Léim ar aghaidh chuig an bpríomhábhar

Dáil Éireann díospóireacht -
Wednesday, 15 Dec 2021

Vol. 1016 No. 2

Appointment of Member and Chair of the Garda Síochána Ombudsman Commission: Motion

I move:

That Dáil Éireann, noting that the Government on 7th December, 2021, nominated Judge Rory MacCabe for appointment by the President as a member of the Garda Síochána Ombudsman Commission and as its chairperson, recommends, pursuant to section 65(1)(b) of the Garda Síochána Act 2005, that Judge Rory MacCabe be appointed by the President as a member and as chairperson of the Commission.

The appointment of members of the Garda Síochána Ombudsman Commission, GSOC, is governed by the provisions of the Garda Síochána Act 2005, which requires the Government to be satisfied a person to be nominated for appointment has the appropriate experience, qualifications, training or expertise for appointment. The Act also provides that a member of the ombudsman commission is appointed by the President following his or her nomination by the Government and the passage of resolutions by both Houses of the Oireachtas recommending his or her appointment. In this regard, at its meeting on 7 December 2021, the Government nominated Judge Rory MacCabe. I am pleased to recommend formally to the House that Members approve Judge MacCabe for appointment by the President to be a member and the chair of the ombudsman commission.

The need for this appointment arises from the expiry of the terms of office on 11 December of the former chair of the ombudsman commission, Ms Justice Mary Ellen Ring. I express the Government's sincere appreciation of the contributions Ms Justice Ring has made to GSOC's important and complex work. As chair of the ombudsman commission, Ms Justice Ring provided superb leadership and vision. I wish her well in the future as she returns to her judicial duties in the High Court.

The Government decided in September to request the Attorney General to ask the Chief Justice to seek expressions of interest from serving and retired judges of the Superior Courts in the role. A selection committee was formed to review the applications. The selection committee comprised Mr. Garrett Sheehan, who was the chair, Ms Marie Cross, formerly of Department of Foreign Affairs, and Mr. Paul Gallagher, our Attorney General. As there were no successful applications, the selection committee then subsequently accepted expressions of interest from judges of the District and Circuit Courts. Judge MacCabe was recommended as an excellent candidate.

In accordance with section 66(1) of the Act, a member of the ombudsman commission holds office for a period exceeding three years but not exceeding six years. The Government has agreed that Judge MacCabe would be appointed to the ombudsman commission for the minimum period provided for under the Act of three years or such shorter term as may result from the enactment of legislation providing for the restructuring of the ombudsman commission; namely, the forthcoming policing, security and community safety Bill.

In addition, in light of the significance of the role and the recent precedent, approval was also sought and granted by the Government to nominate Judge MacCabe to the High Court. Section 65(5) of the Garda Síochána Act 2005, as amended, provides that a person who holds judicial office in a superior court may, without relinquishing that office, be appointed as the chairperson of the commission, but unless otherwise provided for in the terms of the appointment they shall not be required to carry out duties under statute as the holder of that judicial office. Section 65(6) gives effect to Schedule 4 of the Garda Síochána Act 2005, as amended, which provides that if an ordinary judge of the High Court is appointed to GSOC the number of High Court judges otherwise provided for under enactment may be exceeded by one.

GSOC has played, and will continue to play, a critical role in the overall architecture of policing in this State. Its independence is the guarantee to the public that complaints against members of An Garda Síochána will be investigated without fear or favour. Its three key operational principles of inquiry, independence and impartiality are the hallmarks of a policing oversight organisation of which we can be justifiably proud and which is vital in an advanced democracy such as we are fortunate to inhabit.

Judge MacCabe is currently a sitting Circuit Court judge. He was appointed to the Circuit Court in 2007 and for the last ten years he has been serving on the western circuit where the work is almost exclusively indictable crime. He was admitted to the inner Bar in 1999; prior to that he worked as a civil servant in a variety of important roles, mainly in the Department of the Taoiseach. During his time as a senior counsel he was a member of the Refugee Appeals Tribunal. He has also served on the board of the Courts Service. Judge MacCabe's very considerable experience as a practitioner, as a judge in criminal law, and of criminal trials and the work of An Garda Síochána will be of great benefit to the complex and challenging work of the ombudsman commission.

This appointment will provide for authoritative and independent leadership of an important organisation while it prepares to transition to a new organisational structure under the policing, security and community safety Bill. This is a time of change for GSOC, and Judge MacCabe will now lead that change along with the other commissioners, Hugh Hume and Emily Logan, and with the management and staff of GSOC. I am sure the House will agree it is vital that the public has deep confidence in An Garda Síochána and its system of oversight, of which the ombudsman commission is a key component. I believe that the considerable skills and experience of Judge MacCabe will serve to enhance the public's existing confidence in GSOC's role.

Subject to the agreement of both Houses, I intend to make arrangements for the President to appoint Judge MacCabe as soon as practicable. On behalf of the Government, I am pleased to commend the motion to the House.

I am sharing time with Deputy Carthy. We have no issue with this new appointment. I wish Ms Justice Mary Ellen Ring, the outgoing chair, all the best for her future on her retirement from the role. I met her on a number of occasions and she was certainly diligent in trying to do the right thing and progress things. She felt handicapped on many occasions, particularly in regard to funding and resources to be able to do the job to the level she and many within the organisation wanted to do.

GSOC has a vital role to play in building public confidence in regard to difficulties that people encounter when engaging with certain members of An Garda Síochána. The State as a whole and all of us have a job to do to build the maximum amount of public confidence in the institutions of the State. I refer to recent issues with people who tend to be anti-vax and against everything and who slide into that very right-wing thinking. A lot of that is based on mistrust of the institutions of the State and the way they carry out their duties. The mistrust and difficulty people often have with members of An Garda Síochána feeds into that. GSOC has a crucial role to play.

As the Minister mentioned, changes are going to occur and there are moves to transition the organisation, to put some sense of order into it and to overhaul investigation procedures, give it more powers and its own budget. All of those changes are welcome and are moving in the right direction. The general consensus among those who contact my office and the offices of other Deputies is that when people make complaints to GSOC, they find it frustrating that they do not get the kind of response they expect or the level of attention to detail that they would hope to get. One of the problems is in regard to staffing. Having members of An Garda Síochána carry out investigations into members of An Garda Síochána is not the right way to conduct this. It needs not just to be independent but to be seen to be independent. That has been one of its key failings.

I could go through a whole list of cases where people have had problems and have felt extremely frustrated with all of that. Many Deputies have raised high-profile cases where people felt let down. They thought GSOC was going to follow through on things but it did not. Oftentimes reasons were used such as that the particular gardaí involved had retired. Once they are retired that is it, they close the file and it is all over. Certainly for people who are looking for justice and to progress something, that is not a solution. It only frustrates them and makes it worse. There needs to be a great deal of work done.

I wish Judge MacCabe all the best in trying to progress this. He certainly has a job of work to do. I do not know the man at all but I take it on merit that he has the level of experience and good judgment in respect of how to follow through in this situation. We all have to reflect on things that have happened in the past with members of An Garda Síochána and with GSOC. The Maurice McCabe situation is probably the big high-profile case that really shocked the public. It did an awful lot to rock people's confidence in how things were done in this country. GSOC has a job of work to do to restore that confidence. This new appointment will hopefully be the start of moving that forward.

The independence of the office needs to be reinforced more than anything else. While there are approximately 130 full-time staff there at present, many of them are former members of An Garda Síochána or other police services. That may be the only place they can go to find people with adequate experience or qualifications but at the same time it does reflect poorly on the whole area of independence and how we can establish that better.

The job of work that is going to be needed to transform GSOC is only part of this. It is also necessary to transform how An Garda Síochána is managed. I recognise and appreciate the work the Minister has done since she came into office to bring about legislative change to make that happen. We have such a distance to go that we need to be all working together. This appointment is welcome. A fresh pair of hands will be in charge. The policing, security and community safety Bill will open that up better and give more powers. Hopefully Judge MacCabe will be able to take that on and drive it forward. It is certainly what we need to see happen as quickly as possible.

I wish the Minister and everyone here a happy Christmas.

I have not had an opportunity to formally welcome the Minister back. I congratulate her on her recent arrival. GSOC should be the route whereby families or victims who feel they have been ill served by Garda actions can find truth and justice. One family that sought this were the parents and siblings of Shane O'Farrell. This House will recall that Shane was a 23-year-old Carrickmacross man killed in a hit-and-run on 2 August 2011 by a known criminal who had breached several bail conditions at the time and who had 42 previous convictions in three different jurisdictions.

Rather than GSOC providing truth and justice to Shane's family, it compounded their grief. In April 2014 the then Minister for Justice and Equality, Mr. Alan Shatter, ordered a section 102(5) public interest inquiry that allowed GSOC to widen the scope of its inquiry, but it failed to do so. In April 2018 GSOC produced the section 101 public interest report, but the family and public received only a summarised version. The O'Farrell family has written to GSOC on several occasions requesting the full report but it has been refused.

In January 2019 GSOC produced a second report under section 97 of the Garda Síochána Act. This was given to the Garda Commissioner but not to the family. Both the Garda Commissioner and GSOC refused to give the family the report. Rather than being a route for justice, the GSOC investigation was used as a ruse by Ministers, the Department and the Garda to shelve movement on this case for several years and to refuse to answer any questions, on the basis that the matter was being investigated by GSOC. The GSOC report, when finally published, was significant primarily because of its omissions, so much so that both Houses of the Oireachtas passed resolutions calling for an independent public inquiry into the case. Rather than delivering that, the Government initiated a scoping inquiry in early 2019, an inquiry that has, bizarrely, yet to deliver its report. It is entirely understandable, therefore, that this has led to fear that the scoping exercise is just another mechanism to delay the revealing of the full truth in this instance.

The GSOC process has failed some families, such as the family of Shane O'Farrell. It needs to be overhauled, bearing in mind the experiences and lessons relayed to us. I plead with the Minister to reassure the O'Farrell family, as they approach their 11th Christmas without their beloved son Shane, that she will deliver upon the resolution of both Houses of the Oireachtas and begin now the preparatory work for the full public inquiry that we hope will provide the answers to the endless list of unsavoury questions that have been raised regarding this case.

I am glad to have the opportunity to speak briefly on this matter. The vast bulk of members of An Garda Síochána, whom we are very fortunate to have, have been the line of defence of our State over several turbulent decades, but there have been several issues. There will always be issues that require an investigation independent of the police because society and the Oireachtas provide extraordinary powers to those we make guardians of the peace. We give powers to arrest, detain, prosecute and so on. We must have proper oversight of these.

Issues have arisen over the decades. Since the Morris tribunal, I have been advocating the examination of international best practice to ascertain how we can deal with the oversight of An Garda Síochána to reassure Members and the public that everything is being done properly and appropriately. I argued for a very long time about the model we should have. The model existed in Northern Ireland with the Police Ombudsman for Northern Ireland. I had long discussions with former ombudsman Nuala O'Loan, who came to Dublin and spoke to a variety of groups here about her experiences in Northern Ireland. The Irish Government, after a lot of urging, decided to have a commission rather than an arrangement modelled on that in Northern Ireland. We are going to adjust that now in the new legislation that is coming before us. We are going to have an ombudsman and a deputy ombudsman. We will debate this in due course. It is a big advance.

We can genuinely say, for a variety of reasons, that our experience with GSOC has not been uniformly what we expected or desired. GSOC itself will state many of the reasons for that. I hope that, in the new legislation to be enacted, we can address those. I very much welcome the specifics of what is included in the forthcoming policing, security and community safety Bill, the general scheme of which was published in April of this year, to expand the remit of the Garda ombudsman to cover allegations that come to light other than by way of complaint from the public. In this regard, I am referring to its investigation procedure and the need to support the really important, timely and effective resolution of complaints. To put it bluntly, complaints have not been resolved in this way. I felt that, once GSOC was in place, we had a robust body to address the kinds of complaints we got over the years regarding the activities of An Garda Síochána. However, there is an old adage that justice delayed is justice denied. Addressing complaints must not go on for years. Deputy Carthy is right regarding the case he has brought. I have met the family in question over the years. They always seem to be seven steps away from getting at the truth. That must not be. Ours is not an enormous society so we can surely provide mechanisms to do what is required properly. I look forward to debating the specifics of the legislation and to having what I hope will be a really effective oversight body.

We need to give the new form of GSOC additional powers. The Garda looks for the powers for itself but those who are to hold it to account need, at least, powers at the same level. I do not know Judge Rory MacCabe. I wish him well. His CV looks very impressive. It is a cause of interest, at least, that the original underlying legislation envisaged that the chairperson of GSOC would be a member of the superior courts. Nobody came through the associated process. Was it that nobody in the superior courts wanted the position? A little bit of investigation is required. Maybe the Minister has already done so privately to determine why it was the case. I am sure Judge MacCabe, who is now going to be made a member of the High Court, will operate admirably. I thank, and appreciate the work of, the outgoing chairperson, Ms Justice Mary Ellen Ring, whom I believe did a sterling job in the circumstances. I wish her well on her return to the Bench.

The oversight of policing is a pivotal issue for our democracy. We need to get it right. We will have a broader opportunity, when we debate the forthcoming legislation, to get it right. As a House of democratic accountability, we must ensure enduring oversight so people can have absolute confidence in policing and the way the laws are enforced in this country and so some of the dreadful anomalies that have arisen in the past couple of decades will not recur.

The debate is about the appointment of the new chairperson of GSOC. Like Deputy Howlin, I do not know Judge Rory MacCabe but wish him well in his new role.

There is a lot of work to be done to realise the full potential of GSOC. Indeed, we will be talking about some changes in the new year. GSOC was not resourced properly from the get-go. We repeatedly hear that. GSOC does not have the resources to investigate all the complaints it receives and to do so in a timely way. That has repeatedly been brought to our attention.

GSOC receives around 2,000 complaints per year, involving some 5,000 allegations predominantly related to the abuse of authority, assault, neglect of duty and discourtesy. Despite the original intention to form an independent ombudsman for the Garda, not all GSOC investigations are independent. Aside from those that relate to some kind of criminal allegation, large numbers of complaints are passed back to the Garda. In fact, the Commission on the Future of Policing in Ireland revealed that many people believed GSOC was part of An Garda Síochána. It is quite sobering that this is the understanding of the public, or a large number of members of the public. Given that in 2020, 42% of the GSOC allegations about the Garda were conducted by gardaí, this belief is closer to the truth than many of us would like.

In many cases, the Garda is investigating serious complaints against itself. It is completely unsatisfactory to the complainants and also harms the integrity of An Garda Síochána. When GSOC was being set up in the first instance, there was a very hot public debate and considerable resistance to setting up any kind of independent body to investigate the Garda.

It is for the good of both the public and the Garda that there should be that oversight. A system of reform and accountability will help rather than hinder a police force. None of this is to say the Garda should not play a role in dealing with complaints. Of course they should. Some of the complaints come from almost a customer service point of view, with gardaí deemed to have been impolite. Of course that is the kind of thing that must go back to the Garda. One of the most common complaints about GSOC is the length of time it takes to complete investigations. Obviously, that has an effect on the complainants, who have their cases dragged out for long periods, but it also negatively impacts those who are under investigation on the other side, so it is unsatisfactory to both sides for that to be the case.

GSOC has repeatedly raised concerns about the lack of Garda co-operation with investigations. The outgoing chair of GSOC, Ms Justice Mary Ellen Ring, stated that the body had no teeth to act when there was no Garda co-operation or when the Garda was slow to provide GSOC with information. In GSOC's 2020 report it complained of being left in the dark by Garda management. The under-resourcing and slowdown of compliance with investigations hurts everyone. It has got worse recently because of what could only be described as an unofficial strike or, if you like, a work to rule on the part of the Association of Garda Chief Superintendents and the Association of Garda Superintendents since 5 July. Their members have decided to undertake core duties only. They have deemed GSOC investigations to be outside of their core duties. I have to disagree with them because I believe that upholding the integrity of the Garda is a fundamental core duty of theirs. I remember their attitude when the blue flu issue arose. This is the issue in converse and it has to be dealt with. That this has gone on since last July has to be a major cause for concern. It needs to be resolved quickly.

In the few minutes left, I wish to share some of the concerns that have been raised about the case of Shane O'Farrell. Having met the family, specifically Lucia O'Farrell, I found her to be a really impressive individual. She had conducted forensic examinations and produced documentation that had done the heavy lifting and the work that was needed. It feels like this is bouncing around the place as a delaying tactic. It certainly feels like that to me. I think we are all very frustrated by the length of time that this is taking, given the time that has elapsed and the amount of work that has been done, much of it by the family. A very impressive body of documents has been presented.

I wish Ms Justice Mary Ellen Ring well for the future and thank her for the work she has done to date.

I know nothing about the new appointee, Judge MacCabe, but I think his role should be challenged, not just in respect of what happens in the future but also in how he deals with the legacy of GSOC. The first complainant to GSOC - I cannot remember the year - was Deputy Gino Kenny. He was not a Deputy then. We had RTÉ footage of him being thrown off a bridge in Bellanaboy by six gardaí, illegally and violently, at a Shell to Sea protest. I queued up with him that morning and his complaint was thrown out, investigated by gardaí themselves. The Minister said GSOC's independence "is the guarantee to the public that complaints against members of An Garda Síochána will be investigated without fear or favour". There is no guarantee. As previous speakers have pointed out, a high percentage of the public do not see GSOC as independent and investigating without fear or favour.

The case of Shane O'Farrell has been mentioned. I have spoken to Lucia within the past hour and told her that, sadly, somebody she wanted to meet, namely Terence Wheelock's father, passed away last week without ever knowing how his son died in custody in Store Street Garda station. The Wheelock family have re-engaged in a campaign for a public inquiry into that young man's death.

It has been almost a year since George Nkencho was killed by armed gardaí in Blanchardstown and we do not know where that will lead or how long the investigation will take. There is therefore a litany of reasons the public are not confident in GSOC. Whatever difference the judge whom the Minister has appointed will make will be most welcome, but there are legacy issues that have to be dealt with. If we do not deal with them, we will just be battening down on the mistrust and the lack of confidence Joe Public has in An Garda and all the apparatus surrounding it. The new chairperson of GSOC may bring with him considerable skills and experience, but he has to ensure that whatever happened in the past is dealt with. To that end, the three specific cases of Shane O'Farrell, Terence Wheelock and George Nkencho, although still at coroner's report stage, must be speedily dealt with and not dragged out longer and longer like Stardust and Bloody Sunday were and like all those very deeply felt injustices are dragged out by the State apparatus.

No senior gardaí are ever really held accountable for what happens on their watch. We do not see that come in front of us with reports that such-and-such a senior garda is being suspended or taken off duties or is up on charges for what has happened. We have to begin to see results. The proof has to be in the pudding and the results have to be seen. Otherwise, there will be failure after failure and the public will never have confidence in this process.

I wish to use this opportunity to make a broader point about the make-up of GSOC. It is not representative of communities that are badly policed or over-policed. Where are the young people, the people of colour, the members of the Travelling community or the trade unionists? Where is the diversity and the diverse experience? I cast no personal aspersions, but this deficit will self-evidently not be addressed by appointing an older white male from a middle-class profession.

The biggest issue on GSOC's plate is the George Nkencho case. George was the first black person to be killed by the police in the history of this State. The investigation is being carefully watched not just locally and nationally but internationally. It is not an exaggeration to say that GSOC's standing will, in large measure, be determined by the outcome of the case. I wish to voice my strong disappointment at the fact that, having set a deadline to finish the investigation by the 30 December anniversary of George's killing, GSOC last week told the family that that deadline will now not be met. There are worrying indications that important details of the investigation are not being progressed. There are also worrying signs that the level of co-operation and transparency that might have been expected by the Nkencho family and people of colour in this country generally is not being met. Judge Rory MacCabe will have important issues on his plate when he takes up this post and I and many others will be watching very carefully how those issues are handled.

I welcome the opportunity to speak on this motion and thank the Minister for bringing it before the House. I have just three points to make in the time allowed.

First, I very much welcome the appointment of Judge Rory MacCabe to the Garda Síochána Ombudsman Commission. Having reviewed his CV, I think he is eminently suitable for the role. Not only is he suitable as an individual, but also, collectively, it makes sense to appoint him to GSOC. There is a fair amount of diversity of backgrounds and skill sets in GSOC now. There is Emily Logan, with a background in management, human rights and children's rights, and Hugh Hume, with a background in policing outside this jurisdiction. To add a member of the legal profession would make perfect sense. There is a good skill set and good balance. The Minister might comment in her closing remarks, though, as to whether GSOC is limited to three commissioners only or whether it would be possible to appoint an additional commissioner if required, taking in some of the points other Deputies have made.

The second point I would like to make concerns Judge MacCabe and GSOC. The important functions are accountability, oversight and balance. GSOC must been seen to be promoting good policing but also taking issue with poor policing. The vast majority of members of An Garda Síochána are competent and capable. We have seen that throughout the Covid pandemic over the past number of years. Any interactions that I have had with GSOC have been very positive and professional. In general terms, I think it gets the balance right.

I wish to make a point regarding An Garda Síochána. It is a human organisation, just like the parliamentary community here in Leinster House. By extension, any human organisation is imperfect. An Garda Síochána is an imperfect organisation. It is aware of that and it would be the first to admit it. However, it must be doing something right, because if a Government closes down a Garda station in rural Ireland, it will get an earful and people will not allow that to happen. People want more gardaí, Garda stations and Garda cars. An Garda Síochána must be doing something right, and it is. Indeed, 99% of the garda do an exceptional job and they should be supported. However, it is important that GSOC is also there to provide oversight and the public accountability when things go wrong.

Finally, on another metric that does matter, the roll of honour of the number of members of An Garda Síochána who have been killed in the line of duty since the foundation of the State, the centenary of which is next year, shows the level of commitment from 99% of the gardaí out there. It is important that they are supported. In summary, I would like to wish Judge MacCabe and the new commissioners well in their new roles. I wish Ms Justice Ring well in her new role and thank her for her service and contribution to the country over the past three years. I ask the Minister to clarify whether it is possible to appoint a fourth commissioner to focus on some of the points mentioned here today.

I welcome the opportunity to speak on the motion. I wish Judge Rory MacCabe the best of luck in his new role. I do not know him personally, but I knew him in a former life in a professional capacity. I also want to compliment Ms Justice Ring on her work over the past six years. She posed a question to us in a recent interview. She questioned whether politicians "are actually committed to meaningful independent oversight of the gardaí". That should spur us all on to reflect on whether we are. If we are, how have we allowed GSOC to exist without adequate resources and without listening to it year after year? The latest GSOC report is the fifteenth it has published. The Government received the report on time but delayed publishing it.

When the appointments of Ms Emily Logan and Mr. Hugh Hume were being approved by the Dáil, if that is the correct word to use, and we discussed the issue, Ms Justice Ring took the opportunity to send a detailed letter not to all Deputies, but to those who contributed to the debate. She set out clearly, honestly and openly the problems and the obstacles posed by the founding legislation, which put up so many hurdles that it is almost impossible to negotiate, with investigations being sent back to the Garda so they can investigate themselves. With regard to An Garda Síochána, she stated:

There is a misconception that GSOC has a significant number of former Garda members as part of its investigative staff. There are five former Garda members, all of whom joined at the outset in 2007 and 2008 and thus have been involved in oversight for the last 13 years. There have been no former Garda personnel employed by GSOC since that initial set-up period.

She told us that training was a problem and was not built into the legislation. No provision was made for it and there were no resources to acknowledge it, as well as many other defects. I am using the word "defects"; Ms Justice Ring did not. She highlighted the good and the bad.

We have ignored that. Successive Governments have simply ignored that. During Ms Justice Ring's time on GSOC for the past six years, she sent three letters - one to Deputies and two to the Committee of Public Accounts - highlighting in an open and consistent way what was needed if politicians were seriously interested in an independent ombudsman's office. That is the challenge. Clearly, we are not, because we are colluding with a system that is inadequate.

Related to that is the attitude of An Garda Síochána. The fact that the Garda Commissioner and the other organisations representing members of the Garda, sergeants and so on expressed serious reservations about the proposed Bill because of the further oversight of the Garda is of a serious matter of concern when I reflect on the circumstances that led to the establishment of GSOC, the Policing Authority and the other body, the name of which escapes me. I call them the trinity of supervision. Looking back, we think of the 1970s and the "Heavy Gang". In the 1980s, we remember the case of Joanne Hayes and what An Garda Síochána was capable of there. When we were supposedly investigating the behaviour of An Garda Síochána, we investigated the morality of Joanne Hayes and her family. We can then fast forward to the Morris tribunal, which Deputy Howlin and former Deputy, Jim Higgins, played a very important role in setting up. The cost to the taxpayer is €70 million now. Foolishly, each Government decided that there was only a problem in County Donegal, and they are a bit different up there. We did not learn that maybe it was a practice that was going on everywhere. Later, we had the Smithwick tribunal on collusion, the Fennelly commission and the O'Higgins commission of investigation, which was my introduction to the Dáil in early 2016. I read the whole report. It was produced very speedily within a year. However, had Sergeant McCabe not kept a phone recording, God knows what might have happened to him. We have had all of that and many more besides. There are ongoing investigations into members of the Garda who have been suspended, the debacle over the fixed penalty points and the bogus breath testing and so on. Yet, An Garda Síochána thinks it does not need oversight. I am not referring to ordinary members of the Garda; I pay tribute to the ordinary garda on the ground. We know from the Policing Authority reports that are published month after month the wonderful role they have played on the ground. There was a break but they have come back. However, management needs to realise that gardaí are there to serve. Indeed, the Policing Authority and its chairman, Bob Collins, has brought that concept into focus. We are not talking about a police force, but a police service. Like Deputies are here to serve, the police are here to serve. They should be proud to have an independent oversight body. We should ensure that it functions independently and is adequately resourced.

I thank the Deputies for their contributions and their good wishes for Judge MacCabe. I wish to touch on a number of points that have been raised. We all recognise the vital role that GSOC plays in oversight. We all acknowledge that the vast majority of people working with An Garda Síochána do exceptional work in protecting us and keeping our communities safe. The vast majority of people believe that as well. We have seen just how connected members of An Garda Síochána are with our communities, particularly during the Covid-19 pandemic. We support that, but obviously, nobody is perfect. We know that there has to be a level of independent oversight. Of course, we need to make sure that GSOC is properly resourced. That is a priority for this Government. I will put a few figures on the record of the House. Despite a 20% increase in complaints that were received during the first three quarters of this year, compared to last year, plus a 10% year-on-year increase in criminal investigations, GSOC has broadly met its commitments and timeframes in responding to queries and issues that have come to it. The latest figures indicate that as of October, all complaints that were received by GSOC were responded to in a day. All calls that were made were answered within 60 seconds. I know that not all of the calls were responded to in the time that we would like, but often, we only hear about where there are problems, not where a lot of these complaints are dealt within in the timeframe necessary.

We need to continue to increase the budget. Looking at this year alone, €11.27 million was provided. Next year, it will be €13.4 million, which is an increase of almost 20%. Of course, we will continue to provide more resources where they are required. There is provision for three commissioners, but, as Deputy Howlin mentioned, we are bringing forward a community safety and policing Bill to the House. There is a very clear direction for GSOC in overhauling the investigation procedures to support timely and effective resolution of complaints, expanding the remit of GSOC and replacing the current three-person commission with an ombudsman and deputy ombudsman, reinforcing its independence. Training was mentioned. I am of the firm belief that An Garda Síochána should always receive continuous ongoing training. That should be no different for GSOC and those who are tasked with the oversight of An Garda Síochána. It is something that we would like to see as part of the overall legislation.

A number of Deputies mentioned the Shane O'Farrell case. I appreciate that the scoping inquiry is going on much longer than anybody would like and, in particular, his family.

I will outline where we are at present. While this is an independent scoping exercise, we are in constant contact with Judge Gerard Haughton. We have offered any support he needs while allowing him to do his work independently. The stage it is at now is that the judge has asked for various sections of the reporting parties named, including the Department, to come back to the latest round of questions he has asked. The Department has responded to him. That request has been sent back. I understand he has been in contact with the O'Farrell family throughout all of this and has offered them the same opportunity to come back on some of what I hope are the final points. Based on the information I have been given, he should be in a position to finalise his report once he has the final pieces of information on the particular points.

I know I am being vague but I do not have sight of the points on which he is asking questions and the type of responses he is seeking. It is my understanding that once he receives all of these he will be in a position to respond. I reassure Deputies that nobody is stalling. I really want to see this concluded as quickly as possible so we can act on whatever recommendations and points are made in the report. What is most important is that his family can take account of it and we can move forward in some way together.

I thank Deputies for their support for this recent appointment. I hear all of the points that have been made with regard to making sure GSOC is independent and has the support its needs and that it can do its work effectively. We are committed to this. I look forward to engaging with Deputies in the year ahead on any restructuring or change. I know we will have lots to discuss in the year ahead.

Question put and agreed to.