The next speaker is Deputy Clare Daly. I understand the Deputy is sharing time with Deputy Wallace.
Garda Síochána (Amendment) (No. 3) Bill 2014: Second Stage (Resumed)
Deputy Wallace will speak first.
With respect to the Minister of State, Deputy English, I am disappointed the Minister for Justice and Equality is not in the House for this debate.
The Deputy will appreciate that the Dáil Schedule has been amended considerably over the past couple of weeks owing to unforeseen events.
Although the Bill signals a move in the right direction, it is, once examined, ultimately disappointing. It is good window dressing and makes all the right noises but political and ministerial control of the Garda Síochána remains rigidly in place. The two amendments that carry most significance in terms of strengthening the powers of GSOC have been imposed on the Government by international law and as such, the Government cannot claim this is as a progressive move. In regard to those amendments, the expansion of section 106 to allow autonomous investigation by GSOC of practices, policies and procedures has long been called for by the UN and the vesting of covert surveillance powers to GSOC to allow it to be on an equal investigative footing with the body it is tasked with investigating was a requirement of the European Convention on Human Rights.
It is worth noting that when the heads of Bill were originally published the power of GSOC to investigate the Garda Commissioner was understood to be independent, autonomous and not subject to the consent of the Minister. This provision was at that time welcomed by the ICCL and other human rights bodies. The Bill inserts a new section after section 102A of the Garda Síochána Act 2005 to provide that GSOC may investigate the Garda Commissioner when the Minister consents to such investigation and only if an offence or serious misconduct is suspected. These circumstances will rarely, if ever, arise. There is no real strength or independence in this function and it is clear that political protection of the Garda Commissioner will continue under this structure.
Section 102A provides that GSOC shall report its conclusions to the Minister rather than the policing authority, although this may change under the new legislation in respect of the establishment of the policing authority. It is only through ongoing and constant monitoring and oversight of the Garda Commissioner's activities and policies by an independent policing authority rather than a one-off power given to GSOC to investigate the Garda Commissioner, if the Minister permits it, that we can bring about a transformation of the police force in Ireland and make it accountable to its citizens.
Amendment of section 84 of the 2005 Act, which extends from six to 12 months the time within which a complaint may be made, is welcome and brings this jurisdiction into line with Northern Ireland. However, I believe that where the conduct giving rise to the complaint would constitute an offence the timeframe in this regard should be extended to two years so as to reflect the gravity and proportionality of this occurrence and to provide access to justice for citizens in such circumstances. In respect of an indictable offence committed by a citizen in the normal course of events there is no statute of limitations and a person can be charged at any time if there are reasonable grounds to suspect that he or she committed an offence. It is strange that there should be a time limit when gardaí are being investigated.
As recommended by the Cooke report, section 102 is expanded to allow GSOC to initiate investigations into incidents that might involve an offence or conduct that might result in disciplinary proceedings, even when those investigations could potentially involve a person who is not a member of An Garda Síochána or where the identity of the relevant garda is not immediately apparent. The insertion of section 102A is encouraging in that it establishes, for the first time, a statutory and legal obligation on the Garda Commissioner to provide information to GSOC. This only applies to section 102 investigations and not to the standard section 95 and 98 investigations which comprise the vast majority of GSOC's investigations. Neither does it apply to section 106 investigations into the practices, policies and procedures. Furthermore, in circumstances where the Garda Commissioner is the subject of an investigation, an assistant Commissioner should be responsible for the provision of information which might incriminate the Commissioner. A more definite timetable than "as soon as practicable" as provided for in the Bill would also provide clarity and strength. A time of four or five weeks would be acceptable. We know only too well how things can drag on if a timeline is not set.
The UN Human Rights Committee expressed concern in July 2014 about Ireland's compliance with Articles 7 and 10 of the ICCPR to the effect that it was concerned about the ability of GSOC to function independently and effectively and referencing the length of time taken to complete investigations due to a lack of co-operation by the police. As repeatedly recommended by the UN, most recently in the concluding comments by the Human Rights Committee in July 2014, section 106 has been amended to allow GSOC the independence to initiate investigations into the practices, policies and procedures of An Garda Síochána.
Under section 106, reports will still be made to the Minister who may or may not redact parts before laying them before the House. If we had an independent police authority, it would be more appropriate for GSOC to report to the authority. Section 117(2) is amended to allow the Garda Inspectorate to initiate and conduct investigations or inquiries into the operations and administration of the Garda Síochána without the consent of the Minister. However, aside from this, section 117 remains the same. There are no powers to make unannounced visits to Garda stations, which the inspectorate specifically requested. Also, the Garda Inspectorate will remain a creature of the Minister as per the ICCL description. The Garda Inspectorate has no function or role under the Act to interact with any body, aside from the Minister - in other words, its reports and advices are made to the Minister alone who decides whether to lay them before the House.
The amendment to allow GSOC to conduct covert surveillance is long overdue. It was unfair to task GSOC with the investigation of a body but not to provide it with investigative powers, so that is welcome.
It is a pity the Minister and the Government did not vote in favour of our Bill in July 2013 and progress it to Committee Stage, when they allowed it to pass in May 2014. Our Bill contained many of the proposed changes in a stronger format, and a good deal more. It is unfortunate that it took what amounted to a political crisis for the Government to act. It spent a year and a half in complete denial and eventually, when a few heads rolled, said it wanted reform. However, it has been really disappointing since then and I raised this issue on Leaders' Questions yesterday. There does not seem to be a serious appetite for reform.
I have to mention the appointments of Nóirín O'Sullivan, as Garda Commissioner, and Josephine Feehily, as chair of the police authority. It could have been done in a more transparent manner and a more independent fashion. It would have been great if a body had been set up to make a selection comprising nominated independent people. What we have seen is two of the most senior appointments in the police force being made by the Government of the day.
All the research shows that if we want to improve policing in Ireland, we have to depoliticise it. It is not good enough to have policing completely in the hands of the Government of the day. There must be more independence. As long as that prevails, policing in Ireland will be done with the consent of the Minister and Government of the day. The Garda Commissioner and the Garda Síochána will be answerable to the Government.
We need a police force which is answerable to the people and this could be best achieved through an independent police authority. Seven months ago, we said to the Minister that if the police authority to be established was not going to be independent, it would be better if one was not established at all. If this police authority is to be controlled by the Minister, which is what will happen, this is just another layer of bureaucracy.
It was envisaged that the police authority would have the power to nominate the Garda Commissioner and the Assistant Commissioners and to fire them if they were not fit for duty but from looking at the heads of the Bill on the police authority, that has been removed. It looks as if the Minister will retain control over the appointment of the Commissioner and Assistant Commissioners and their removal from office, if it is called for. This is not how we will get the police force we need. I would like the Government to take a more serious look at this.
I do not have time to go through everything on GSOC here but the main problem with the amendments relating to GSOC is that the Minister still has too much control over what it does. From day one, GSOC was structured to fail and, sadly, it will still fail. It still does not have enough teeth and clout to be a real and effective oversight body because the Minister is not giving it the necessary power. I do not understand the logic behind not giving it to them.
Everything is being referred back to the Minister for approval. If one wants to depoliticise An Garda Síochána, these referrals must be made to an independent police authority, which is not controlled by the Minister or the Government of the day.
Deputy Wallace made the point yesterday that in terms of Garda reform, the area where the Government has excelled itself over the last few months is in the area of spin and presentation rather than in substance. We do not, in any way, make those points lightly but they are based on the experience in the period of time since the changeover from the former Minister, Deputy Shatter, to the Minister, Deputy Fitzgerald. Many people had high hopes that the promised reforms, which the dogs on the street knew were absolutely necessary, would be delivered but what we have seen is a slowing down of a legislative programme in this area.
I mean no disrespect to the Minister of State, Deputy English, but all of our schedules change. This Bill was scheduled for discussion today and was likely to come up at this time. The Minister should be here because if I am not wrong, I think this is the only legislation her Department has moved since the former Minister left. It sums up the situation we are in where the overall approach would seem to be characterised by broken promises, diluted reforms and a careful media strategy. It is also summed up in the GSOC Bill and Deputy Wallace made many points in regard to the detail. It improves the situation for GSOC a little but the Government could have done much more. I will not repeat the points but we included that in legislation moved by Deputy Wallace twice, that is, real Garda accountability and reform that would have given GSOC teeth.
We have had quite considerable dealings with GSOC. When we met it and heard about its role, we thought it was just a whitewash - there to give the impression of accountability but very much part of a cabal. Our experience of dealing with it would lead us to believe that we were wrong in that original interpretation and that the problem with GSOC was that it was structured in a manner that was designed to fail. Despite the best intentions of the people in it, they are not given sufficient legislative power to do the job they have been tasked with and this reform does not give them that power either. It is too little and not timely enough. I suppose that is the key problem with it.
Initially, there was denial that the blue wall of silence still existed but then when the evidence could no longer be ignored, an acknowledgment was made that it existed and that our police service needed to be brought into the 21st century, modernised, turned on its head and made accountable to the people. The way in which that should be done is by having an outside body capable of scrutinising it, certainly an enhanced role for GSOC, a role for an independent Garda authority and changes from within. One could not help but be absolutely raging at the announcements about the political appointments of the new chair of the not yet constructed police authority and the new Garda Commissioner. That is not, in any way, to be personally derogatory to the two women who got the jobs but to make the point that it is not enough. One cannot change an institution with the same people who were part of the problem being built into it and making them the magic wand to transform the organisation. There is no international example that would show that to be the case.
Everybody knows An Garda Síochána is quite dysfunctional. There is a huge problem at the top of that organisation and to appoint somebody who came from the top of it to lead it into a changed environment is not the way forward. The Northern Ireland model, which would have encouraged some of those in the hierarchy out to make way for fresh ideas, would have been the way to do it but the Government chose not to do that, which is an indication that it does not want serious reform.
The report from the Fennelly commission which the Taoiseach promised for the end of this year has not been delivered, illustrating the lack of commitment to reform. The weak Garda authority indicated now is a problem.
A serious problem for citizens is that the review mechanism set up by the Minister for Justice and Equality for cases of Garda malpractice, which she told us in the summer would take six to eight weeks to complete, has not given any feedback although it has gone through some cases. We know the outcome will not be satisfactory because the procedure does not allow citizens to present their evidence orally to the panel of barristers. There is a lack of transparency. The actions have shown the Government’s lack of commitment to any serious reform. Some things will have to change to give a better appearance but the Government could have done a lot more.
When Deputy Wallace made that point yesterday the Taoiseach said very flippantly that he was invited to Farmleigh and did not go. The Taoiseach knows well that we read about our invitation in the newspaper. We got the invitation the day before because there had been a mistake and it had not been given to us. We could not go to the meeting. We immediately thanked the Minister for her invitation and made clear that we could not go. She told us she would like us to be involved in the process and we subsequently asked to be involved but have not heard anything back. Deputy Wallace wrote to ask to be allowed make a presentation to the Oireachtas Joint Committee on Justice, Defence and Equality, and published legislation twice on these matters. This corner of the House has engaged in a constructive dialogue.
The Tuohey family went to Farmleigh, the brother and father of Shane Tuohey who died tragically. This family was with us this morning and was dismayed at the appointment of Nóirín O’Sullivan as Garda Commissioner. They had reason recently to contact her when she was acting Garda Commissioner and feel they have been ignored. The Garda Commissioner and the Minister assured them that the case would be considered. New evidence has been brought to the family that witness reports from 2002, and given in 2006, supported what the family has consistently argued, that young Shane Tuohey was injured by people in a car who had an altercation with him. In the past few months it has come to light that the gardaí had that information in their possession for 12 and a half years but never made it available to the Director of Public Prosecutions, DPP. Those same gardaí, however, were able to hound and pursue Eamon Tuohey, the father of the young man who was so tragically killed, with malicious complaints and harassment, trying to have him jailed. The family has initiated High Court proceedings as a result. They are utterly devastated at the appointment of the new Commissioner.
I want to emphasise the point made by Deputy Wallace yesterday about the Garda whistleblower, Nicky Keogh in Athlone. This serving garda made factual, detailed and indisputable allegations of Garda involvement in serious criminal activity involving the heroin trade and entrapment, setting people up in terms of drug dealing. That happened eight months ago. The Garda is conducting an internal investigation which Nicky Keogh has been told is progressing well but nothing else has been said about it. What does somebody like that feel when the acting Garda Commissioner, who said that whistleblowers would be protected inside her force, is appointed Garda Commissioner although his information entered the public domain on her watch? Since then he has been subjected to weekly harassment by senior gardaí who have sought to manufacture complaints against him, unsuccessfully, who monitor everything he does and have been involved in a systematic campaign to undermine him. This is not good enough. The problems with the functioning of An Garda Síochána highlighted in the recent past are still there. If the Government is not serious about changing them it should not say it will appoint an independent policing authority and deal with them when it is not going to do that.
Before Josephine Feehily was appointed as chairperson designate of the independent policing authority the manner of the appointment was roundly condemned by the Irish Council for Civil Liberties and Dermot Walsh, a foremost expert on proper policing in this State. He spelt out how the manner in which the Government was going about the appointment meant that the process was heavily orientated towards secrecy and Government control, was exclusively in the patronage of the Government and sat very uneasily with the idea of an independent policing authority. It handpicked one woman and used her to make an “open and transparent” – not – decision to appoint another one to the head of the Garda Síochána and nobody knows anything about that process. Calling it open and transparent does not make it so. The reforms to the Garda Síochána Ombudsman Commission, GSOC, although they improve the situation a little bit, are symptomatic of the overall approach on these issues, which is to make it look like the Government is doing something, do a little bit but miss out on significant opportunity to transform radically the police service of this State in the manner that is necessary.
I am delighted to have the opportunity to speak on the Bill. I note that it is part of the Government's and the Minister for Justice and Equality’s pledged reform of policing and the overhaul of the legislative framework for An Garda Síochána. These promised reforms arise out of the plethora of reports and controversies over the past year with the Cooke, Guerin and Garda Inspectorate reports.
I have always been strongly of the view that An Garda Síochána should be managed by an independent Garda or policing authority as is the case in so many other jurisdictions. Of course this was the policy of the Labour Party for many years. It was perhaps most cogently expressed in a policy document by the present Minister for Public Expenditure and Reform, Deputy Howlin. I welcome the Minister's commitment to establish the policing authority and her promise to publish the necessary legislation for the new authority in the coming months. I have been a long-time supporter of community policing. I helped organise Garda and community meetings for many years before the existing joint policing committees, JPCs, were established. The gardaí in our Dublin metropolitan division in the north-central area of Dublin city were always very supportive of those meetings, even before the legislation existed.
I spoke in this House earlier this year when Members discussed serious allegations raised about An Garda Síochána from claims made by whistleblowers, including Sergeant Maurice McCabe. At that time, I said that I agreed with the sentiments of former Police Ombudsman for Northern Ireland, Nuala O'Loan, about the deficiencies in the current structure and powers of GSOC as compared to the Northern Ireland Police Ombudsman. Baroness O'Loan had said specifically that there were three issues which would preclude her from ever taking up the role of Garda Ombudsman: the lack of powers of GSOC to investigate the performance of a Garda Commissioner; the lack of power GSOC has to access all of the information, through police using leading systems effectively, PULSE, etc. that it requires from An Garda Síochána to carry out its investigations; and the fact that serving gardaí are working inside GSOC in a liaison capacity. Only one of these fundamental issues, the extension of GSOC's powers to investigate the Garda Commissioner, is addressed in the Bill. Some people have raised concerns about the provisions of section 7 and how it will operate.
I welcome the provisions contained in the Garda Síochána Amendment (No. 3) Bill 2014 and note it is part of a wider reform of policing in this country. However, it appears the Bill does not go far enough in addressing identified deficiencies with the operation of GSOC and the powers afforded to it. The Bill lacks clarity in some of its primary provisions, particularly in relation to when the time limit for making complaints actually kicks in and the lack of express timeframes for the Garda Síochána to be required to send necessary information to GSOC in order for GSOC to carry out its investigations. Those matters need to be considered more closely. The Bill is silent on some of the identified necessary reforms such as taking the Garda Síochána completely out of GSOC to ensure full impartiality and independence. One of the core principles of natural justice is nemo iudex in causa sua, no one should be a judge in his own case.
I served as a spokesperson in various areas during the years. I held various portfolios, including communications and transport. I am aware that the existing staff members of a telecommunications company would not be embedded in the Commission for Communications Regulation in some way. Similarly, existing staff members of an energy company would not be embedded in the Commission for Energy Regulation. Such a lacuna will continue in this area after this legislation has been enacted. People who are being regulated should not be working within the office of the regulator. As long as we continue to allow members of the Garda to be involved in any capacity in the investigatory functions of GSOC, we will not be true to the core principle of natural justice. This issue should be specifically addressed in the Bill before the House.
While I welcome the extension of GSOC's remit to include investigations concerning the Garda Commissioner, I share the concerns expressed by some stakeholders and experts, including Professor Dermot Walsh, about the apparent veto the Minister for Justice and Equality will have in any proposed investigation by GSOC regarding the Garda Commissioner. I also welcome the inclusion of a new power for GSOC to carry out investigations on its own initiative, which is very important. I note that the Office of the Ombudsman for Children has always had the power to carry out investigations on its own initiative under section 7 of the Ombudsman for Children Act 2002.
I welcome the strengthened powers of surveillance that are to be afforded to designated officers of GSOC to investigate complaints, particularly about alleged criminal behaviour. I note that some concern has been expressed about the extension of surveillance powers to GSOC, specifically the possibility that this could interfere with ongoing criminal investigations by An Garda Síochána. There is a mechanism in place for surveillance applications to be invigilated by the Judiciary under section 4 of the Criminal Justice (Surveillance) Act 2009. Other specific procedures for surveillance in urgent cases are provided for in section 7 of the Act. These provisions should afford the necessary safeguards for any surveillance application made by designated officers of GSOC under the Criminal Justice (Surveillance) Act 2009, as amended by this Bill.
My concerns about the Bill and the existing GSOC legislative framework are based on my experience of constituents interacting with the GSOC and briefings I have received from the PARC road safety group which has extensive experience in supporting families who have made complaints to GSOC about traffic collisions. It has repeatedly come to my attention that the existing six month time limit for initiating complaints is too short. It has precluded some potential complainants from being afforded an opportunity to make a complaint to GSOC. In that context, I welcome section 4 of the Bill which amends section 84 of the Garda Síochána Act 2005 by increasing the permissible time limit for making complaints to GSOC from six months to 12, while retaining the ability of GSOC to extend the time limit if there are good reasons for doing so. The existing section 84(1) of the 2005 Act provides that "a complaint must be made within the period of 6 months beginning on the date of the conduct giving rise to the complaint or within any extension of that period allowed under subsection (2)". I believe there is a lack of clarity about the beginning of the time limit. Does it begin on the date on which the incident giving rise to the complaint occurred, or does it begin on the date on which the complainant became aware of the conduct giving rise to the complaint? I recognise that this is a somewhat technical issue. The lack of clarity about when the time limit kicks in has been prohibitive for some complainants, particularly those who have gone through traumatic experiences and find the GSOC complaints system difficult to navigate.
Another issue that has been raised with me but which is not addressed in the Bill relates to any discipline or sanctions that may be imposed when a complaint about a member of An Garda Síochána is accepted and upheld by GSOC. As far as I am aware, there is no obligation on An Garda Síochána to inform GSOC or the complainants about the disciplinary sanctions imposed on a member who has been found by GSOC to have been involved in misbehaviour. This could and should be addressed in the legislation before the House. Perhaps the Minister, Deputy Frances Fitzgerald, might consider amending the Bill to bring more clarity and transparency to it and ensure complainants will have an idea of how satisfactorily their complaints have been addressed.
I refer to the express provision in section 9 of the Bill that inserts a new section after section 103 in the 2005 Act, requiring An Garda Síochána to supply information necessary to carry out investigations to GSOC as soon as practicable. I acknowledge the express inclusion of this requirement in the Bill. I appreciate that the tardy exchange of information between the Garda and GSOC has rightly been a point of contention and is now the subject of revised protocols. Many other Deputies have made that point in the House. The provision in the Bill relating to the exchange of information could be much more robust. It should include specific timeframes during which the Garda would be compelled to supply information requested by GSOC which has been deemed necessary for investigations.
A related concern in the area of access to information is the lack of an express provision in the Bill for designated officers of GSOC to have access to the PULSE system. In its report on the review of the Garda Síochána Act 2005 the Joint Committee on Justice, Defence and Equality recommended that access by GSOC to PULSE should be placed on a statutory footing, not by way of protocols. This recommendation was made by a dedicated committee of the House in a report that further states "the access to Garda systems is of integral importance to the operation of effective oversight of An Garda Síochána". The Minister's stated aim in introducing the Bill and reforming the 2005 Act is to improve confidence in policing and strengthen the powers of GSOC. I suggest GSOC will not be in a position to adequately carry out some investigations without being permitted to access PULSE.
How and by whom will the activities of GSOC be invigilated? I note that Vicky Conway who has written extensively on policing matters has suggested it is unclear how the public will complain about GSOC's performance or use of its powers. In other words, quis custodiet ipsos custodes? Who will guard the guardians? We often use this famous phrase in reference to An Garda Síochána, but who will make sure GSOC is doing its job? I assume there will be some oversight by the new policing authority. Perhaps the Minister might clarify this matter for us when she replies at the end of the debate.
I welcome this legislation as a first small step towards bringing about necessary reforms to policing in Ireland and the oversight of An Garda Síochána. As I have pointed out, a number of outstanding issues need to be addressed, particularly with regard to the information which can be accessed by GSOC designated officers and the timeframes in which information must be provided for GSOC by An Garda Síochána. Serving gardaí should not be working in GSOC in any capacity, as this completely undermines the independence of the GSOC organisation. I hope some of the other issues I have raised that merit further clarity in this legislation such as the question of when the time limit for making a complaint will kick in will be addressed on Committee Stage or in the further promised legislation the Minister plans to introduce.
Many Deputies read the recent Garda Inspectorate report very carefully. I raised the issue, too. I note that a former follow member of one of the local policing committees in my constituency is present in the Chamber for this debate. He shares my interest in how Garda statistics, particularly crime statistics, are collated and presented to us and the public. There are some concerns in this regard. I have been assured by the chief superintendent in our region, Mr. Frank Clerkin, that An Garda Síochána can stand over the statistics we are presented with on a bimonthly or trimonthly basis. I believe that to be the case. The Garda Inspectorate report was disturbing. I hope the Minister will respond to it and agree to debate it in the House.
I understand Deputy Alan Farrell is substituting for Deputy Alan Shatter.
It must be worth saying one of the main purposes of the Bill, other than bolstering the authority of the Garda Síochána Ombudsman Commission, is to alleviate much of the uncertainty and concern in the public domain about An Garda Síochána. Unfortunately, the public perception of the force has been damaged in the past couple of years. We are familiar with the whistleblowers episode, the independent operation of GSOC and the bugging incident or whatever one might want to call it. The Bill is welcome as part of a suite of measures introduced by the Government in the justice area to deal with the governance of An Garda Síochána and associated agencies. As a member of the Joint Committee on Justice, Defence and Equality which is chaired by Deputy David Stanton, I am pleased to have played a role in drawing up the reports that have fed into the legislative process in this regard. It has been a thoroughly interesting experience for me as a first-time Member of Dáil Éireann and a relatively new member of the committee in question. On that basis, I commend the former Minister, Deputy Alan Shatter, and the Minister, Deputy Frances Fitzgerald, for the work done by the Department of Justice and Equality on the GSOC issue.
When I was drawing up my notes on the Bill, I wrote that it was an important first step in the reformation of the justice system and An Garda Síochána. Of course, that is not the case. The debate on the issues raised by the Bill was delayed for a number of weeks owing to the shenanigans of others in the House.
Since then, Ms Josephine Feehily has been appointed as chairperson of the policing authority, which was a welcome step. The appointment of Ms Nóirín O'Sullivan as Garda Commissioner, having held the interim position for a number of months, has also been confirmed. I had the pleasure of meeting the Commissioner a couple of times. From speaking with rank and file members of An Garda Síochána in recent days, I know that her appointment has been welcomed. I hope that it acts as a catalyst for confidence to be restored among gardaí so that the Garda can get back to the business at hand with certainty over its role in society. I am certain that their confidence took a knock in recent months.
I also welcome Sergeant Maurice McCabe's comments about the Commissioner's appointment. Given his public profile, it is good that he, as a serving member of the Garda, recognises the importance of her appointment and her open approach while Acting Commissioner.
The Bill deals specifically with bolstering the powers of the Garda Síochána Ombudsman Commission, GSOC, a matter that the justice committee of which I am a member debated in detail in recent months. For example, we assessed the policing authorities of Northern Ireland and Scotland and I took it upon myself to assess similar authorities in the Netherlands and Belgium. Our new authority's independence and position within the structure of policing in Ireland are to be welcome. The hierarchy that has been established is a positive step.
The Government's reform agenda in this regard is important to the public, as it provides them not only with the justice system and police service that they need, but also the ones they deserve and for which they pay. The public deserve a police system of the highest standard, one that addresses the systemic failures of the past and is prepared for the challenges currently facing society as well as those that will face it in future. In addition to the associated upcoming legislation, the Bill highlights the fact that the Government has taken lessons from the inherent faults in the justice system, its governance and its oversight procedures by putting in place robust measures. The inclusion of the Garda Commissioner under GSOC's remit for the first time is welcome. This provision allows for the creation of clear structures of accountability, the value of which cannot be underestimated as we move towards the development of a more effective and progressive system of policing. That additional police powers are being granted to GSOC to allow for investigations to be carried out regarding suspected criminal behaviour in the force is welcome.
As we have seen this year, communication between the Garda and GSOC has been troublesome, to say the least. I am glad to see that this issue is being tackled through the Bill by ensuring that the Garda provides GSOC with requested information as soon as is practicable. This will allow GSOC to carry out its work more efficiently while also avoiding the potential for disagreement between it and the Garda. Overall, this provision will strengthen the oversight of the Garda and provide GSOC with a greater ability to carry out thorough investigations. The Bill also clarifies the fact that GSOC will be entitled to carry out investigations where the identity of the garda concerned may not be known at the time the investigation begins and where a person who is not a garda may have been involved in the offence or behaviour in question. The broadening of the scope for the Minister to refer an issue to GSOC for investigation in the public interest is also a welcome development. Previously, it was not allowed.
Section 4 of the Bill is an important amendment to the Act. The time limit within which a complaint can be made to GSOC is to be extended from six months to 12 months. However, I would like this provision to be reviewed in future so as to ensure that it is the most effective means of extending the time limit for such complaints. The extension was a recommendation of the report on the review of the Garda Síochána Act 2005. In the committee's report, we recommended the possibility of allowing the time limit to run from the date upon which the complainant knew or reasonably ought to have known about the conduct precipitating the complaint. This recommendation could be worthy of consideration. I ask the Department and Minister to bear it in mind after the Bill is enacted and has had time to bed down.
Greater autonomy will be provided to GSOC under the Bill. For the first time, it will be able to carry out investigations into the practices and procedures of the Garda of its own volition and without being requested to do so by the Minister. This measure will benefit the policing service significantly and I welcome its inclusion. Furthermore, section 11 enables the Garda Inspectorate to carry out investigations on its own initiative or at the request of the Minister into aspects of the operation and administration of the Garda. Currently, such examinations can only take place at the request of the Minister. Recently, the Garda Inspectorate issued an extremely large report that detailed quite a number of recommendations. I hope that the committee will be in a position to review them in the near future.
Sections 12 and 13 are fundamental in ensuring that GSOC has the power to carry out criminal investigations thoroughly. Section 12 amends the Interception of Postal Packets and Telecommunications Messages (Regulation) Act 1993 and will allow GSOC to intercept communications as part of a criminal investigation. As with CAB's operations, such powers will only aid in ensuring that criminality is stamped out. Section 13 amends the Criminal Justice (Surveillance) Act 2009 to allow GSOC carry out surveillance as part of a criminal investigation that concerns an arrestable offence. Providing GSOC the same power as the Garda in such circumstances will make for a more effective organisation that can carry out more thorough investigations.
As I mentioned, I prepared these notes some time ago, which is why the next section in them references the independent policing authority. That has already come to be, so I will skip over it.
The Government will take a number of additional measures relating to, for example, the Public Appointments Service and the chairperson of the independent policing authority. Our committee recommended that "the selection of nominees to the Garda Authority [become] the responsibility of the Public Appointments Service, with their consideration and appointment reserved for the Minister and Government". Such a process for appointing senior personnel to the bodies in question is of the utmost importance so as to ensure that the best candidates, in terms of suitability and qualifications, are selected. While the Government did not follow this recommendation to the letter, the appointment of Ms Feehily, a person of considerable experience in Revenue and elsewhere in the public service, was a good one. I am sure that she will carry out her job well. However, future appointment processes should go through the Public Appointments Service, PAS.
The establishment of an independent review mechanism is an important aspect of justice reform as we continue to move towards the more effective and accountable system that the country requires. The purpose of an independent review mechanism is to investigate complaints about Garda misconduct. In this regard, I would like to see additional processes put in place during the next six months so as to review the implementation of existing legislation as well as this Bill.
In the area of justice, it has been the case in the past that certain items of enabling legislation for the establishment of such State agencies have been left, thereby allowing them to operate without a constant review process. While the Department is poised to be the primary source of that review, the justice committee should also have responsibility in this area. The Acting Chairman, Deputy Corcoran Kennedy, is herself a member of that committee and it is of key importance to give such authority or possibilities to that committee to review this legislation, as well as the manner in which these agencies operate. For instance, it would be of significant importance to have high-ranking members of An Garda Síochána appear before the justice committee to discuss the operation of various parts of the service, as well as representatives of other agencies such as the policing authority and GSOC itself. Even if such appearances were not on a questions-and-answer basis, the making of statements on the record of the Dáil certainly would be beneficial for public perception of how such agencies are run for the people.
Further recommendations made by the Joint Committee on Justice, Defence and Equality in respect of the review of the Garda Síochána Act 2005 have been taken into account by the Minister and I hope Members will see the implementation of more of the recommendations that have yet to be included in the Bill as the Government's reform agenda progresses. To ensure that GSOC can carry out its work in an effective manner, the justice committee has recommended that consideration be given to the establishment of a helpline number through which people can determine whether a complaint is warranted and another, separate, hotline number through which a complaint can be made. This would make the complaints process more effective and therefore provide a better service to the public. Another progressive recommendation from the Joint Committee on Justice, Defence and Equality was that consideration be given to the establishment of an officer rank within the Garda Síochána. This model is based upon that used in the Metropolitan Police Service in London and such a model would allow for a streamlining of the Garda service, as well as a certain degree of specialisation in respect of the provision of policing services in the State.
The implementation of continuing professional development, CPD, courses in Garda training would be beneficial for the hard-working men and women of An Garda Síochána and for the public. It would allow gardaí to be better prepared to face the societal challenges of the day. If one compares this with other professions such as teaching, nursing or other areas in the health care sector, it is extraordinary that from the time recruits leave Templemore for their first Garda appointment and as they work their way up through the ranks, no CPD mechanism is available for them unless they are members of the rapid response unit or something along those lines, such as receiving firearms training and so on. This is something that must be done. The Garda Inspectorate highlighted the need for an investment of approximately €40 million in An Garda Síochána's computer systems. In addition to the €40 million required in that regard, I submit that a considerable sum of money is required for continuing professional development training courses within An Garda Síochána in order that its members can do their jobs efficiently and effectively.
In addition, as the economy improves and as the moratorium on public service employment is relaxed if not lifted, I hope to see increasing numbers of civilians entering the service of An Garda Síochána to take over the administrative duties of front-line members of the force at all ranks, because there is no substitute for additional members of An Garda Síochána getting out on the beat and ensuring they have a visible presence.
I welcome the recent approval of the Supplementary Estimates for 2014, which allowed for the purchase, for instance, of 400 Garda vehicles this year and which I understand will be fitted out early in the new year at a cost of approximately €3 million. Those additional vehicles, which will be deployed across the State to replace vehicles that have reached the 300,000 km mark, are essential tools for An Garda Síochána to carry out its duties effectively. There are rural areas in which there are hundreds of kilometres in round trips between certain points within a particular division and even in my own constituency of Dublin North, it is essential that the vehicles there, which I am happy to report are relatively new, are updated continuously. I wish to return to the development of the knowledge base and experience of An Garda Síochána and to ensuring the knowledge gardaí have in the performance of their duty is supported both by the Department of Justice and Equality and within An Garda Síochána itself. This is why the Minister should, if the budget allows, consider continuing professional development courses for members in a manner similar to that within the teaching ranks, whose members regularly attend refresher courses in certain areas perhaps every two to three years.
I commend the Minister, Deputy Fitzgerald, on her work on this Bill. It is a significant step towards ensuring the public has a positive take on the operation of An Garda Síochána in terms of rooting out mistakes, ensuring they do not happen again and learning from them. I want a continued review process in this regard to occur that would include, in particular, the operation of GSOC over the coming months.
I wish to make some points in respect of this important legislation. One of the cornerstones of our democracy and our Republic is the rule of law. Laws are debated, discussed, agreed and passed in this Chamber and in the Seanad before being signed into law finally by the President. Our democracy depends on the rule of law and our freedoms as citizens depend on the rule of law, among other things. However, the rule of law is crucial. Each Member elected to this Chamber should respect the rule of the law and should respect the law as passed. He or she may not agree with them but should obey them and should respect them. If a Member does not agree with them, he or she should try to change them by bringing forward Bills, by tabling amendments or through discussion and debate. Any other methods that are used to change laws, such as have been seen recently like street politics, intimidation or bullying threaten to subvert our democracy and our freedoms and must be taken very seriously.
As a Legislature, the Oireachtas gives the Garda enormous powers and with those powers come enormous responsibilities. There must always be checks and balances when powers are given out. There must be checks and balances and oversight is crucial. Such oversight must be trusted, must be clear and must be strong. Mention has been made of culture in the debate about the Garda Síochána and of cultures that have built up over decades including cultures of secrecy and of circling the wagons. I believe the study of sociology will tell one that most bureaucracies will circle the wagons when threatened. I believe Comte was the sociologist who initially came up with the concept that bureaucracies will defend themselves, that is, the system will defend itself. This is why bodies such as GSOC, the Garda Inspectorate, the proposed Garda authority, Oireachtas committees and so on are needed. It is to ensure there is correct oversights of the powers possessed by the Garda Síochána.
I will refer to an issue I have in the context of a visit by a delegation from the Oireachtas Joint Committee on Justice, Defence and Equality to Northern Ireland and Scotland. I would bet that until recently, many citizens in the State did not know what the Garda Síochána Ombudsman Commission, GSOC, was. However, in Scotland and Northern Ireland, members of the committee found there was one person as ombudsman and that person was identified with the office. Members got the sense from being in those jurisdictions that people in Scotland and Northern Ireland knew what the ombudsman was, but that citizens here did not.
I urge the Minister to reconsider the position and designate one person to act as ombudsman for the Garda. We have had some great ombudsmen in the past. The former Ombudsman for Children, Ms Emily Logan, was recently appointed as Chief Commissioner of the Irish Human Rights and Equality Commission. Ms Logan brought personality, strength and identity to and took ownership of the Office of the Ombudsman for Children. I contend that a similar approach is required in respect of the position of ombudsman for the Garda. In that context, there is a need to appoint a strong, independent person who would actually bring identity to the office as required. Provision in this regard is not made in the Bill but I am of the view that it should be. I intend no reflection on the current Garda Síochána Ombudsman Commission. However, a commission is not an ombudsman, as such, rather it is a committee. It is crucial that what I have outlined should be done.
Deputy Farrell referred to the need for ongoing training of members of the Garda Síochána. Like the Deputy, I am of the view that this is an extremely important matter.
I welcome the fact that all members of the force, including the Garda Commissioner, are accountable to the Garda Síochána Ombudsman Commission. If it were the case that a holder of the office of Garda Commissioner were to be investigated by the commission - in whatever form it takes in the future - as Deputy Wallace noted, such an event would be both rare and serious. Depending on the nature of the matter involved - probably a criminal charge of some sort - I am of the opinion that the Garda Commissioner would have to be obliged to step aside during any investigation. Provision in this regard should be included in the legislation.