Wednesday, 20 April 2005
Dáil Eireann Debate
Mr. O’Shea: Tááthas orm an seans a fháil arís inniu páirt a ghlacadh sa díospóireacht thábhachtach seo. Mar a dúirt an Teachta Costello, urlabhraí an Pháirtí Lucht Oibre ar chúrsaí dlí agus cirt, comhionannais agus athchóirithe dlí, dúirt an chéad choimisinéir ar na gardaí, Michael Staines, i 1922 go n-éireodh leis na gardaí leis an údarás mórálach a bhí acu seachas cumhacht le hairm nó méid an fhórsa. Dúirt an Teachta Costello freisin go raibh an ráiteas sin an-chróga ag an am sin. Bhí an Cogadh Cathartha ag tosú agus bhí fir faoi airm thart ar an tír. Bhí na focail sin cróga ach bhí críonnacht ag baint leo freisin. Níl na gardaí faoi airm go fóill agus tá sé soiléir gur cosaint é sin do na gardaíó bunaíodh an fórsa agus ina theannta sin, cosaint é don phobal i gcoitinne.
The Garda Síochána’s record is excellent. Since the foundation of the State, it has been a most effective unarmed force. It came into being when the Civil War began and later it had to cope with 30 years of paramilitary violence and serious crime. Its work has not been easy, with incidents such as those encountered in Donegal, which brought no credit to the force. However, its contribution to the State has been immense. It has lost members in protecting society and dealing with crime.
The Garda and the prison system will not eliminate crime in society. In particular, low level crime proves to be a source of fear for many vulnerable people in society. Elderly people live in fear of young people, wearing jackets with hoods, hovering outside their homes. As they all dress the same way with these hoods, they are unidentifiable. We must find a solution to the problem of these unidentified young people who gather in an intimidatory manner and who might also be carrying out crime and vandalism and generally indulging in anti-social behaviour.
I mentioned last week that when the Education (Welfare) Act was going through the House I sought to have it amended to provide for education welfare officers. As a former teacher, I considered such an amendment necessary to deal with children who are at risk of becoming involved in anti-social behaviour, crime, substance abuse and so forth. These children are identifiable at a young age by teachers. The problem is that whereas there are many agencies and Departments to deal with them, the services are not co-ordinated and the greatest weakness is that there is no specific desk at which the buck stops.
A welfare officer should be appointed for each VEC area. Cases would be referred to that officer in the first instance by teachers, the gardaí or anybody who sees a child at risk and believes there is a need for that child, and perhaps its parents, to be assisted. If we are to have any success in steering young people away from leading worthless lives, they must be dealt with in a holistic manner, that is, in the context of the family. Where parents are in dereliction of their duty to their children either through lack of parenting skills or downright neglect, they could be brought before the education welfare officer. This could be done not in a confrontational manner but in a way which allows the situation to be judged and a plan to be devised to assist the parents, with the help of the support organisations, to bring that family back to an even keel so the children can grow up to be useful members of society. Currently, the buck is passed and no person has responsibility for ensuring, for example, that such a plan is implemented. The education officer should have the power to call the agencies and Departments to account if a representative of a Department or agency did not deliver or did not co-operate fully with other organisations.
This illustrates a weakness in the legislation before us. A great opportunity was lost with regard to establishing an independent commission on policing, such as was established in Northern Ireland on foot of the Good Friday Agreement. The commission, which had a year to complete its work, consulted far and wide. It took written submissions and heard oral evidence and the views and opinions of various stakeholders on policing.
Many people in society feel alienated from the system. We often hear about low level crime. It can be devastating for vulnerable people but it is virtually impossible to secure a conviction for such crime. There is the problem of evidence. All too often people who can give evidence are afraid to do so. This is understandable given the circumstances that pertain in large urban areas. Equally, it is difficult, if not impossible, to secure a conviction when there is no forensic evidence as a result of the gardaí being called after the culprits are long gone. The solution to this problem lies in preventing it occurring, as best one can, through the education welfare officer system I have proposed.
I recall an urban area in my constituency where young men would emerge in the early afternoon, following a morning spent in bed, and assemble in a public area to drink beer from cans. I cannot say if they were also taking drugs. At least some of these young people were in receipt of unemployment assistance. To qualify for unemployment assistance a person must be available for work and genuinely seeking work. Where the gardaí become aware of people behaving in that manner there should be a duty on them to report it to the Department of Social and Family Affairs so the people involved can be taken to task in regard to their efforts to seek employment and to be available for work.
These people are paid money by the State to which, in the right circumstances, they are entitled. However, they use it to purchase drink. They are allowed to do that but the practice of consuming drink on the street means they constitute a nuisance at best or, at worst and all too often, intimidators. This matter should be urgently examined. People need enough money to survive but obviously these people can survive and still have enough money to purchase alcohol. It is not a straightforward situation but it might be possible to bring these people to their senses if they are made to realise that if they are getting paid unemployment assistance they should not use it to get drunk in a public area and make that area hell for others.
This Bill is deficient in addressing these issues. The opportunity was missed to conduct wider consultation and to put a commission in place when this legislation was being drafted. With the Patten model there was consultation with every police station and the views of people were heard. Every area has a different story and different problems but some areas might have devised ways of preventing the continuation of low level, intimidatory crime.
I welcome the joint policing committees proposed in the legislation. However, there are faults, in that the provisions are not sufficiently comprehensive. I refer Members to the Labour Party’s document on the police force, which was produced by my colleague, Deputy Howlin, and which was substantially based on the Patten model. These committees have commendable duties to perform. The members are to consist of nominated members of local authorities and that is how it should be. Members of the Garda Síochána on the committees will be nominated by the Garda Commissioner. Members of the Oireachtas will also be on the committees, as will persons nominated by other bodies. The guidelines on these joint policing committees have not yet been circulated but the community and voluntary sector should have places on these committees by right. Many of these community and voluntary groups have a great knowledge of what it is like to be a victim of anti-social behaviour and low level crime. The feed of information that could come from this sector is an important ingredient to develop police policies that will make our country a better place in which to live. I hope that the Minister looks at this on Committee Stage. The joint policing committees need to be as small as possible to be effective. However, the main players should be included, and they would comprise all those groups that have a real contribution to make.
Mr. Curran: I wish to examine a few sections in this Bill. One of the most welcome developments is in section 31 which provides for the establishment of the joint policing committee with Garda and local authority representation. This measure will help to build a proper forum for communication between gardaí and local residents of a community. Joint policing committees represent a step in the right direction to tackle the problem of anti-social behaviour in local areas. Like Deputy O’Shea, I believe that community-based organisations should be represented along with officials from local authorities and elected representatives. These local policing committees must have a place for voluntary organisations that operate in communities because they have information on what is taking place in their areas.
Provisional figures show an 11% decrease in serious crime for the first quarter of 2005 and such a reduction is welcome. However, the level of anti-social behaviour is increasing. Such behaviour may be deemed a minor offence, but it is on the increase in all constituencies. As a public representative, I am contacted by constituents more about anti-social behaviour than serious crime.
As a former member of South Dublin County Council, I sat on a committee with Deputy Rabbitte that was established by the council. It was formed to deal primarily with joyriding and anti-social behaviour. The committee also consisted of the county manager, a number of key staff from the local authority and the two chief superintendents for the various jurisdictions. We met once a month and I found the experience interesting as we could see progress being made. I frequently speak to gardaí and they wish the council did more on some issues. On the other hand, council officials have often told me that such issues are for the Garda.
This committee brought tangible solutions to real issues. It was not the answer to everything. However, in some instances of joyriding, gardaí claim they cannot deal with it because joyriders can escape through certain lanes and so on. By getting appropriate responses from the local authority, we could see improvements being made. The composition of the committee was not perfect, but it brought the key players together. There was an air of responsibility between them to ensure that they were delivering their part of the deal to make a real improvement. Having experienced it, I endorse fully the issue of policing committees.
While we do not have a formal structure for policing committees, they exist in an informal way. In Clondalkin, there are two safety forums which were established by local communities. They engage with gardaí and local representatives every month or six weeks. They tackle the issue of anti-social behaviour, joyriding and so on. The meetings are well attended by gardaí from the highest to the lowest level in the area. Local people feel that they are getting their point across directly to the Garda and are getting a direct response. On the other hand, gardaí get information on what is happening in the area which gives them an opportunity to deal with that.
Part II of the Bill sets out, in a general way, the various roles and responsibilities of the Garda and so on. Gardaí have recently brought to my attention that in some areas, they experience difficulty at weekends securing search warrants. This is often due to the difficulty in getting to a judge. From an operational point of view, the timing of obtaining a search warrant can be crucial. I suggest a garda of senior rank, witnessed by a peace commissioner, might be able to issue a warrant, or perhaps a similar system could be applied. We do not have continuous access, particularly at weekends, to judges to obtain search warrants. I do not know if another mechanism could be introduced where warrants could be secured. That might be examined in Part II.
Section 26 refers to charges for services. The most obvious example of such charges is the security escort for banks. While I appreciate that the Department of Justice, Equality and Law Reform secures a higher charge than the Department of Defence for the services provided during cash escorts, I am not sure whether it is provided at a commercial rate or is subsidised.
Mr. Curran: In any event, it should be provided at a commercial rate. The cash escort businesses and the banks benefit from this. When an ordinary member of the community withdraws money, he or she is charged for doing so.
Another area related to charges for services is that of entertainment venues. Most of these venues employ rigorous internal security arrangements such as closed circuit television, security staff and so on. It is unfair that these venues close their doors at a given time and the patrons pour onto the streets to be supervised by the Garda. Perhaps these late night venues, which levy significant entrance charges, should make a contribution towards the provision of additional Garda numbers. It is most often at that time of night such incidents are reported.
Another key objective of the Bill is to establish the independent Garda Síochána ombudsman commission to replace the existing complaints board. At times, people have called into question the current system for dealing with complaints against members of the force. There has perhaps been a lack of confidence in the board which, in turn, pointed to problems concerning the current arrangements. A new mechanism is thus needed to ensure openness, transparency and, more importantly, public confidence in the investigation of complaints against members of the Garda Síochána.
Of all the constituents who have come to my office, I have never heard a complaint from them against an individual garda. When people complain about the Garda Síochána it is because they did not respond quickly enough. I have checked this matter and my office has never come across an individual complaint against a garda, even though it is a busy constituency office. We need to be balanced in our views on this issue when discussing the proposed mechanism for making complaints. Complaints against the Garda Síochána are not an everyday occurrence by any means.
I support the Bill’s provision for the establishment of joint policing committees, which is one of the most hopeful aspects of the legislation. While serious levels of crime are being dealt with effectively, other crime, including anti-social behaviour, is not being dealt with adequately as far as the public is concerned. The only way we will ever deal with such problems is by having our communities engage fully in resolving them.
Mr. P. Power: I thank Deputy Curran for sharing some of his time with me. I join many of my colleagues in welcoming this Bill, which constitutes the first major reform of the Garda Síochána since the 1920s. The Minister and his departmental officials ought to be commended for their work on this substantial legislation, which provides for the modern management and administration of the Garda Síochána. In this day and age, as we all know, such large organisations constantly need to reform themselves and examine their work practices in a modern context. The Bill will go a long way towards putting in place structures to allow the Garda Síochána to operate in such a modern context by employing modern management techniques which are vital in any large-scale, evolving organisation.
The legislation also recognises for the first time that gardaí are not simply involved in enforcing justice on the streets but in many instances provide a service to the community. This is not just the case in crime prevention or detection but in many other areas also. As service providers, the Garda Síochána requires appropriate administration techniques to manage an organisation which provides such a valuable community service.
The part of the Bill that deals with management and administration also deals with the relationship between the Garda Síochána and the Minister for Justice, Equality and Law Reform, specifically through the Garda Commissioner. This is a welcome development because for far too long, over many decades, there was a blurring of the lines of command between the Commissioner and the Minister. This in turn led to much questioning of the relative roles of both individuals, the Minister of the day and the Garda Commissioner. There were suggestions that there had been a politicisation of the force in years gone by. Thankfully, however, those suggestions are not currently made in public discourse. Nonetheless, it is a welcome development that the respective roles of the Minister, the Department and the Garda Síochána will be placed on a clear and firm statutory footing as a result of this legislation.
Another major aspect of the Bill, as identified by Deputy Curran, is the establishment of the Garda Síochána ombudsman commission, which has been long awaited. A number of high profile cases and incidents over the past few years have unfortunately undermined the trust and confidence which people generally have in the Garda Síochána. The proposed commission will be helpful in maintaining that trust and, I hope, enhancing it in future, as well as proving the public’s co-operation upon which gardaí depend every day. As I said, gardaí are not just enforcers of justice but also service providers for the community. In this role, they need an independent body through which their work can be monitored and, if necessary, investigated independently of the Garda Síochána. The Bill is strong on this point.
Although it did not appear in the first legislative draft, I welcome in particular the aspects of the Bill which will allow the inspectorate to investigate matters of its own volition arising from complaints about, or information that may come to hand concerning, the Garda Síochána. That is a key aspect of the legislation in that it enables the inspectorate not just to rely on complaints. As we know from recent tribunals and other high profile cases, some people may not wish to make complaints. However, information may sometimes come to hand from a third party on a confidential basis that needs to be investigated.
While welcoming the Bill’s proposals to modernise practices in the force, it is important to put on record that the vast majority of gardaí, often serving in difficult circumstances when the security of the State was under threat, have rendered an enormous service to the country over the years. I support the Garda Síochána in that role. Its members generally have earned the trust and confidence of the community at large and they are to be commended for having done so.
If I can be parochial for a moment, I compliment gardaí in the Limerick division on the excellent work they have done over the years, including recently when serious problems arose concerning gangland crime.
Chapter 4 of the Bill deals with joint policing committees, about which previous speakers have commented. I welcome the introduction of a collaboration between the Garda Síochána and local authorities. I have been of the view for a long time that while gardaí have to deal with the manifestation of crime, in many cases local authorities, and nobody else, have been the cause of crime that is so prevalent throughout the country. This is particularly so concerning anti-social behaviour which may be caused by poor planning, bad housing and the lack of appropriate facilities for residents in local authority accommodation. All local authorities have made such decisions but the results of some of them have been absolutely disastrous. The Bill’s proposal for a new connection between local authorities and the Garda Síochána can only be for the greater good. There has been much debate on whether there should be local community involvement on the new policing committees. For the time being, however, the Minister has rejected that idea. I ask the Minister of State to accept that even if the Minister is not minded to allow a community involvement, he should at least provide those joint policing committees with the statutory power to invite in at some stage, on a temporary basis, community leaders who can assist them in their duties.
Because we are dealing with the gardaí, it is appropriate to say a few words about anti-social behaviour, a topical theme. The matter will be addressed in the Criminal Justice Bill and we will discuss it then, but it is important to mention it in the context of the current undermining of Garda morale by anti-social behaviour. The gardaí I meet are dealing with serious gangland issues in Limerick, with multiple murders and with people who will stop at nothing to undermine the gardaí. While they deal with such issues they cannot deal with those which concern the vast majority of people, namely anti-social behaviour, public order offences and so on, issues discussed at length in the House in recent weeks. That has undermined Garda morale and needs to be addressed.
On a recent cold, wet, winter night I attended a meeting with over 300 Limerick citizens acutely concerned with anti-social behaviour. Gardaí repeatedly told me they felt powerless to address the issue because they could not criminalise young people of ten, 11, 12, 13 and 14 as it is not a criminal offence to “merely” apply graffiti, bully children going to and from school, break windows and so on. These are not “crimes” which can be dealt with in the normal course of events by the District Court, which is why I welcome the proposed introduction of anti-social behaviour orders. They will not be a panacea, but gardaí tell me they need to be able to give a “yellow card” or clear signal to people who propose to engage in anti-social behaviour that they have been warned, and that if they continue to engage in it they will enter criminal rather than civil spheres. It is right that the gardaí are given such support.
Mr. Boyle: I am happy to have the opportunity to contribute to this debate. All in the House recognise the need for new, all-embracing legislation dealing with the organisation of the Garda Síochána, and we welcome the opportunity of recognising the service the force has given to the State since its foundation.
We need to consider the detail of this Bill. Those on this side of the House, at least, need to argue about some of what has been proposed not being what is needed, and wrong prioritisation of issues regarding what can and should be done. We have already had a long debate on this Bill but it has facilitated further information on what modern policing means in Ireland. Sometimes, such information is not what we like to hear. While the gardaí are entrusted by us to enforce the highest standards of law, and the law itself, it is unrealistic to expect a pristine police force because a force reflects the society it serves.
Unfortunately, we are exposed in our police force to some of the worst reflections of the behaviour which exists in society in general, and as public representatives we need to know how that can be minimised, eliminated and guarded against so it does not re-occur in the future. Those who listened to the re-enactment of the Morris tribunal would wonder why there is not a wider debate about what seem to be systemic problems regarding the Garda Síochána promotion system, the perceived need to provide high-profile so-called crime convictions which turn out not to involve crimes, and the development of networks in terms of how people can push themselves forward as individuals within the Garda Síochána.
The Minister for Justice, Equality and Law Reform has not responded properly to the Morris tribunal findings. It is not enough for him or the Government to say that we should wait for the tribunal’s conclusions. What has emerged so far is worrying enough and requires an immediate response. The Minister should be challenged on why he is not reacting more strongly to the revelations.
In the past weeks an audit has been published by the human rights working group. Regarding ever-changing Irish society in terms of its make-up, the report says emphatically that the Garda has difficulty responding to problems which can lead to institutional racism. The Garda Commissioner has fully accepted the findings of the audit and has put in place a timetable for ensuring its recommendations are implemented. Unfortunately, however, the timetable runs to the end of 2007. Questions need to be asked regarding why the prioritisation is being made at Garda Commissioner level in the manner it is being made. It seems to me and many others that the recommendations should be implemented immediately. An opportunity is being lost to stop some of the attitudes highlighted by the independent audit becoming entrenched.
When I read press reporting of the audit I was reminded of a sketch from a British television comedy show in the 1980s, “Not the Nine O’Clock News”, which featured two British policemen talking to each other. One was being scolded by a superior officer for arresting a person on more than 150 occasions on ridiculous trumped-up charges such as impersonating a human being, crossing a footpath in a reckless fashion, and breaking and entering an egg. This was satire, reflecting the existing attitudes in the British police force at the time. We have not properly adapted to the changing Ireland in failing to anticipate that such attitudes could and perhaps do exist, and accepting that proper safeguards can and should be put in place. The audit has played a useful role in that regard. The Minister for Justice, Equality and Law Reform should, in terms of his relationship with the Garda Commissioner and his accountability to this House, allow us the opportunity to see how the reform timetable is being enforced and give us regular reports on whether the problems in the police force continue to exist or are being finally stamped out.
I will move on to more positive areas when I get the following off my chest. An unfortunate aspect of debating the need to make the Garda Síochána into the best possible police force it can be is the sometimes negative attitude taken by garda representative bodies, with any type of criticism seen as requiring a negative response. Most members of the Garda Síochána believe in and support the need for reforms, and are willing to participate in them. We need a climate whereby such support exists. Otherwise, the attitude we have seen taken in the past by various Ministers for Justice, Equality and Law Reform to the ordinary membership of the Garda Síochána might bring about difficulties. We have seen that in instances such as the “blue ’flu”.
The central proposal in the Garda Síochána Bill is to establish an ombudsman commission to deal with complaints against gardaí. Many members of the Opposition feel that a three-person commission dilutes and diffuses its effectiveness.
I do not wish to denigrate my constituency colleague, the Minister of State at the Department of the Environment, Heritage and Local Government, Deputy Batt O’Keeffe, who is sitting in for the Government side, but I had hoped the Minister of State at the Department of Justice, Equality and Law Reform, Deputy Brian Lenihan, would have remained in the Chamber. I was going to use him as an example because as part of his brief with the Departments of Justice, Equality and Law Reform and Health and Children, he was responsible for the introduction of an ombudsman for children. In that regard the same debate occurred on the question of whether a person or a commission should head a well resourced and well staffed office. The recommendations in respect of an ombudsman for children came down heavily on the side of it being one person with a focus, someone who would take on responsibility for how the office would run and on whom accountability would focus. The Government is sending mixed messages in saying there can and should be one ombudsman in terms of administrative affairs and one for children, but that for the Garda there must be an ombudsman commission with three members.
There is also a question about whether the powers given to this commission will be sufficiently effective. They will not exist to the level of the police ombudsman in Northern Ireland. It is a strange irony that in terms of inspections and on-the-spot inspections a body such as the Council of Europe committee for the prevention of torture has rights to access any Garda station in the country at any time, yet this power will not exist for the ombudsman commission in terms of its regulatory role with the Garda.
The proposal for the joint committees is welcome. Previous speakers mentioned the problems of anti-social behaviour. Another Cork colleague, Deputy Kelleher, is in the Chamber. We are all aware of the situation of my Green Party colleague in Cork city with regard to community policing and the anti-social behaviour in his part of the city. This is not unusual to him or his locality. It exists in every community. The difficulty is that highlighting the incidence of anti-social behaviour seems to invite other anti-social behaviour. The role that the police can and should play in this is a legitimate part of this debate.
The debate comes down to the fundamental aspects of the nature of policing. The Government, in this debate and throughout its term of office, continues to trot out statistics about more gardaí and more resources. However, because of how operations have changed within the Garda, people do not meet or see gardaí. Despite the additional gardaí, on a per capita basis numbers are fewer because we have a greater population and proportionately fewer gardaí. Those gardaí we have do more work behind the scenes and less on the street. Unless we get that balance right, public confidence in the ability to have effective policing will be badly undermined.
The Bill is very unclear as to who will be part of the joint committees and how they will be reported. More importantly, it is not at all clear as to how effective they may be. There are several layers of so-called consultation on many aspects of Government business, both at local government and national level. As public representatives few of us have confidence in those consultative procedures because they are not consultations. They are talking shops and have some legal recognition, but there is no process involved in many of these bodies whereby people can go in, register complaints and see those complaints acted on. The mechanisms do not seem to be in place to act on such complaints. If the policing committees only exist in that form, I am dubious as to whether the type of public support needed to make them effective will exist. Similar bodies exist in Britain and Northern Ireland and seem to be effective. However, what is being proposed here and what exists there seem to be different animals. There is a reluctance to go the extra inch to make bodies that would be effective and inspire public confidence.
On the role of the Garda and young people, it is unfortunate that the benchmarks that seem important in the Department of the current Minister for Justice, Equality and Law Reform are the moneys spent on the creation of additional prison spaces. There does not appear to be any balance in his equation as to how that money can or should be better spent.
In the debate on additional Garda places there does not appear to be any debate on how the juvenile liaison scheme can be strengthened, whether more people should be involved at that level or whether there should be more face to face interaction with young people. It is recognised that young men from their teenage years to their mid-20s commit the largest proportion of crime and that these form the largest proportion of our prison population. It is no accident that the propensity to commit crime and to draw these people into the cycle of crime in their communities is considerably lessened where there is interaction and intervention and when resources are allocated. However, we seem not to want that type of debate, to make those choices or put the resources in place.
In my experience as a youth worker I found it frustrating that even when initiatives were put in place, such as divergence schemes with regard to joyriding, they were always on a pilot basis and there was always uncertainty about their future. In many instances the schemes were not continued beyond a pilot basis. Using the cliché of Tony Blair, if we are serious about being tough on crime and on the causes of crime, we must examine both sides of this social equation. I do not believe the current Minister for Justice, Equality and Law Reform is capable of doing that. He seems to have a particular myopia in terms of what crime is and how it should be tackled. Unfortunately, how he proposes to structure the Garda Síochána is part of that myopia.
The Taoiseach’s remark on the Order of Business the other day was also unfortunate. To be fair, it was probably meant in jest. However, the implication that “roughing up” a young person is an acceptable form of policing is not acceptable. I accept it might be acceptable to many people in society. In terms of wider politics it might even be politically popular to say this. However, the essence of policing is that the Garda must earn respect and use respect to keep respect. The use of violence in any form by those who uphold the law invites, encourages and incites violence from people whom we are trying to discourage from breaking the law. It brings about an unending cycle we do not want to see in society. I do not believe this was the Taoiseach’s intention, but such remarks, even when made in jest, can be taken seriously. I hope the Taoiseach takes up the opportunity in debate to clear up that impression. The Green Party supports many aspects of this Bill.
We are concerned about the Bill’s provisions relating to the ombudsman commission and the joint committees, but the legislation can and should be improved. The philosophy underpinning policing should be the subject of ongoing debate. The Bill plays a role in this regard but the debate should not cease once it has been passed.
We are well served by our police force and we are probably better served in this regard than other countries, but that does not mean complacency should set in when things go wrong within the force. Unfortunately, many things are going wrong, even among the junior ranks, which are not being responded to appropriately. The Government, particularly the Minister for Justice, Equality and Law Reform, should demonstrate greater political courage in tackling these issues to ensure proper public confidence.
Mr. Kelleher: I welcome the opportunity to contribute to the debate, which is timely in the context of the broader debate on the role of the Garda in society and societal changes. Reference has been made to anti-social behaviour and other issues, to which I will refer later. There is a strong bond of trust between the Garda and the public. The Garda has served the State well since its inception and during difficult times the force’s loyalty to the State was very much to the fore in preserving law and order and in ensuring the integrity of the State’s institutions was protected at all times. That must be highlighted continually.
Comparisons have been made with other police forces. As a Member, I travel around the world and meet other parliamentarians. Following these contacts, it is evident the Garda has great integrity and few people can claim it has experienced endemic corruption, unlike other forces, even within the European Union. The payment of on-the-spot fines has led to corruption as drivers have avoided speeding fines by putting a few euro in their driving licences when they are stopped. Such a practice cannot be associated with the Garda.
The force’s achievements must be highlighted, particularly in regard to crime. I pay tribute to Mr. Adrian Culligan and all Garda members in Cork who have over the years remained steadfast in the fight against organised crime and criminality in general. As a result, Cork experiences few gangland murders and the heroin epidemic and attendant crime has been avoided. This is the result of the hands-on approach of the Garda in Cork, which has ensured this insidious epidemic has not spread to the city. The heroin epidemic has caused major problems in Dublin and it has spread to provincial towns. The heroin drug trade, which is the source of organised crime, gangland killings and turf wars is not evident in Cork.
However, abuse of other drugs is a problem in Cork as in other areas. That must be tackled not only by the Garda but through education and encouraging people to stay away from drugs. Strong advertising campaigns are needed similar to that used to counteract the consumption of alcohol by those under the legal age and binge drinking so that the insidious, negative aspects of drug use are highlighted. We cannot be complacent, but I acknowledge the efforts of the Garda in Cork in this regard.
I refer to the Garda ombudsman commission. The debate is a worthwhile exercise. A number of tribunals of inquiry into the workings of the Garda in certain parts of the State have been held and they have dented the public’s confidence in bringing forward complaints against Garda members. If people are to take a positive view of the Garda, an outside body such as the proposed commission to investigate complaints against members of the force is necessary. The commission will benefit the Garda as well as the public, as it will ensure transparency and accountability. There is a perception that people are afraid to make complaints against members of the Garda. This is divisive and damaging in the context of community policing, to which I will refer later.
People should have confidence in the Garda but, equally, they should be able to make a complaint against a member of the force without fear of recrimination, safe in the knowledge that the complaint will be investigated thoroughly and independently and, more importantly, that when findings are produced, actions will be taken. The commission’s precursor was the Garda complaints board, which stated that changes would have to be made in the way complaints against the Garda were addressed.
As society changes, difficulties are experienced, particularly anti-social behaviour in urban areas, which is an increasing problem. To be successful in addressing anti-social behaviour, the individuals involved must be turned away from this behaviour and from criminality generally at an early stage and the Garda must examine its community policing function in this context. An assistant Garda commissioner should be appointed with responsibility for community policing. Such policing is effective but, unfortunately, it is a little haphazard because strong structures are not in place. Gardaí involved in community policing point out that if they want to advance their careers and put themselves forward for promotion, they cannot engage in community policing for long periods because promotion will not come their way. A group similar to the proposed traffic corps should be established for community policing. This will allow officers to become heavily involved in the community. They could live in the community while availing of promotional opportunities and they would not be seen as the bridesmaids of the Garda.
Gardaí who are involved in all facets of community life, including sports clubs, help to create a strong bond between the Garda and the public. Anti-social behaviour is experienced in estates throughout the State and there is evidence that a Garda presence is lacking in them. Gardaí are only seen at night in a car or if there is a major disturbance. However, they must be visible within the community at all times if this problem is to be addressed. That is why the community policing issue must be explored in its entirety.
Teachers can pinpoint at an early stage youngsters who will drop out of school and will end up in court and prison. An integrated approach involving gardaí, home-school liaison officers and school attendance officers could pinpoint these young people at an early stage. That could happen if the Garda Síochána, through the community policing system, was closely involved in sporting and soccer clubs and also attended schools. I remember visiting schools where a police officer would speak and outline the workings of the Garda Síochána. However, that is done on an ad hoc basis. I speak of targeting police at communities where there are difficulties and putting forward the positive side of their calling. We do not want them to be seen as the enemy, but unfortunately in some communities that is the case. We have had a rise in vigilantism in certain parts of the country, although that is obviously being encouraged by certain elements for other reasons of which we are all aware. Wherever there is a vacuum, this issue can arise.
The recruitment campaign is evident at present, and there is talk of increasing the police force to 14,000. The majority of new members should be involved in community policing. That would be seen as a positive opportunity for members of the Garda Síochána too. I do not like the idea that one becomes involved in community policing for a few years but then gets out of it quickly and returns to the mainstream to deal with and investigate crime to advance one’s career. That must be addressed.
There is no continuity in community policing. A member of the force is appointed as a community police officer for several years, a vacancy arises elsewhere, and that person is moved on again. If there were a community policing structure in every division and a promotional pyramid right up to the position of assistant commissioner with special responsibility for the field, that would have a great impact in the years following.
I have referred to anti-social behaviour. In Chapter 4 there is a reference to it regarding co-operation with local authorities and arrangements for obtaining the views of the public. There is not a public representative in this House who has not been on to the local sergeant or superintendent regarding problems in estates. Often the problems are because of bad planning and design as well as high unemployment and other issues that eat into the fabric of society. Local authorities’ housing policies must be examined if we are to have proper community policing, something that I hope will become more evident in Government policy as we move forward and recruit more gardaí. Designing communities and putting people from the same demographic, age profile and family make-up into a single area while moving others elsewhere does nothing for the integration and cohesiveness of society.
I have long made a proposal to the city council in Cork which it has taken on board to a certain extent. This was not simply because I proposed it since it was obvious to all public representatives. The proposal was that every area should have an integrated mix of elderly people, lone parents, single people and families because, for example, it would give support to a lone parent who would be able to get assistance and advice from a person who has raised a family. The supports that existed long ago are missing in some areas because they consist of one demographic or group. That is something local authorities have been slow to address. They continually build housing units in the same style and manner as they have done for years. There has been a slight change but such change must take place more rapidly. In future, when allocating houses, local authorities must take into account the population make-up and consider whether there might be too many of a certain age profile or family make-up in an area. This should be done in a positive manner to ensure a proper make-up in communities everywhere.
It has been proven beyond doubt that where one has a group of similar people from whatever age profile, it creates great difficulties. For example, if all the people in an area are elderly, they cannot take advantage of the assistance of a young person when going shopping, getting the bus or keeping the garden clean. All these issues depend on people interacting with other age profiles. The local authorities must address that. Section 33 reads:
That is defined in Chapter 4, but local authorities should be instructed, through Government policy or otherwise, to ensure that the points that I have highlighted are taken into account when they make policy decisions on housing, the development of new estates or the rezoning of land.
On the debate regarding anti-social behaviour orders, there is no doubt that orders must be addressed on several fronts. I will travel to Leicester in a few weeks to view at first hand anti-social behaviour orders that have been working there. On the face of it, where they have been enforced and resources given to the police and the local authorities, as in Leicester, they seem to have been positive and to have had a major impact on the reduction of anti-social activity. If we are serious about addressing such behaviour, we must introduce some proposals that will remove the thugs and hooligans.
Many people miss this point. It is important that, if one is dealing with the “gurrier” element in a group of people — if there are 15 on an estate, only one or two might cause major problems — by and large, they intimidate other younger people and bully them into getting involved in anti-social activity. It is therefore not simply a matter of dealing with the individual but about ensuring that, by removing someone and dealing with him or her fairly, one discourages others from getting involved. We are all aware of situations where one or two hard men in an area bully others into getting involved in such things as under age drinking, binge drinking and, perhaps, drugs and petty crime. The same is true of anti-social behaviour and we must address that quickly.
We are not talking about people between the ages of 19 and 23 but those who are 12, 13 or 14. They make life a misery for large sections of communities, especially in urban areas where gangs of youths congregate in corners of estates, alleyways or outside community centres and playgrounds to intimidate others. The argument is always made that we do not have enough facilities for young people, and we certainly always strive to ensure we have more. That said, there are situations where youths hang around outside community centres where free games might be available to them along with floodlit soccer pitches and tennis and basketball courts, yet they are outside causing problems, intimidating young people and discouraging them from partaking in such activity.
On Chapter 7, the Garda Síochána’s international service through co-operation with other police forces and the United Nations has expanded in recent years and many members of the Garda Síochána have travelled overseas to work with the United Nations in Cyprus, Kosovo and elsewhere. They give a very positive profile to the Garda Síochána abroad. More importantly, the expertise they gain through learning from other police forces should be encouraged. We also welcome the idea of members of the PSNI being able to work in the Garda Síochána in the Republic because they have vast experience of other forms of criminality which are prevalent there. With the advance of terrorism and other forms of organised criminality worldwide, they would also be able to give advice and bring expertise to bear on the Garda Síochána in dealing with such activity.
I wish the Bill well. I hope the proposed Garda Síochána ombudsman commission will reassure those who have complained that the public has a lack of confidence and trust in the Garda Síochána. The Garda deserves the restoration of trust in the way it has served communities and the country as a whole since its inception.
The Minister for Justice, Equality and Law Reform needs to address community policing issues in a serious and coherent manner. If we are to establish a traffic corps, perhaps we should consider establishing a branch of the Garda that has a positive community policing role. Gardaí should be allowed to take pride in that role, build expertise in the area of community policing over a number of years, benefit from promotional prospects within the community policing service, build a strong bond with educational and sporting bodies, for example, by visiting schools, and ensure that there are no barriers between the Garda and the public. Such a system of community policing would ensure that young people have a healthy respect for the force and understand that the Garda patrols local areas to ensure that communities are safe from anti-social behaviour.
Mr. P. McGrath: I welcome the opportunity to address the House on the Garda Síochána Bill 2004. I compliment the Garda on the service it has given to the community over the decades. The force will celebrate its centenary within a few years and I hope that will be a joyous occasion. Some wise decisions were taken when the Garda was established in the early 1920s, following the foundation of the State. Those who decided, at a time of terrible conflict and civil war, that the force should be unarmed were far-sighted. They established a force of which we can be proud.
I should declare an interest at this point — my father was one of the early members of the Garda, having joined the force in the 1920s. He served in the force for 43 years, until he was 65 years of age, which would not be possible nowadays. He continued to give active service until that time. It has been decreed that gardaí now have to retire at the age of 57, irrespective of the skills they can offer to the force or the community. I grew up in a rural community, where my father worked as a policeman. The local gardaí were very much part of the community and knew about everything that happened there. The level of crime there was non-existent. I attribute the lack of crime to the fact that the police were so involved in local communities, as I have mentioned.
The Acting Chairman, Deputy Sherlock, is of the same generation as me and I am sure he learned all about the blessed trinity of the father, the son and the holy spirit, just as I did. The blessed trinity of the parish priest, the school master and the Garda sergeant was much more relevant to those of us living in rural Ireland in those times. Such people comprised the active force in our lives and communities. If one stepped out of line in any way, such people would be charged with putting one back in one’s place.
I compliment the Garda on the success of the difficult job it has done over the years. We should be particularly proud of the job it did in the 1970s. We could well have been overrun if successive Ministers of that era had not taken a firm stand and if the members of the Garda had not put their lives at risk to save our country. We should not forget the gardaí who lost their lives in the service of the State, while preserving the peace and prosperity of its citizens.
Times are changing dramatically. The management structures which existed in the Garda in the past will not continue to work in modern times. The management techniques and resources which are used need to be refocused and replaced with more modern methods which are geared to the needs of contemporary society. Some forms of crime are perpetrated by those using the facilities of the electronic age. I refer to theft facilitated by the scanning of credit cards, for example. Some forms of behaviour which might not superficially be seen as criminal can do tremendous damage by harming communities.
I would like to draw the attention of the Minister for Defence to a problem that has been brought to my attention. As a man of the people, I am sure the Minister, Deputy O’Dea, has encountered the problem in question. I refer to the establishment of a new website, www.ratemyteachers.ie. I do not know what society can do to make the website illegal. I recently received a letter about the website from somebody I know very well. The letter demonstrates the tremendous hurt felt by a man who is heavily involved in the life of his community and is doing a good job. People like the Acting Chairman, the Minister, Deputy Kelleher and me face the challenge of responding to such people, who are doing a good job in society. We need to continue to support them and to preserve their work ethic.
I would like to quote from the letter I received, which was sent by a man who has been teaching mathematics for 28 years. He refers to the school in which he works, the name of which I will not mention, as “wonderful” and states that he was “very contented” in his chosen profession until the last few months. He continues:
The teacher in question went on to quote some of the personal comments which have been made about teachers on the website. Indeed, the website now features personal comments about students. Some terrible comments have been made about some female students.
I do not know what we can do about this modern phenomenon — my hands are tied. Perhaps the Minister, Deputy O’Dea, will draw attention at Cabinet level to this matter to see what can be done. It is outrageous that such behaviour is tolerated in this day and age. Perhaps it is an example of something modern that we have failed to keep pace with. We are unable to keep up with modern technology. We need to examine how we can outlaw websites of this nature, or at least do something about them. The presence of such websites will lead to the loss of the support of teachers who are currently prepared to go the extra mile. They will become disillusioned and start to withdraw the care they are giving at present.
This problem is found in many walks of life, as I realised while speaking to a concerned community garda the other day. I agree with everything Deputy Kelleher said about community policing. He was absolutely correct.
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