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Dáil Diary no 30- 3rd April 2015

Policing- Government and Garda Commissioner pretend they want Reform - And pray that the media buy it...

 

Yesterday I had two questions for Minister for Justice Frances Fitzgerald, but didn't get many answers. It is very clear now that GSOC does not have the power or resources to be an investigatory body, or have the potential to hold An Garda Siochana to account. It is also clear that while it is over a year since the former Commissioner Martin Callinan was got rid of, and nearly a year since the former Minister Alan Shatter went the same way- very little has changed. The new Garda Commissioner is cut from the same cloth as the former, and has no appetite for real reform. Neither does our new Minister for Justice, Frances Fitzgerald, who is beginning to make the former Minister Alan Shatter look like a Revolutionary. Here are some of my exchanges with the Minister in the Dáil yesterday.- 

 

"When will the Minister appoint a replacement for Simon O'Brien? It is strange that it has not happened. What process does she intend to use? I understand that section 65 of the Garda Síochána Act 2005 allows for a 100% political appointment. Has the Minister considered changing that system in any way? It is obvious that despite the Minister having given an extra €1 million to GSOC this year, it is under-resourced and does not have the potential to do what it is supposed to do.

Deputy Frances Fitzgerald: Information on Frances Fitzgerald Zoom on Frances Fitzgerald It is vital that the public has strong confidence in the Garda Síochána and the system of oversight of the Garda Síochána. The Government is implementing a comprehensive programme of reform in the areas of policing and justice. As part of the programme of change, the Garda Síochána (Amendment) Act 2015, which I will be commencing very shortly, will strengthen and clarify the remit and capacity of GSOC, and I will keep under review the case for further change.

I remain in contact with GSOC and the Department of Public Expenditure and Reform in relation to resources for GSOC. I should mention in this regard that the recent budget granted GSOC an increase of €1 million in its allocation for 2015.

Mr. Simon O'Brien resigned from his position as chairperson of GSOC on 30 January 2015. Mr. O'Brien made an important contribution in his role as the chairperson of GSOC, as well as in his previous role as deputy to the chief inspector in the Garda Inspectorate, and I again put on record my appreciation for his service...

...the person who will be appointed to GSOC will serve out Mr. O'Brien's term of office which will expire at the end of December 2016. That is in line with the Act.

I wish to inform the House that following careful consideration of the matters, I have decided to advertise the position of chairperson of GSOC for the remainder of the term.

Deputy Mick Wallace: Information on Mick Wallace Zoom on Mick Wallace The Minister said GSOC can carry on its work while waiting for the third commissioner to be appointed. The sad point is that it cannot carry out its work. It is under too much pressure. The extra workload involved in giving it the job of confidential recipient seems to be beyond it. For example, the case of a whistleblower named Keith Harrison was referred to GSOC last September. He spoke to Simon O’Brien in December and Mr. O’Brien said he was taking it very seriously but he has not heard a word since then and it is now April. Another whistleblower complained to GSOC in November 2014 and has heard nothing. They are both gardaí. GSOC does not have the capacity to behave as a confidential recipient.

GSOC’s remit was always intended to be investigatory, rather than review and oversight. It does not have a prayer of being an investigatory body without the necessary resources.

Deputy Frances Fitzgerald: Information on Frances Fitzgerald Zoom on Frances Fitzgerald I meet with GSOC. We gave it €1 million extra in the recent budget and it recruited extra people. It is getting on with the job of investigation. I received its report for this year late yesterday which outlines its work. I cannot comment on individual cases but I am very keen that the public and the Garda have confidence in GSOC and that it gets on with the work of investigating. It is doing that.

The Deputy is quoting particular cases and timeframes. I do not know the reasons for those delays but it is examining the cases that come before it. The chairperson will be replaced soon. In the meantime, the other officers are getting on with the work.

Deputy Mick Wallace: Information on Mick Wallace Zoom on Mick Wallace The Minister says the public has confidence in GSOC. That is not true. The Minister knows that it does not. As she said in response to the previous question, many complaints are based on the fact that people did not get satisfaction from GSOC. It is not that the people in GSOC are bad people, rather it does not have the potential to be the body it was intended to be. We all realise that it was structured in the first place not to succeed and sadly that remains the case.

In 2013, the UN rapporteur on human rights expressed concerns about how GSOC worked and said that the excessive dependence on the Department of Justice and Equality was worrying. It said that it should be an independent body. The Garda Síochána (Amendment) (No.3) Bill 2014 that the Minister brought in does not make it independent. It is too dependent on the Department and the Minister. The Minister has retained control over its ability to investigate the Garda Commissioner. It is not allowed to investigate retired gardaí. It does not expand the grounds of admissibility, does not require mandatory involvement of GSOC in all investigations, does not prohibit gardaí from serving in GSOC and does not reform the informal resolution mechanism. It was a very disappointing effort. The lack of resources is crucial. The Government will not get a GSOC that is fit for purpose until it gives it far more resources than it has done. If it wants it to work properly, it will have to resource it.

 

My second question related to the lack of real reform in an Garda Siochana, despite all the promises. -
 

"It is over a year since the Commissioner went and nearly a year since the Minister went but it is hard to see any serious change. Will the Minister tell me when she expects the police authority to be up and running? With regard to the implementation steering group, the Cabinet sub-committee oversees it. Is there external oversight of it? With regard to the Garda professional standards unit, GPSU, report on fixed charge notices, will the Minister tell me if anyone has been disciplined or any sanctions brought? What was the outcome of the internal disciplinary proceedings of the three gardaí referred to in the O'Mahoney report?

Deputy Frances Fitzgerald: Information on Frances Fitzgerald Zoom on Frances Fitzgerald The question asks whether I am satisfied with efforts made to change the culture and workings of the Garda Síochána and to make a statement on that. Significant change, under the leadership of the new Garda Commissioner, is under way in the Garda Síochána. I unequivocally reject any suggestion otherwise. I will be publishing the policing authority Bill by the end of April or in May and we are working hard on it.

That legislation announces the most profound reform of the Garda organisation in its 93 year history.

Another important change was the appointment, for the very first time, of the new Commissioner by way of an open competition. This is a clear indication that change has come, and the Commissioner has not wasted any time in bringing about organisational and operational change. A new strategic transformation office has been established to ensure changes are being delivered correctly and on schedule. Risk compliance and continuous improvements offices have been set up in each region, headed by a superintendent, to deliver changes at regional level in a standard and consistent way. New units have been establishment to focus expertise more effectively in particular areas, such as organised crime, domestic and sexual violence, and human exploitation. Detective superintendents in the regions have been charged with delivering a co-ordinated and effective approach to crime. The policing plan for 2015, which has been laid before the Houses, sets out clearly the Garda objectives for this year. I encourage Deputies to look through it. Finally, the Deputy is familiar with the Government's programme of legislative reform, which includes a range of initiatives in this area.

Deputy Mick Wallace: Information on Mick Wallace Zoom on Mick Wallace I acknowledge that problems within the Garda organisation have been pinpointed. The difficulty, however, is that we still have not seen the necessary reforms implemented. The Minister did not indicate when she expects the police authority to be up and running. Will she clarify whether any disciplinary action was taken arising out of the Garda professional standards unit, GPSU, report into fixed-charge notices? Were any sanctions applied in respect of the Garda Inspectorate report? The latter represents a very serious body of work but there is a problem in that an internal Garda body is involved in the implementation steering group. As I pointed out to the Taoiseach earlier this week, a chief superintendent involved in that work is the subject of three separate ongoing investigations. That is very worrying. It is vital that there be independent oversight of the implementation of the Garda Inspectorate report. Will the Minister give a progress report on the 200 recommendations it contains and indicate how many meetings of the implementation steering group have taken place? Without independent oversight, we will not see much change.

Deputy Frances Fitzgerald: Information on Frances Fitzgerald Zoom on Frances Fitzgerald The Deputy refers to change and oversight. It is useful to consider just one example of change, namely, the reform of the fixed-charge penalty system, FCPS, cancellation process. I have appointed Judge Matthew Deery, a former President of the Circuit Court, to act as head of an independent oversight authority for the cancellation process. That role is in addition to the ongoing internal audit of the system. Judge Deery will be free to inspect at random any fixed-charge notice cancellation and report his findings on the operation of the system to the Minister. The practical arrangements for him to take up this role are being put in place at present. Three people will now be charged with making those decisions and the criteria are much sharper. That is evidence of real change. Any reasonable person considering this and other reforms would accept we are seeing real cultural and administrative change within the force.

I will shortly begin the process of advertising for applications for membership of the police authority and putting in place a shadow board. I expect the authority to be up and running in the course of this year.

Deputy Mick Wallace: Information on Mick Wallace Zoom on Mick Wallace Any reasonable person would see the Minister is not prepared to answer all my questions. Were any sanctions or disciplines imposed on people found to be out of step in the GPSU report? What was the outcome of the internal disciplinary proceedings against the three gardaí referred to in the O'Mahony report? The Garda Síochána (Amendment) (No. 3) Act 2015 is weak but at least there is something in it. When will that legislation be commenced and will it be done in its entirety? The Minister did not answer my question about the importance of ensuring there is some independent oversight of the steering group that was established to implement the recommendations of the Garda Inspectorate report. Finally, we wish things were better and had changed in the wake of the appointment of the new Commissioner but the reality is there are two Garda whistleblowers claiming that in the case of two internal investigations, the person against whom they made a complaint was kept informed about the investigation while the complainants were harassed. How in God's name is this different from what was going on before?

Deputy Frances Fitzgerald: Information on Frances Fitzgerald Zoom on Frances Fitzgerald The Taoiseach asked the Deputy for information when the Deputy raised this matter with him. If he has information, he should supply it. 

 

Mick Wallace:  This is a different matter, and the Gardai are very well aware of it, and have all the information they need. Likewise, the Taoiseach knew very well what I was talking about when I asked him back in January and again this week, but it suits him very well not to remember, given that he has continually chosen to ignore Garda malpractice. What chance Reform when neither the new Minister for Justice, the new Garda Commissioner, or the Taoiseach, want any change, in how we do policing? The Status Quo is flourishing - They seem to like things just the way they are...

 

Mick Wallace.

 

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