Thursday, 1 May 1980
Dáil Eireann Debate
Mr. Horgan: asked the Minister for Justice if he will establish a special commission to consider the future organisation and direction of Irish policing, as requested by the Association of Garda Sergeants and Inspectors.
Mr. G. Collins: The association have published a document entitled “Discussion paper on proposals by the association to combat crime in Ireland”. The document was published as recently as 21 April and the proposal mentioned in the Deputy's question is only one of several that are contained in it. I intend to give due consideration to the various proposals in the document but, without finally committing myself on the point, I think it is highly improbable that I would regard the appointment of a commission as a useful contribution to the objective of improving the organisation of the Garda Síochána.
Mr. G. Collins: The concept of a police authority that is separate from and independent of, on the one hand, the national police force itself and, on the other hand, the Government or the responsible Minister, is unknown in continental Europe and is clearly one  borrowed from Britain where the police structures are fundamentally different in that there is no national police force in Britain but regional police forces with local authority imvolvement. Even in Britain, however, the police authority for the London Metropolitan Police is the Home Secretary.
The setting up of such a police authority here was agreed to by the then Government in 1973 as part of the Sunningdale Agreement. It is common knowledge that that provision was included solely because it was considered necessary that the agreement should have parallel provisions on matters of this kind as between the North and this State, as otherwise the agreement would have the appearance of being unbalanced. When, for reasons I need not go into, the Sunningdale Agreement ceased to have any relevance, the then Government did not proceed with the idea of a police authority, obviously believing that, outside the context of the agreement, it was not justified.
The central issue involved is whether the Government of the day, or the Minister for Justice on their behalf, is or is not to have broad public accountability to the Dáil and to the electorate, for the Garda Síochána. As far as I am concerned, there can be no question of the Government abdicating their responsibilities in this respect. I repeat that any comparison with Britain is invalid, as their policing structure is based on regional forces with local authority involvement, and that our system here is similar to that operating throughout Europe.
Mr. Harte: Surely the Minister must accept, as most other people have, that there is great disquiet in the Garda about outside interference. By that I mean opinions being offered by the Minister's Department——
Mr. Harte: Opinions are being offered by the Minister's office and by the Department of Justice which are not always the opinions held by the police force. Would it not be in the interests of all concerned to take the Garda out of the realm of politics and leave them the right to run themselves, with greater autonomy and control over their own affairs? They are the professional people engaged in combating crime, and should the Minister not acknowledge this?
Mr. G. Collins: Perhaps the answer to the supplementary is contained in the reply to the question tabled by Deputy Horgan. The basic issue here is whether the Government, or the Minister for Justice on their behalf, is to have public accountability to the Oireachtas or whether it should be left to the Garda Síochána. I do not attach any great relevance to the remainder of the Deputy's comments.
Dr. FitzGerald: Will the Minister accept that, apart from anything that may arise from the next question, there has been a long history of tension between the Garda and the Department of Justice because the Garda do not have the degree of autonomy in practice which they must have in theory, without constant interference in a detailed manner from the Department of Justice, which is undermining the authority of the Garda Commissioner? It is a problem of long standing but the evidence is that it has become more acute and has become a source of difficulty to police morale in recent times. Is this not a strong argument for the establishment of a police authority?
Mr. G. Collins: I do not accept that there is tension, as described by Deputy FitzGerald, between the Department of Justice and the Garda Síochána. They both have an important role to play. I at all times, like my predecessors in the Department of Justice, have been very careful to see that the Department of  Justice will act on behalf of the Minister for Justice and the Government, and the functions of the Department are laid down statutorily. It is easy to make accusations of interference by a Department or a Minister, but the Minister for Justice has a role as far as the Garda are concerned, and that role is being exercised according to statutorily defined practice, and no more than that.
Dr. FitzGerald: There is evidence on the record, going back to the Conroy Commission, of the degree of detailed interference. For instance, the Commissioner could not even determine the design of a garda overcoat without first of all having it cleared with the Department. That has been established publicly by the Conroy Commission. That is the kind of detailed interference I have been talking about.
Mr. G. Collins: The Deputy will appreciate that I take responsibility. The Secretary of the Department of Justice is also the Accounting Officer to the Comptroller and Auditor General for any or all moneys spent under that Vote. The Garda Síochána Vote is the responsibility of the Minister for Justice, and therefore the secretary is the person responsible for accounting to the Comptroller and Auditor General.
Mr. G. Collins: We could discuss this—we are not arguing—for a long time back and forth. There is the question of the cost of whatever may be produced at the time. I am not making excuses but the cost factor is the responsibility of the Government and there must be accountability for the Garda Síochána Vote.
Mr. Harte: This matter of accountability as between the Minister, the Department and the Garda Síochána  may be a high principle more attached to tradition than to the actual position, but will the Minister not accept that in modern conditions the Garda need to have complete control over themselves if they are to be successful in their efforts to combat crime? Will the Minister not agree that his emphasis is being directed more at retaining traditions than at helping the Garda to fight crime?
Mr. G. Collins: I did not even hear it—the Deputy struck fresh air. There is not interference with the Garda doing their police work, which is at all times left to the Garda. That has been the case and is the case, and I sincerely hope it will be, certainly for as long as I am Minister for Justice.
Mr. G. Collins: I do not succeed in getting through to the Deputy. If any Deputy wishes to study the Order Papers, perhaps not for this Dáil, he will see how much the Minister for Justice is responsible and accountable for to the House as far as the Garda and policing are concerned. The Deputy would do well to remember that. It was not I who  started it. I just mentioned this as something that Deputies would do well to remember. I am quite satisfied that it is in the national interest that the responsibility of the Garda Síochána should be directly to the Government of the day.
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