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An Garda Síochána: Statements (Continued)

Tuesday, 28 March 2017

Dáil Éireann Debate
Vol. 944 No. 2

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(Speaker Continuing)

[Deputy Frances Fitzgerald: Information on Frances Fitzgerald Zoom on Frances Fitzgerald] I have already received its first report on the implementation of the Garda Inspectorate recommendations which I have passed over to the Policing Authority so that it can begin to ensure they are being implemented. It has started a very positive programme of work. It cannot do everything overnight, of course. There are a range of issues to be addressed.

Deputy Sean Sherlock: Information on Seán Sherlock Zoom on Seán Sherlock If the Tánaiste has faith in the Policing Authority and if she has known about this since June 2016, why did she leave it until yesterday, according to her statement, to meet Josephine Feehily, the chair of the authority, to state that she was formally referring these issues to her under the Garda Síochána Act?

Deputy Frances Fitzgerald: Information on Frances Fitzgerald Zoom on Frances Fitzgerald When the Deputy says I have known about this since June of last year, he should be very clear that I have outlined what the position was at the time. It is easy with hindsight to comment on the scale of the issue, but neither the Garda nor I knew the scale that is now very obvious and which emerged just at the press conference last week and in the reports to my Department around 14 March.

Another point to be made is that on Thursday, I think, the Garda Commissioner met the Policing Authority. As soon as the scale and seriousness of this emerged in its full form last week, I was in touch with the Policing Authority and arranged over the weekend to meet Josephine Feehily. Of course, I am in ongoing contact with her regarding the work she is carrying out. As I said, the Policing Authority is a very important oversight body for An Garda Síochána and is one that needs to be developed. It is also probably the appropriate body to conduct this independent investigation because under the legislation it can employ people to carry out, for example, professional forensic accounting to examine what has happened. I have faith in the Policing Authority.

Deputy Sean Sherlock: Information on Seán Sherlock Zoom on Seán Sherlock What I am trying to understand is the internal dynamic that exists between the Tánaiste, the Garda Commissioner, the Garda Inspectorate and the Policing Authority. People watching these proceedings will question why the Policing Authority issued a statement today that states:

  The Authority again expressed its disappointment at not being advised in a timely manner that an audit into the breath test issues was underway. Despite questioning over several months, the Authority has not [...] been provided with the full internal reports or indeed a clear sense of how these matters have been handled to date within the Garda Síochána or the status and content of the audits which have been undertaken.

  The Authority considered the correspondence received from the Garda Commissioner on Friday 24 March last in which the Commissioner requested that the Authority refer a number of matters to the Garda Inspectorate.

What I am trying to get at is the reason the Policing Authority would issue a statement of this nature. One can only surmise, and I ask the Tánaiste to correct me if I am wrong, that the Government does not have enough faith in the Policing Authority due to its not engaging in a more timely fashion with the Department regarding the modalities of the issue at hand.

Deputy Frances Fitzgerald: Information on Frances Fitzgerald Zoom on Frances Fitzgerald The Deputy cannot draw that conclusion at all because-----

Deputy Sean Sherlock: Information on Seán Sherlock Zoom on Seán Sherlock I ask the Tánaiste to correct me then.

Deputy Frances Fitzgerald: Information on Frances Fitzgerald Zoom on Frances Fitzgerald Why would he draw that conclusion? What the Policing Authority said was that it reacted, and in a forthright statement, as the Deputy said, when it heard about the scale of the issues. It put out the statement from which the Deputy quoted stating that it did raise the most serious issues. It was disappointed and annoyed, I would say, that the alcohol testing information had not been passed on to it.

Deputy Sean Sherlock: Information on Seán Sherlock Zoom on Seán Sherlock Whose obligation was that?

Deputy Frances Fitzgerald: Information on Frances Fitzgerald Zoom on Frances Fitzgerald It was the obligation of An Garda Síochána. Whether it was the obligation of whoever was in contact with the authority, it should have emerged at the various management meetings it had with An Garda Síochána. Deputy Commissioner Twomey has apologised for not making the authority aware of the audit, but the key point is that the audit was ongoing. The authority is disappointed that it was not informed of the audit because, of course-----

Deputy Sean Sherlock: Information on Seán Sherlock Zoom on Seán Sherlock I have limited time.

Deputy Frances Fitzgerald: Information on Frances Fitzgerald Zoom on Frances Fitzgerald -----it would be concerned about the various issues.

Deputy Sean Sherlock: Information on Seán Sherlock Zoom on Seán Sherlock This speaks to the heart of the culture of management in An Garda Síochána. Again, there is an inherent weakness in this regard. There should have been an obligation on the part of An Garda Síochána, surely, to inform the Policing Authority in a timely fashion. Does the Tánaiste agree with that statement?

Deputy Frances Fitzgerald: Information on Frances Fitzgerald Zoom on Frances Fitzgerald It certainly would have been far preferable if the Policing Authority had been aware on an ongoing basis of what was happening in respect of the audit. However, I make the point that a very broad range of work and oversight is being conducted by the Policing Authority over An Garda Síochána and-----

Deputy Sean Sherlock: Information on Seán Sherlock Zoom on Seán Sherlock This is very serious.

Deputy Frances Fitzgerald: Information on Frances Fitzgerald Zoom on Frances Fitzgerald It is extremely serious. I am not saying it is not serious. However, I wish to make the point that the Policing Authority goes into a whole range of issues in specific areas to discuss, for example, civilianisation, recruitment, the Reserve-----

Deputy Sean Sherlock: Information on Seán Sherlock Zoom on Seán Sherlock Yes, but, a Cheann Comhairle-----

Deputy Frances Fitzgerald: Information on Frances Fitzgerald Zoom on Frances Fitzgerald -----and the general management.

An Ceann Comhairle: Information on Seán Ó Fearghaíl Zoom on Seán Ó Fearghaíl The Deputy must let the Tánaiste answer-----

Deputy Sean Sherlock: Information on Seán Sherlock Zoom on Seán Sherlock I appreciate that. We can no longer keep giving An Garda Síochána mismanagement political cover. Decisions must be taken as to how the force is managed. I understand the predicament in which the Tánaiste finds herself, but we need to hear about concrete actions from her. Given that we have a Garda Inspectorate, a Policing Authority and a Department of Justice and Equality, when can we expect to see a root-and-branch change, and why does an external service need to do this when we have two State entities already? There are quite a number of quite sensible recommendations in the Garda Inspectorate report. We should now see the implementation of these and a political willingness to do so. Those are the messages we need to hear in this House because the people outside these walls, with every new scandal that emerges, are losing faith in policing in this country.

In the short time available to me, I refer again to the Tánaiste's statement that there will be some remedy for those who were incorrectly convicted. I wish to quote directly from her full written speech again. It states, "Letters will begin issuing to these individuals on 3 April." It also states, "All of these cases will be appealed by An Garda Síochána in order to ensure that the courts set aside these convictions, all fines will be reimbursed and penalties removed, and all of those affected will be contacted directly by An Garda Síochána." She states definitively that these convictions will be overturned. What further remedies, if any, are open to these people who, in certain circumstances, may feel as if their good names were tarnished in having to appear before judges in district courts, potentially on unsound convictions? Will there be further remedies besides the issuing of the letters and the revocation of the fines so that those affected might have their good names restored?

Deputy Frances Fitzgerald: Information on Frances Fitzgerald Zoom on Frances Fitzgerald Compensation issues may well arise - that is certainly a possibility - and this will depend on the details of each case. We will have to wait to see precisely what emerges from these court hearings. It is impossible to predict at this point. As I said, all the cases that came to court needed to come to court except for the 5,600 in respect of which there was only one charge. In the other 96% of cases, other offences were involved.

The authority is overseeing the reforms that have been outlined by everyone, in particular by the Garda Inspectorate, which have now been incorporated into the reforms set out in An Garda Síochána's five-year plan. I have the first report, it is available for Deputies to read and the Policing Authority is overseeing the changes being implemented. Clearly, there is more work to be done, but if we had not established a Policing Authority and if we did not have a Garda Inspectorate, what we have been hearing about in recent days might not have emerged. Issues such as these are appalling - we are all appalled - and the figures involved are staggering, but it is important that they are out there in the full public light and that action can now be taken on them. The Policing Authority will have a key role in dealing with them.


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