The intention of the Deputy’s amendment is that GSOC and the Garda Inspectorate should have the capacity to recruit independent investigators. This amendment in some ways is based on a misunderstanding. GSOC already can recruit independent investigators while the inspectorate does not investigate individual cases. I have had no request from the inspectorate to recruit independent officers, as its task centres on reports.
A different question, which several Deputies have raised, is the number of investigators, whether more could or should be recruited and whether the funding should be increased. Under the legislation, GSOC has the ability to recruit independently. Section 67(4) of the Act provides that GSOC is independent in the performance of its functions. It has recruited its own complement of independent and experienced investigators and the legislation sets down very clearly that the more serious cases have to be investigated by GSOC. That is the situation.
Under section 98 of the Act, designated officers have the same powers as members of the Garda Síochána. Once independent officers are recruited, they are very powerful in terms of the kind of investigations they can carry out under the law. They need expertise at a very high professional level given the seriousness of the cases and their complexity, from a forensic point of view or in terms of the seriousness of the offence. They need to be very highly qualified and GSOC has recruited people with a variety of skills to help it with its work. I remind the House that the three members of the commission are also vested with the powers of members of the Garda Síochána at or above the rank of inspector. That power is available to those who are recruited and to the commissioners.
In terms of the budget, with the support of the House at the time of the discussion around penalty points, we asked that GSOC would investigate that matter. It is carrying out an investigation and said it would need an extra €1 million. I allowed for that in the budget, so GSOC has the extra funds required to carry out the penalty points investigation, which was referred to the commission some time ago. People have been recruited for that investigation.
To go back to a point that Deputy Wallace made, there are two members of the Garda Síochána at superintendent level on secondment to GSOC. Section 74 of the Act provides that during a period of temporary service with GSOC, a member of the Garda Síochána is not subject to the direction or control of the Garda Commissioner. That is how it is framed under the legislation at present. Returning to the amendment and the request that the Garda Inspectorate should have independent designated officers, the inspectorate does not require investigators in the same way as GSOC. The Deputy is very familiar with this from committee discussions and the presentation on the work of the Garda Inspectorate. The way the Garda Inspectorate fulfils its role is by carrying out overall inspections of the operation and-or administration of the Garda Síochána. If it requires specialist expertise or extra administrative help, which it often does when carrying out these detailed investigations, it can hire the staff to do that. It is expected that people appointed by the inspectorate have experience in policing or other relevant matters. I think I have made it clear that what the Deputy is asking for in the amendment is already provided for. Perhaps the Deputy would reconsider the amendment.
I would like to take up a number of other points that have been made. Deputy Daly made a number of points about the timeframe. There were real problems with the timeframe between GSOC and the Garda Síochána. My information is that it has improved considerably and is operating much more satisfactorily than in the past. The delays were far too long in terms of getting information from the Garda back to GSOC. I have discussed this issue with both GSOC and the Garda Commissioner and have said there should be absolutely no discretion in this regard, except where there are particular difficulties. The information should be provided in a timely manner and I understand there is great improvement. I am sure GSOC would confirm that. Both the Garda Síochána and GSOC have a job to do. The public should be able to have confidence that a complaints body can do its job and the Garda should facilitate the investigation of those complaints. I have often said there is always going to be tension in the relationship between the two bodies - there probably should be - but I expect both of them to do their job effectively so the complaints can be investigated as they need to be.
On the issue of supervision of cases, GSOC does have the ability to supervise cases even if they are being investigated by members of the Garda Síochána. To expect a situation where every single complaint would be investigated by GSOC is not in line with international practice. I hesitate to use the words, because someone who is complaining considers that complaint to be serious, but we might say that there are, perhaps, some complaints that might fall into a lesser category. It is international practice that the organisation would have appropriate methods to investigate such complaints.
The point that was made on informal resolution is important. There is no change at present but if we could get agreement on it from the various bodies that have an interest, it would make quite a difference and would be an important area on which to achieve progress. I have had discussion on that area with GSOC and the Garda Commissioner and have asked them to give it consideration. I understand a number of initiatives are possible, which might not go the full way towards informal resolution but could begin to make a difference to how quickly the cases are dealt with. A huge amount of time is being taken up at present with cases I believe could be handled more informally and more effectively. That would free up both Garda and GSOC resources. The Garda Representative Association would make the point that it has to protect its members' reputations in disciplinary procedures, but I hope there would be scope for improvement in the way it is being done at present. I agree that it would be a positive move.
The question of feedback to the public has also been raised. I can only agree that, as in any area, complainants expect to receive good-quality feedback. That is an area that can be improved. It is clear from the contributions made by Deputies that there are developmental points. There are areas where GSOC needs to develop its service. I have already spoken about how the Garda Síochána needs to work more effectively with GSOC. Equally, there is work for GSOC to do in developing the kind of service the Deputies have discussed tonight as regards feedback to complainants as well as the Garda.