I welcome the opportunity of raising this scandalous matter. It is an issue I raised on the Adjournment almost two years ago on Thursday, 23 June 2005. On that occasion, the project in question, a Bris project under the Garda's youth diversion programme, had just been suspended peremptorily without explanation. Matters have worsened since then. I know I only have five minutes and I am anxious to give the basis for my raising the matter.
The Bris project was located in the deprived Westside area of Galway city. One day gardaí arrived and took the equipment from the project, without explaining why, casting a shadow over the project and the community worker who was running it. After that, an internal inquiry was conducted. The Minister for Justice, Equality and Law Reform stated he would not publish the results and that it was being examined by the Garda Síochána.
The local organisation, Le Chéile, funded by the Department of Justice, Equality and Law Reform, was sued before a rights commissioner for the difference between the minimum statutory redundancy and what was a reasonable payment to the community worker. The Department of Justice, Equality and Law Reform refused to pay up. I raised this issue as recently as yesterday with the Minister for Justice, Equality and Law Reform and the Ministers of State, and was told recently that for several weeks the file was on the desk of the Secretary General of the Department. I received a letter suggesting the Department was taking legal opinion as to whether or not it would pay the community worker. I sought legal opinion which stated the Department has a clear duty to pay and should have done so.
The letters that have been sent by the Department in the course of this matter are incredible. A letter dated 18 August 2006 stated:
In the absence of the Minister for Justice, Equality and Law Reform, I wish to refer further to your correspondence in relation to Parliamentary Question No. 538 of 6 July 2006.
The Bris project has been the subject of an independent evaluation report. It is not proposed to publish this report. The report is currently being examined by the Garda Authorities and will be forwarded to the Department of Justice, Equality and Law Reform together with recommendations.
Until the Minister has received and examined the final report and recommendations of the Garda authorities, it would be inappropriate for him to comment further.
The reason for ending the project has not been explained and shadows have been left hanging over it. In addition, a report was commissioned almost two years ago and it has been suggested that report will not be published. Furthermore, an evaluation was to be carried out and a tender process established for a replacement project.
Cutting to the chase, this project involved the VEC and voluntary workers and involved organising a football tournament, all of which was suddenly ended without explanation. It was initially suggested that another group might take over from the group originally engaged by the Department of Justice, Equality and Law Reform.
It is interesting and most shameful that after Ms Janet Hughes, the rights commissioner, had given an award to John Middleton, the former community worker, the Garda Síochána wrote to say it had no responsibility in this matter as it was not the employer, pointing out that it was a matter for the agency, Le Chéile. The Garda Síochána sought to wash its hands of the matter. Le Chéile wrote to the union who represented Mr. Middleton stating:
Further to our telephone conversation, I am writing to confirm that Le Chéile Westside Limited has referred the recommendation of the rights commissioner, Janet Hughes, in this matter to the Department of Justice through Galway Gardaí.
As you are aware, Le Chéile facilitated the Department by putting Mr. Middleton on its payroll to keep PAYE and PRSI in order but at all times the Gardaí controlled the finances. Le Chéile is a voluntary community group with no assets.
I trust this clarifies the situation for you.
The Department and the Minister have left the project unfunded, the people of the Westside without a project, the community worker without satisfaction and now refuse to pay an award made against them by a rights commissioner. What a shameful performance by the Minister for Justice, Equality and Law Reform.