The Government is committed to rapidly implementing the Report of the Commission on the Future of Policing in Ireland and in that context to introduce the Policing and Community Safety Bill. Work on the development of the General Scheme of this Bill is at an advanced stage in my Department. Following consultations with the Garda Commissioner and the oversight bodies, which are underway at present on the detail of the proposals, I hope to bring the matter before Cabinet in the near future.
I hope the Deputy will appreciate that this consultative process is underway and the question of approval of the detailed approach will be a matter for Government in the normal way.
However, it may be helpful that I set out the background and the rationale to the proposals that are currently the subject of consultation.
As the Deputy will recall the Commission on the Future of Policing in Ireland, chaired by Dr Kathleen O’Toole and comprising a group of national and international experts drawn from diverse backgrounds, was established by Government to undertake a fundamental examination of all aspects of policing including all functions undertaken by An Garda Síochána and the bodies that have a role in providing oversight - the Policing Authority, the Garda Síochána Inspectorate, the Garda Ombudsman Commission, my Department and Government. Its 2018 report followed wide-ranging consultations and intensive deliberations. All of its recommendations were accepted by Government which published the 4 year plan “A Policing Service for our Future (2019-2022)” to support its implementation and under which, I am pleased to say, much has been achieved.
The Policing and Community Safety Bill is an important element of that plan. It will, as I have said, provide a new coherent governance and oversight framework for policing. This is in response to the Commission’s serious finding that the existing framework is complex and confused and acts to the detriment of accountability on the part of individuals and the Garda Síochána itself. Such a serious finding cannot be ignored. The new framework, as recommended by the Commission, will clearly delineate between the management of the Gardaí and independent external oversight to ensure that all parts of the system have clear and distinct roles supporting strong internal governance, clear and effective oversight and accountability and ultimately better policing.
Under the new framework responsibility for running the Garda organisation will be situated where it belongs in any organisation - with the head of the organisation, the Garda Commissioner, who will be accountable to a non-executive Garda Síochána Board in line with best practice. Robust independent oversight will be provided by a new body merging many of the functions of the Policing Authority and the Garda Inspectorate. That body will continue public scrutiny of policing, which the Authority has done to good effect, and will have the added benefit of an in-house empowered inspection function to support its work.
As regards the selection and appointments of senior officers currently undertaken by the Policing Authority, the Commission’s strong view was that the Garda Commissioner must be empowered to act as CEO of the Garda Síochána and be given the levers to run the organisation and drive reform. Responsibility for appointments is clearly within the remit of the Board and CEO of any large organisation and, should the final decision follow this recommendation, in the context of the proposed new governance and oversight framework, it would be appropriate for the Commissioner and the Garda Síochána Board to be given responsibility for senior appointments. Such responsibility would, of course, need to be subject to the rigorous standards that characterise recruitment to our public services to ensure that the processes are fair and perceived to be so.