Tuesday, 15 May 2018

Ceisteanna (1, 2, 3, 4, 5)

Mary Lou McDonald

Ceist:

1. Deputy Mary Lou McDonald asked the Taoiseach when Cabinet committee G, justice and equality, last met; and when it is scheduled to meet again. [19915/18]

Amharc ar fhreagra

Brendan Howlin

Ceist:

2. Deputy Brendan Howlin asked the Taoiseach when Cabinet committee G, justice and equality, last met; and when it is next scheduled to meet. [21020/18]

Amharc ar fhreagra

Michael Moynihan

Ceist:

3. Deputy Michael Moynihan asked the Taoiseach when Cabinet committee G, justice and equality, last met. [21096/18]

Amharc ar fhreagra

Richard Boyd Barrett

Ceist:

4. Deputy Richard Boyd Barrett asked the Taoiseach when Cabinet committee G, justice and equality, last met. [21099/18]

Amharc ar fhreagra

Joan Burton

Ceist:

5. Deputy Joan Burton asked the Taoiseach when Cabinet committee G, justice and equality, will next meet. [21115/18]

Amharc ar fhreagra

Oral answers (22 contributions) (Ceist ar Taoiseach)

I propose to take Questions Nos. 1 to 5, inclusive, together.

Cabinet committee G last met on Monday, 16 April. The date of the next meeting has not been finalised. In addition to meetings of the full Cabinet and Cabinet committees, I meet Ministers on an individual basis as required to focus on particular issues. In this regard, I regularly meet the Minister for Justice and Equality, Deputy Flanagan, to discuss justice and equality matters.

Cabinet committee G provides political oversight of developments with regard to justice and equality issues, including implementation of the Government's programme of reform for the justice sector. The Cabinet committee ensures a dedicated focus on the substantial reform of the policing and justice systems which the Government is determined to achieve. It will build on work already completed or under way. This includes the establishment of the Policing Authority, which is overseeing implementation of the existing Garda modernisation and renewal plan. In addition, the Commission on the Future of Policing is due to report later this year and will no doubt make recommendations for further change.

The effectiveness and renewal group for the Department of Justice and Equality is also carrying out work. Chaired by Mr. Pádraig Ó Ríordáin, it will focus on practical implementation of necessary reforms and modernisation and provide an initial report to Government by 30 June 2018.

Building on the commitments in the programme for Government to advance gender equality, the Government intends to advance a number of specific initiatives in 2018, which are in line with the aims and objectives of the national strategy for women and girls.

Given the number of questions in the group, I ask Deputies to stick to the time provided.

Gabhaim buíochas leis an Taoiseach as ucht an fhreagra sin. Caithfidh mé a rá go gcuireann sé iontas orainn an tuairisc a fhoilsíodh, a leagann amach tuairimí 6,500 gardaí, a léamh. The cultural audit of 6,500 gardaí makes for concerning reading because it reinforces what many whistleblowers have told us, namely, that speaking out is not encouraged and there is a culture of fear in the Garda Síochána because of the potential consequences of speaking out. There is no doubt we need a major shift from a culture of secrecy and impunity towards one of transparency and accountability. The Commission on the Future of Policing must make radical proposals that address not only the structure of the Garda but also the culture of policing. The Government must take a radical approach to implementing the recommendations once they have been made.

On a related issue, an article published in the Irish Examiner yesterday reported a statement from a spokesperson for the Garda Representative Association that up to 50% of front-line gardaí had not received CBD2 training, which means they cannot exceed speed limits or activate blue lights in emergencies. This is a shocking revelation. Thus far the Garda has refused to disclose official figures on the number of gardaí who have not completed this training. Will the Taoiseach instruct the Minister for Justice and Equality to do so without delay?

The Taoiseach spoke of modernisation of the Garda Síochána. On new year's day 2017, as a result of damage sustained in an road traffic accident, a Garda patrol car was taken out of commission in County Donegal. The Garda station in Bunbeg has still not had the patrol car replaced. I have raised this matter numerous times with the Garda and the Minister. We do not have modernisation of a police force when a Garda station does not have access to a patrol car and gardaí cannot carry out their duties effectively.

I thank the Taoiseach for his reply. Will he bring the House up to speed on the position regarding the appointment of a new Garda Commissioner? The deadline for applications was 12 April last. Will this be a stand-alone appointment or is it envisaged that there will be a strengthening support base for whomever is appointed?

The Taoiseach referred to the Commission on the Future of Policing, which is due to report in September next. Under its terms of reference, the commission could bring forward proposals for recommendations in advance of its final report.

Have any reports or recommendations been received by Government from the commission to date in advance of the final report which is due in September?

The PwC cultural audit was referenced by Deputy Pearse Doherty. The Taoiseach will recall when I introduced the Protected Disclosures Act 2014 I stated that all the international experience I looked at showed it was only the starting measure. In other words, changing the law was easier than changing the culture. It seems as if we have not changed the culture. What specific training or initiatives can be taken to ensure that staff are not fearful about outing their suspicion of wrongdoing?

During the last general election there was widespread shock about the shooting at the Regency Hotel and the escalation of gang-related murders in parts of Dublin. The Taoiseach will remember how the Government lined up to say that the force of the State would be brought to bear on the gangs and the threat they posed to communities would be lifted. It was also said that co-ordinating the effort would be a core priority of the Cabinet committee on justice. Over two years later, can the Taoiseach tell us whether he believes that these promises have been fulfilled? Has the siege really been lifted on communities suffering from the actions of these gangs? The same core feud and gangs appear to be involved and the escalation in the years up to 2016 has continued rather than abated. No doubt the activity in the immediate aftermath of the Regency Hotel shooting had a significant impact in preventing planned murders. However, the current situation is extremely serious. Assistant Commissioner Leahy stated last week that gardaí have had to issue 522 warnings in the recent past to potential victims of gangs. Of these, 61 cases involved what the Garda defines as "critical or severe" warnings.

Can the Taoiseach also confirm whether or not the Government is concerned about or aware of increased numbers of people using heroin in Galway, Limerick and Cork? While recent reports confirm that gang burglaries are down, this morning's newspapers report the head of the special crimes operations, Assistant Commissioner John O'Driscoll, stating yesterday that the courts are too soft on serial burglars. He speaks of burglars being arrested 50 to 60 times and that the sentencing is not seen as a deterrent. Is the Government planning to address this and can the Taoiseach tell us why there has not been more progress on something which we were told was an absolute priority for Government?

Has the committee discussed the issue of whistleblowers and providing the support to whistleblowers that the Government often claims it is committed to? I raised with the Taoiseach a couple of weeks ago the case of Mr. Stephen Walsh who blew the whistle on fraudulent behaviour, and indeed bribery, in the health service which revealed that a surgical equipment company had been essentially bribing staff working in the area of procurement in 13 hospitals and exposed that scam. Ever since, the reward for Mr. Walsh has been to be blacklisted from any employment in that sector. The man is near breakdown.

The journalist who blew the story, which got a lot of publicity at the time, wrote to the Taoiseach recently asking could he do anything - I raised it with the Taoiseach as well - to support this man to get employment again. Only in the last week, the Taoiseach wrote back a letter stating there is nothing he can do and Mr. Walsh should go on the public jobs website to see if he can find something. Is the level of support we give to someone who put his livelihood on the line to do the State a service which revealed criminal activity in public procurement that we say it is tough luck if he is blacklisted? Is that good enough? I ask the Taoiseach in this individual case to reconsider whether he can help this man because he is at the end of his tether but also, more generally, whether we need to be a bit more supportive of whistleblowers when they do the State a service if they find themselves in difficulty afterwards as a result of their whistleblowing.

I want to ask the Taoiseach about the interim measures for asylum seekers accessing the labour market, and specifically accessing further education and training. We have undertaken to receive into Ireland several thousand Syrian refugees and that is in process at present. I do not know whether the Taoiseach is aware that access to the labour market generally is through access to further education and training or traditional third-level courses that have an employment, vocational or workplace training component. The problem is that there is a lack of clarity in education and training boards as to whether they can make provision for those who have come or, in this case, been invited as refugees and asylum seekers to Ireland. Unless they get adequate language skills and the education and vocational skills they require to become employable in Ireland, which they are anxious to become, the chances are they will be sitting in reception centres for a long period of time. That is not good for them. In fairness, it is disturbing to local people in the different areas where they are settling, notwithstanding all they are doing for asylum seekers, that they cannot properly access the jobs market. I noted yesterday that the Government made a decision to go back to the policy of the former Minister, Ms Mary Harney, and former Taoiseach, Mr. Bertie Ahern, to relax the visa requirements for those coming from outside the EEA in certain occupations paying €22,000 or more a year but it is doing little or nothing to provide for the rapid integration of the asylum seekers whom we have already invited into this country to access the language and education skills they need.

I am sorry the Taoiseach has only three minutes to deal with those questions.

I will do the best I can. First, the PwC cultural audit of the Garda made interesting reading. I read it with some degree of concern. I welcome the fact the audit was done. Many big organisations do not conduct cultural audits. I am not sure whether we have done one in the Oireachtas. It would be an interesting option that the Ceann Comhairle might consider.

I would not recommend it.

However, I welcome that it was done. It is part of a genuine effort by the Garda to reform and modernise, both as an organisation and as a workplace. The job now is to make changes, put those changes in place and then repeat the audit, perhaps in a couple of years' time to see whether it has made a difference. That is how the audit cycle works - one finds out what is the issue, one makes the changes, one repeats the audit and one sees whether those changes have made a difference.

In terms of Garda training, the number of gardaí is now increasing rapidly since Templemore was reopened to Garda recruitment. We have recruited 1,800 additional gardaí and are now up to 13,500 gardaí. I read with some concern that some of those are not trained to do everything that we might like them to do but we need to bear in mind that each garda has a different role. It is important that gardaí are trained to do the job they are actually doing. It is not necessary that every garda be trained to do everything. If gardaí are not out in cars, for example, if they are not involved in pursuit, they do not necessarily need to be trained in that. However, if it is part of their job description or the particular role they have, it is important that they are trained to do it. Given that we are recruiting so quickly, I can understand why it may be difficult to ensure that everyone has all the bits of training that one may get after a couple of years' experience.

The recruitment process for the Garda Commissioner is ongoing. I am told there is a good range of applicants, both internal and external. However, it is not yet at finalisation and I have not heard any names. It is important though that whoever becomes Garda Commissioner is empowered to make changes - this will apply to the new CEO of the HSE as well - and refresh the management team because one cannot bring about change in an organisation if one only changes the top person.

I do not know how many times we have tried to bring about change in organisations by just changing the person at the top. It requires more than that. I am really determined that the new Garda Commissioner and the new HSE CEO will be able to refresh their top management and middle management teams and reorganise those organisations as they see fit. I have seen it work well in other organisations such as the AA, to give one example. I am sure it can be done in big organisations such as the Garda and the HSE.

I met the members of the Commission on the Future of Policing in Ireland a couple of months ago to discuss the broad issues with them. They have not submitted a report to Government yet. I understand a report may arrive at the end of June but they will not be able to make their final report until September. I am very keen for it to be a report that contains recommendations we can implement. We will continue to engage with them on that.

I am afraid I do not have any specific information on heroin sales or trading in the cities, which the Deputy mentioned, but I will ask for a reply to be furnished to him from the Department of Justice and Equality.

On burglaries, we have changed the law to punish recidivism to make it an additional offence if people have been involved in or convicted of multiple burglaries. Recent statistics show a very significant decrease in the number of burglaries in the State which is encouraging. Garda statistics come with a health warning. I am very aware of that. A downward trend in the number of burglaries is very welcome and I am sure it will be welcomed by families and homeowners.

With regard to whistleblowers, we are observing what is happening at the disclosures tribunal and observing the different types of whistleblowers there are. The outcome of that tribunal has been interesting in that regard and it can be difficult to identify which whistleblowers are absolutely genuine and which are not at all. The disclosures tribunal has been very revealing in that regard. We are interested to see what comes out of it in terms of further recommendations on how we can make the public service a supportive environment for people who are whistleblowers. The last Government, of which I was a member with Deputy Burton and Deputy Howlin, was the first to bring in legislation to protect whistleblowers. It is far from perfect but it was a genuine first attempt to create a more supportive environment for whistleblowers within the public service and private sector.

We did it before that.

We will review that legislation.

There was sectoral specific whistleblowing protection legislation brought in.

That is correct. This is the first time there was-----

-----an overarching one. It was initiated by the then Minister, former Deputy Pat Rabbitte, and after that by Deputy Howlin when he was Minister. It was an important step in the right direction as were the sectoral ones prior to that. We may need to build on it further.

On the gentleman that Deputy Boyd Barrett mentioned, I wrote back to him after the Deputy raised it with me. I do not want to discuss anyone's private business here in the Chamber but if I remember correctly he was looking for a particular type of job in the public service-----

He is just looking for help.

-----and I am not in a position to organise employment for people in the public service, as much as I would like to. People need to apply for jobs that are available and that is how people get employment in general.

He has been blacklisted because he blew the whistle.

With regard to refugees, particularly those who have been invited to this country such as Syrians, which Deputy Burton mentioned, I will make sure we get a detailed reply for the Deputy on access to English language education and training. I do not have an answer on that in front of me. I believe some is available but perhaps not to the extent it should be. The point Deputy Burton makes is very well made. If we invite people into our country as refugees we should assist them to become full members of our society and allow them to participate fully in our labour market. It makes sense that if we have people already in Ballaghaderreen or Blanchardstown, providing them with English language education and access to education so they become part of the workforce is eminently more logical than issuing work permits to people who are not already here. The Deputy made a very valid point in that regard.

We are running over time. We will move on.