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Dáil Diary no 29. 1st April 2015

Nothing Changes – Taoiseach and Garda Commissioner Carry on as Usual…

Yesterday I had Leaders' Questions with the Taoiseach, and I asked him why he approved the promotion of a Superintendent to Chief Superintendent despite being told by a member of An Garda Síochána that the man in question was involved in Garda malpractice. Surprisingly, he didn’t answer the question. Again. After all, it’s ‘Question time’, not ‘Answer time’. It appears that Fine Gael, the party of law and order, are not very fussy about the type of law and order that they have. In most democratic countries, a leader might struggle to get away with this, but then, transparency and accountability remain just aspirations in Ireland, and remain far from a reality. Here are the exchanges from the Dáil yesterday-

Deputy Mick Wallace: On 28 January, I asked the Taoiseach to tell the House when he was first personally made aware of serious Garda malpractice in the Athlone area. Given that his memory is normally pretty good, I was surprised that he failed to recall it.

In 2012, a Garda went to see the Taoiseach in Castlebar and told him about serious malpractice by a certain Superintendent in the Athlone area. He told the Taoiseach, "If you don't do something about him, you will be reading about him in the papers". The Taoiseach expressed shock at that time about what this gentleman told him. However, later that same year the Taoiseach gave approval for the promotion of this Superintendent to Chief Superintendent. This same Chief Superintendent is now the subject of three different investigations.

That same Garda contacted the Taoiseach again in November 2014, which is why I was particularly surprised that he did not remember him in January. Even though the Garda highlighted more malpractice on the part of the same gentleman, he has since been moved to Phoenix Park to work in the implementation of the Garda Inspectorate report.

What hope is there for reform as long as the old hierarchy remains in place?

Surely the Taoiseach must realise that they are part of the problem, not the solution. It is more than a year since the Taoiseach got rid of the former Garda Commissioner, Martin Callinan. At this stage I am beginning to wonder why he bothered – the new Garda Commissioner is cut from the very same cloth, and we are not looking at much different.

We have been speaking to some new whistleblowers of late, some of whom are trying to raise issues regarding Gardaí involved in the drug trade. I will tell the Taoiseach what they are facing – Harassment, Bullying, Intimidation, Cover up, Denial and Delay. In one internal investigation, the Garda about whom complaints have been made, is being kept informed while those making the allegations are being harassed - all under the watch of the new Commissioner. The same internal investigation has been going on for 11 months – it appears as if they are trying to break the man. And I think they might.

Why would any Garda be a whistleblower, if it means being isolated and harassed for doing the right thing, while the person about whom he is complaining gets promoted?

Is the Taoiseach aware that since the Government did away with the Confidential Recipient, there has been no place for Garda whistleblowers to go, because GSOC is not geared to deal with it? What will the Taoiseach do about it?

The Taoiseach: On the previous occasion the Deputy raised the matter here, I sent him a note asking him to supply the details about which he was talking. He did not respond to that note. I reject his assertion in respect of the former Garda Commissioner. I reject his assertion in respect of the current Garda Commissioner. The Government has taken action to introduce the most radical changes to the country's policing system since the foundation of the State. As the Deputy knows, the Government has no function in the proposals to appoint people as chief superintendents, except to have them approved or endorsed by the Garda Commissioner.

Deputy Mick Wallace: Exactly.

The Taoiseach: The situation regarding the appointment of commissioners has changed. It is an independent process. In this case, applications were sought nationally and internationally. The establishment of the policing authority is being followed through by the Minister for Justice and Equality. I expect that to be legislated for and enacted by the middle of May. Also, with regard to the continuation of GSOC and what it will be entitled to do, the appointment of a chairperson of GSOC is under consideration by the Government. That appointment should be made very quickly. I do not accept what the Deputy says regarding bullying, harassment and the other issues he mentioned. I asked the Deputy for a note in respect of what he raised, but he chose not to respond. I would appreciate it if he would do so later.

Deputy Mick Wallace: That is a load of rubbish, and the Taoiseach knows it. He did not address the issues I raised. I never said the Taoiseach promoted him. I said he approved of it. Why would he approve the promotion of a Superintendent to Chief Superintendent after being made aware of the fact that he was involved in serious Garda malpractice?

Why in God's name would he do it?

Will the Taoiseach explain that?

He talks about the greatest reforms in the history of the State - what a load of baloney. He promised all kinds of reform last summer but it has been so minuscule, it is an embarrassment.

The Guerin report was released last May. The Government only established a Commission of Investigation nine months later. We probably will not see the full report of the Fennelly Commission until after the election. We were due to have the report of the Independent Review Mechanism last September, but still we have not received it.

The Garda authority was supposed to be up and running by December, and God knows when we will get a watered down version of it. The report of the Garda Inspectorate was not even debated in the House. The latest report on the Penalty Points was not debated in the House either. The Taoiseach talks about things changing, but I have details here of one Fine Gael backbencher who has three fixed charges against him. They were not terminated, but they were kept on a shelf, and the summonses were not served.

Will the Taoiseach not admit that bugger all has changed?

The Taoiseach has no appetite for change. He likes the fact that policing is still politicised in Ireland and he will keep it that way. The Garda Commissioner does not wish to change things, and neither does he.

The Taoiseach: I sent Deputy Wallace a note asking him for details about what he raised on the last occasion, but he chose not to answer it.

Deputy Mick Wallace: This man went to the Taoiseach in Castlebar and the Taoiseach ignored him as well.

The Taoiseach: The Deputy chose not to respond to the Minister for Justice and Equality when she invited him to Farmleigh to give his views and proposals in respect of the work that was taking place. The policing reforms include the establishment of the independent policing authority, the appointment of a chair designate for the new authority and the first ever international competition for the position of Garda Commissioner, which was run by the Public Appointments Service and involved the chair designate of the new authority. A similar open competition is currently under way for the positions of deputy commissioner of An Garda Síochána. There is also the provision of enhanced powers for the Garda Síochána Ombudsman Commission, the passing of new legislation to protect whistleblowers and the reform and extension of freedom of information legislation. I expect that the legislation establishing the policing authority will be passed by the House by the end of May. These are the most far-reaching reforms in policing in this country since the foundation of the State.

Mick Wallace

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