the Garda SMI steering group and, ultimately, by Government.

Through the Garda SMI process, a more strategic approach to developing Garda and civilian personnel is also well advanced. Reviews recommending more modern and appropriate human resource management, promotion and training frameworks have been completed. A skilled civilian human resource manager and a training and education specialist are currently being recruited to manage the introduction of the new structures. The Garda Commissioner has commenced discussions with staff associations on a performance management system and this is being progressed. New approaches to the organisation and deployment of personnel have been developed through a new rostering framework, the civilianisation study and the Garda establishment redistribution model project which will address the allocation of personnel. The continuing involvement of gardaí and civilian staff and their associations and unions has been central to these changed management initiatives.

A more strategic approach to management of the Garda Síochána's financial resources has been developed. A director of finance and two support accountants have been appointed. Their function is to oversee the implementation of appropriate accounting and financial information systems as recommended in the financial management report. This will lead to the provision of more detailed and accurate management information to inform management decisions and accountability.

A Garda National Quality Service Bureau, headed by a director of quality service, has been established to drive the implementation of the Garda quality service action plan. In addition, regional and divisional quality service managers have been appointed. A national customer panel with representation from the community, busi ness and other interests has also been set up. A draft customer charter is being developed in consultation with the national customer panel.

Deputies will be aware that, in accordance with the Constitution and the Ministers and Secretaries Act, 1924, accountability for policing rests with the Minister for Justice, Equality and Law Reform and the Oireachtas. The implementation by the Garda Síochána of Government policing priorities has been achieved over the years through regular contacts between me, my Department and the Garda Síochána. During my time as Minister, I have overseen a progression towards a more structured and transparent framework for Garda planning and accountability.

The Garda Síochána corporate strategy, 2000-2004, outlines the Garda mission objectives, states its strategic goals and outlines enabling strategy to achieve those goals. The Garda Síochána annual policing plan for 2001 builds on the corporate strategy, identifies specific targets for the year and sets out a range of performance indicators through which Garda performance can be assessed. There is an undertaking to report on the results in future Garda annual reports.

I welcome these developments which will improve Garda strategic planning and Garda accountability. I have appointed senior officials in my Department to work with senior Garda representatives to further review the overall performance and accountability framework for the Garda Síochána. This review will address the process of developing police policy and Garda resource management in addition to the issues of planning and accountability. I am confident this group will build on the type of developments outlined and will bring forward a framework whereby Government objectives will be translated into policing priorities. In addition, Garda performance in achieving objectives will be reported on regularly.

The legislation which provides for the Garda Síochána has existed since the foundation of the State and has served the country well. However, I am conscious that we have moved into a new millennium, that society has become ever more complex and that the challenges facing the Garda have changed substantially.

The extensive programme of change arising from the Garda strategic management initiative, in itself, will require legislative change, whether to deal with resource management issues or to provide for direct recruitment of civilians. I will monitor developments over the coming months and will continue to review the need for legislative change. Deputies can be assured that whatever legislation is required will be brought forward.

The Programme for Prosperity and Fairness requires the public service to implement improved strategic planning, to develop modern human resource management systems, including performance management and training development, and to enhance customer service. Many of these issues are being progressed under the Garda SMI process. However, the PPF requires independent validation of satisfactory progress in these key areas of administrative reform. A quality assurance group to assess progress in advancing reform in the Garda Síochána is currently being established with representation from Garda management, representative associations, my Department, business expertise and Garda customers. I wish this group well in its activities from now to late 2002.

I do not believe a case has been made for the establishment of a police authority in the circumstances which obtain in this jurisdiction. The best approach for the present is to continue to advance the major programme of change under the strategic management initiative.

One of the issues addressed in the Labour Party motion is the question of complaints against the Garda Síochána. A number of investigations into actions involving members of the Garda are pending. In that context, there is clearly an onus on us to be careful about what we say in regard to individual cases. Members will be aware, from recent contributions I have made in the House, that I accept that the current arrangements for dealing with complaints against members of the Garda Síochána are not fully satisfactory and need to be reformed. In that regard, I have also made it clear that I intend to bring forward appropriate proposals to the Government to amend the Garda Síochána (Complaints) Act, 1986.

Deputies will be aware that the 1986 Act is complex legislation and that its revision raises important matters that must be fully considered. With that in mind, I have undertaken a detailed review of the relevant issues. The review, which is very close to finality, focuses not only on complaints against individual members but covers wider policing concerns. Arising from the review I have decided to bring forward proposals on the establishment of an independent inspectorate for the Garda Síochána. This body could deal with complaints, for example, that specific Garda systems or operations have not measured up to the appropriate standard. Members will appreciate the advantages of the inspectorate which will be well placed to conduct investigations and to provide early reports on its findings.

I have outlined in some detail what is being done to ensure that the Garda Síochána has appropriate structures in place to respond effectively and accountably to the challenges which it faces. In a changing environment, changes are necessary. Let us not dress up proposals for change with ill-disguised attacks on An Garda Síochána. The Government has the highest regard for the contribution made by the Garda – sometimes at great cost – since the foundation of the State. Recent Garda successes, some of which of their nature cannot be brought into the public domain, are testament to a dedicated and efficient police force. That is not to suggest that changes cannot continue to be made to better equip the force. However, anyone aware of the speed, efficiency and thoroughness with which the Garda responded to the foot and mouth disease crisis could not but be impressed by the competence of the force in responding effectively, on behalf of the community, to very difficult and demanding situations.

To be candid, the motion before the House this evening is political posturing masquerading as policy making.

That is rubbish.

Its proposals cog bits of the Patten report with no regard for the fact that, desirable as the recommendations contained in that report are for the unique situation in Northern Ireland, we have experience here since the foundation of the State of a police force which is acceptable in the community.

We acknowledge the Patten report.

When Fianna Fáil was in Opposition, I despaired of the inability of the rainbow Government to come up with workable proposals to fight crime. The Labour Party motion leaves me despairing still. I note that Deputy Rabbitte, who has awoken to the problem of crime in our society since he moved into the Opposition benches, is of the view that my mindset is in the 1950s. I am surprised that he of all Deputies should say that being mindful of the fact that the 1950s, in so far as I recall, was the end of the Stalin era.

That is unfair.

I wish to share my time with Deputy Timmins.

Is that agreed? Agreed.

The contributions of the Minister for Justice, Equality and Law Reform get more extraordinary as time passes. He apparently criticises the Labour Party for trying to adapt to this State some of the worthwhile recommendations in the Patten report and is critical of the idea that anything contained in that report should be implemented in the context of reforming our police services while, as a member of Government, playing a leading role in convincing the British Government that the Patten report, unamended and unadulterated, should be implemented on the northern part of this island. The contempt the Minister has shown for the recommendations in the Patten report is extremely ill-judged. It may be designed for domestic political purposes but I have little doubt the type of comment he makes about the report will be picked up and relied upon by those in Northern Ireland who are obstructing its implementation. The Minister would be better advised to reconsider the type of presentation he has made in this House and not repeat it.

The Garda Síochána was founded under the Garda Síochána Act, 1925, by a Fine Gael Government. Since its foundation, Fine Gael has supported and valued the work of the Garda Síochána at every opportunity. The gardaí are in the frontline in the fight against crime and over the years have displayed extraordinary courage and bravery in confronting subversion and terrorism and prosecuting members of subversive and terrorist organisations. The Garda Síochána has over the past 32 years played a vital role in protecting democracy and our democratic institutions against paramilitary organisations committed to their destruction. In doing so, members of the Garda have lost their lives and many have suffered serious injury. All too often, public focus is on misbehaviour by a small number of members of the Garda force and, unfortunately, the Garda Síochána rarely receives the praise it deserves for the extraordinary work done by members of the force.

The contribution of the Minister is not only disingenuous but patently dishonest. A pretence has been made by him that the previous Government did nothing in the area of criminal law reform with regard to modernising the Garda force. The contribution made by him is even more extraordinary because, in so far as any reforms have been introduced in relation to the Garda Síochána, they derive from work done by the previous Government. It is unfortunate the Minister does not have the honesty to acknowledge that fact.

The steering group on the review of the Garda Síochána was established by the rainbow coalition on 2 July 1996. It produced its recommendations for reform in July 1997, a short couple of weeks after the current Minister took office. In so far as reforms have been introduced by this Minister or Government, they derive from the recommendations made by the report of the steering group on the efficiency and effectiveness of the Garda Síochána. There still remains recommendations in that report initiated by the previous Government and unimplemented by the current Government. Again, the Minister should moderate his approach and not make a pretence that all wisdom vests in him and any action taken in these areas derives from the lucky coincidence to this State of his being appointed to the Department of Justice, Equality and Law Reform. The reality and irony is that the Minister is implementing recommendations made by a body established by the previous Government.

Over the past 75 years, there have been a total of 15 Acts of the Oireachtas amending or supplementing the Garda Síochána Act, 1925. It is time, therefore, to implement a comprehensive review of the body of Garda Síochána legislation. The time has come to replace existing legislation with a single comprehensive reforming and consolidated Act which meets the 21st century needs of the force, ensures the resources required by the Garda Síochána are provided annually and that there is a full role in the workings of the Garda Síochána and interaction between the gardaí and local communities. The time has also come for a comprehensive examination of the role of the Garda Síochána in 21st century Ireland. To date, in so far as that role has been examined, we have had a series of initiatives of a piecemeal nature which have examined aspects of the role played by the Garda Síochána and of Garda structures. The time has now come for a far more comprehensive approach. Fine Gael proposes that a commission on the Garda Síochána be established to examine the workings and efficiency of the force, to report and make recommendations on the resources of the force, the mechanisms required to enable gardaí to operate in constructive and inclusive partnership with the community at all levels and to examine the obligations and rights of members of the force and the rights of the general public vis-à-vis the force.

The Good Friday Agreement made provision for the establishment of an independent commission to make recommendations for future policing arrangements in Northern Ireland. This resulted in the Patten report. While the relationship between the Garda Síochána and the general community in this State is different from the historical relationship between the RUC and the different communities served by it, the question must be asked why there is now in place a comprehensive framework of recommendations for the modernisation of the RUC in Northern Ireland and why no similar comprehensive examination of the workings of the Garda Síochána, together with a framework of proposals for reform, is in place in this State.

Under the strategic management initiative, the Minister for Justice, Equality and Law Reform has arranged for a review of aspects of the efficiency and effectiveness of the Garda. In December 2000, Deloitte and Touche, consultants, were appointed by the Minister to carry out this review. Under the terms of reference, the consultants are limited to considering the following matters – the development of the HQ and regional organisation structures, the review of the HQ specific and core role functions, the review of the roles of the ranks and the development of criteria in relation to Garda stations. This review is far too narrow and limited and is a waste of public funds. Why should the gardaí be treated differently, for example, from the nursing profession? If there is a commission on nursing and a proposal for a commission on teaching, why should there not be a commission on the Garda Síochána? All interested parties would be entitled to express their views to the commission and have them taken into account. Proposals for reform which would emanate from such commission would greatly strengthen the force and the confidence of the general public in it. The commission on the Garda, which should report simultaneously to the Minister and the Joint Committee on Justice, Equality, Defence and Women's Rights within a specific and limited timeframe, should include in its findings recommendations relating to a number of areas of substantial importance and public interest, some of which I will now refer to.

This State has committed itself under the Good Friday Agreement to "take steps to further strengthen the protection of human rights in this jurisdiction". Although the European Convention on Human Rights has been part of the law in Northern Ireland for some time, the Government has still not enacted the necessary legislation applicable to this State. In a particular way, the principles of the European Convention on Human Rights and of other international legal instruments in the field of human rights should be written into the functions of the Garda Síochána, and a mechanism should be put in place to ensure compliance by the Garda with these principles.

The democratic accountability of the Garda Síochána should be improved. In tonight's motion, the Labour Party is proposing the establishment of a new Garda authority, a proposal which has substantial merit. However, we should not create a new quango which diminishes the accountability of the Garda force, through the Minister for Justice, Equality and Law Reform, to this House and which acts as a barrier to information being furnished on issues of public importance and controversy. Provision should be made for the Garda Commissioner to make a formal report to the Joint Committee on Justice, Equality, Defence and Women's Rights every six months on issues relating to the workings of the gardaí nationally and to make himself available to the committee to answer questions raised by its members. Government proposals to appoint individuals as assistant commissioners or as commissioner of the Garda should also come before the Joint Committee for its approval before any such appointments are made.

At present, while the gardaí are part of every local community, in reality, the force operates apart from the communities it serves. There are currently in place no formal consultative statutory structures providing for dialogue between local gardaí and the local communities they serve.

Within each local authority area at corporation and county council level Fine Gael favours putting in place local police committees, membership of which should include the local Garda superintendent; a representative from the juvenile liaison officers; elected representatives from the local authorities; representatives from local neighbourhood watch and community alert schemes and representatives from other community organisations such as community councils and residents' associations. Statutory provision should require quarterly meetings of such committees to discuss policing issues of local concern.

Questions relating to the size and deployment of the force must be addressed. It is unacceptable that certain localities have become no-go areas for bus services and for the Garda Síochána. As our cities have changed, the Garda force has, on occasion, been too slow to adapt to that change. For example, it is unacceptable that an area such as Tallaght has fewer gardaí than the city of Limerick, although Tallaght has a greater population. It is unacceptable that law and order broke down to such a degree in parts of Tallaght in recent weeks that bus drivers found themselves nightly under siege and their lives placed at risk and as a consequence the majority of law abiding residents of Tallaght were deprived of an essential bus service. There is something seriously wrong with the organisation of a police force that cannot for a number of weeks adequately address such a problem. There is something seriously derelict in the manner in which the Minister for Justice, Equality and Law Reform has exercised his duties that for weeks he ignored the reality of the extent of the problem confronting Dublin Bus and local residents in Tallaght as a consequence of action taken by a small group of young hoodlums.

It is a major concern that the 1999 report of the strategic management initiative states that "members, especially at Garda and Sergeant level, perceive that organisational and management commitment to staff training and development is generally poor". The SMI also expressed surprise that no fitness training is provided to members of the Garda. This would come as a considerable surprise to the public. The SMI recommends that the current target of in-service training of only three to four days a year should be extended. Fine Gael believes it should be substantially extended. The Government has to date utterly failed to address this extremely important issue.

The Patten report referred considerable to the need for additional co-operation between the Northern Ireland police service and the Garda Síochána. It is worrying that the report had to recommend, at recommendation 165, that joint database development should be pursued as a matter of priority in all the main areas of cross- Border criminality, such as drugs, smuggling, vehicle theft and terrorism. It should not have required a recommendation by Patten for the establishment of such a database. The Minister should clarify what progress has been made in this area to date.

New structures must include an independent and effective complaints service both in relation to complaints from members of the public and to address complaints by members of the Garda force made against their colleagues or superiors. There is a need to provide a structure to protect individual officers who, for example, have suffered from bullying, or unfair disciplinary procedures, or who may wish to blow the whistle on colleagues who are not carrying out their duties correctly, who are known to be behaving in a dis honest manner or who have misconducted themselves. There is also a need to examine the issue of Garda compensation. It should not be necessary for members of the force who have suffered personal injury, or the relatives of members who have suffered death in the course of duty to first of all seek the approval of the Minister for Justice, Equality and Law Reform and then apply to the High Court for the appropriate compensation to which they are rightly entitled. There is a need for a new structure to be put in place to permit members of the Garda, as a right, to apply to a Compensation Board with the minimum of formality, and the maximum of speed for the payment of compensation where an entitlement to compensation arises under existing law.

The Garda Síochána Complaints Board in December 1998 submitted to the Minister for Justice, Equality and Law Reform a report outlining changes required to the Garda Síochána Complaints Act, 1986, to facilitate complaints made against gardaí being efficiently processed, investigated and determined. The Minister has ignored the concerns expressed by the complaints board to date and, as a consequence of his doing so, the annual number of outstanding complaints awaiting decision has escalated. Complaints not dealt with undermine public confidence in the Garda Síochána where the allegations made against a member are false and affect the capacity of that member to undertake his or her work and detrimentally impacts on morale. There is a need for a new approach to be taken in dealing with complaints against gardaí made by members of the general public.

In November last, the Garda Commissioner acknowledged there is a need for a new structure providing for an independent investigation of such complaints. The Minister has talked of a new independent inspectorate but has done nothing to put one in place. There is also a need to either radically reform the workings of the current complaints board or to replace it with a Garda Ombudsman whose functions would be similar to the Police Ombudsman established in Northern Ireland as recommended by Patten.

In dealing with matters relating to the Garda Síochána, the Minister and the Government resemble a rabbit caught in the headlights of an oncoming truck. The Government and the Minister have essentially been paralysed by inaction.

It is more than four years since allegations of Garda misconduct in the Donegal area were first made. In the McBrearty affair, more than 150 criminal charges brought against members of one family have been struck out. In relation to the Shortt prosecutions, the State offered no case on appeal following convictions being obtained in the original criminal prosecution and, as a consequence, convictions were set aside. Last summer, the Garda Commissioner publicly announced that members of the force were being moved out of Donegal in the interests of the force and in the interests of the general public.

To date, a public inquiry has not been conducted into allegations of Garda corruption in the Donegal area and detailed information of relevance to clarify what has occurred has not been given to this House by the Minister. As a consequence, public confidence in the Garda has been undermined and members of the force, particularly those stationed in Donegal, who at all times have acted properly, operate under a cloud of public suspicion. The Minister for Justice, Equality and Law Reform is accountable to this House for the Garda force and it is not acceptable that this issue has been allowed to continue to fester.

It is on the watch of this Minister for Justice, Equality and Law Reform that there has been substantial escalation in street violence. Too many young people have lost their lives on the streets of our cities and too few members of the Garda are currently deployed in community policing and are visibly seen to be on the beat preventing crime. Serious questions which arise about Garda deployment must be answered. There is little confidence, however, in this House that the Minister is competent to answer these questions.

In recent weeks we have seen him abdicate his responsibility for law and order in the Kerry area to a former IRA gunrunner and current Sinn Féin general election candidate. It is unacceptable that Sinn Féin attempts in this State to run its own private police force and by so doing undermine the role of the Garda and the courts. It is extraordinary that a Minister who represents the County of Kerry in this House should be so blissfully unaware of the activities of Sinn Féin in his own constituency that he has still not reported to the House on what is going on in his own political backyard. Action must be taken to prevent subversive and paramilitary organisations pretending to local communities that they have the capacity to act as a local police force in order to seek electoral support. Following a crime being committed, if a member of Sinn Féin is rapidly able to detect the alleged perpetrator and to recover stolen goods, a serious question should be asked about the relationship between the alleged perpetrator and the so-called Sinn Féin or IRA investigator. Questions should be asked about what discussions took place between them prior to any alleged crime first being committed. Could it be that in Kerry, Sinn Féin is setting up burglaries and thefts to facilitate its successfully investigating such incidents and returning property to those from whom it was originally stolen?

In Opposition, the Minister for Justice, Equality and Law Reform constantly beat the drum of zero tolerance. In Government, he has totally failed to initiate the essential reforms required to modernise our police force and to bring our policing structures into the 21st century. He has allowed public confidence in the Garda to be undermined by a failure to tackle and publicly address allegations of Garda misconduct and has failed to take the initiatives necessary to ensure a visible presence of gardaí on our streets to provide the general public with the protection to which it is entitled. In essence, under the watch of the Minister for Justice, Equality and Law Reform, zero tolerance has been replaced by and has evolved into zero competence.

I thank Deputy Shatter for sharing his time. I echo the point made by him in regard to the Patten report. I hope the Government will seek to clarify the point the Minister is trying to make. It would be regrettable if he brought this report into disrepute in his efforts to score a political point against the motion.

I welcome the Labour Party motion which is very timely and which we will support. Reading through the motion, one can see a long list of areas in which this Minister has failed. Fortunately I was not here when he was dishing it out from this side of the House but it appears it is difficult for him to take the pressure.

Debate adjourned.