Wednesday, 30 January 2019

Ceisteanna (36)

Mick Wallace

Ceist:

36. Deputy Mick Wallace asked the Minister for Justice and Equality his views on whether funding issues may be impeding the ability of GSOC to deal with protected disclosures in an expedient and timely manner; if he has considered increasing the budget for GSOC; and if he will make a statement on the matter. [4388/19]

Amharc ar fhreagra

Oral answers (14 contributions) (Ceist ar Justice)

This is a connected question. The Minister referred to due process, but I would insist that Mr. Keogh certainly has not got due process to date. Are funding issues impeding the ability of GSOC to deal with protected disclosures in an expedient and timely manner? GSOC is getting an extra €600,000 in this year's budget, but will the Minister consider giving it more money to make it more effective?

I acknowledge the concerns of Deputy Wallace and others in that regard. It is essential that we ensure that the independent complaints body, GSOC, is properly and adequately funded. Resources and funding are the matter of ongoing review. I acknowledge the provision of an extra allocation of funds.

GSOC has authority to appoint its own officers under delegated sanction. Sanction was provided in November last for an additional 42 staff members, five of whom were to be deployed to a dedicated disclosures unit. This would increase the unit's active staffing to ten full-time members. At no time has GSOC had as much access to resourcing or staffing. These additions reflect the important work undertaken by the commission and the need for it to be properly resourced in order to ensure public confidence in the independent role that it plays.

I am aware that GSOC has more money now than it did before, but will it not need even more if it is to do the job as effectively as we would like? Last December, the Minister announced that the Government had endorsed the report of the Commission on the Future of Policing in Ireland and agreed to accept all 157 key recommendations. According to the Department's implementation plan, the new framework will be in place by June 2021 and legislation on the establishment of new oversight bodies is to be drafted this year. Where does that stand? The Government can introduce all the legislation it likes - we agree with giving greater powers to GSOC so that it can function - but unless that is matched with extra resources, it will unfortunately remain a toothless organisation. It will need much more funding if it is to be the body we would all like it to be.

On the latter point, I am in agreement with Deputy Wallace. I would be keen to ensure that the question of resourcing on the one hand and the question of legislative update on the other are kept under review at all times. I acknowledge the Deputy's concerns in this regard.

Protection for whistleblowers rightly prioritises the privacy and confidentiality of the process, which is central to the process.

It is not right or proper that to discuss individual cases. This morning, I acknowledged names which were put before the House again by Deputy Wallace. While I do not doubt his concerns about the matter, it would be a pity if they were, in some way, to blind us to the basic principles of fairness. The reality appears to be that Deputy Wallace and other Deputies rush to judgment without having heard what others have to say about a particular case or a particular set of allegations. It is easy to make charges against people, as the Deputy and others do, when these people are not in a position to defend themselves. There is process involved under the Act. I have indicated to the House the practice and procedure regarding such complaints.

The Minister will have another opportunity to respond.

It is incumbent on us to allow the independent body, GSOC, proceed and carry out its investigations in accordance with its terms of reference.

That is contradictory. The Minister said that GSOC is a statutory independent body and that we should not rush to judgment. Why did he not wait for GSOC to investigate the protected disclosure regarding assistant commissioner Fanning before he was suspended? Why was he suspended in advance of the investigation? The Minister is the one accusing me of-----

The Deputy is long enough in the House to know that he cannot make reference to individuals who are not here.

I am sorry. I will not name anyone anymore.

The Minister said that I was the one jumping to a judgment. With what is happening, it looks to me that he does not have confidence in GSOC to do its work. I have not a clue as to what Fanning did or did not do.

The Deputy said he would refrain from naming people.

I am sorry. That was a slip of the tongue.

I am not the one making the judgment. If the Minister has faith in GSOC, why did he have to come up with this panel? Why was this individual suspended in advance of the protected disclosure being heard?

The Minister to respond.

I do not understand this.

I have every confidence in GSOC and in its work headed up by an eminent judge of the High Court. I am keen to ensure that appropriate resources are made available. I am pleased to report progress in recent times, which I am sure, having reflected on the matter, will be agreed with by the Deputy.

I am not, however, going to comment in any manner or means on a case currently before the High Court. It is grossly irresponsible of the Deputy to make reference to aspects of the particular case in the House and to expect me, as Minister for Justice and Equality, to wish to enter into any debate on the matter.