As Minister for Defence I have the privilege to present this innovative legislation to the House which deals with police co-operation on this island. My colleague, the Minister for Justice, Equality and Law Reform, Deputy McDowell, regrets he cannot be here for this debate. The House will be aware he is accompanying the Taoiseach on an important visit to Northern Ireland.
The introduction of the Bill is timely, having regard to the events now taking place in Northern Ireland. It is a key measure towards implementing the policing principles contained in the Good Friday Agreement. The Bill is a firm indication of the real progress made in relation to North-South co-operation on policing matters and is an important milestone in the implementation of the Patten report. It represents a step forward to a new age and creates a formalised link between the Garda Síochána and the Police Service of Northern Ireland which will bring benefits to both jurisdictions in the form of improved effectiveness in crime prevention and detection.
The Bill is grounded in the agreement between Ireland and the United Kingdom on police co-operation, which was signed in Belfast on 29 April 2002. The full text of the agreement is contained in the Schedule to the Bill. I wish to take this opportunity to expand on the historical background to the agreement.
The Independent Commission on Policing in Northern Ireland was established pursuant to the Good Friday Agreement, signed in Belfast in April 1998. The commission produced its report, known as the Patten report, in September 1999. The Patten report contained 175 recommendations, nine of which related specifically to co-operation with the Garda Síochána. A further recommendation was that the community balance at more senior ranks in the police service should be addressed by lateral entry from both police services.
Members will recall that the Patten report led to much debate in Northern Ireland and throughout Ireland. Discussions between the two Governments in Weston Park in July 2001 led to the publication of the implementation plan for the report in August 2001. The intergovernmental agreement, which provides the basis for the Bill, sets out the legal framework for the implementation of certain Patten report recommendations in so far as they involved the Garda Síochána as well as providing for ongoing enhancement of police co-operation.
While there has always been a comprehensive level of co-operation between the Garda Síochána and the PSNI, it has been enhanced in recent years. Closer communication and co-operation between our police services can only improve the effectiveness of cross-Border policing and the fight against terrorism, drugs, smuggling and other organised crime. It will directly assist in crime prevention and detection.
The intergovernmental agreement, on which the Bill is based, provides for three levels of personnel exchange. Under Article 1, members of each police service are to be eligible to apply for certain posts in the other police service. Under Article 2, a programme is to be put in place to enable members of each police service to be seconded with full police powers to the other police service for periods not exceeding three years. Under Article 5, a programme of placements is to be put in place to enable the transfer of experience and expertise, including the area of training.
A five sided group was established at an early stage to oversee the process of implementing these articles. Senior figures from the Garda Síochána, the Police Service of Northern Ireland, the Policing Board for Northern Ireland, the Northern Ireland Office and the Department of Justice, Equality and Law Reform have been meeting on a regular basis to progress the various issues involved. The full implementation of the different categories of personnel exchange provided for in the agreement required detailed negotiation involving all relevant parties on a number of issues.
The Bill provides for the implementation of Articles 1 and 2 of the intergovernmental agreement. The programme of placements, provided for in Article 5, does not have any legislative implications as officers participating in that programme will not be exercising any police powers in the other jurisdiction. A formal protocol on these placements will be signed by the Garda Commissioner and the Chief Constable as soon as consultations with the Garda associations are finalised. Pending the signing of the formal protocol to provide for the placement, I am pleased to say that the informal measures have already been initiated in this area and placements have taken place involving experts in police training.
Before outlining the provisions of the Bill concerning Articles 1 and 2 of the agreement, I will briefly touch on what is happening with regard to other provisions. I welcome the ongoing strengthening of co-operation between the two services, which is exemplified in the holding of the first annual conference in the national Garda training college in March last year. The convening of annual conferences between the Garda Síochána and PSNI is provided for in Article 4 of the agreement and a follow-up conference is planned for later this year.
Work is under way in joint emergency planning under Article 8 of the agreement in the form of a joint Garda/PSNI major disaster project. As part of the European Union Oisín project, co-funded by the Department of Justice, Equality and Law Reform, a joint practical exercise will take place during 2003 on the Border involving the Garda Síochána and the PSNI. The practical exercise on the frontier will simulate a disaster and responses by the appropriate agencies from the two jurisdictions will be observed and analysed by experts from participating EU member states.
Article 9 of the intergovernmental agreement provides for measures to be taken to facilitate joint investigations between the Garda and the PSNI having regard to EU developments in this area. In this regard, I am also pleased to inform Senators that the Criminal Justice (Joint Investigation Teams) Bill will be published in the coming days. The purpose of that Bill is to give effect to the requirements of an EU Council framework decision. It provides for the setting up of joint investigation teams by mutual consent of member states for a specific purpose and limited period. The teams will carry out criminal investigations with a cross-border dimension in one or more of the member states setting up the team. Effective co-operation is of increasing importance in our efforts to combat transnational crime. Law enforcement agencies must actively implement measures agreed by Governments to ensure boundaries do not militate against effective co-operation. The establishment and operation of joint investigation teams represents such a measure.
The provisions of the EU framework decision interact with a number of the recommendations in the Patten report on policing in Northern Ireland, such as that the PSNI and the Garda Síochána should have written protocols covering key aspects of co-operation, that there should be a programme of long-term personnel exchanges between them in specialist areas, to which I have already referred, and that consideration be given to establishing a provision for an immediate exchange of officers and pooling of investigative teams after major incidents with a substantial cross-Border dimension.
The Bill builds on the co-operation to which I have referred and gives a legal basis and framework for a more enhanced and structured co-operation between the two police services by providing that personnel from one police service may move to and work in the other police service in accordance with Articles 1 and 2 of the intergovernmental agreement. Specifically, the Bill provides that members of the PSNI may be appointed permanently to the Garda Síochána above the rank of inspector and that members of the Garda Síochána may be seconded to the PSNI, and vice versa, with full police powers for a period of up to three years. The United Kingdom Government will put the necessary arrangements in place to allow members of the Garda Síochána compete for positions above the rank of inspector in the PSNI.
I mentioned that there was a novel aspect to this legislation and I would like to focus on that. Since 1925 there has been only one police service in this State and there has never been any special provision for a member of another police service to join the Garda. We have experience of gardaí participating in police peacekeeping missions abroad with the United Nations, but they have always remained part of the Garda organisation and subject to the direction and control of the Garda Commissioner. Occasionally members of the Garda Síochána have gone to work with international organisations such as the International Criminal Tribunal for the Former Yugoslavia pursuing war crimes in the Balkans. In those cases the members resigned with an option to reapply to the Garda when they had completed their work.
The idea of transfers between police services is not a new concept for the police in Northern Ireland. There are more than 40 police services in the United Kingdom with broadly similar terms and conditions of service and well-established arrangements for transfers and secondments. However, what is new for the PSNI is the concept of exchanges with a police service from an outside jurisdiction. From both our perspectives, therefore, the movement of personnel between the Garda and the Police Service of Northern Ireland provided for in the Bill is unprecedented.
I acknowledge the commitment of the Garda Commissioner and the current and previous Chief Constables of the PSNI and the positive involvement of both their services in this process. The new relationship between the two police services on the island will provide extended opportunities for police officers in both services as well as enhancing the safety of all the people.
I also acknowledge the role the Garda associations have played in this process to date. We should not forget that the success or failure of the proposed personnel exchanges will depend on individual members of the respective police services. These personnel exchanges will be on a voluntary basis so it is important that the associations representing the police are positively engaged in the process. My officials, together with Garda management, have held informal briefing sessions with the four Garda representative associations to keep them abreast of developments in this area and will engage in a detailed consultative process with them.
On the detail of the legislation, the Bill serves two essential purposes. It provides for members of the PSNI to be appointed permanently to the Garda Síochána above the rank of inspector and for the secondment of members of the Garda Síochána to the PSNI and vice versa with full police powers for a period of up to three years. It also provides for a new disciplinary framework to deal with the secondments to and from the Garda Síochána.
Section 2 provides that the Government may appoint members of the PSNI to specified ranks in the Garda Síochána not below the rank of superintendent, as is provided for in the intergovernmental agreement. For this to happen, eligible members of the PSNI will have to compete in a merit-based selection procedure with Garda Síochána applicants for appointment to the ranks in the Garda Síochána concerned. The extent to which each such rank will be opened up to competition can be varied by regulation under the Bill. The implementation of this section will mean that members of the PSNI will be able to move to the Garda Síochána on a permanent basis. We will encourage Garda members to apply for posts in the PSNI, but it is very much a decision for the individuals in question. I hope the programme of placements and secondments referred to will facilitate an improved understanding and appreciation between the two police services and so overcome any reluctance to apply for a permanent post in the other organisation.
Section 3 provides for the secondment of members of the PSNI to the Garda Síochána with full Garda powers for a period not exceeding three years. Secondees will continue to be paid by the PSNI but will be under the direction and control of the Garda Commissioner and have the powers, rights, duties and obligations of a member of the Garda Síochána of the rank to which they are appointed. A secondment under this section may be terminated by the Commissioner or the Government where it made the appointment. The ranks in the Garda Síochána to which members may be appointed under this section and the number to be appointed may be prescribed by regulation under the Bill. The section also makes certain technical amendments to the Garda Síochána Acts to reflect the position of secondees.
Section 4 provides for secondments from the Garda Síochána to the PSNI with full police powers for a period not exceeding three years. Secondees will continue to be paid as members of the Garda Síochána but shall not be subject to the direction or control of the Garda Commissioner or be entitled to exercise in the State any Garda powers. Secondees shall continue to be entitled to claim compensation under the Garda Compensation Acts 1941 and 1945 and their service on secondment shall be regarded as service with the Garda Síochána for pension, promotion and seniority purposes. The number and rank of members of the Garda Síochána who may be seconded under this section may be prescribed by regulation under the Bill.
The type of secondments provided for in sections 3 and 4 provide a mechanism whereby Garda members who do not wish to leave the Garda Síochána can make their experience and expertise available to the PSNI for an extended period of up to three years. It also allows PSNI officers to be seconded to the Garda Síochána, and I hope we will see a two-way flow enhancing policing standards in both organisations.
Section 5 provides for the procedures which will apply to breaches of discipline by a member of the Garda Síochána who is seconded to the PSNI. A stand-alone disciplinary framework is provided in this regard whereby the investigation of an alleged breach of discipline by a seconded member of the Garda Síochána is carried out under the law and procedure applicable to the investigation of breaches of discipline by members of the PSNI. Any appeal against or request for review of a finding of that disciplinary process is also made under the law and procedure applicable in Northern Ireland.
However, no disciplinary action may be taken against a seconded member of the Garda Síochána by the Chief Constable of the PSNI. Instead, the findings of a disciplinary investigation or the outcome of an appeal or review of such findings will be transmitted to the Garda Commissioner, or the Government in respect of gardaí above the rank of inspector, for whatever action is deemed appropriate. The disciplinary action which may be taken by the Commissioner or the Government under this section is defined. A member of the Garda Síochána whose secondment to the PSNI has expired or been terminated will be obliged to co-operate with any such investigation as if he or she were a member of the PSNI and any failure to do so shall constitute a breach of discipline.
Section 6 provides for the procedures which will apply to breaches of discipline by a member of the PSNI seconded to the Garda Síochána. Similar to the approach taken in section 5, the investigation of an alleged beach of discipline by a seconded member of the PSNI will be carried out in accordance with the Garda Síochána disciplinary regulations or, as may be the case, the Garda Síochána Complaints Board procedures. Any appeals or requests for review of the findings will also be determined within that process. No disciplinary action will be taken by the Garda Commissioner against a PSNI secondee. Instead, the findings of the disciplinary process will be transmitted by the Commissioner to the Chief Constable for whatever action is deemed appropriate. Section 7 provides for the making of regulations for the purpose of giving full effect to the provisions of the Bill.
I have dealt with the key elements of the Bill. It contains certain other procedural provisions as well as consequential amendments to a number of other Acts to which I could refer, but I am conscious that I have already spoken at length and that there will be the opportunity to deal with queries Members may have about those provisions in my reply or on Committee Stage. I hope that what I have said will assist the House in the task of considering the Bill.
The Bill further strengthens the relationship between the two police services on the island. It will provide extended opportunities for police officers in both services and enhance the safety of all of the people. In addition and most importantly, the enactment of this legislation is a key measure towards implementing the policing principles contained in the Good Friday Agreement and the Patten report, especially with respect to improving the level of cross-community confidence in the impartiality of the criminal justice system in Northern Ireland. I commend the Bill to the House.