I welcome the opportunity to discuss the final report of the Fennelly commission in the House today. I received the final report of the Fennelly commission on Friday, 31 March. In accordance with the Commissions of Investigation Act, I arranged for its publication as soon as possible, after consulting the Office of the Attorney General on Thursday, 6 April.
I want to put on the record of the House my own thanks and the thanks of the Government to Mr. Justice Nial Fennelly, the sole member of the commission, for his comprehensive, detailed and very clear report. Mr. Justice Fennelly is an eminent retired judge of the Supreme Court. We are fortunate that a man of such high calibre and judicial experience was available to lead the investigation.
The Fennelly commission was established by the Government in April 2014 following approval of a draft order by both Houses of the Oireachtas. The establishment of the commission reflected a concern about information which came into the public domain at that time concerning the recording of telephone calls to Garda stations. All sides of this House agreed that this was a matter of significant public concern. The commission completed its interim report with regard to paragraphs 1(n) and 1(o) of its terms of reference on 31 August 2015. The findings were extensively debated here in the Dáil in September 2015. With regard to allegations made against me yesterday in this House, I reiterate that the interim report was very clear in its findings. The commission found that I had no intention of forcing the resignation of the former Garda Commissioner and the commission also found that the former Garda Commissioner himself had decided to retire.
The commission’s final report into very extensive telephone calls made to Garda stations finds that it is "reasonable to conclude, based on the evidence before it, that no widespread or systematic, indeed probably no significant, misuse of information derived from non-999 recordings took place". The commission also found no evidence of knowledge of the recording of non-999 telephone calls on the part of relevant Ministers for Justice and Equality, the Department of Justice and Equality or other State agencies. However, the report makes many findings of great concern to the Government and, I am sure, to the House.
The commission finds that recording and retaining non-999 calls was not authorised by common law or by statute and that An Garda Síochána therefore infringed the constitutional rights of those recorded. This was a very serious finding about the police force charged with protecting citizens of this State. On its own, I believe this finding justifies the establishment of the commission in 2014. It is also clear that the Attorney General acted correctly as legal adviser to the Government in 2014. When she became aware of these very serious matters about the unlawful recording of telephone calls to Garda stations, she acted appropriately and properly in bringing them to my attention as Taoiseach.
The commission also makes damning findings about the lack of effective oversight and procedures within An Garda Síochána over a lengthy period, and the failure to respond when some technicians and officers raised concerns and questions. For example, the commission finds that "the lack of understanding at higher levels [concerning the operation and use of non-999 recording systems] does not excuse the fact that no formal policy or Directive was issued from Garda HQ covering such essential matters". This echoes structural and cultural problems which have been identified in other scandals in recent years. The commission also makes very disturbing findings about the content of certain telephone recordings relating to the investigation of the death of Ms Sophie Toscan du Plantier.
The Fennelly commission also makes a number of recommendations with regard to legislation to regulate the recording of phone calls by An Garda Síochána, the technology used to record and retain calls, the need for robust procedures for monitoring the use of any telephone recording system operated by the organisation and the destruction of all unlawfully recorded information derived from the Garda telephone recording system. Taken together, the findings of the Fennelly commission reinforce the Government’s determination to carry out a fundamental review of the future of policing in Ireland.
Yesterday, the Government approved draft terms of reference for a commission on the future of policing in Ireland. The Tánaiste is consulting with all parties in the House before these are finalised. This review will look at all functions carried out by An Garda Síochána, including community safety, state security and immigration. It will also consider the full range of bodies that provide oversight and accountability for policing in Ireland. It will take account of the changing nature of crime, society and public expectations; best practices in other countries; previous reports concerning policing in Ireland; and any specific challenges to delivering consistent reform in policing.
Importantly, the Government has explicitly stated that this review should not impede ongoing reforms. The Garda Commissioner's modernisation and renewal programme seeks to implement many of the recommendations of recent Garda Inspectorate reports. The Policing Authority is now preparing quarterly progress reports on the implementation of this plan, and these will be published by the Tánaiste. The Policing Authority will be given additional resources if required.
Other work which will continue in parallel includes the following: strengthening of senior management in An Garda Síochána, starting with three new senior level civilian appointments; examination by the Garda Inspectorate of how to open up entry routes into An Garda Síochána; a cultural audit of An Garda Síochána, which is being procured at present and the results of which audit will be published; the selection and appointment of senior members of An Garda Síochána being undertaken completely independently by the Policing Authority, and the first assistant commissioner was appointed through this process last month; and a review of the legislative provisions relating to how complaints are made and dealt with by GSOC, which is under way.
In addition to this comprehensive reform agenda, the Government has also agreed that the Tánaiste will do the following: refer the Fennelly report to the Policing Authority to oversee implementation of its recommendations in the context of its oversight of An Garda Síochána; examine the need for legislation in regard to the recording of calls and related matters, on foot of the recommendations of the Fennelly commission; and refer matters in the report relating to the Bailey case to GSOC to consider whether it believes any further investigation is necessary against the background of the investigation it has been carrying out already into the case.
The Fennelly report and other recent controversies have shown that An Garda Síochána is not in a position to meet the challenges of policing Ireland in the 21st century. The Government believes we need a fundamental review of the overall structure of An Garda Síochána and all aspects of its mandate. It is also essential that the reform processes already put in train by this and the previous Government are sustained. The position of the Government in regard to confidence in the Garda Commissioner remains unchanged. It is inappropriate and unhelpful to the reform process to seek to interfere politically with the statutory process of accountability which already exists through the Policing Authority.
I also acknowledge that An Garda Síochána comprises ordinary men and women who go to work on the front line every day with the best of intentions to serve and uphold the law. They are committed to providing the best public service they can, often in challenging and testing circumstances where they have to put themselves in danger. Of course, this does not mean that An Garda Síochána should be immune to criticism or censure. It makes it all the more important that its work is done correctly and appropriately to the highest standards. The Government and I look forward to continuing to work with the members of this House so the people can have the modern, efficient and effective police service they deserve.