I welcome the opportunity to give my response to the report by Mr. Seán Guerin of his review of the action taken by An Garda Síochána pertaining to certain allegations. The report contains deeply disturbing findings. It raises fundamental issues about the Garda Síochána, its investigation of criminal cases and the responses to serious concerns raised about it, Garda management and oversight, basic policing procedures and the role of bodies such as GSOC and the Department of Justice and Equality. Significant steps must be taken to deal with these issues. All of the issues which Mr Guerin has found warrant further inquiry, including the individual allegations which have not been properly investigated. These must be examined by the commission of investigation which he has recommended.
However, the wider systemic and historical problems revealed must also be tackled by a programme of significant reform, by which I mean that the oversight and governance of the Garda Síochána will be transformed with the establishment of an independent Garda authority; the highest levels of legal support and protection will be given to Garda whistleblowers; the remit, strength and capacity of the Garda Síochána Ombudsman Commission will be enhanced to enable the effective and independent examination of complaints; the filling of the post of Garda Commissioner will be by way of open competition; and a wide range of Garda management, operational and procedural issues will be examined by the independent and expert Garda Inspectorate.
Allow me to briefly recall how the allegations which led to the report by Mr. Guerin came to be made. In doing so, I will touch on some of the main points. The full details of what is a complex history are set out in the report. In late 2007 and into 2008, Sergeant Maurice McCabe made allegations of Garda misconduct, first to the Garda authorities and then to the Garda Confidential Recipient. Additional complaints were subsequently made through the Garda Confidential Recipient, many of which involved an alleged lack of supervision, management and oversight by a specific superintendent. These allegations were investigated by an assistant Garda Commissioner and a chief superintendent.
In 2009, Sergeant McCabe communicated with the then Minister for Justice, Equality and Law Reform, expressing concerns about the conduct of the Garda investigation and asking for independent oversight of it. He was advised then that the conduct of the investigation was a matter for the Garda Commissioner in accordance with the Garda Síochána Act 2005 and the Minister had no role in directing the Commissioner in such operational matters.
In January 2012, the then Minister for Justice and Equality received a letter via the Garda Confidential Recipient containing broadly the same allegations as those covered by the Garda investigation, with additional complaints against the assistant Garda Commissioner who carried out the investigation and the Garda Commissioner for permitting the superintendent at the centre of the allegations to be on a promotion panel. The Minister sought a report from the Garda Commissioner who advised the Minister that the assistant Commissioner had found the complaints made by Sergeant McCabe were not substantiated. No adverse findings were made against the superintendent involved, who had secured his place on the promotion panel following an independent competitive process. The Commissioner also advised that the investigation by the assistant Garda Commissioner had been reviewed by a deputy Garda Commissioner who found that it had been properly conducted.
In February 2012, the Minister advised the Garda Confidential Recipient of the advice of the Garda Commissioner and concluded that there was no evidence to support further action by him. Later in 2012, the Minister also received additional documentation from Sergeant McCabe's solicitors which was the subject of correspondence with them. Mr. Guerin, in sharp contrast, has found cause for concern in ten of the individual allegations by Sergeant McCabe and cause for concern as to the adequacy of the investigation by the Garda Síochána. While he makes the point that he has not made any findings of fact or come to any determination on any of the matters he examined, Mr. Guerin has indicated the need for further inquiry by way of a commission of investigation. The commission will have the powers and the remit to thoroughly investigate all of the relevant issues and hear the evidence of everyone concerned.
I acknowledge the very difficult experience Sergeant McCabe has had and the critical role he played in bringing these issues forward. I fully support the remarks made by the Taoiseach yesterday about how Sergeant McCabe's complaints were handled. I also recall the Taoiseach's earlier response on how seriously he regarded the allegations when he was given documentation by Deputy Micheál Martin.
The individual allegations which the report recommends should be examined by a commission of investigation relate to serious matters such as the granting of bail to an offender who ultimately committed murder, an assault on a 17 year old girl, dangerous driving causing injuries and the investigation of sexual offences. The precise terms of reference of the commission of investigation will be decided shortly and will include all of the issues recommended by Mr. Guerin for examination. The commission will, therefore, examine a wide range of issues, including the individual and serious cases described and systemic policing issues, general policing issues in the Bailieboro Garda district at the time, the role of the Garda Síochána Ombudsman Commission in this matter and the role of the Department of Justice and Equality and Minister in responding to the allegations.
What is now imperative is to grasp this opportunity to comprehensively address all of the complex and deep-rooted issues raised not only in the report by Mr. Guerin, but more widely those that relate to matters such as Garda oversight and management, policing practice, whistleblowing and relationships between the Garda Síochána and key stakeholders. Many of these issues were raised, in one form or another, in the reports of the Morris tribunal. Action was taken on foot of the findings of that tribunal and changes were made. The Garda Síochána Ombudsman Commission and Garda Inspectorate were established, the legal relationship between the Garda Commissioner and Minister was clarified and new discipline and promotion procedures were introduced. However, time passed and systems failed. That is the truth of the matter and it is a truth that should inform our thinking from now on.
We must never be seduced into believing that a once in a lifetime radical reform is enough. More to the point, we must understand that major reforms carry their own in-built danger, namely, the assumption that, because of the scale of change, we will not need to be vigilant from that point on. If there is a single overarching lesson that we and all the organs of State related to justice must learn, it is that major reform never removes the need for constant questioning, attention to detail, reaching for what is better and review, rather than what will "just do."
We must now acknowledge the need for much more than reform arising from the Guerin report or the commission of investigation. Fundamental reform is needed not only of legal provisions, although that is certainly needed, but of institutional relationships, culture and attitudes. The reforms I envisage will be systematic and comprehensive and will use what has taken place as a catalyst. This is an historic opportunity to give Ireland a justice system of which we can be proud. We have an opportunity to introduce real and lasting change that makes a genuine difference in order that we will not be here again in ten years' time. We must put in place this time a comprehensive set of reforms to make sure nothing like this can happen again.
Members of the public rightly expect to be able to rely on the policing service and criminal justice system. They must be able to trust that crimes they report will be fully and properly investigated. It is also vital for members of the Garda Síochána, the overwhelming majority of whom joined the Garda to give public service and of their best, that they work in a system where detecting failings is regarded as professional and praiseworthy, rather than disloyal. It is important to recognise that gardaí around the country who understand this are hurt and upset at the failures which have been exposed.
The Garda Síochána provides a vital public service, preventing and investigating crime, tackling anti-social behaviour, keeping our streets safe for law-abiding citizens, and, of course, protecting national security, especially through combating subversion and terrorism. Members of the Garda Síochána routinely find themselves, and sometimes have to put themselves, in harm's way so the public is protected. Many have suffered hardship and injury doing so while some have made the ultimate sacrifice. This Saturday, I will be attending the annual Garda memorial day in the Dublin Gardens at Dublin Castle to honour the memory of the force’s members who were killed in the line of duty. We owe it to them, as well as to the public they serve, to put matters right once and for all.
The Government has, therefore, decided to amend the Protected Disclosures Bill, currently before this House, to enable Garda whistleblowers to report their concerns directly to the Garda Síochána Ombudsman Commission, GSOC, for independent investigation. As Deputies know, this Bill, brought forward by the Minister for Public Expenditure and Reform, will provide a robust and supportive environment for all whistleblowers in both the public and private sectors in line with the very best international standards. This will mean that Garda whistleblowers will from now on have a strong legal framework in which to report concerns, strong legal protection against penalisation and the opportunity of a fully independent examination of their concerns. This historic move will mean the situation faced by Sergeant McCabe can never happen again. The structures will be in place.
The Government has also announced it will bring forward urgent proposals to strengthen GSOC's powers and remit. Yesterday, I listened to presentations made at the Joint Oireachtas Committee on Justice, Defence and Equality, under the chairmanship of Deputy David Stanton, on these matters which is hearing submissions from interested parties, including GSOC. I look forward to the committee’s recommendations and will take them into account in developing proposals for legislative change. My intention is to finalise these proposals in the form of a draft Bill for consideration by the Government as a top priority. I will not anticipate the detailed content of those proposals. However, some of the key issues which must be considered are the potential inclusion of the Garda Commissioner within the remit of GSOC; the desirability of permitting GSOC to initiate reviews of Garda practices, policies or procedures without requiring the consent of the Minister; whether GSOC needs any extension of the police powers available to it; the threshold for the referral of cases to GSOC by the Minister; and the extent to which complaints to GSOC are referred to the Garda Síochána for investigation. In listing these issues, I am not being prescriptive or restrictive. All good ideas will be constructively considered.
The Government has already announced that an independent Garda authority will be established by the end of the year. This is a significant development, surely the most important single change in the governance of the Garda Síochána in its history. The end-of-year deadline is challenging, particularly as legislation will be needed. I am determined, however, to do everything possible to achieve it and look forward to the co-operation of the House in that regard.
Yet another reform announced by the Government is that the vacancy in the office of Garda Commissioner will be filled by open competition. Like the idea of an independent Garda authority, an open competition has been proposed before including in a 2007 report by an advisory group on Garda management and leadership development chaired by former Senator Maurice Hayes. We must move on this now. As that report noted, "This does not in any way predicate the appointment of an external candidate but it does ensure that the successful candidate would have been tested against international standards in police leadership".
The Guerin report also identifies a range of legal and procedural issues which warrant further review. These relate to matters such as the continuity of tenure of district officers; aspects of the supervision of probationer gardaí; the securing of CCTV, closed-circuit television footage, in criminal investigations, commented on several times in the Guerin report; the operation of station bail and the use of the Bail Act 1997; the taking of victim impact statements; the taking of contemporaneous notes; and the integrity of PULSE records.
In some instances these issues will require consideration by the Garda Commissioner, but I will also be asking the Garda Síochána Inspectorate to carry out a comprehensive inquiry into serious crime investigation, as well as the management, operational and procedural issues arising from the findings of the report. The Garda Síochána Inspectorate has already made recommendations in some of these areas. We must examine how many of these have been implemented to date. The inspectorate also has important work under way which will, of course, be taken into account. All of this reform work is being overseen by the new Cabinet committee on justice reform, chaired by the Taoiseach and including the Tánaiste, the Minister for Communications, Energy and Natural Resources and myself. The Attorney General also attends the committee. A review of the Garda Síochána is also under way under the Haddington Road agreement which is being conducted by the Garda Inspectorate and Ray McGee, a former deputy chair of the Labour Court. It too has the potential to contribute to the wider Garda reform programme.
I have already noted the recommendation in the report that the commission of investigation should look at the role of the Minister, which, of course, includes the Department of Justice and Equality, in responding to Sergeant McCabe's allegations. In addition, the Government has also agreed to my proposals on the establishment of an external expert review of the performance, management and administration of the Department to be completed before the summer recess. I am on record as stating I have been very impressed at the range and extent of the Department's legislative output. I acknowledge the extensive and reforming contribution of the former Minister, Deputy Alan Shatter, to that programme which has been achieved despite the extraordinary breadth of policy and operational areas in the Department. These cover not just policing and legislation, but prisons and probation, extradition, domestic violence, international child abduction, family law, charities, insolvency, data protection and many other areas. Every one of these difficult and complex areas is directly relevant to the citizen - all the more reason to learn wider lessons and put the right structures in place.
All of this means tackling a significant and challenging programme of review and reform with the establishment of an independent Garda authority, strong protection for Garda whistleblowers, an enhanced GSOC and an independent review of a range of policing issues by the Garda Síochána Inspectorate. These are far-reaching changes. We must be prepared, as we are, to respond to any further findings or recommendations which may emerge from either the commission of investigation to be chaired by Mr. Justice Nial Fennelly or the commission of investigation to be established on foot of the report by Mr. Guerin. We will also have to consider the upcoming report of Mr. Justice John Cooke on concerns about surveillance of GSOC. This report was commissioned on 20 February 2014 and Mr. Justice Cooke was asked to report within eight weeks. The report should be available in the near future. Its implications will also need to be considered in the House. The terms of reference should also take account of this report.
I am committed to implementing this reform agenda. I believe in doing so, I will have the support of Members in this House, as well as the support of members of the Garda Síochána, many of whom are concerned about recent events.
They want to see leadership and change, their morale clearly needs to be improved and they need to be supported. I believe there will be widespread support in the criminal justice system and support from the public, whom we all serve.
I look forward to hearing the views of Members on all sides on these issues and to engaging with Members over the coming months on the many varied and distinct responses which are needed to deal with the issues we are discussing.