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An Garda Síochána

Dáil Éireann Debate, Thursday - 25 November 2021

Thursday, 25 November 2021

Ceisteanna (119)

Martin Kenny


119. Deputy Martin Kenny asked the Minister for Justice the supports or assistance she or her Department gave to the holding of a conference (details supplied). [57838/21]

Amharc ar fhreagra

Freagraí ó Béal (6 píosaí cainte) (Ceist ar Justice)

What supports or assistance did the Department give to the holding of the Garda Representative Association, GRA, conference in 2020? As we know, the event took place during the pandemic when practically nothing was happening anywhere in the country. I have a letter to the Minister from Jim Mulligan, the former president of the GRA, in which he expressed concerns that unofficial lobbying had been done by some members of the GRA's central executive committee to have a conference take place. By everyone's standards, this was unnecessary at the time and put people at risk. In late November, the Department's attitude was that the conference could not and should not happen, but it changed its mind in that regard. There are serious concerns that a lot of lobbying was done, both in respect of the Minister and others, to make this happen when it was totally inappropriate.

As the Deputy will be aware, the Garda Commissioner is responsible for the management and administration of Garda business, including the redeployment of gardaí and its staff. It also includes management of human resources and industrial relations matters and I do not play role a role in these matters. I want to be clear about what happened. The event did not take place in-person. That was very clear. My Department's role was to allow for the event to take place. This event had to take place by the end of May 2020 and to regulations had to be introduced to allow it to take place at a later date.

Due to the public health guidelines introduced in response to Covid-19, the annual delegate conference of the GRA could not be held in the usual in-person format. As a result, the GRA communicated directly with my Department in the course of 2020 on the possibility of holding the conference later in the year, and exploring the scope for regulatory changes to support this. Following this and consultation with the Garda Commissioner and the Policing Authority, the Garda Síochána (Associations) (Amendment) Regulations 2020 were signed on 8 December in accordance with section 122 of the Garda Síochána Act. These regulations provided that the conference need not take place in person and, subsequent to this, I understand the annual delegate conference proceeded as a virtual event on 29 December 2020. Simply put, the organisation contacted my Department asking that we make provision for it to hold the conference virtually. I think the initial date was 20 January. A specific date was provided and a request to delay it was submitted. The conference eventually took place on 29 December. That is what happened. Obviously, my Department is available to support the Garda representative organisations if they wish to hold their annual delegate conferences throughout the year.

The issues here go beyond the conference. All of us understand that there are issues with the Garda Representative Association, particularly in its governance.

Individual members of An Garda Síochána to whom I have spoken are concerned at the way things are run and operated. We know there were difficulties in the past in that regard. On 15 December 2020, the Minister received a letter from Jim Mulligan, the former president of the GRA, regarding concerns he had about unauthorised lobbying of politicians and Government Departments by people claiming to represent the GRA. He said that details had been concealed from him and the rest of the central executive in contravention of the GRA legal framework. He also raised many other issues, including issues around financial irregularities. While I understand the Minister wanting to keep the matter at arm's length, this is a statutory organisation coming under the Department of Justice's remit. It is set up in that way, as are all the representative organisations of An Garda Síochána. There is a lot of public money going into the organisation, along with all of the fees. This is, in effect, a trade union. The individual members are paying fees and, from the reports we are getting, they are not getting good value for their money. There are a lot of issues that need to be dealt with. The Minister needs to take a hand in ensuring that ordinary members of An Garda Síochána are properly and appropriately represented.

I will state clearly that I was not lobbied on this matter. There was a very clear process. The GRA engaged with my Department throughout last year to try to ensure this conference could be held. The work that was done between my Department and the Attorney General was simply to allow for this conference to take place. As the Deputy will appreciate, the association is independent in its management and administration, as is the Garda Commissioner with regard to the management and administration of An Garda Síochána. I play absolutely no role in that, nor do I want to intervene in the organisation with regard to the manner in which it conducts itself.

There is a misconception that funding is given through my Department. We do not provide funding to the association in question. It is provided with some subvention for certain expenses from the Garda Vote. I hope the Deputy will appreciate that the Garda Commissioner is the Accounting Officer for that Vote and that, as Minister, I have no role. The GRA is an independent organisation. As the Deputy mentioned, it has fantastic members and is a fantastic group of people, to whom I have spoken and whose conference I attended virtually this week. My role is simply to support it in the work it does. How it conducts itself in the work it does is very much a matter for the body itself.

I understand the Minister's reluctance to get involved. It is probably appropriate on one level but, as she said, ordinary members of An Garda Síochána do magnificent work and deserve to be properly represented. We all agree on that. In January 2018, or perhaps before that, the management consultancy firm, Ampersand, made a number of recommendations in respect of a whole range of issues that needed to be dealt with. That was more than three years ago. In its research into what was going on and in the work it did, Ampersand found a wide range of issues that needed to be dealt with. It is my understanding that few, if any, of its recommendations have been implemented. That reflects poorly on how the organisation is run and means the majority of ordinary rank-and-file gardaí are not getting the kind of response they need.

Among the issues that have been raised, there is talk of cliques, in-fighting and all sorts of carry-on that is really not appropriate. We need proper accountability and management. There are also issues with regard to financial irregularities that need to be dealt with. While I understand the Minister wants to keep herself at arm's length, a conversation with the Garda Commissioner who, as the Minister said, has direct responsibility is required to ensure that gardaí are properly represented.

The Ampersand report was very welcome. It made a number of recommendations. I believe it was welcomed by the organisation, the Garda Commissioner and everybody else who has seen it. My understanding is that the timeline for its implementation runs to 2025, so there is obviously some way to go. The Commissioner has taken a personal interest in this matter and has recently received an update on how the recommendations are being implemented. It is not that I simply do not want to intervene but that I do not believe I should and that it is not my role to do so. This is an independent association. It has its own elected representatives and members. It is important that I, as Minister, do not interfere in the organisation. My role is to support it through the provision of financial support, policy and legislation and to engage with it on matters that are important to it. That is the work I do. The internal mechanisms are very much a matter for the association.