Wednesday, 15 June 2005
Seanad Eireann Debate
While I am glad the Minister of State at the Department of Justice, Equality and Law Reform, Deputy Brian Lenihan, is in the House, I am sorry the Minister for Justice, Equality and Law Reform is not present because he has been very stubborn on an issue which is fundamental to policing and the Garda Síochána Bill.
As he and the Minister of State will be aware, Deputy Rabbitte, the leader of the Labour Party, put forward a proposal that the Minister would set up a commission to review the issue of policing in the State. It would be similar to the review carried out in Northern Ireland under the Patten commission, which took approximately 12 months to carry out its work. However, because of the work already done in this regard, we propose that a similar commission could carry out its work in six or nine months. Northern Ireland is not the only place to have had that type of commission. For example, a royal commission on the New South Wales police force came up with recommendations for reform of that force.
The public is disillusioned with the Garda Síochána. The majority of gardaí are good people but there is a crisis in confidence in the overall structure of the Garda Síochána. The public mood was moving in that direction but it has been brought to a head due to the latest findings and recommendations of the Morris tribunal. If we are to bring about reforms in our policing structure, it would be best to have an independent policing commission to consider all options, consult widely, including with the Garda Síochána and other interested parties, hold public meetings, for example, as was done in local town halls in the North, and then come up with a report. That would bring people on board and give them ownership of any new structure we would come up with.
As the Minister of State will know, Labour Party policy proposes there would be an independent policing authority. We believe a good example of this type of authority is the independent Northern Ireland Policing Board. However, there are many examples of policing authorities throughout the world. Any one would serve as a good starting point.
This policy is not new for the Labour Party, which came up with the proposal five years ago. We considered the Patten commission and its proposals, as well as considering policing policy and best practice throughout the world. Given that, we still favour a policing commission to review this area before any decision is made. The Labour Party policy is that the proposed policing authority would draw up a four year strategy to set objectives and priorities, provide indicators assessing the effectiveness of the police force, outline budgetary requirements and so on.
A policing authority would draw up a four-year strategy which would do the following: set out objectives and priorities; provide indicators for assessing the effectiveness of the police force; outline budgetary performance; be responsible for adopting an annual policing plan; and present the annual Garda budget for negotiation with the Minister. The Commissioner would still have full operational responsibility for the force, as is the case in Northern Ireland.
The Labour Party has outlined many other proposals in respect of the Garda authority’s responsibilities. However, most importantly, it should be independent. The Northern Ireland model is very good because it includes political representation. The Minister has ridiculed the idea of having public representatives included on a policing authority, but he is wrong. If we want a truly open and accountable authority then it must involve publicly-elected representatives. Mr. Denis Bradley, the vice chairman of the police authority in Northern Ireland, recently spoke to the Oireachtas Joint Committee on Justice, Equality, Defence and Women’s Rights. He felt that without a policing authority we are not doing what is fundamentally required to reform our police force, which is something I have stated on many occasions in this House and which the Labour Party has been pushing. Mr. Bradley said he would not start from here if the aim is to go where he thinks we should be going. He made a number of important points and lamented the absence of a police authority acting between the Department of Justice, Equality and Law Reform and the appointment of the Commissioner and senior Garda officers. He pointed out that the Conroy report of 1968 made such a recommendation and also the importance of having a political yet independent group of people acting together to make senior appointments in order to maintain a distance between Government and the police.
The Morris tribunal has identified problems with the Garda Síochána which only an independent police authority can take on board and tackle in an open and accountable manner. From the tribunal’s point of view, the Garda Síochána is very inward looking and homogenous. Mr. Bradley also referred to this, in particular to the tendency for a terrible centralism, where power is centralised, hierarchal and mostly male.
Professor Dermot Walsh was recently interviewed on “News at One” and he spoke about the same situation. He said that we need an independent policing authority if we really want to do something about the culture which has given rise to the type of issues raised by the Morris tribunal. We must be much more radical in terms of recruitment and have more diversity within the force. He suggested that recruits should study alongside other third level students, as opposed to being locked away in their own group for the rest of their career. The police force should second more officers from other police forces and use their expertise.
Our other recommendation has been raised in a controversial manner in recent days. Senator Maurice Hayes was appointed by the Minister to oversee Garda reform. He is an expert on policing reform because of his work in the North. He has said that there should be an independent one-person Garda ombudsman with its own independent staff. Deputy Rabbitte and the Labour Party feel that this has also been indicated by the Morris tribunal in a statement regarding the role of the Oireachtas in terms of implementing the recommendations of the Morris tribunal. Mr. Justice Morris stated that:
I have argued this point with the Minister in this House on many occasions and pushed the Labour Party line that there should be an independent Garda authority and one-person ombudsman. The Minister has argued that we simply want to copy Northern Ireland, that it is unique and the Republic of Ireland is different. I wanted to rebut that and have spent the past few days studying what has been done in other countries. Northern Ireland is not unique. It has possibly learned from the mistakes of other jurisdictions throughout the world and successfully followed on from what they have done. What Northern Ireland has achieved in terms of the Patten commission and the independent policing board is more the norm than the exception. It is the Republic of Ireland and the Minister, Deputy McDowell, who are lagging behind and being pulled, kicking and screaming, into the 21st century.
New South Wales had a similar commission to the Patten commission. This was in response to a collapse in public faith in the police force and allegations of corruption. The terms of reference of the Patten commission stated that Northern Ireland is supposed to be moving into an open and peaceful society and it is therefore appropriate that this body be in place. That is why Northern Ireland has an independent policing board and ombudsman. The Minister’s logic would say that it should have had such bodies when it was in a crisis state and there was no ceasefire.
We must also examine the idea of these bodies being cross-community. One of the criticisms of the Garda Síochána is that it is too homogenous and inward looking. We need more diversity, women and people from different backgrounds in the police force and we must take in people from other forces throughout the world. We must also include people who have worked in other careers so they can bring their experience to bear.
Much of the Northern Ireland policing legislation goes beyond what is done in other countries. The police ombudsman, Nuala O’Loan, accepts complaints by telephone whereas they must be made in writing in other jurisdictions. The ombudsman is very accessible, and we have seen this——
Ms Tuffy: Northern Ireland is not unique and is becoming the norm. We are the ones lagging behind. Countries all over the world have introduced reforms. I find it hard to understand, but I think the Minister is of the old guard and not prepared to move forward in regard to our policing structure. He is too conservative and wants to keep a hold on the situation. He should remember that he will not be the Minister for Justice, Equality and Law Reform for ever. People will not trust him to take account of the recommendations of the Morris tribunal simply because he says he will. We need an independent policing authority to carry out these recommendations. We should examine examples of where this has been done in situations of crisis regarding policing in other countries where they have looked at and responded to the situation and implemented radical reforms such as those suggested by the Labour Party.
Mr. McDowell: I understand the Minister for Justice, Equality and Law Reform was scheduled to be here but is delayed because of a bereavement. I understand his mother-in-law died suddenly today. I wish to record my condolences to the Minister and to his wife, Professor Brennan, on their loss.
Like most colleagues I have been relying on press summaries for information on the content of the Morris report. I received a copy of the report this morning and spent a few hours reading selected extracts from it. It has been a salutary experience as the press summaries do not do it justice. The language used in it is striking, the sort one would associate with the militant left or people traditionally antagonistic towards the Garda Síochána rather than a learned member of the Bench. He does not hold back in describing the appalling scandals in Donegal and in condemning many individuals involved. It is important that we record our appreciation for the work Mr. Justice Morris has done in uncovering the scandalous events over a period of years in Donegal.
This was not a series of acts of omission, a case of human frailty, or honest endeavour gone wrong. These were deliberate acts of commission that were obviously corrupt from the start. Mr. Justice Morris points to the use of an informer, and the use of information gleaned from an informer, to progress the careers of individual gardaí. He refers to the destruction of documents by very senior gardaí and while he stops short of calling it a deliberate conspiracy, clearly he has suspicions. The events he describes amount to systematic corruption and he does not hesitate to ascribe fault. He says that it amounts to corruption and-or connivance at the medium level of Garda authority and serious mismanagement at senior level.
This demands a response of all of us. Where appropriate, prosecutions should be brought against individual gardaí who were found to be at fault and who may be suspected of an offence. It is equally important information is used to bring disciplinary procedures as soon as possible. I reiterate the disquiet articulated elsewhere at the initial actions taken by the Garda Commissioner. It does not seem adequate to the Labour Party or the public to allow senior gardaí to retire and to transfer lower ranking gardaí to Dublin. I appreciate that this is not the full response but even as a starting point it seems inadequate.
Perhaps the source of greatest concern is that the report finds the ethos of the Garda Síochána a major problem. Mr. Justice Morris refers to circling the wagons. Earlier this week the chairperson of the Garda Complaints Board referred to a wall of silence encountered when complaints against gardaí are investigated. None of us in this House is naive and we appreciate that a sense of loyalty is a positive thing in a disciplined, largely male, force. If one is requiring gardaí to put their lives at risk combatting serious crime and terrorism a measure of loyalty between colleagues is a good thing. However, there comes a point, as in this case, where loyalty simply serves to cover up wrongdoing, slovenly practice and corruption.
The responsibility for dealing with this resides at management level, from the Commissioner down. The report does not pull its punches, labelling management structures in the Garda Síochána as wholly inefficient and ineffective. An ethos or mindset of watching one’s back existed. One did what one was told to do and no more. There was no sense of taking responsibility for getting the job done. If a superior officer told one to look in a particular drawer in order to find something, one did not use one’s initiative to look in adjoining drawers. It will come as a great surprise to many lay people that the notion of accounting for duty is apparently foreign within the Garda Síochána. I strongly support the recommendation that this be dealt with and I suggest it is very urgent.
As well as the need for management to change the ethos, there is political responsibility here. That is where the arguments made by Senator Tuffy are relevant. As well as stating that we expect the highest standards, the Minister must also put in place procedures to ensure we get the highest standards. Perhaps 30 years ago we were prepared to give a loose rein to the centres of authority in this State, including the clergy, teachers, the medical profession, the legal profession and the Judiciary. People are no longer willing to vest blind faith in anybody. It is important that we put in place procedures to allow complaints to be investigated and to allow an independent ombudsman to investigate something that stinks. This measure is not permitted by the new Bill. There needs to be a structure that allows policy making that is responsive to the needs of the community, and I am not referring to the consultative forum with local councillors set up under the new Bill.
There is another issue of political responsibility. It is clear from the report that in 1999 alarm bells started to ring in the Department of Justice, Equality and Law Reform. It is clear from the contribution of Mr. Aylward that the Department started to take the matter seriously when it received parliamentary questions from the Deputy Higgins. It took another three years from that point, until just before the 2002 general election before the Attorney General at the time, now the Minister, and the then Minister for Justice, Equality and Law Reform, Deputy O’Donoghue, were persuaded to set up an independent tribunal to determine the facts.
We are aware that there are regularly complaints against gardaí. They are processed by the Department, passed on to Garda headquarters, sent to the division and then to the garda against whom the complaint was made. It is an ineffective system. Often the complaint may not be well-founded, sometimes it is a genuine complaint that is not examined, and occasionally one comes across a serious case of systematic corruption.
Let us give the Department and the Minister the benefit of the doubt. Perhaps it took until 1999 before it was obvious something was systematically wrong. Following this there was a period of two years when the Minister looked at an Irish version of the appalling vista, decided that it could not be true and then decided that if it was true he would tell no one about it and it would be dealt with internally. There was a responsibility on the Minister to publicise this information and he failed in this duty.
—declares that in a modern, republican democracy, the Garda as a national police force must be accountable to the Houses of the Oireachtas as an important branch of the executive arm of Government and should not be placed outside the application of constitutional accountability and responsibility;
Dr. M. Hayes: I am grateful to Senators Jim Walsh and Cummins for their kindness on this matter. I wish to be associated with the sympathy extended to the Minister and his wife expressed by Senator McDowell.
I remember when the Patten report was published and was discussed in this House. I suggested there were lessons to be learned in this jurisdiction, to the derision of the then Minister for Justice, Equality and Law Reform. I was assured that the Garda Síochána did not need these measures and that there was absolutely no need for a Garda ombudsman. Times have changed. It is no longer recalled that an intrinsic element of the Sunningdale agreement was that two police authorities would be established in Ireland — one in Northern Ireland and one in the South. While the Northern Ireland authority was set up, the other one was quietly forgotten about.
If there had been an agreement at that time to establish a commission, as suggested in the motion, three or four years ago when the Patten report came out, I would have supported it. I fully agree with and support the diagnosis that has been made up to now by the proposer and seconder of the motion. I would, however, have reservations about starting the process now. We spent a year working on the Patten report and the Northern Ireland Office took a year to respond. It took the best part of another year to draft the Bill so it was approximately four years later before one got things in place. I do not think we can wait that long to modernise Garda management as a result of the Morris report.
I wish to join with Senator McDowell in thanking Mr. Justice Morris for his report. The way in which he has uncovered matters is impressive and he has marshalled his arguments meticulously in clear and unambiguous language.
The Garda Síochána Bill provides, in embryonic form, for most of the necessary structures. The Morris report has produced an enormous engine for Garda reform and it would be a pity to lose the force of that. There is a wind behind it, along with a political will and public outrage arising from what people have read in the Morris report. If the matter is left to lie for a while, it might be more difficult to get the impetus for change going again. I still have reservations about parts of the Garda Síochána Bill so I hope the Minister will use whatever window of opportunity he has between now and the ending of that procedure, to take into account the more salient recommendations of Mr. Justice Morris in order to incorporate them into the legislation, even at this late stage. It would be a great help if he did so.
As has already been stated, the Bill is not all about structures — it also concerns culture and management. More than anything else, it is about leadership. Mr. Justice Morris disclosed a scandalous state of affairs in Donegal and, at this stage, I am quite content to allow the individuals concerned to be pursued through disciplinary procedures or the criminal courts. There is evidence of a clear systemic failure — or even a lack of systems — in addition to a failure of leadership. The greatest resource of the Garda Síochána is the people in it, who deserve to be cherished, led and encouraged in their endeavours. What is occurring can do nothing whatsoever for the morale of the force.
Dr. M. Hayes: I would allow Garda recruits to be trained with social workers and others, alongside whom they will be working for the rest of their professional lives. I would also provide for lateral entry to the Garda Síochána at different levels. I have already made my views on the ombudsman clear to the Minister for Justice, Equality and Law Reform. He knows what they are and I will not labour them now. I believe, however, that visibility is a very important issue.
Dr. M. Hayes: If people see gardaí on patrol it embodies the value of the watchdog principle, but there is no point in having a watchdog if it is starved to death. This is as much a matter for the paymasters as it is for the Minister, so the Government must be prepared to put resources into this area.
If I were the Minister, I would put a great deal of faith into another instrument of the Bill, namely, the police inspectorate. Those people should bring to bear the best of international practice, although at the moment they will have a job in establishing a benchmark from which to move.
I would still argue for the establishment of a police authority. The fact that politicians are members of the Northern Ireland Police Authority was referred to earlier in the debate. The reason we put politicians on that authority was to make them take responsibility. In that way, they could not sit on the ditch and criticise the people who were responsible for policing, making appalling and impossible demands on policing without having to take some responsibility for it themselves. The Minister has strong views on this matter and I will shortly deal with those. In the North, we thought it was important to have a kind of tripartite structure between the Minister, the police and the policing board. It does create tensions and makes it difficult to work, but the system is none the worse for that because people are conscious they must work within that matrix.
I fully appreciate the Minister’s difficulty in that he is responsible for State security and, therefore, cannot delegate that role to a police authority. That happens in many other jurisdictions also, however. None of us wants a separate political police force or secret service, because the work should be done by ordinary gardaí. It does create a difficulty for the Garda Commissioner or the Chief Constable of the PSNI who are working, in a way, to two masters. They deal with a policing board for what I might call ordinary crime in civil society, while they must deal with a Minister in other cases. That is not impossible, however, and it is a risk worth taking. It would insulate the police from the political process, while insulating the political process from policing. I hope that can be done.
I wish to take this opportunity to express my disquiet about one other aspect of the Garda Síochána Bill. It is the fact that in order to gain access to some Garda stations, at least, the ombudsman would have to ask the Minister to ask the Commissioner, who could appeal to somebody else as to whether or not he or she could get in. The Morris report on the situation in Donegal showed what can happen if one does not get in quickly when people are being held. I appreciate that what the Minister has done represents progress from where we were at the beginning. He has said that he would designate major Garda stations, stating that for those stations alone — particularly if it concerns a death in custody — the ombudsman could ask the Minister to consult with the Garda Commissioner for permission to gain entry. Those are likely to be Garda stations where members of the Special Branch are based. Since those people have access to arms, those are the places where the type of things that create disquiet and trouble are more likely to occur than in ordinary Garda stations. While it is necessary to protect the integrity of intelligence, it is also necessary for the public to have faith in the ability of the ombudsman to go into Garda stations. In his concern to protect the information, however, the Minister is actually protecting the premises.
The way this works in other jurisdictions — it certainly worked when I was Ombudsman in Northern Ireland — was that the Ombudsman had access to anything and could go in. The Minister could stop the publication of sensitive information, however. That system worked very well and the ban on publication of information never arose in practice. It is not something that is going to arise because one hopes that sort of case would not occur too often. The symbolism of the ombudsman having to seek permission to go into those very Garda stations where most of the trouble is likely to happen, is not positive. We should find some formula for dealing with that matter. It could be dealt with, for example, by having a protocol between the Garda Commissioner and the ombudsman, so that the ombudsman is not sending every Tom, Dick and Harry clumping along in hobnail boots to look after these matters. Carefully designated people could be entrusted to do the work.
I congratulate Mr. Justice Morris on his report. I support the Minister who has been courageous in taking on this matter. I do not think anyone else will apply the same pressure regarding this matter, and it would be a great pity if we were to lose momentum now.
I compliment Mr. Justice Morris on the frankness and straight talking in both of his reports to date. It is refreshing that his recommendations are clear and concise and should provide any willing Government the opportunity to address the many concerns outlined. The Minster may say he will address the concerns in the Garda Síochána Bill and I have no doubt that some of them will be addressed. I wonder if, however, it is time to step back from the Bill as it stands and request an urgent analysis from independent experts to ensure that best practice and accountability are fully in place and catered for.
I urge the Minister to consider this request. I expect this independent analysis to take place within a short timeframe of between three and four months, because the sooner we have legislation in place to address the concerns of Mr. Justice Morris, the public and indeed the ordinary members of the Garda, the better it will be.
What happened in Donegal was appalling. To have a family systematically targeted, as were the McBreartys, was shocking and raises serious questions about transparency and accountability of the Garda force at all levels, with specific reference to the inadequacies encountered in Donegal. Several questions need to be answered and we need no fudge on the issue raised in the Morris tribunal. Why were the former Garda Commissioner, the former Minister for Justice, Equality and Law Reform and the former Attorney General left outside the remit of the terms of reference of the tribunal while, at the same time, some of these figures had full legal teams attending the tribunal on a watching brief? Meanwhile, the central figures, the McBreartys, were not allocated legal costs. It was a disgrace that the innocent parties were forced to face the might of all the legal eagles of the State, while they were denied their legal rights and costs
There was a plethora of Garda investigations into the Donegal debacle, possibly eight in total. How much did these investigations cost and why will the Minister not publish the relevant reports? Why not have everything on the table at this stage? It is time for complete openness and transparency on this issue and I call on the Minister of State to answer the question this evening about the publishing of these reports, and the investigation costs.
There is grave public disquiet at how the main Garda figures mentioned in the Morris tribunal have been dealt with by the Garda Commissioner. That issue was previously raised in this house. The Commissioner should have awaited a decision from the Director of Public Prosecutions before deciding to allow Garda superintendents to retire with full pension rights and golden handshakes. The decision to transfer the five gardaí mentioned in the report to full duties in another district is also questionable, to say the least.
Many questions remain to be answered and I call on the Minister for Justice, Equality and Law Reform, his predecessor, Deputy O’Donoghue, and his predecessor, Ms Nora Owen, if necessary. along with Garda Commissioner Conroy and his predecessor, former Garda Commissioner Byrne, to come before the Oireachtas Joint Committee on Justice, Equality, Defence and Women’s Rights to answer questions and account for their actions regarding what is termed the McBrearty affair, from beginning to end. This would be the proper forum for the people in question to be questioned on their actions and indeed their inaction on this issue.
One question that must be asked is why the McBreartys were not informed at the inquest stage of the re-designation from a murder investigation to one of a hit and run. Why did the Minister for Justice, Equality and Law Reform not place this information on the record of the House at that time?
The question of whether we should have a one-person Garda ombudsman or a three person commission, as advocated in the Garda Síochána Bill and by the Minister, was discussed at length in this House during the Bill’s passage. No matter what argument was put up regarding the success of one ombudsman, as is the case in Northern Ireland, the Minister seems intent on his commission idea. He should take cognisance of what Senator Maurice Hayes said in this House today, and of the reservations expressed by Professor Dermot Walsh of the University of Limerick.
An ombudsman or commission, if put in place, must investigate all complaints, not some. Gardaí should never be in a situation where they are investigating other gardaí for minor or other complaints. If a Commission is put in place, it should do the job fully. This is the view of gardaí and superintendents to whom I have spoken. With regard to the police inspectorate meant to monitor the performance and accountability of the Garda, we must have assurances that this will be carried out by an independent body totally separate from the Garda or former senior gardaí, otherwise the lessons outlined in the Morris tribunal will be lost on us.
Mr. Justice Morris spoke of a circling of the wagons culture, which may have contributed to a situation of obstruction and which may have gone back to the monolithic origin of personnel deployment within the Garda, and their training. I agree with Senator Maurice Hayes that the current type of training of gardaí in Templemore is fundamentally wrong and needs to be changed. There is a need for change in the collective thinking and attitude that currently exists. Recruits should be interspersed with other third level students, pursuing relevant courses, as Army cadets currently do. In Boston, recruits mix with ordinary students in third level colleges, in courses specifically designed to meet the challenges of everyday life in law enforcement, and that is viewed as a positive step. Why not adopt best practice of other countries when possible?
The image of the Garda force has been damaged by the malpractice of some members in Donegal. What happened there should in no way tar with one brush the vast majority of decent members of the force. It should not provide a platform for subversives to attack a force that has defended the institutions of this State in difficult times over the years. However, this should be taken as a wake-up call which will see a new root and branch reform of the structures of the Garda, and that responsibility lies ultimately with the Minister. I hope the Minister of State will respond this evening in the open and transparent manner which he and all of us expect the Garda Síochána to exhibit. I hope we will get answers to the questions I posed here this evening.
No person has yet been apprehended and charged with regard to the death of Richie Barron. This fact must not be lost in this debate. How must the Barron family feel in its grief since after all these years, nobody has been charged with Richie Barron’s death? We should not forget that this is where it all began. The Minister has a golden opportunity to act in a responsible manner and put in place all necessary structures to ensure the Garda force will act properly at all times in the future. He should be prepared to listen to constructive criticism and ideas in order to improve the Garda Síochána Bill. I ask the Minister of State to address the matters I have raised here this evening.
Ms White: I am not happy. I have been sitting here for the past three quarters of an hour. I do not like it that people pop in and out to read their speeches. I am sitting here and I would like to hear what the Minister of State has to say, or to have his speech in front of me.
Mr. Minihan: I would like to withdraw and reserve my position to speak later. I would like this matter raised as there is a sequence laid down in Standing Orders. The Minister or Minister of State has the privilege to come in whenever he or she wants. I am quite happy to allow him to speak.
Mr. B. Hayes: On a point of order, it is the prerogative of the Chair to call speakers as he or she chooses. Second, as the Chair knows through the Committee on Procedure and Privileges, it is a long-standing tradition in this House at Private Members’ time that groups are called in accordance with a well set out sequence. The Senator was in possession. It was the turn of his group in that sequence.
Ms White: I thought our acting leader was going to speak next. I want to clarify this issue. I got the impression when sitting here that Senator Maurice Hayes was facilitated by the House. I came here to hear the Minister of State. I asked for his speech, but I am not allowed to get it until he speaks. It is an awful mess.
Acting Chairman: Allow me speak please. Everybody’s opportunity will come. I have been presented with a list by the group leaders and I am working to it. That is the current position. The Minister of State is on the list at No. 7. If he is prepared to address us now, we can take it from there if that is all right with him.
Mr. B. Lenihan: The Chair calls and I am delighted to speak. I commend the amendment to the House. Earlier this month the Minister published the second report of the Morris tribunal which dealt with two issues, namely, the Garda investigation into the death of Richard Barron, and the making of extortion phone calls to Michael and Charlotte Peoples. There was a connection between the issues and Mr. Justice Morris dealt with them together.
The report makes for shocking reading and right-thinking people have been appalled at the events it has uncovered. The Government has accepted the findings of the second report, as it did the findings of the first report. I thank the Senators who have spoken so far for the constructive tone in which the debate has been conducted. It is easy to imply political responsibility in this matter, but the reality is that the wheels of justice run very slowly. Successive Ministers for Justice have attempted to address these issues.
The people of this State were let down badly by the behaviour of a number of gardaí of different ranks in Donegal. Among those most troubled by these findings are the majority of men and women in the Garda Síochána who give loyal and dedicated service to the State. As the Minister said on the publication of the second report, it is difficult to overstate the disservice done to the ordinary decent members of the Garda Síochána by the type of misconduct outlined in this report.
Mr. Justice Morris and his team are owed a great debt for the work they have done to date. They are to be commended for getting as near as anyone could to establishing the terrible truth of what happened. I commend Mr. Justice Morris for undertaking this great work of public service. After a long and distinguished legal career — he served in the High Court and was, ultimately, President of the High Court — he embarked on this inquiry, which must be as distasteful to him as it is to us.
Neither the Minister nor the Garda authorities have been found wanting since the first and second reports of the tribunal were published. Action has, is and will be taken by the Government and by the Garda Commissioner against those in the force who were found to have been guilty of serious wrongdoing and negligence.
Dealing with individual wrongdoing is only one aspect of the matter, albeit important. It is also necessary to look at the structures and statutory framework under which the Garda operates. The Minister stands by the overwhelming majority of honest and decent members of the force by bringing forward the reforming measures they and it need to address the challenges of this century. One of the major priorities of the Minister since his appointment has been to undertake a programme of the most comprehensive reform of the organisation and structures of the Garda Síochána since the foundation of the State.
That has resulted in the Garda Síochána Bill which was initiated in the Seanad. Since the Bill was published, the Minister has introduced and accepted many changes to it as it has progressed through the Oireachtas. It has benefited from this process and this will make for more robust and effective legislation. It is to the Minister’s credit that he embarked on this wide-ranging exercise embodied in the Garda Síochána Bill before the report of this particular module of the Morris inquiry. This shows he is more than aware of the concerns the public and he, as Minister, feel require addressing in this context.
The Minister proposes to bring forward further amendments to the Bill in light of the findings and recommendations of the second Morris report. These will be published shortly. The Bill is currently before the Dáil but the Minister intends to have it back before this House before the summer recess so it can be enacted without delay. He believes that to be fair to the majority of loyal and hard-working members of the Garda Síochána. This is the least we can do. It is also necessary to take account of the excellent work done by the Morris tribunal.
The proposals for legislative reform are based on two very important principles. The first is that the accountability of the Garda must continue through the Minister of the day to Dáil Éireann. The second is that the measures should underpin and enhance public confidence in the force.
One of the new additional amendments to the Bill being proposed will require gardaí to account for their actions as members of the force. It had been intended to include this in the Garda disciplinary regulations, but it is now intended to enshrine this duty in the Garda Bill. Breach of the duty will carry a sanction up to and including dismissal. This new duty has been identified as a crucial necessity by the tribunal and this proposed amendment to the Garda Bill will be a key response to the findings and recommendations of this module of the tribunal.
Given the principles which have informed the Minister’s approach to legislative reform, Senators will appreciate that he is not prepared to agree to the proposals in the Labour Party’s motion. They differ significantly from how the Government sees progress being made in this area. There would be no tangible advantage at this stage in a policing commission touring the highways and byways seeking opinion on proposals for reform of policing. While there may have been merit in this idea in the past, the view of the Minister when he assumed office was that there had been enough talking and that it was time for action.
Senators will appreciate that as Attorney General, the Minister already had cognisance of this distasteful affair. I say it for the record that the Minister’s conduct as Attorney General in this matter is entirely unblemished. I regret the criticisms that were made in that regard. Clearly he acted with expedition in this matter. Any obstacles which were placed in his path existed by virtue of the law of the State and the Constitution. He did everything in his power to expedite this matter and to ensure that a resolution to it was obtained.
The proposals in the Garda Síochána Bill reflect the outcome of a thorough process of review and consultation. The operation of the force was reviewed as part of the Government’s strategic management initiative. Some key principles for the future management of the force, which were outlined in the report that followed the review, have been taken on board. The report stressed the need for clarification of the roles and functions of the Minister and the Garda. It recommended that operational responsibility, including financial responsibility, should be assigned to the management of the Garda. It suggested that the force’s level of democratic accountability be enhanced. According to the report, such changes need to be achieved in an open and transparent fashion.
The Minister, Deputy McDowell, has always been conscious of the need for wide consultation on the Garda Síochána Bill. When he published the general scheme of the Bill in July 2003, he invited submissions from interested groups and the general public. He consulted Garda management and held meetings with a number of Garda associations. He discussed the draft proposals with the Joint Committee on Justice, Equality, Defence and Women’s Rights and listened to the views of members of the committee on the proposals. The Minister is grateful to those who expressed views on the general scheme of the Bill. He is anxious to avoid the danger of talking for ever without making progress.
I was delighted to hear Senator Maurice Hayes say that while improvements could be made to the Garda Síochána Bill, which contains concrete legislative proposals, he understands the importance of reforming the Garda’s management structure as soon as possible as a matter of priority. The Minister does not accept the argument that a policing commission is needed to identify the structures which are necessary in the interests of accountability. The way forward for the force is set out in the measures included in the Bill, which will put in place accountability structures appropriate to our democracy and political system. It is time for the Oireachtas to take action. We do not need a policing commission. I support the Minister’s request to Senators to support the measures in the Bill when it comes before the House. The Bill is needed if we are to give the Garda the structures and accountability framework it requires and deserves if it is to continue its proud tradition of serving and protecting the people of the State and earning and retaining their confidence.
I do not propose to mention every reforming measure in the Garda Síochána Bill. I will refer to a few of the most important measures, which will provide the accountability that is necessary in our democracy. The Bill provides for the establishment of a Garda ombudsman commission, which will independently investigate complaints against members of the force. This new body, which will replace the Garda Complaints Board, will have the power to investigate complaints of serious wrongdoing by members of the force. Its powers will be modelled on those of the police ombudsman in Northern Ireland. The commission will be able to recruit investigators from abroad, enter Garda stations to seize documents and, if necessary, arrest members of the force. The Minister is determined that the commission will have the resources it will need to do its challenging job. He is confident that the establishment of a new and independent investigation complaints authority will underpin public confidence in the force.
I have not heard any serious criticism of the powers or resources to be assigned to the ombudsman commission. Some people have expressed concerns about its structure, however. Senators are aware that the Minister is opposed to the idea of a one-person commission. I do not doubt that this aspect of the matter will be discussed when the Garda Síochána Bill comes before the Seanad. The Government was influenced by a number of considerations when it decided to establish a three-person commission. Contrary to the suggestions of some commentators, it is not the case that multi-person ombudsman commissions, such as the three-person body to be established in this jurisdiction, are unusual. Multi-person ombudsman commissions are in place in Canada and Britain. Members of the commission are entitled to be absent for good reasons. The work of the body should not come to a halt if one of its members is indisposed or taking a holiday. There are good reasons for determining that there should be more than one person on the commission.
I would like to speak about the ombudsman model in operation in Northern Ireland. It must be remembered that the Police Service of Northern Ireland is a regional constabulary. It covers a relatively small geographical area and comprises 7,500 police officers. The Garda Síochána, on the other hand, is the police force of a sovereign state and covers a much more substantial territory. The Minister anticipates that the force will soon have 14,000 members. The equivalent commission in Britain has nine members. It would not be appropriate to provide for such a large membership in a jurisdiction of this size. There is a need to strike a balance.
In making his decision on the composition of the proposed ombudsman commission, the Minister for Justice, Equality and Law Reform did not seek to detract in any way from the position in Northern Ireland. He was charged with bringing proposals before the Government, which had to decide on the appropriate number of members of the commission. I do not doubt that tremendous progress has been made in policing in Northern Ireland since the ombudsman in that jurisdiction took office. The positive changes on the other side of the Border should not distract us from the need to put in place a structure that is appropriate to this State’s current stage of development. The shared view of the Minister and the Government as a whole is based on a balanced assessment of what is required in this State at this time. There is no single correct model. The decision to create an ombudsman commission with more than one member will have compensating advantages.
The Minister has decided that he is disposed in principle to providing that one member of the ombudsman commission will be deemed to be its head. It is desirable that one of the members of the commission should be identifiable as its leader. Such as person will act as the chair of the commission. The Minister will table an amendment on Report Stage in the Dáil to give effect to this decision. While it is desirable that the commission should have a chairperson, the Minister does not accept that the only proper formula is a one-person ombudsman commission. The Minister does not want his opinion to be considered as a criticism of the arrangements in Northern Ireland, as I have said. He has made a decision on the basis of his and the Government’s assessment of what is appropriate in this jurisdiction.
I would like to mention another reforming measure at this point. The Minister decided, on foot of a specific recommendation in the first report of the Morris tribunal, to amend the Garda Síochána Bill to provide for the establishment of a Garda inspectorate. One of the roles of the inspectorate, which will examine and report on the force’s effectiveness and efficiency, will be to promote public confidence in the Garda. Such confidence is indispensable if the force is to carry out its duties successfully.
The establishment of the Garda ombudsman commission and the Garda inspectorate, along with the Bill’s general reforms of the Garda and its relationship with the Government, will transform the force’s system of accountability and oversight. The Minister has underlined his commitment to introducing the changes set out in the Garda Síochána Bill by appointing a committee, to be chaired by Senator Maurice Hayes, to oversee the implementation of the legislation as soon as it is has been enacted. The Minister has asked the committee to report to him by the end of this year.
The Labour Party has called yet again for the establishment of a police authority. It is natural that people are impressed with the work that has been done by the Patten commission. I refer in particular to the commission’s seminal report on policing in Northern Ireland. Who could not be impressed with the report, which was a major undertaking, and its recommendations? As the Minister has said in this House and in the other House, however, we should be careful about applying recommendations which were drawn up in the specific context of the proper development of the policing function in a divided and polarised society to circumstances in which such considerations do not arise. The creation of a police authority in Northern Ireland was recommended by the Patten commission. It made sense in light of the need to accommodate and give a voice to the various strands of political opinion there.
I am aware that other states have police authorities. The idea of regional police authorities may have some merit in England and Wales, where there are over 40 regional constabularies. There is just one police force in Ireland, however. It is a basic principle of democracy that a police force should be accountable to the democratically-elected representatives of the community it serves. The best way to provide for that in this jurisdiction is to do so directly, through immediate and effective procedures which ensure ministerial accountability to the Parliament. Police forces which are organised on a regional level are normally accountable to the appropriate local government representative. Police forces which are organised on a national level are normally accountable to a minister in the central government. That is the case in respect of the FBI in the United States, the Royal Canadian Mounted Police in Canada and the police forces in most EU member states.
A fundamental distinction needs to be made between this State and Northern Ireland. Responsibility for security and policing matters was not devolved to the structures which were established under the devolved arrangements which were put in place in Northern Ireland under the Good Friday Agreement. Political responsibility for the police force in this jurisdiction rests with the Minister for Justice, Equality and Law Reform, who is accountable to the Dáil for every garda stationed between Malin Head and Mizen Head, or between Rosslare and Erris. We cannot ignore that fact when we are devising legislation that deals with the Garda.
The Minister considers that the role of Members of the Oireachtas in respect of the Garda should be strengthened rather than weakened. We need proper oversight by the representatives of the people over the Garda, which has been given the significant powers it needs if it is to tackle those who will not abide by the rules of our democratic society and who undermine that society with criminal behaviour. Such powers are uniquely entrusted to our police force. Given the nature of these powers, it is appropriate if not essential in a democratic society that our police force should be accountable to the highest law making and executive authorities of the State.
Surrendering or diluting in any form the oversight role that the Government and the Oireachtas, as the representatives of the people, have in regard to the Garda Síochána, and the accountability the Garda Síochána has to the Minister, and through him to the Oireachtas, is not in the best interests of the State. The way forward is not to hand over responsibility for the Garda Síochána to an unelected, unrepresentative and, ultimately, unaccountable policy authority.
Returning briefly to the specific recommendations of the tribunal reports, I assure the House on the Minister’s behalf, that they are being taken forward without delay. There are already developments well under way to address many of the issues identified in the reports in regard to matters falling within the responsibility of the Garda Commissioner. In particular, at the Minister’s request, the Garda Commissioner undertook a comprehensive review of the findings of the first report and its implications for the management of the force. This review covered nine specific areas. It is now complete and the Commissioner has published his proposals for management reform within the force.
Mr. Quinn: The Minister of State used words which record what most of us feel such as “deplore”, “appalled” and, “therefore, public confidence in the force has been seriously damaged”. However, when I talk about public confidence in the force, I am not just talking about the public confidence that was shattered recently in Donegal. I am worried about damaging even more the public confidence we need in the force to ensure it does what we need it to do, namely, to enforce the law.
We have a State for 80 years in which we have had confidence in a generally unarmed police force. We must not allow what happened in Donegal to damage our confidence in that force. Just as I expect to get electricity when I turn on a switch, and just as I expect to get water when I turn on the tap, which does not always happen in other states, whenever I picked up the phone to the Garda Síochána over the past 40 years I have been in business or at home, I always got a response. I do not want us to find ourselves in a situation where we damage or hamper the ability of the Garda Síochána to do the job we value so much, namely, protecting citizens and their property.
I recall on one occasion being called to a break-in at one of our supermarkets and the gardaí followed me. I recall a garda opening the fridge door and inside were two men armed with knives. It was 2 a.m. I was never as grateful for that garda who protected me and the others who were on the premises. This is just one example of the many occasions we as citizens have called on the Garda and relied on its members. I am concerned at some of the calls in recent times, and understandably so, because our confidence and trust in the Garda may have been damaged and we may overreact.
I am pleased to hear the Minister of State speak today about a balanced response. The legislation which will be introduced must be watched carefully, whether it relates to the ombudsman, the administration or the management of the Garda. I agree with one other issue to which the Minister of State referred, namely, management. Good management practice should mean the buck will stop somewhere. I am concerned about the suggestion that we should have some other type of Garda authority. The Minister of State gave a good response to that suggestion when he spoke about the United States and Canada not having a police authority. If we had this type of authority, we would still be howling for the Minister’s head if anything went wrong, and he would be out of control because the administration would be in place.
The buck should stop here and at the Garda Commissioner’s head and, if he does a bad job, he should be dismissed. If the Minister does a bad job, he should be dismissed. Therefore, I support the proposals in the legislation. I hope the Minister and the Government will respond to any amendments tabled. We are very fortunate to have Senator Maurice Hayes and to be able to benefit from his experience. Given that sensible head on the shoulders of one of our Members, and the words of the Minister of State, I believe our opinions will be listened to. My real concern is that we might damage the ability of the Garda Síochána to do the job it has done very effectively in the past 80 years, with very few exceptions. When introducing good management practice, we must ensure that it will not hamper gardaí from doing the job they are required to do. We know about the few bad apples but we must ensure that what happened in Donegal and elsewhere will not encourage us to take steps that will hamper gardaí from doing the job they do so effectively, and for which we have been very grateful over the past 80 years.
Mr. O’Toole: I will speak from the point of view of my great admiration for gardaí. My father was a garda and a founder member of the GRA. I was raised with that culture and I have not left it. I support the local gardaí. It pains me to see the way gardaí have been dragged down by the events in Donegal. It has been appalling beyond our wildest expectations. It has been worse than I could ever have believed. That is the reality and it must be dealt with and dealt with firmly.
I also support the Commissioner. I put myself in his position last week when the report was published. I asked what could he do in the situation. It appeared he had four choices. He could have decided to do nothing and leave the gardaí where they are. If he decided to sack them, he would have lost due process, they would have a case against him and we would never have been able to take action against the identified gardaí. He could have suspended them, and they could have gone home and done the gardening or gone on holidays, and we would have been paying them for doing nothing. He could have kept them working somewhere else. He could have moved them to where they would not have been in touch with the general public but they would still be doing a day’s work. My honest belief is that this is the only option he had. I do not like it. My visceral response to it is to put the boot in and put it in hard. However, it is a time where wiser council can prevail and, if due process is to take its course, we must be careful in the way we deal with the issue.
As Senator Quinn said, we need to restore public confidence in the Garda. We should begin by restoring our sense of confidence in the Commissioner. The Commissioner must win back our confidence. He can do so but he must be seen to take action. As public representatives, we must recognise that he is also delimited by due process, by the code of discipline, by the law of the land and by the way in which justice must take its course. In the end, if he is found not to have acted correctly, honourably or responsibly in the manner in which we would expect, then he must take the rap for it. No more than the rest of us, he had to sit back and watch this tribunal take its course and he must sit back and watch what happens next. At that point we will come to a judgment.
This is the worst episode in the history of the Garda. There have been other incidents over the years, including the heavy gangs, but we must now ensure there is public confidence in the Garda. The issue concerning Deputy Roche during the week does not help. It is another example whereby we must ensure complaints go through the process and land on the desk to which they were headed. We cannot have people interfering with this process. I support strongly the Labour Party proposal that there should be a one-person ombudsman. It is the only way the process can work. I agree with the Government’s position that gardaí should be accountable to the constitutionally-elected authority, namely, the Houses of the Oireachtas. However, there is nothing in the Labour Party motion which would undermine this approach. I support strongly the Labour Party motion and I am sorry the Government cannot support it.
Mr. Minihan: To indicate there is no ill-feeling, I would like to begin by quoting a distinguished Member and former leader of the Fianna Fáil Party who said in County Clare many years ago, “As I was saying”.
Any democracy needs a fully functioning police force that commands the respect and confidence of its citizens. Our democracy needs such a force. Reform of the Garda is necessary and that is the kernel of the debate. I join previous speakers in expressing support of the Garda. I have the distinction, unlike other Members, of having worn the uniform of the State for 21 years and working closely on operational duties with the members of the force. During that time, I encountered fine, upright, honest, brave and hard working members to whom all citizens should be indebted for their daily duties. However, because of the actions of a limited few, we are in danger of an overreaction, which could demoralise the many fine, hard working and honest members of the Garda. As legislators, we should bear that in mind when we comment on the entire force.
The motion addresses police reform, a process manifest in the Garda Síochána Bill 2004, which contains the most important legislative proposals on policing ever to come before the Oireachtas. The Minister should be commended for bringing forward legislation, which will act as a constitution for a modern and even more professional police force. A culture of reform has been needed within the force for a number of years. The proof that such reform was necessary was provided by Mr. Justice Morris in his tribunal reports. It must be ensured the Garda Síochána Bill 2004 should be enacted without delay.
I, along with many Members, was astounded by the forthrightness of Mr. Justice Morris’s second report and its conclusions, on which he should be complimented. The second report was harder hitting than the first and I commend the Minister’s statement on the day of its publication that recommendations contained in the reports would be taken on without delay. The people of Donegal, wider society and, most importantly, gardaí need that to happen if confidence is not to be lost in the force.
Confidence or esprit de corps is an essential element of a military or police force. Gardaí do a difficult and dangerous job and they must rely on their colleagues. They must have confidence in the honesty and integrity of those standing beside them. It is the responsibility of those in supervisory roles within the Garda to ensure esprit de corps is not perverted and used to erect a wall of silence such as that which faced the chairman of the Garda Complaints Board.
The Association of Garda Sergeants and Inspectors stated the findings of the second report of the tribunal represented a black day for the force and the shortcomings it identified need to be addressed. The responsibility of addressing them and rebuilding morale will fall largely on the shoulders of the AGSI members and other senior officers within the force. They will have to ensure, in future, esprit de corps does not take precedence over honesty, integrity and truth. It is an onerous task but with rank comes responsibility and the Garda is capable of responding to that challenge.
A democracy needs a force that commands the respect and confidence of its citizens. If citizens continue to believe members of the Garda are inclined or willing to reject evidence that points to the innocence of a person or coerce statements from, pursue, arrest, frame and harass innocent people, respect will evaporate and confidence will totally dissolve. Our society needs reform of the Garda, as promised by the Garda Síochána Bill 2004.
The motion correctly highlights the urgency required to make that reform happen. Under a programme of reform, the Garda Síochána Acts, 1924 to 1989, should be replaced by comprehensive modern legislation. The functions and objectives of the force should be established in law and the relationship between the force and the Garda Commissioner with the Minister for Justice, Equality and Law Reform and the Government should be redefined. A fully independent body should be established to deal with complaints and examine practices and procedures within the force. New mechanisms should be designed to secure and maintain public confidence and a reform process must establish an inspectorate, which will review and report to the Minister regarding practices, standards and performance within the force. The review should be benchmarked against best practice in other comparable international police forces. Local policing committees should also be established with the Garda and local authorities representing communities so that they can co-operate and work together to address local policing problems.
The Garda Síochana Bill 2004 addresses such reform and, for the first time, comprehensive legislative reform of the force is being addressed. The timing of the report by Mr. Justice Morris and his team was an ironic coincidence. The Bill has not been passed and amendment is likely. The report of the Morris tribunal emphasises the requirement of us, as legislators, to ensure the necessary legislation is enacted without delay.
The motion refers to the so-called one-person ombudsman. There is a reluctance and inability among a number of groups to get their heads around the concept of an ombudsman commission. A fully independent body is needed to deal with complaints and to examine the practices and procedures of the Garda. I am not hung up on whether that body comprises one person or a few people. However, I welcome the Minister’s proposal to table an amendment on Report Stage in the Dáil to appoint one person as the chairperson of that body. As he stated in the Dáil, the Supreme Court operates on a group rather than an individual basis. If the legislation provides for a one-person ombudsman, how will holidays and other absences be covered? We should not be hung up on the numbers as long as the job is done.
The goal is to increase internal debate, deliberate action and carefully thought through consequences. I support these objectives and call on all groups to get on with making the necessary reform provided in the new legislation a reality as quickly as possible. The Morris tribunal, the experiences of the Barron and McBrearty families and the needs of the Garda and society demand that much of us.
Mr. B. Hayes: I am grateful to the Labour Party for tabling the motion to allow the House to respond to the second Morris tribunal report. As Senator O’Toole has stated on the Order of Business in recent months, the fact that we have not debated the first report to date is regrettable but we are doing so this evening. We all owe a debt of gratitude to Mr. Justice Morris for his report and its clear findings and the way in which he conducted the tribunal. Others could learn from him. When the second report was published, I welcomed the courage of the AGSI because the association was honest and up-front and it recognised the scale of the problem unlike others, who refused to comment on the day. It was a difficult day for senior management figures within the force but they were up-front and honest.
I made comments yesterday about the suitability of the decision made by the Commissioner in respect of transferring five of the officers cited in the report. I still disagree with that decision. Senator O’Toole outlined four options, of which the worst was transferring people from one division to another. The better option would have been to suspend the officers until such time as the DPP decided whether charges stemming from the report were to be made. If not, it would be another matter. It was the wrong decision to shunt five of the officers mentioned in the report from one division to another. I stand over this comment but I understand the difficulty the Commissioner obviously faced at the time.
I recommend to the House the comments made by Senator Cummins this evening when he effectively suggested we would park the Garda Síochána Bill 2004, which is due to return to this House before the summer recess to report amendments made in the Dáil. It would be wise to co consider the Bill for another three or four months. The Bill is timely and no one is suggesting it should be shelved but the only legislative change the Government has proposed in response to the Morris tribunal report concerns the requirement for gardaí to account for their actions as members of the force. There may be another amendment in the offing and I welcome the Minister of State’s comments in respect of the ombudsman commission, but it would be wrong to suggest the only response the Government would make to the Bill would be the amendment to which I referred. It is the view of our group that we should take our time on Report Stage when it returns to the House.
Senators Cummins, Jim Walsh, Tuffy and I contributed during the lengthy debate on the Bill in this House, as did many others. Senators will remember we spent a full week on Committee and Report Stages. We put much time into the Bill but events have moved on. The issue of the ombudsman must be addressed. I met Mrs. Nuala O’Loan in Northern Ireland. I was impressed by her office and by the fact that many of the cases that came across her desk were handed out to very experienced officers, some of whom are from the London Metropolitan Police service, who are able to investigate and determine the validity of the complaints made. This is the model we need. On Senator Maurice Hayes’s point about visibility, there is a significant advantage in terms of the visibility of one person being the ombudsman for this area. I ask the Government to dwell on this matter between now and the report of the amendments from the Dáil. The Minister of State’s comments reflect this somewhat.
Another argument concerns the inspectorate. It is not just a question of complaints. The public has questions about the deployment of gardaí and detection rates. Where I live, we have seen our division’s detection rates fall by one third in the past four years. The question of why this has been allowed to happen at a time when the Government argues that resources are being invested in additional officers on the beat must be asked of senior and middle management. The public has legitimate questions about deployment, whether we are getting the best use of the force’s resources and whether we are getting the best value for money in terms of the resources that are made available. For this reason it is important we have some independent assessment, a type of international best practice. How is Manchester faring on detection rates? How is Paris faring?
In his speech, the Minister of State referred to why it is important to have a national police force. If one reads the recommendations in the Morris tribunal report, the first chapter deals with the issue of the role of head office. Mr. Justice Morris is critical of this area because there is such a distance between County Donegal and Dublin. We may need to re-examine the regionalisation of the force’s command structure. The great lesson of the Morris tribunal must surely be that certain elements of the force in County Donegal were out of the control of middle management. This is something we must learn for the future.
In response to what the Minister of State said, we may need to re-examine this issue as a means of giving better accountability in terms of the resources present. I am a supporter of the Garda Síochána. It is one of the great success stories of this young State, which is over 80 years old. We must support the Garda Síochána while also supporting the valuable requirement for reform of the force to make it more accountable.
Mr. Bannon: I support the spirit of the motion and join with Senator Cummins and others in praising the work of Mr. Justice Morris, which has led to explicit and straightforward reports. It is now incumbent on Government to oversee the immediate implementation of the recommendations of the Morris tribunal. Further fudging and procrastination will not be tolerated by this House or by the citizens of this country.
While supporting the motion, I would like to query why these issues were not dealt with in the Garda Síochána Bill 2004. Why does the Government not see the connection and interrelations that are apparent to the rest of us? Why is the Government sitting on the numerous reports into the extraordinary events in County Donegal? What of the Carty report? The Government plans to release it into the public arena next September but why is there a delay? This is the question asked by the people of County Longford. The report was completed in the past few months. In the interests of accountability, it must be published sooner rather than later. It has been five years since John Carthy was shot dead by Garda marksmen at Abbeylara in County Longford and it is strange that the Government refuses to publish the report if it has been completed.
The now familiar Superintendent Shelly of Mullingar station was in charge at the time. What did he get out of this? He got a full retirement pension and no questions asked of him. If he was asked, the answers were brushed under the carpet. This occurred despite the accusations of alleged bullying made by other gardaí against him. I ask the Minister of State what he has to say to Marie Carthy and what explanation does he have for her for such an unprecedented and inexplicable delay in answering her questions about what happened to her brother. She would like an explanation, as would the people of County Longford and I.
What of the McBrearty family fiasco? The family members’ request for an independent inquiry into their nightmare situation was ignored by the Government for several years. Trails of whitewash had to be laid, influential names cleared and people protected, never mind clearing the good name of the McBreartys. This request by a family that was wronged could hardly be said to be unreasonable and it is my belief that there has been a definite apathy in the State’s response to wrongdoing.
During the past number of years, questions abounded among the community about what happened. It is now reassuring that, through the Morris tribunal report, some of these questions will be answered, though a bit late. The Government and the various Ministers with responsibility for justice have not come out of the wash particularly well. The Government must now do its utmost to ensure that such situations are never allowed to recur.
Mr. Bannon: Whatever the outcome of the debate or whether we should have a Garda ombudsman or commission as put forward by the Minister for Justice, Equality and Law Reform, Deputy McDowell, the proposals in the Garda Síochána Bill should be reviewed as a matter of urgency.
Mr. J. Walsh: In tabling the motion, the Labour Party has given us all an opportunity to discuss this important topic. Mr. Justice Morris has done us a service in his report. I will address it under four points. The first point is that the gardaí deserve our support and our commendation. They place themselves at personal risk to ensure that law and order and quality of life for every citizen are maintained. Many of them have paid the ultimate price in that regard. As a body, the Garda Síochána has a proud record, which is mentioned in Mr. Justice Morris’s report. It has been unfortunately tarnished by this incident.
My second point relates to the reference to corruption in the report. Corruption in the Garda Síochána or any police force is a serious matter. The tribunal has come to the conclusion that the Garda Síochána is losing its character as a disciplined force. This is something that is disturbing to the Houses of the Oireachtas and to the wider public. It is detrimental to morale and impinges on the proud record of the Garda Síochána.
My third point concerns the negligence that is highlighted in this report. Unfortunately, there is a catalogue of evidence therein. The communications failure following the accident involving Mr. Barron and the indolence in responding to the call from the public is inexcusable. Also inexcusable is the failure to preserve the scene and the absence of a garda from duty because he was drinking. The contents of this report mirror, to some extent, the failures of the Garda Síochána in pursuing the Dublin and Monaghan bombings investigation which took place over 20 years ago and was examined by the Joint Committee on Justice, Equality, Defence and Women’s Rights. It concerns me that 20 years after that investigative failure a similar situation occurred in the mid-1990s.
I wish to address the serious management failures within the Garda Síochána. I have raised this issue in this House in the past and I have seen that where there are good people in management positions, the rank and file conform to best practice and perform to an acceptably high standard. However, where management is deficient, the opposite occurs. There is a need to examine this issue because the problem is highlighted in areas such as contemporaneous reporting not taking place and a failure in the preparation of files, which Mr. Justice Morris points out is fundamental to any effective and fair judicial system. The judge suggests that files should be routinely inspected by management, there should be an ongoing management review of procedures, systems should be clearly set out and random audits should be undertaken. He further suggests that a manual on handling informants should be produced. All of these suggestions are basic and elementary to any organisation trying to operate to minimum standards but, unfortunately, it appears that this was not the case in Donegal.
There are serious management deficiencies throughout the public service at all levels. However, that is not to say that there are not many excellent practitioners also. The system, for whatever reason, does not have a mechanism to identify and award the good performers and root out those who are not performing. That needs to be done, particularly in light of the Morris reports. Mr. Justice Morris asserts that what happened in Donegal was not just a statistical blip. His view is that the gardaí in Donegal were recruited from different parts of the country and that, as a consequence, one could reasonably expect to find similar failures elsewhere.
The real question is whether it could ever happen again. According to Mr. Justice Morris, given the lack of proper management at senior level, corruption at middle level and the absence of reviews throughout the force, it is possible that in similar circumstances, comparable corruption could arise. This inquiry is so serious because it highlights the neglect of the fundamental duty of police management to ask questions and get answers and Mr. Justice Morris finds this shocking.
A number of related issues arise, one of which is the turnover of personnel. I have seen the effects of that in my own home town. Indeed, the current Garda Commissioner spent three or four months in New Ross as superintendent and we had a revolving door for a period of time. That weakens authority and is detrimental to stability within the force.
I agree with many of the initiatives taken by the Minister for Justice, Equality and Law Reform. He responded promptly, as did the Garda Commissioner, in undertaking an initial review of the force. However, because of the seriousness of the failures mentioned, I urge the Minister to engage a policeman of international stature to examine all systems within the Garda Síochána and make recommendations. We should not simply rely on an internal review. There should also be an external review and periodic inspections to ensure that recommendations are being actively and effectively implemented.
Senator Cummins recently referred to the police in Boston. The police commissioner there made a comment recently to the effect that good cops do not necessarily make good managers. She also suggested there is a need to examine the age profile for promotion, so that good police officers with management skills could be identified early and given the scope to apply their abilities in senior positions within the force.
The country should be divided into regions, with an assistant commissioner in charge of each region, as currently applies in Dublin. That would result in a more interactive police response. Each region should be benchmarked and compared on performance and the benchmarking should use international and national best practice as its basis.
Mr. McCarthy: I welcome the opportunity to debate this issue and I welcome the Minister of State to the House. The second instalment from the Morris tribunal is very worrying and for the vast majority of the fine, decent and honourable members of the Garda Síochána, it is demoralising. We must not forget the centrepiece of this whole sorry saga, the McBrearty family and other people who were conspired against in County Donegal.
Senator Higgins and Deputy Howlin deserve immense credit for the manner in which they pursued this case in its early stages. They pursued it with great vigour and determination in order to ensure that the McBrearty family received justice. It has been a long and arduous road and an inherently difficult situation for that family. They have suffered enormously, their reputation has been damaged and their mental and physical health has suffered. One cannot begin to know the misery inflicted on them. One can read the Morris report, the newspaper reports and listen to interviews, but the real horror of what they went through is unimaginable.
I have relations and close friends who are members of the Garda Síochána. When they embarked on their careers in the police force they were young, idealistic, community-spirited individuals who joined a force that is largely unarmed, the majority of whose members are decent, honourable people who go about their work, often in difficult circumstances. Difficult conditions prevail in Dublin and other areas, where gardaí are set upon by mindless gougers and thugs who think it appropriate to attack them. Such people use the incident of recent days as an excuse to perpetrate such attacks and there have been several unfortunate examples of this in the Munster region recently.
When talking about the Garda Síochána we should bear in mind the good people in the force. However, we should not let those members of the force in County Donegal who bent the rules, broke the law and abused their positions, off the hook. Such people conspired against a family and framed them for a murder that never occurred. That in itself speaks volumes about the levels to which some people were willing to stoop in order to damage the character and good name of others.
The opportunity presented to us by the Garda Síochána Bill is in danger of being wasted. We have an enormous opportunity to enshrine some of the recommendations of the Morris report in the Bill. The Bill is not good enough and misrepresents the Swedish origin of ombudsman. It is a mistake to set up a three-person ombudsman commission and not afford it the full scope that Chris Patten was afforded with regard to his report into policing in Northern Ireland, which led to the setting up of the PSNI, a police force in which all but one group has participated. The Patten report did great work in terms of shifting focus and a psychological impression of the old RUC and delivered a fairly professional and very committed, apolitical and centre-stage police force that is able to do its work without having the baggage of the RUC.
The same initiative should be taken with regard to the Garda Síochána Bill 2004. An individual of Mr. Patten’s standing should be engaged to examine the issue, the current management systems in the Garda Síochána, the failings of the force and the Morris report and work with that information to ensure we have a police force that is beyond reproach. Inevitably, the reputation of the Garda Síochána has been besmirched by the activities of a few rotten apples.
The transfer of five members of the Garda Síochána in Donegal to Dublin is disgraceful. I would not want a member of the force who has been clearly implicated by the Morris report to be serving in a station in my community. It does nothing for the morale of the officers serving in that station and it does nothing for the reputation of the Garda Síochána. I do not like the fact that two of these gardaí have been transferred to Garda headquarters in the Phoenix Park. This does not do justice to the vast majority of the force who are appalled by and suffering as a result of this affair. Members of the force in Donegal were associated with the biggest scandals that ever affected the force and it goes right back to Abbeydorney when a family was blackguarded by a number of gardaí. One of these gardaí went on to become involved in the Abbeylara siege and was then involved in the Donegal case. This defies belief. I do not think any other police force in western Europe would stand behind a police officer with that kind of curriculum vitae.
A recent case in a police authority in the UK involved an allegation made against the UK equivalent of a chief superintendent. The officer subsequently resigned because he did not want any scandal or bad publicity for his police force. This is not happening in this country. I am not saying we should rush to judgment and look for resignations. Some people are not fit to tie the boots of law-abiding, decent police officers and have been allowed to continue in the profession. They cast too many aspersions and it does not clear the matter up.
Out of 240 complaints referred to the DPP by the Garda Complaints Board, three gardaí were prosecuted. This statistic is frightening when one considers the amount of cases that the Garda Complaints Board does not send to the DPP. There is a blue wall of silence operating and it does not do justice to the vast majority of good, honourable people who work in our towns and cities upholding and enforcing the law to the standards which they deliver and the standards that are expected of them.
In recent times, one can only be gripped by the media interviews given by Frank McBrearty Jnr. There are outstanding issues that have not been resolved by the Minister regarding this case. Legal representation in this case is a major issue. The McBrearty family, which was the centrepiece of the Morris tribunal, did not receive the same type and scale of legal representation afforded to the Garda Síochána and the Garda Commissioner, which is uncalled for. It is incumbent upon us to ensure that no more damage is done to the McBrearty family and that the justice they strove to attain is delivered to them. That is the least we owe the family.
The Department and the current team of Ministers must ensure this type of mess and scandal never happens again. If it does recur, there should be safeguards in place to ensure those responsible will be expelled from the force so quickly their feet will not touch the ground.
Ms K. Walsh: I welcome the Minister of State to the House and I also extend my sympathy to the Minister for Justice, Equality and Law Reform, Deputy McDowell, on the untimely death of his mother-in-law today. I welcome the opportunity to contribute to this debate. There is no doubt that the second report of the Morris tribunal has shocked and angered many people across the country. Having been the wife of a member of the Garda Síochána for a good few years and having many relatives in the force, I could say that I am slightly embarrassed by the report.
Other speakers in this debate have congratulated Mr. Justice Morris and his team for the excellent work they carried out. I also express my gratitude to them. They have done us all a great service. The second report of the Morris tribunal revealed many worrying facts. It revealed a culture of behaviour among some, and I emphasise some, gardaí in Donegal that must be denounced by all right-thinking citizens. The McBrearty family and others have been seriously wronged over the years and I welcome the fact that they will receive an apology from the State and that their case will not be contested.
No one must underestimate the trauma endured by this family. However, I would like to use these few minutes to focus on one other aspect. I want to speak for the many gardaí who are just as horrified at these findings as we are. I do this in the knowledge that other speakers, and more importantly Mr. Justice Morris, have set out in great detail the manner in which the McBrearty family and others have been treated. Their plight is everyone’s first concern and I do not in any way wish to downplay this fact. We must also remember Mr. Barron, the man who lost his life. His family, friends and community have suffered a great deal. We must not lose sight of this fact.
The most recent official figures put Garda numbers at over 11,500. There are 703 Garda stations throughout the country. The vast majority of gardaí are at garda rank and work on our streets acting as a thin blue line between us and lawlessness and chaos. For these gardaí, the findings of the Morris tribunal and the aftermath are appalling. They must carry on with their duties and pursue their mission to achieve the highest level of personal protection, community commitment and State security. They must carry out their duties despite knowing that confidence in some elements of the force has been badly damaged and shaken. I want to let it be known that these honest, brave, hardworking and honourable members of the Garda Síochána have our confidence, trust and, most of all, respect.
The media coverage and debates in the House and elsewhere will contain charges that are devastating. There are points that must be made. These points do not only apply to a minority of gardaí, they apply only to a minority of gardaí in Donegal, which is a very important point to make. While we must not be afraid to criticise and deal with the unacceptable behaviour among the few, we must not forget the contribution to our society made by the many. When approximately 25,000 burglaries happen every year, who do we rely on for help? Who do we rely on to protect us and to intervene when we feel helpless and threatened? We should be proud of the daily work of the Garda Síochána. While we take time in this House to condemn the outrageous actions of the few gardaí who abused their powers and the good name of the force, we should acknowledge the vital and courageous work of the many.
Since his appointment as Minister for Justice, Equality and Law Reform, Deputy McDowell has made it a priority to achieve the most comprehensive reform of the Garda Síochána since the foundation of the State. The report of the Morris tribunal underlines the need for this reform and all parties must ensure the necessary legislation is enacted without delay. I have total confidence in the Minister to deliver this reform and I have total confidence in the Garda Síochána to continue to serve our citizens to the highest standards on a daily basis.
Mr. McHugh: I welcome the Minister of State and I welcome the opportunity to speak on this motion tabled by the Labour Party. This is a most complex and difficult subject to speak on tonight both as a politician and as a Donegal man. Before dealing with the detail of the motion and the findings of the Morris tribunal, I wish to mention some of the personal human tragedies that were the outcome of what happened in Donegal.
The members of the Barron family feel they were abominably treated by the State. They feel disgusted and dismayed by the entire procedure. Second, I wish to refer to the McBrearty family and their quest for justice. I agree with Senator McCarthy that without the good offices and the political bravery of Senator Jim Higgins and Deputy Howlin and the voice of Councillor Seán Maloney, who has now retired from politics, the McBrearty family’s quest for justice would not have ended in such a positive fashion. However, as far as the McBrearty family is concerned, this is not over. As a family they have their own personal dealings to sort out as well as being part of this overall human tragedy. We should also consider the wives and children of the gardaí who are caught up in this mess. It is a tragedy that these people are caught up in this debacle. I find it difficult to speak on this as a Donegal person.
Many of the findings of the Morris tribunal are based on the unpublished Carty report and some people in the legal fraternity have a difficulty with that. If we are trying to establish an ombudsman and an accountable structure within the Garda, why is the Carty report not yet published? Why have the findings which the Morris tribunal has taken from that report not been published? Why has the Nally report not been published? If we are seeking accountability and transparency, that should be part of the debate.
There is a perception of Donegal gardaí in places such as Kerry, Cork or Dublin. Some Members will have personal connections to the Garda. I have such a connection in that my brother is a garda based in Dublin. If one mentions that one is a Donegal garda, one is confronted with a simple and dangerous perception — that Donegal gardaí equal corruption. It is not simply a case of saying that 99.99% of the gardaíare honest and 0.01% are dishonest. We are dealing with the dangerous 100% perception that Donegal gardaí equal corruption.
Let us examine the culture in Donegal. The Morris tribunal is dealing with corruption on the part of some members of the Garda in Donegal. These actions cannot be condoned and for a long time they will do untold damage to the Garda as a force. I do not have time to examine the culture of the gardaí in Donegal but it is true that there was a culture of staying quiet. It was a culture based on fear, the fear of being transferred and of losing out on promotion. It was based on the gardaí thinking of their families. That fear was endemic. However, it is not unique to Donegal but is an institutionalised state of fear in every county because there is an unaccountable Garda authority. We are trying to legislate for a more accountable and transparent authority that will apply from Malin Head to Mizen Head, not from Malin Head to Ballyshannon or Bundoran. There is still no justification for the behaviour of some of the gardaí in Donegal because lives have been ruined, regardless of whether people are vindicated and whether the truth will come out.
The terms of reference of the Morris tribunal must be extended to the role of Ministers, Attorneys General, the Department of Justice, Equality and Law Reform and Garda Commissioners. These were the end point of the institutional system in place so that is where the buck stopped. There must be an extension of the terms of reference of the tribunal. Mechanisms must be put in place to protect the citizen and good gardaí. There are good gardaí who will end up in this mess as a result of an improper system.
I will conclude on that note. I found this a difficult subject on which to speak. I do not feel embarrassed as a Donegal man or that people who have close relationships with gardaí should be embarrassed. However, there is a serious challenge before us as a result of lives being ruined and as a result of a negative, damaging perception that will do untold damage to the force in the long run. Ultimately, the challenge for legislators is to consider two families, the Barron and McBrearty families, whose lives have been ruined and who still have not found closure following the death of Richie Barron.
Ms White: Irish society has been shocked by the treatment of the McBrearty family. I support the comments made about Senator Higgins and Deputy Howlin and on how they stuck their necks out when it was not popular to do so. It appears that police forces throughout the world at times take on the characteristics of those they are investigating. Consider the police force in Britain which put the Guildford Four and the Birmingham Six in prison. Corruption, deviousness and twisting of the truth put Irish people in prison. There was also the failure of the Garda to investigate the Dublin-Monaghan bombings.
There was shock when we heard that four members of the Garda in Donegal were being sent to Dublin. I heard Ms McGlinchey ask on the radio why the communities in Dublin deserved to have these people imposed on them. However, we later discovered that these gardaí will be employed at desk jobs, that a file is being sent to the Director for Public Prosecutions and that they will be investigated. The law will take its course.
In his speech the Minister of State referred to the ombudsman. In the House one year ago, in the presence of the Minister, Deputy McDowell, I told of how I witnessed the maltreatment by three gardaí of an innocent Irish person on a train from Waterford. I made a complaint to the Garda Complaints Board but it was swept under the carpet. There was nothing I could do as my hands were tied. However, I know the ombudsman commission will work. To qualify that comment, I am totally opposed to a three-person commission, even with a chairman. We have one Director of Public Prosecutions, one Attorney General and one Minister for Justice, Equality and Law Reform.
We talked in the House about culture, leadership and vision. Leadership must come from top; it is identified in one person. When one sees leadership, one sees it in one human being. In Northern Ireland, Ms O’Loan stands out as a person responsible for fair treatment. Even when witnesses were afraid to go to the police in the McCartney case, the McCartney sisters were encouraged to meet Ms O’Loan. I am not convinced by the reasons put forward by the Minister, Deputy McDowell, for justifying the three-person commission or the introduction of a chairman. I would like one person to be appointed.
The Minister, Deputy McDowell, has the fire, passion and driving force to bring about a metamorphosis in the Garda Síochána. While I do not want to say he has many bad points, he has the driving power to achieve that. During the discussions last year, it was said in the House that reform of the Garda Síochána was probably the most significant legislative proposal to have happened in our lifetime or the history of the State.
As my Seanad colleagues know, in the past year I have been working on a new approach to child care. I have also commenced work on a new approach to aging, a matter on which I will let the House know more anon. During my investigations on the ground on the new approach to aging, I encountered community gardaí doing extraordinary work to look after people in their local communities. Two weeks ago gardaí from Kilmainham and Kevin Street stations in Dublin brought 260 older members of the community from Dublin 8 and Dublin 11 to Fatima. Gardaí from those stations bring older people from that area on trips five times a year. The chief superintendent I spoke to told me that because of the trips one old man told him: “You are keeping me alive. The gardaí are keeping me alive.” Many of the old people involved are poor and have little to look forward to except the trips organised by the community gardaí. Just as every priest is not an abuser and every Fianna Fáil member is not a crook or corrupt, every garda is not a liar.
Although I did not hear it first hand or read it for myself, I understand one of my coalition colleagues stated earlier that Fianna Fáil did not have values, or something like that, which is a matter I want to investigate further.
Ms White: I am making the point that all gardaí are not the same. I like to see justice being done. I understand why Senator McHugh speaks so emotionally. It must be terrible to think like that of every garda in Donegal but it is a terrible situation. In An Agreed Programme for Government there is an elaborate statement about crime and the wishes of the two Government parties.
Ms White: I want more gardaí out of their offices and on the beat. I lost my mobile telephone some months ago and had to go to the Garda station in Dundrum to report it. Why did I have to waste the time of a garda in Dundrum to make a formal report about losing a mobile telephone? I have never heard such nonsense. Time is being wasted in Templemore teaching trainees how to be gardaí only for them to end up doing desk jobs.
Ms White: The Senator was not present earlier for the contribution of Senator Maurice Hayes, who did tremendous work on the Patten report. He stated that gardaí should not be trained in isolation, which is an interesting concept. He stated they should be integrated with social workers and community workers, and not isolated. Senator Coonan misunderstood what I said.
Ms White: All Members of the House are deeply sorry for the McBrearty and Barron families. We look forward to reform of the Garda Síochána. I would like to hear more in regard to what the Minister of State said earlier.
Ms O’Meara: I welcome the opportunity to speak on this important motion. When the second Morris tribunal report was published last week, the public was deeply shocked when it was realised what had been going on in Donegal. We cannot underestimate public concern around the implications for the Garda force of what has been revealed to have happened in Donegal.
As enunciated in the House during this debate, many feel that in some way the case of Donegal was an isolated incident, or that it happened up there but is not happening anywhere else. There is a sense that a small number of gardaí have sullied the whole force, which is the case. The concern and public dissatisfaction with the fact that three gardaí have been transferred to Dublin clearly indicates that what is needed to re-establish public confidence in the Garda is an intense clean-up job.
My major concern is that the activities of a minority in the Garda are creating a situation where public confidence in all gardaí is diminished. As the activities of a small number of politicians diminished us all and impacted on the whole political system, in the same way, the activities of a small number of gardaí have impacted on the whole Garda force.
I add my voice to the many Members who spoke of the fine work done by the majority of gardaí, including community work. However, the fact remains that the whole force is now damaged and sullied. It is our responsibility as Members of the Oireachtas to ensure public confidence is restored because it is too important not to have that happen. If we do not do so, confidence in the Garda will continue to be undermined. Moreover, other incidents also need to be cleared up, such as the Dean Lyons case.
The structures put in place to deal with this question are very important. At their heart must be the establishment of a system of accountability for the Garda Síochána. In the same way we have established accountability for politics and political representatives, and in doing so taken steps, I hope, to restore public confidence in politics. We must work to restore public confidence through establishing clear lines of accountability for the Garda.
The power we give the Garda Síochána has up to recently been unquestioned because it has not been abused. However, when that power is abused, the systems of accountability must be there and must kick into place. They are simply not there at present. While attempts have been made in the Garda Síochána Bill to address this issue, they do not go far enough. The question marks that have been raised about the three-person commission need to be addressed by the Minister because there is a question mark in the public mind that the Bill does not go far enough. The Garda Complaints Board must be reformed because there is no public confidence in it. Today’s newspapers report that the culture of silence, known internationally as the “blue wall”, is very much evident in our police force. This cannot be acceptable to us as public representatives.
We must put measures in place to ensure that this ends. The role of the Minister is critical in this regard because he is the key person involved. He must establish the importance of accountability. It is the responsibility of the Minister for Justice, Equality and Law Reform to ensure that we hear and meet the public demand for the highest standards of ethical conduct by the Garda Síochána to re-establish confidence in the force as a public service first and foremost, and we must support him in that regard. Clearly that is not happening and it will take time. I ask for support for the motion.
Mr. Norris: I am glad to have the opportunity to take part in this debate. I had lunch yesterday with the former Commissioner, Mr. Pat Byrne. He reminded me that I had been invited some years ago to talk at an international convention on policing in Dublin Castle. I was invited in order to stir things up and he told me that I most certainly did. I woke them during the siesta slot because I spoke about the type of problems endemic not just in the Garda.
Part of what I said four or five years ago was fairly prophetic when I look at the report of the Morris tribunal. However, as Senator White said, we should not excoriate ourselves and think that our police force is particularly bad. Senator McHugh said that it was dangerous to suggest this is a Donegal phenomenon. However, the situation can arise if one is not always watchful which is why I support the Labour proposal rather than the Government amendment. I do not know why they could not be run together, because I also agree with most of the Government amendment although perhaps it could do something regarding committees and we would not have this divisive vote.
We all want to support the institution of the Garda while looking at the neglect of duty and the review of Garda procedures following the crimes and the tragedy that occurred to the McBrearty family. Many people do not understand why they could not have been given some comfort with regard to their fees. Everybody else seems to have had money thrown at them, including the legal profession. These people were forced into a situation where they had to defend themselves against accusations when they were framed by the forces of the State. After €1 million was spent, they could not get the comfort of being told they would be paid. There is something radically wrong in such a situation.
People did know. They must have known. Reports were made. There is ministerial and political responsibility and all parties should share this and look into their own hearts. The McBreartys were framed and ruined and there was no proper investigation of what turned out to be an accident. This man was unfortunately killed in a hit and run. However, no proper procedures were followed. Then came the idiotic and ludicrous planting of explosives which were manufactured in coffee grinders. Vincent Browne made a laugh out of the situation and in one way he was right. However, underneath that is something deeply tragic.
I agree with what Ms White said about Senator Higgins and Deputy Howlin. They should be protected because they were whistleblowers in a real and genuine sense and should not suffer any kind of punishment as a result. The Dean Lyons case was another dreadful situation, but his sister’s rights have never been vindicated because there was no prosecution of the person who actually committed the crime. Here is an unresolved situation with no finality.
I am very grateful to be allowed to speak on this matter. People behaved badly and did wrong, but we should not be vicious in going after them. Some say their pensions should be taken away but what will they live on and what will their families do? I do not think this is right. We are always blowing about Christian values, but is it Christian to reduce them and throw them in the gutter?
Mr. Leyden: I might sound like counsel for the defence. I welcome the Minister of State to the House and wish to be associated with the expressions of sympathy to the Minister for Justice, Equality and Law Reform, Deputy McDowell, on the death of his mother-in-law, Professor Brennan’s mother.
I must express a vested interest in tonight’s motion because I am nominated by the Garda Representative Association, the Association of Garda Sergeants and Inspectors and the Association of Garda Superintendents.
Mr. Leyden: I withdraw my declaration. There are 12,000 gardaí and, percentage-wise, a small number have caused difficulties and been investigated by the Morris tribunal. We must also recognise those such as Dick Fallon, Garda Hand and Detective Garda Jeremiah McCabe who sacrificed their lives in the protection of the State. Let us put things in perspective because there is more to the matter than meets the eye. I believe that there is a settlement as far as some of the costs are concerned with regard to the McBrearty family’s legal fees.
Mr. Leyden: I ask the House to please bear in mind the great service that has been provided by the Garda Síochána to this State when discussing the situation in Donegal. Certain actions were taken in regard to the unfortunate death of Richard Barron and its unfair and wrong linking to the McBrearty family, as well as the Frank Shortt case. Donegal has had difficulties, but my second cousin was a sergeant in Dunloe and served loyally and well in the service of the State without a blemish on his character like the majority of gardaí in County Donegal.
Let us get matters in perspective. This is a difficulty but the situation has been sorted out by the Government which has taken very firm action in setting up the Morris tribunal. Mr. Justice Morris is doing an excellent job in unearthing all of the dark corners which have existed over the years in County Donegal. While this undermines the fine force we have in this State, we should recognise that all professions have had difficulties, including the clergy, bishops, and us as politicians. However, a very minute percentage of gardaí have been involved. On behalf of the defence, I rest my case.
Senator Minihan echoed something that the Minister of State said in that the Government is bringing forward the most radical ever legislative proposals in regard to the Garda Síochána. However, that is not true. The Labour Party has put more radical legislative proposals before this House. We have tabled amendments to this legislation and for five years have had a policy calling for an independent policing authority or board and an independent, one-person Garda ombudsman. The Bill contains some good reforms brought forward by the Minister. However, the most fundamental and radical reforms are not included, namely the authority and the ombudsman.
In his speech, the Minister of State repeated the fallacy that Northern Ireland is somehow unique and that its society is different from ours. However, it is not. Northern Ireland has adopted what is the norm in the British Isles and becoming more widespread throughout the world. It started with the 1964 UK Police Act when policing authorities were established. Other EU countries, such as Holland and Belgium, have brought in these types of reforms as has New South Wales, as I mentioned before. There are decentralised and regionalised systems with oversight in other European countries, such as the Lander in Germany. Many other police forces in other democratic societies throughout the world have had to examine themselves and bring about reform and they are still in the process of doing so.
Reform of the Northern Ireland police force started before the Patten commission. In fact, it was the 1995 report by Senator Maurice Hayes which started the whole process and gave rise to the 1998 Act which brought in the Northern Ireland ombudsman which was subsequently endorsed by the Patten commission. Senator Hayes said that the committee might delay matters but it did not do so in the North because the ombudsman had already been introduced. One can introduce reforms and also have the commission. One can consider the issue of the ombudsman now and then bring in an independent policing authority. The Minister of State said that a three person commission or board is not unusual, but neither is a one person ombudsman. This is best practice as recommended by Senator Maurice Hayes and we should listen to him.
The Northern Ireland commission does not use members of the PSNI to carry out its investigations. However, it does use members of other police forces, such as Hong Kong. In his speech the Minister of State stated that we need proper oversight by the representatives of the people over the Garda. This is not provided for in this legislation. The type of shake-up required, including training with social workers, was also mentioned by me and Professor Dermot Walsh. That should not be delivered by the Minister and the Garda Commissioner. The public will not trust that system. How will we know the reforms are being carried out? How will we have a say? We need an independent authority which would not, as the Minister misrepresented, be an unelected, unrepresentative authority. It will have elected representatives if it is done in the same fashion as the UK and Northern Ireland.
As Senator Norris pointed out, Ireland is not unique in having this difficulty. We know this has happened in Northern Ireland and there has been a crisis of confidence in the police throughout the world, including in what are considered to be democratic, open societies. This happened in Belgium in the aftermath of the Dutroux case, it has happened in New South Wales and in the Los Angeles police force. The test of a democratic society is how it responds to a crisis and I do not think the Minister has the guts to do what is needed. This includes introducing the type of reforms that have been carried out in Northern Ireland and elsewhere.
|Brady, Cyprian.||Brennan, Michael.|
|Callanan, Peter.||Cox, Margaret.|
|Daly, Brendan.||Dardis, John.|
|Dooley, Timmy.||Glynn, Camillus.|
|Hanafin, John.||Kenneally, Brendan.|
|Kett, Tony.||Kitt, Michael P.|
|Leyden, Terry.||Lydon, Donal J.|
|MacSharry, Marc.||Minihan, John.|
|Mooney, Paschal C.||Morrissey, Tom.|
|Moylan, Pat.||Ó Murchú, Labhrás.|
|O’Brien, Francis.||O’Rourke, Mary.|
|Ormonde, Ann.||Phelan, Kieran.|
|Scanlon, Eamon.||Walsh, Jim.|
|Walsh, Kate.||White, Mary M.|
|Bannon, James.||Bradford, Paul.|
|Browne, Fergal.||Burke, Paddy.|
|Coghlan, Paul.||Coonan, Noel.|
|Cummins, Maurice.||Feighan, Frank.|
|Finucane, Michael.||Hayes, Brian.|
|Henry, Mary.||McCarthy, Michael.|
|McHugh, Joe.||Norris, David.|
|O’Meara, Kathleen.||O’Toole, Joe.|
|Phelan, John.||Ross, Shane.|
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