Bill entitled an Act to amend the Garda Síochana Act 2005 to strengthen the independence and functions of the Office of the Garda Síochána Ombudsman Commission and to provide for the establishment of a body to be known as the Garda Síochána Independent Board with monitoring, oversight and supervisory functions over the Garda Síochána to improve the democratic accountability of the Garda Síochána and to encourage community engagement and to ensure adherence to relevant human rights standards, to provide for the amendment and repeal of certain sections of the Garda Síochána Act 2005 and to provide for related matters.
Members will be aware that we introduced this Bill last July but, unfortunately, the Fine Gael, Labour and Fianna Fáil parties voted against it. I now introduce the Bill again. While it may not have been a road to Damascus change, I think people accept at this stage that there is a need for serious reform and the Government has agreed to introduce certain reforms. It is unfortunate that there was such denial for so long, despite all the evidence that things were not well and that there were many problems. Sadly, Deputy after Deputy spoke last July to defend the indefensible and claim that everything was great and how dare anyone challenge An Garda Síochána.
I was glad to hear the Tánaiste's strong support for some serious reforms when he stated:
It is with some satisfaction that we welcome the decision of Government to set up an authority. It is a pity that it has taken so long. It is a pity that the decision was resisted by others for so long but better late than not at all.
I realise that his party was in favour of reform in years past but his party's decision to vote against the Bill last July was very disappointing. However, it is hoped we are heading in the right direction now.
I will outline a brief summary of the Bill's intentions. The Bill provides for the reform of GSOC, an new independent police board and the de-politicisation of An Garda Síochána. It will provide for the amendment of the Garda Síochána Act 2005, to strengthen the independence and impartiality of the Garda Síochána Ombudsman Commission in the performance of its functions, recognising that its remit was always intended to be investigatory rather than one of review and oversight. The admissibility criteria of complaints is widened in regard to time limits and subject matter by the introduction of a third ground of admissibility breach of the newly created code of service. Members of the commission would be appointed by the Garda Síochána independent board rather than the Government. Section 106 is amended to allow the commission to initiate its own investigations of policies and procedures of An Garda Síochána where it sees fit to do so. Serving members of An Garda Síochána may no longer form part of the staff. There will be mandatory supervision of all investigations arising from complaints.
The independent police board will have monitoring supervisory and oversight functions over An Garda Síochána. It is hoped that both the composition of the board, the strong functions relating to community engagement and joint policing committees and the reporting obligations of the board to the Joint Committee on Public Service Oversight and Petitions, will help to strengthen the democratic accountability of An Garda Síochána. The board aims to promote public confidence and trust in An Garda Síochána and to re-invigorate the legitimacy of policing by consent in Ireland. Most people realise at this stage that the root cause of many of the problems that have come to light in the past 18 months was the relationship between the Minister for Justice and Equality and the Garda Commissioner and the lack of a buffer in order to provide an element of accountability, which the Bill will address.
Professor Dermot Walsh is an expert on policing. He emphasised that many of the issues we have raised over the past 18 months demonstrate the lack of consistency and fairness in the application of the rule of law in the State by An Garda Síochána. He also emphasised the lack of Garda management structures and training. These are much the same criticisms as raised in the Morris tribunal report which showed patterns of failings in Garda Síochána management. We hope the Bill will address these issues.