I thank Senator David Cullinane for tabling the amendment which engages the House in a discussion of the matter.
The Minister appreciates that this is one of a set of changes to the 2005 Garda Act that has been recommended by the Oireachtas joint committee. It was the view of the joint committee that having a single person commission could provide for greater accountability and strengthen its overall position.
The Minister has considered the amendment carefully and, as she indicated during the Dáil debate on a similar amendment, there is more involved than merely a change to the number of the commissioners. In particular, she is conscious of the fact that there are certain practical advantages that flow from having a three-person body and she believes these must also be fully taken into account. In that context, she would recall for Senators that the underlying rationale for the establishment of the three-person model was that it would facilitate the bringing of expertise and experience across a range of different sectors to the work of the commission. In addition, it was also considered to be of practical advantage that at least one commissioner would always be available to guide and direct operations. At operational level, GSOC considers this to be a significant advantage in a working environment as unpredictable as that faced by the commission. Some of its most serious and sensitive cases have occurred at weekends or during holiday periods.
Moreover, it is necessary to take account of the fact that a three-person commission, with its legally required gender balance and its range of experience and expertise, conveys a strong public assurance that fairness and sensitivity are at the core of GSOC's approach at the highest level. It also helps that potential differences between an individual commissioner and key interlocutors do not impinge on the smooth and effective running of the organisation.
The Minister accepts that, up to recently, the interaction between the Garda Ombudsman Commission and An Garda Síochána has not been functioning as effectively as it should. This is an area in which substantial work is currently being undertaken by both organisations. Furthermore, and this is the primary purpose of the Bill we are debating, additional powers are in the process of being conferred on GSOC.
In the circumstances, the Minister would be reluctant to alter the current GSOC structure unless it could be shown that a significant advantage would accrue from doing so. Having considered the overall position, including the fact that specific arrangements have been made for the commission, through a nominated member, to account to Oireachtas committees, the Minister would not currently favour moving to a one person commission. However, very conscious of the position of the joint committee on this matter, her view is that this is an aspect that needs to be kept under review going forward. The Senators will appreciate the consideration that has been given to the amendment and in the circumstances the Minister hopes they can withdraw it.