Garda Síochána (Amendment) (No. 3) Bill 2014: Committee Stage

This part of the meeting has been convened to consider Committee Stage of the Garda Síochána (Amendment) (No. 3) Bill 2014. I welcome the Minister of State at the Department of Justice and Equality, Deputy Dara Murphy, and his officials to the meeting. We have received apologies from Deputy Mac Lochlainn, for whom Deputy Jonathan O'Brien is substituting. Deputy Wallace is also in attendance. I ask everybody to turn off mobile telephones or put them on airplane mode because they can cause interference with the broadcasting system.

Section 1 agreed to.
NEW SECTIONS

I move amendment No. 1:

In page 3, between lines 14 and 15, to insert the following:

“Amendment of section 65(1) of Principal Act

2. Section 65(1) of the Principal Act is amended by the substitution of the following subsection for subsection (1):

“(1) The Ombudsman Commission is to consist of 1 member, who is to be appointed by the President on -

(a) the nomination of the Government, and

(b) the passage of resolutions by Dáil Éireann and Seanad Éireann recommending their appointment.”.”.

I apologise on behalf of Deputy Mac Lochlainn for his absence. I understand he is chairing the Joint Committee on Public Oversight and Petitions.

That is correct.

This amendment changes the structure of the Garda Síochána Ombudsman Commission under section 65(1) of the Garda Síochána Act 2005 to provide for a single Garda ombudsman instead of three members. A single ombudsman would ensure greater accountability and prevent the possibility of dissenting opinions or diverging findings.

I apologise on behalf of the Minister for Justice and Equality, Deputy Fitzgerald, for her inability to attend this meeting. The Minister appreciates this amendment is one of a series of changes to the 2005 Act recommended by the Joint Committee on Justice, Defence and Equality, which took the view that a single member commission would provide greater accountability and strengthen its position. She has considered the amendment carefully. There is, of course, more to the issue than merely a change to the number of commissioners. In particular, she is conscious of the advantages that flow from a three-person body.

In that context, the underlying rationale for the establishment of the three-person model was to facilitate expertise and experiences across a range of sectors. It was also considered to be of practical advantage that at least one commissioner would always be available to direct staff operations. The Minister is aware that at an operational level, GSOC views this as a significant advantage given its unpredictable working environment. Some of its most serious and sensitive cases have arisen at weekends or during holiday periods. Moreover, a three-person commission with a legally required gender balance and range of 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. It is accepted that until recently, the interactions between GSOC and the Garda Síochána have not functioned as effectively as they should but substantial work is currently ongoing in this area by both organisations. Finally, additional powers are in the process of being conferred on GSOC under the Bill.

In these circumstances, the Minister is reluctant to alter the current GSOC structure unless it can be shown that significant advantage would accrue from doing so. Deputy O'Brien will appreciate that serious consideration has been given to the amendment and the recommendations of the joint committee but I hope the Deputy will be in a position to withdraw his amendment.

I thank the Minister of State for his reply. Deputy Mac Lochlainn has asked me to press the amendment and he will examine the Official Report of this debate before revisiting the matter on Report Stage. He may resubmit a similar amendment but for now I will be pressing the amendment.

Amendment put and declared lost.

I move amendment No. 2:

In page 3, between lines 14 and 15, to insert the following:

“2. Section 67(2) of the Principal Act is amended by the insertion of the following paragraph after paragraph (h):

“(i) to hold the Garda Commissioner responsible, in his capacity as the Commissioner of An Garda Síochána but not in his capacity as head of national security, for the operations of An Garda Síochána.”.”.

This amendment would bring the Garda Commissioner under the remit of GSOC. Much of the commentary on GSOC has related to its ability to hold all members of An Garda Síochána properly to account. It is fair to say that GSOC's independence and ability to operate are hindered when it cannot hold to account the head of the organisation which it is charged with overseeing to the same extent of other members. If GSOC is to be seen to be totally independent, the Garda Commissioner, as head of the Garda, should be subject to the same level of scrutiny as every other member of the force. The amendment excludes national security issues from such oversight, which I think people would accept. The legislation gives powers to the Minister to direct GSOC to investigate certain activities of the Garda Commissioner, which raises the prospect of political interference by a Minister or Government. This amendment would permit a clean break.

I support this amendment because it is important that we strengthen the independence of GSOC. I strongly support the principle of holding the Garda Commissioner to account. In light of the incidents of the last 15 months, accountability, trust and confidence have to be restored in the Garda. All of us want it to be a quality service that is accountable to the people of this country. Recently we have seen major damage being done to confidence and trust in the Garda.

I will support amendment No. 2.

I thank Deputy Collins for his amendment. He is correct in the first instance that the core function of GSOC is to investigate complaints made against the members of the Garda Síochána. As things stand, however, GSOC cannot investigate a complaint made against the Garda Commissioner. Section 7 of this Bill changes the position by inserting a new section into the Garda Síochána Act 2005 to bring for the first time - it is important, Chairman, to emphasise this very significant change - that for the first time the Garda Commissioner will be brought within the remit of GSOC. In addition, section 10 of the Bill amends section 106 of the 2005 Act to allow GSOC to examine, of its own volition, any practice, policy or procedure of the Garda Síochána for the purpose of preventing any complaints arising in respect of those practices, policies or procedures. The Minister believes the changes provided for in sections 7 and 10 are important and will significantly enhance the capacity of GSOC to carry out its functions.

The effect of the Deputy’s amendment is to include among the functions of GSOC a requirement to hold the Garda Commissioner responsible, in her capacity as the Commissioner of An Garda Síochána but not in her capacity as head of national security, for the operations of An Garda Síochána. The Minister is not sure if this was intended on the part of Deputy Collins, but one of the consequences of his amendment would be to make the Commissioner generally responsible to GSOC for policing matters even though such matters fall outside the functional and operational remit of GSOC.

In this context, Deputies will be aware that the Minister has published the general scheme for the establishment of the proposed independent policing authority, which, among other things, will be charged with providing oversight of the Garda Síochána in respect of the provision of policing services. The Minister believes that this is the approach that should be adopted, and the establishment of the policing authority is a major element of the Government programme of criminal justice reform. The scheme has been the subject of scrutiny by the Joint Committee on Justice, Defence and Equality and the Bill is being prepared on a priority basis. The Minister looks forward to publishing this legislation and bringing it before the Oireachtas as quickly as possible.

In all the circumstances, the Minister cannot accept the Deputy’s amendment and would ask him if he might withdraw it.

How stands the amendment?

With the permission of the Chair, may I ask the Minister of State for clarification of the following point: is it the case that the Bill effectively proves that, should a member of the public wish to make a complaint against the Garda Commissioner, he or she cannot do so unless the Minister agrees to it?

I think a member of the public can make a complaint against the Commissioner, but the Minister for Justice and Equality is part of the process of the investigation. That is correct. To give the Deputy a more complete answer, the issue of the Minister's consent is being dealt with by later amendments which are before us.

Would it not be fairer to say that the Minister does not have a role in the process but what is actually a veto over the process?

That is a use of language. The Minister has a role in the process.

The Minister has the power either to agree or not to agree to the opening of an investigation against the Garda Commissioner. Therefore, whether it is a use of language or not, the reality is that the Minister has a veto.

The Minister for Justice and Equality has a role in the process. This has been discussed at some length. It is important to acknowledge that there will be a reporting structure in place to give a rationale to the process. When a complaint is brought, there must be a reason for the complaint and a reason must also be given as to why the complaint is not being taken on by the Minister.

It is my understanding that the rationale will be given back to the Commission, but is it the case that it will be made public, or not?

It is a matter for GSOC.

Is it up to GSOC whether to reveal the reason the Minister decided against an investigation?

Yes. One would imagine it would be in GSOC's interest to do that. It would be a matter for GSOC.

Deputy Collins, how stands the amendment?

I will press it.

Amendment put and declared lost.
Section 2 agreed to.
NEW SECTIONS

Amendment No. 3 in the name of Deputy Mac Lochlainn. Amendments Nos. 3, 4 and 6 are related and will be discussed together.

I move amendment No. 3:

In page 3, between lines 17 and 18, to insert the following:

“Amendment of section 73 of Principal Act

3. Section 73 of the Principal Act is amended by the insertion of the following subsection after subsection (3):

“(4) The Ombudsman Commission and the Garda Inspectorate may, for the purposes of an investigation, recruit a pool of independent investigators in place of designated officers.”.”.

Amendment No. 3 is straightforward. The rationale behind Deputy Mac Lochlainn's amendment is to ensure that gardaí are not always investigating other gardaí. I think this requires some consideration.

I will now comment on amendments Nos. 4 and 6. Historically, GSOC would be stopped in its tracks if we prevented it from continuing with an investigation by telling it that certain information was not available to it or would be delayed on the basis that it was an issue of national security. To ensure this information is correct and to ensure it is supervised and not used as a mechanism to hamper GSOC investigations, we would like to see the introduction of an independent adjudicator who would decide whether that information was in fact an issue of national security. It is to bring a level of independent oversight to the decision.

I see that Deputy Wallace is offering.

I give notice that I wish to introduce an amendment on section 4.

As Deputy Wallace intends to move an amendment to section 4, he must wait until we are discussing section 4.

Will the Minister of State comment on Deputy O'Brien's proposal?

The suggestion in the Deputy’s amendments is that GSOC is not currently able to recruit its own investigators, but this is in fact not the case. Section 67(4) of the Garda Síochána Act 2005 provides that GSOC is independent in the performance of its functions. In its capacity as an independent statutory body, GSOC has recruited its own complement of experienced and independent investigators who are designated officers and who, under section 98 of the 2005 Act, have effectively the same powers as members of the Garda Síochána in the conduct of investigations.

It was recognised that, in order to conduct high quality investigations, GSOC would need expertise at the highest professional levels. These designated officers have been drawn from many different backgrounds. They include public servants, former senior police officers from Ireland and other jurisdictions and former police oversight personnel. In addition to Irish personnel, GSOC staff have been drawn from a variety of countries, including Australia, New Zealand, Slovakia, South Africa and our near neighbour, the United Kingdom.

In addition, the three members of the Commission are vested with the powers of members of the Garda Síochána at or above the rank of inspector. GSOC has ensured that all staff receive appropriate training to ensure that they are capable of carrying out their functions.

I should also mention the increased funding of €1 million in GSOC's allocation for 2015.

Amendment put and declared lost.

I move amendment No. 4:

In page 3, between lines 17 and 18, to insert the following:

“Amendment of section 74 of Principal Act

3. Section 74 of the Principal Act is amended by the insertion of the following subsection after subsection (4):

“(5) The Ombudsman Commission and the Garda Inspectorate may, for the purposes of an investigation, recruit a pool of independent investigators in place of designated officers.”.”.

Amendment put and declared lost.
Section 3 agreed to.
NEW SECTION

Amendments Nos. 5 and 8 to 10, inclusive, in the name of Deputy Pádraig Mac Lochlainn are related and will be discussed together.

I move amendment No. 5:

In page 3, between lines 20 and 21, to insert the following:

“Amendment of section 82(1) of Principal Act

4. Section 82(1) of the Principal Act is amended by the substitution of the following subsection for subsection (1):

“(1) In this Part, unless the context otherwise requires—

‘admissible complaint’ means a complaint determined by the Ombudsman Commission under section 87 to be admissible;

‘breach of discipline’ means conduct specified in Schedule 5;

‘complainant’ means—

(a) a person who makes a complaint,

(b) a person on whose behalf a complaint is made, and

(c) where a complaint is made on behalf of another by a person authorised to do so under section 83, the authorised person;

‘conduct’ includes any act or omission and a reference to the occurrence of an any conduct includes the doing of an act or the making of an omission;

‘disciplinary proceeding’ means a proceeding conducted in accordance with the Disciplinary Regulations;

‘Garda Commissioner’ includes a Deputy Garda Commissioner or an Assistant Garda Commissioner acting in place of the Garda Commissioner under section 32;

‘Independent Adjudicator’ means a member of the judiciary chosen to adjudicate on disputes between the Ombudsman Commission and the Garda Inspectorate;

‘member of the Garda Síochána’ does not include the Garda Commissioner;

‘member of the public’ means a person other than a member of the Garda Síochána or the Garda Commissioner;

‘misbehaviour’ means conduct that constitutes an offence or a breach of discipline;

‘serious harm’ means injury that—

(a) creates a substantial risk of death,

(b) causes serious disfigurement, or

(c) causes substantial loss or impairment of mobility of the body as a whole or of the function of any particular bodily member or

organ.”.”.

As the rationale behind amendment No. 5 is the same as that outlined previously, I will not repeat it. Amendment No. 9 would provide for the removal of powers from the Minister to allow GSOC to retain its independence. The rationale behind this group of amendments is to ensure GSOC will be as independent as possible of the Minister and the Department of Justice and Equality.

Amendment No. 5 is very important. It is very strong and decisive and would provide for the recruitment of a pool of independent investigators in place of the designated officers. It would improve efficiency and accountability under the Bill. It would up the game with regard to having confidence and trust in An Garda Síochána.

Deputy Jonathan O'Brien is correct that the effect of the amendments would be to remove from the Minister for Justice and Equality the function under section 96 of the Garda Síochána Act 2005 of determining whether certain information or material could be made available to GSOC where it had been claimed that matters of national security were involved. The Minister has considered the amendments very carefully and is of the clear view that given that the security of the State is a priority function of the Government, the task of deciding whether information or material can be withheld on security grounds should remain with the Minister for Justice and Equality in her or his capacity as a member of the Government.

In the context of this group of amendments, the Minister has emphasised the fact that it is incumbent on the Minister for Justice and Equality to ensure the relevant functions under section 96 are discharged properly and impartially. As Members will be aware, this is one of a number of areas where important security-related matters are dealt with by the Minister, including authorising the interception of communications. One of the features of the amendment is that they involve a specific role for a member of the Judiciary. In that regard, Deputies will be aware of section 100 of the Garda Síochána Act 2005 which provides for the appointment, by the President of the High Court, of a designated judge to keep under review the operation of certain provisions of the Act, including section 96, that relate specifically to the security of the State. The Minister believes these arrangements are prudent and sufficient to provide for an appropriate level of judicial oversight. Accordingly, the Minister does not believe it would be appropriate to accept the changes proposed in the amendments and is, therefore, not accepting them.

This brings us back to our previous amendment which sought an independent adjudicator in dealing with such issues. Whether we like it, sometimes citing national security can be used as a mechanism to delay investigations. I know this from personal experience. Before being elected to the Dáil, I used to work as a roofer. I was offered a job at the Haulbowline naval base and applied for security clearance, but I was refused. When I inquired about the matter, I was told I could not be given a reason for the refusal on the basis of national security. Even when my union took up the matter, it was given the same response. To this day, I still do not know why I was refused security clearance to work at the naval base. An independent adjudicator could examine such issues. As I accept that the Minister of State is not going to change his position on this issue, I will be pressing the amendments.

On the issue of national security, I obviously cannot explain why the Deputy was prevented from working at Haulbowline naval base. However, there is a provision in section 100 of the Garda Síochána Act 2005 to allow a designated judge, appointed by the President of the High Court, to review the operation of certain provisions in this regard. It is vital that the role and functions of the Minister for Justice and Equality in safeguarding national security be maintained.

Amendment put and declared lost.
SECTION 4
Question proposed: "That section 4 stand part of the Bill."

I give notice that I intend to submit an amendment to this section 4 on Report Stage.

Will the Deputy give us more detail on the substance of the amendment to be proposed?

Under the Bill it is proposed to substitute the words "within the period of 12 months" for "within the period of 6 months", but in certain circumstances, particularly in the case of issues of a very serious nature, a case could be made to extend the period to two years, if the conduct in question merited it.

Is the Deputy referring to the time period within which a complaint can be made?

Question put and agreed to.
NEW SECTIONS
Deputy Jonathan O'Brien: I move amendment No. 6:
In page 3, between lines 23 and 24, to insert the following:
“Amendment of section 91 of Principal Act
5. Section 91 of the Principal Act is amended by the insertion of the following subsection after subsection (2):
“(3) The Ombudsman Commission and the Garda Inspectorate may, for the purposes of an investigation, recruit a pool of independent investigators in place of designated officers.”.”.
Amendment put and declared lost.

Amendments Nos. 7, 11 and 15 are related and will be discussed together.

I move amendment No. 7:

In page 3, between lines 23 and 24, to insert the following:

“5. Section 96(1) of the Principal Act is amended by the substitution of the following subsection for subsection (1):

“(1) For the purpose of an investigation under section 95, the Ombudsman Commission—

(a) may require a person who, in its opinion, possesses information or has a document or thing in his or her power or control that is relevant to the investigation, to provide that information, document or thing to the Commission, and

(b) where appropriate, may require that person to attend before the Commission for that purpose,

(c) may require the Garda Commissioner to provide the Commission with access to the Garda Síochána Police Using Leading Systems Effectively (PULSE) computer system, and the person and/or Garda Commissioner shall, subject to subsection (4), comply with the requirement.”.”.

Not to labour the point, but this relates to the old chestnut of access to PULSE.

The Minister fully agrees that GSOC should have access to PULSE for the purposes of its investigations. However, on her behalf I can assure the Deputies that, at this stage, it is an aspect of co-operation that is being fully catered for operationally.

While I am aware it is an area that has given rise to difficulties for GSOC in the past, the commission has confirmed to the Minister's Department that it is satisfied with the level of access to PULSE that is currently being provided. As part of the processes involved, appropriate training has been provided for GSOC personnel. For the Minister's part, she believes it is appropriate that GSOC's access to the PULSE system should be provided within the general framework of the co-operation that takes place between the Garda Síochána and GSOC. This is specifically provided for in the 2005 Act and the Minister does not consider that there would be any advantage in making separate provision for one isolated area where information is exchanged. Also, legislating for access to a named information system, as proposed, has the potential to give rise to practical difficulties, for example, if the title or name of the system were to be decommissioned.

Additionally, section 9 of the Bill contains a provision that will underpin any requirement on the Garda Commissioner to provide information to GSOC. That section inserts a new section 103A into the Garda Síochána Act 2005 and places a statutory obligation on the Garda Commissioner to provide GSOC, as soon as practicable, with information that GSOC requires for the purposes of carrying out its functions.

In the circumstances, the Minister does not consider that new legislative provisions along the lines proposed are necessary. I ask the Deputy to withdraw the amendment.

With regard to amendment No. 15 tabled by Deputy Mac Lochlainn, the committee recommended that access to the PULSE system by GSOC should be put on a statutory footing, not by way of protocol. I understand that was in its report, which said that the access to Garda systems is of integral importance to the operation of effective oversight of An Garda Síochána. It said that while in practice this process is already in operation between the Garda Síochána, GSOC and the Garda Inspectorate, it is only by means of protocols which have been put in place. The committee recommended that this be placed on a statutory footing to ensure that no party can opt out of the protocol.

It is absolutely imperative that it is put on a statutory basis, and I intend to table an amendment to that effect on Report Stage.

To reiterate, the Minister fully agrees that GSOC should have access to PULSE but we must have regard to the fact that the commission has confirmed to the Minister and the Department that it is happy with the level of access to PULSE. For the reasons I outlined, it is considered that the amendment it is not required. I have outlined the difficulties in isolating this single area of access and with the title and other legal difficulties. We must also acknowledge some previous difficulties that existed between the commission and the Garda Síochána, which is not now the case. The commission is satisfied with the access it has in all areas.

I can see the point. Representatives of the Garda Inspectorate appeared before the committee recently and they said that PULSE is 1990s technology and that it should be massively upgraded. If we put PULSE into the legislation, we will have to change it again if PULSE is changed to something else in the future.

It is fair to point out that PULSE is coming to the end of its time. It has to be decommissioned or reconditioned and updated.

Amendment put and declared lost.

I move amendment No. 8:

In page 3, between lines 23 and 24, to insert the following:

“Amendment of section 96(4) of Principal Act

5. Section 96(4) of the Principal Act is amended by the substitution of the following subsection for subsection (4):

“(4) A person may not be required under subsection (1)(a) or (3)(a) to provide any information, document or thing that is designated, or is of a class designated, under section 126 as relating to the security of the State, and where a dispute occurs the matter shall be referred to the independent adjudicator.”.”.

Amendment put and declared lost.

I move amendment No. 9:

In page 3, between lines 23 and 24, to insert the following:

“Amendment of section 96(5) of Principal Act

5. Section 96(5) of the Principal Act is amended by the substitution of the following subsection for subsection (5):

“(5) If a person required under subsection (1)(a) or (3)(a) to provide any information, document or thing claims that subsection (4) applies in relation to the matter, the Ombudsman Commission shall refer the matter to the independent adjudicator.”.”.

Amendment put and declared lost.

I move amendment No. 10:

In page 3, between lines 23 and 24, to insert the following:

“Amendment of section 96(6) of Principal Act

5. Section 96(6) of the Principal Act is amended by the substitution of the following subsection for subsection (6):

“(6) If the Independent Adjudicator determines that the disclosure of all or part of the information, document or thing specified in the requirement would not be prejudicial to the security of the State or that its disclosure is necessary for the proper investigation of a matter concerning the death of, or serious harm to, a person as a result of Garda operations or while in the care or custody of the Garda Síochána, the Independent Adjudicator may issue a direction—

(a) specifying that all or part, as the case may be, of the document, information or thing be disclosed, and

(b) imposing any conditions or restrictions relating to the security of the State that the Independent Adjudicator considers appropriate.”.”.

Amendment put and declared lost.

I move amendment No. 11:

In page 3, between lines 23 and 24, to insert the following:

“5. Section 98(1) of the Principal Act is amended by the insertion of the following paragraph after paragraph (g):

“(h) the search of the Garda Síochána Police Using Leading Systems Effectively (PULSE) computer system for any purpose relevant to the investigation being conducted by the designated Officer of the Ombudsman Commission.”.”.

Amendment put and declared lost.
Sections 5 and 6 agreed to.
SECTION 7

Amendments Nos. 12 and 13 are related and may be discussed together.

I move amendment No. 12:

In page 4, line 18, to delete “and subject to the consent of the Minister,”.

This relates to the issue of the Minister having consent or, as Deputy O'Brien correctly said earlier, a veto. The optics and intent of it are wrong. If GSOC is to be truly independent in carrying out its role and fulfilling its remit, providing for ministerial veto or approval is wrong. The amendment seeks to delete that from the legislation.

I concur with Deputy Collins.

It makes a mockery of the notion of strengthening GSOC if a veto is left in place. It is imperative that under no circumstances should the Minister have a veto in this situation. I will table an amendment to that section when the time comes.

The Minister acknowledges that there are important issues at stake here and she is willing to give this further consideration and discuss it on Report Stage. In that context, it can be kept on the table if it is withdrawn. It is reasonable that further discussion of this should take place on Report Stage.

Question, "That the words proposed to be deleted stand", put and declared carried.
Amendment declared lost.

I move amendment No. 13:

In page 4, to delete lines 28 to 30.

Question, "That the words proposed to be deleted stand", put and declared carried.
Amendment declared lost.
Question proposed: "That section 7 stand part of the Bill."

Deputy Wallace wishes to draw our attention to a proposal he wishes to make on Report Stage in respect of section 7.

Yes. It relates to the issue of substituting "the Garda Authority" for "the Minister".

I wish to challenge, with an amendment, the idea of the Garda Síochána Ombudsman Commission being able to investigate the Commissioner only with the consent of the Minister.

The Deputy is giving notice of his intention to table an amendment to that effect on Report Stage. It is duly noted.

Question put and agreed to.
SECTION 8

I move amendment No. 14:

In page 5, line 23, before “by” to insert “in subsection (1),”.

This is a purely technical amendment to make it clear that the proposed new paragraph (c) is being inserted at subsection (1) of section 103. The need for this amendment has been identified by the Parliamentary Counsel and I hope it can be accepted.

Amendment agreed to.
Section 8, as amended, agreed to.
NEW SECTION

I move amendment No. 15:

In page 5, between lines 28 and 29, to insert the following:

“9. The Ombudsman Commission may, if the investigation so requires, access the PULSE system.”.

Amendment put and declared lost.
SECTION 9

I move amendment No. 16:

In page 5, line 35, to delete “as soon as practicable” and substitute “within thirty days”.

While I acknowledge that placing time limits on things sometimes can be impractical, one concern of Deputy Mac Lochlainn is that sometimes - not always and I do not wish to cast aspersions on members of the Garda - gardaí can cause undue delays when providing information or data to GSOC investigators. Sinn Féin wishes to ensure this is not the case and can never be the case by including a time limit. The Minister of State obviously will outline his reasons for not accepting the time limit but I give notice that this is something to which Sinn Féin may come back on Report Stage.

I also wish to table an amendment to the section on Report Stage.

On this particular section?

On the wording that it be provided "as soon as practicable". I want to put a precise time on the provision of information.

I thank the Deputy and that is noted. I ask the Minister of State to respond.

The aim of the new section being inserted is to place a statutory obligation on the Garda Commissioner to provide to GSOC any information it needs for the purposes of either the investigation of complaints or matters comprehended by sections 102 and 102B. The requirement is that this information will be provided as soon as practicable, that is, as soon as it is feasible to so do. This contrasts with the amendment, which allows for up to 30 days for material to be provided. I believe all agree on the requirement for things to happen as quickly as possible, but the formulation in the Bill, rather than a specific timeframe, is preferable because it recognises that from time to time, there will be instances in which the information cannot be obtained - within 30 days in this instance - or whatever the specific timeframe. The Minister is aware there have been situations in which the amount of time taken to supply information or material to GSOC has been unacceptable. There have perhaps been too many times when this has happened, but she has considered the position carefully and is satisfied that the new provision as drafted is sufficient to ensure that GSOC will be able to obtain any necessary information in a timeframe that is appropriate to the individual complexities and specifications of whatever case might arise. In this context, the Minister would stress that the main purpose of the new section is to place a specific statutory duty on the Garda to provide the information sought and she believes this will be successful. Consequently, in the circumstances the Government will not be able to accept the amendment.

I wish to give notice that I wish to add another section to this to-----

We will get back to it when we finish with this particular amendment. We are just dealing with this amendment at present.

I believe it is within the same topic. Am I wrong?

Yes, but it is a separate kind of thing. I will give the Deputy time in a moment to put it down. I have notice of it here and we will not pass over it.

I understand fully what the Minister of State is saying and I am sure that when Deputy Mac Lochlainn reads back the transcripts, he will disagree with him. While I can see where the Minister of State is coming from, there must also be some sort of mechanism put in place whereby if there is an undue delay in providing information, somebody must at least give an explanation as to what that delay is and whereby it cannot simply be open-ended. I do not know whether the Government can consider this matter before Report Stage. I am sure Deputy Mac Lochlainn will consider trying to reword it to ensure the avoidance of long delays where information is not forthcoming with no explanation as to the reason.

The spirit of the amendment tabled by Deputy Mac Lochlainn is accepted. It is just that it is not practical to put a specific number of days for every eventuality. However, I believe the spirit of what the amendment is trying to achieve is included, in so far as is practical and possible, given there occasionally will be cases in which the complexity requires that were one to specify 30, 45 or whatever number of days, it would not-----

Could a mechanism not be put in place whereby if a long period of time has elapsed, someone must come forward to explain the reason the information has not yet been provided? This would not put a specific timeframe on it but at least would avoid a position where the delay runs into two, three, four or five months without the information being provided and with no one knowing why it has not been provided. It would offer more transparency and accountability and would resolve the issue. Perhaps those responsible for drafting the legislation could consider doing this to ascertain whether it is possible to include such a safeguard without putting in a specific timeframe. If it is possible, that would be great. I take on board that the Minister of State understands from where Sinn Féin is coming. While we do not wish to be restrictive either, we wish to avoid a situation in which it is just open-ended with no explanation as to why the information is not forthcoming.

On that topic, expecting things to be done in the spirit of things is one reason GSOC has been so fettered for a number of years. From discussions with GSOC, I am aware that this is a huge problem for the commission. It is far too open-ended and the potential for non-co-operation without a serious restriction being put in place is too easily abused on the part of the police force.

Again, this will be dealt with as an operational matter between the Garda Síochána and GSOC. I will restate the ambition of having issues dealt with as efficiently and as quickly as possible. There are many instances - I have discussed this with the Deputy many times in our previous roles - in which it would be beneficial to have time-bound requirements. Unfortunately, given there can be complexities and different cases, it is not possible in this instance to include a number of days in the provision.

Will the Minister of State at least commit to considering the possibility of including a mechanism for reporting if the delay reaches a certain timeframe within the process? Someone could then at least report back to the commission to tell it not all the information has been acquired, the reason for it, and that it is hoped it will be provided within a number of weeks.

I am happy to bring this matter to the attention of the Minister again and if she considers it appropriate to bring it further, there can be further discussion on Report Stage. However, the Government will consider it further.

There is something in this and it should be examined because this issue has led to many problems. Something could be triggered if the commission considered that it was not getting information in a timely fashion. It should be able to move on it and that would be-----

There is no dispute on the ambition. It is a question of finding a way to achieve the ambition and the Government certainly will continue to examine this. It has received considerable-----

While I will leave it in the Minister of State's capable hands, if he fails I am sure we will-----

The Deputy knows where the Minister of State lives.

He does know where I live.

Let us stop the constituency love-in and return to amendment No. 16.

Given that the Minister is willing to examine it again before Report Stage, I will withdraw it.

Amendment, by leave, withdrawn.
Question proposed: "That section 9 stand part of the Bill."

Deputy Mick Wallace wished to bring something to our attention in respect of this section.

Given that the Commissioner could be under investigation, it could be necessary to compel the assistant Garda Commissioner to provide information, if so required. I wish to add this as an extra section.

That is in order. The issue is noted.

Question put and agreed to.
SECTION 10
Question proposed: "That section 10 stand part of the Bill."

Deputy Mick Wallace has brought it to our attention that he wishes to insert an amendment in this section on Report Stage.

I am considering the insertion of the words "the Garda Authority" in place of "the Minister" who is mentioned at numerous places in the section.

Has sufficient detail been provided? I believe the Deputy mentioned the Garda Síochána Ombudsman Commission at times.

Do I need to go through all of it?

The Deputy should give a brief overview of what he intends to do, without going into great detail.

There are about ten instances where " the Minister" is mentioned. I wish to replace the term with the words "the Garda Authority".

I hope that is sufficiently detailed for consideration on Report Stage. If the Deputy is happy with it, we will note what he said.

I have a great deal of detail, but the meeting would go on for some time if I were to go through it all. As recommended by the United Nations, most recently in the concluding comments of the Human Rights Committee in July 2014, section 106 has been amended in the Government's draft to allow GSOC independence to initiate investigations into the practices, policies and procedures of the Garda. Prior to this, the Minister's consent was required before GSOC could initiate any such investigation. The last three Ministers have refused permission to investigate the Corrib policing controversy for overtly political reasons.

Section 106 reports will be made to the Minister who may or may not redact parts of them before laying them before the House. Once the policing authority is established, it appears it would be more appropriate for GSOC to present these reports to the authority. The amendment would make that change, while allowing the Minister to retain the duty to lay the reports before the House, subject to national security considerations. However, where there was a dispute between the Minister and the Garda Authority over exclusions from the reports on national security grounds, a right of appeal to the designated judge under section 100 of the 2005 Act should be provided for.

We will note that proposal.

Question put and agreed to.
SECTION 11
Question proposed: "That section 11 stand part of the Bill."

Deputy Mick Wallace wishes to bring to our attention a proposed change for consideration on Report Stage.

Again, it is a proposal to replace the words "the Minister" with the "Garda Authority".

We will note that proposal.

Question put and agreed to.
Sections 12 and 13 agreed to.

Amendment No. 17 is out of order as it entails a potential charge on the Exchequer.

Amendment No. 17 not moved.
Section 14 agreed to.
Title agreed to.
Bill reported with amendments.