Ceisteanna—Questions. Oral Answers. - Garda Síochána.

Thursday, 1 May 1980

Dáil Eireann Debate
Vol. 320 No. 3

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[510]16.

Mr. Horgan: Information on John S. Horgan  Zoom on John S. 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: Information on Gerard Collins  Zoom on Gerard 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. Keating: Information on Michael Keating  Zoom on Michael Keating  When does the Minister expect his examination will have been concluded?

Mr. G. Collins: Information on Gerard Collins  Zoom on Gerard Collins  The document appeared in the newspapers on Tuesday of last week. I got it late on Monday night. It is being examined and as soon as it has been examined I will have more to say on it.

Mr. Keating: Information on Michael Keating  Zoom on Michael Keating  Has the Minister any idea of when it will be examined.

Mr. G. Collins: Information on Gerard Collins  Zoom on Gerard Collins  I cannot honestly say but it is receiving attention, and because of the public comment on it it will receive priority.

17.

Mr. Horgan: Information on John S. Horgan  Zoom on John S. Horgan  asked the Minister for Justice if he will establish a police authority.

Mr. G. Collins: Information on Gerard Collins  Zoom on Gerard 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 [511] 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 concept of an independent police authority was extended to the North for obvious reasons connected with problems about the acceptability of the RUC among some sectors of the community.

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: Information on Patrick D. Harte  Zoom on Patrick D. 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——

[512]Mr. G. Collins: Information on Gerard Collins  Zoom on Gerard Collins  What is being offered by the Minister's Department?

Mr. Harte: Information on Patrick D. Harte  Zoom on Patrick D. 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: Information on Gerard Collins  Zoom on Gerard 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: Information on Garrett Fitzgerald  Zoom on Garrett 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: Information on Gerard Collins  Zoom on Gerard 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 [513] 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: Information on Garrett Fitzgerald  Zoom on Garrett 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: Information on Gerard Collins  Zoom on Gerard 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.

Dr. FitzGerald: Information on Garrett Fitzgerald  Zoom on Garrett Fitzgerald  Will the Minister not accept that that is precisely where the problem arises and that it is one of the things that should be changed?

Mr. G. Collins: Information on Gerard Collins  Zoom on Gerard 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: Information on Patrick D. Harte  Zoom on Patrick D. Harte  This matter of accountability as between the Minister, the Department and the Garda Síochána [514] 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: Information on Gerard Collins  Zoom on Gerard Collins  I assure the Deputy and the House that though I may admire tradition I am not bound by it——

Mr. Harte: Information on Patrick D. Harte  Zoom on Patrick D. Harte  The Minister could have fooled us.

Mr. G. Collins: Information on Gerard Collins  Zoom on Gerard Collins  I did not interrupt the Deputy.

Mr. Harte: Information on Patrick D. Harte  Zoom on Patrick D. Harte  My observation obviously struck a chord.

Mr. G. Collins: Information on Gerard Collins  Zoom on Gerard 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. Harte: Information on Patrick D. Harte  Zoom on Patrick D. Harte  Is the Minister categorically refusing to have a police authority?

Mr. G. Collins: Information on Gerard Collins  Zoom on Gerard Collins  If the Deputy demands the courtesy of being heard he should have the good manners to wait for a reply. I know it is the Deputy's first day back after an outing.

Mr. Harte: Information on Patrick D. Harte  Zoom on Patrick D. Harte  The Minister is always looking down at me, lecturing.

Mr. G. Collins: Information on Gerard Collins  Zoom on Gerard 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 [515] 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.

Mr. Harte: Information on Patrick D. Harte  Zoom on Patrick D. Harte  So the Minister is refusing to set up a police authority?

Mr. G. Collins: Information on Gerard Collins  Zoom on Gerard Collins  Very definitely.

Mr. Harte: Information on Patrick D. Harte  Zoom on Patrick D. Harte  It is on the record.


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