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Leaders' Questions (Continued)

Wednesday, 27 June 2018

Dáil Éireann Debate
Vol. 970 No. 8

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(Speaker Continuing)

[The Taoiseach: Information on Leo Varadkar Zoom on Leo Varadkar] It is interesting to hear Fianna Fáil Members, including Deputy Micheál Martin, claiming credit for things the Government has done. It reminds me of the "Wizard of Oz" and the man behind the curtain who claims credit for everything good that happens but no responsibility for anything else.

Deputy Marc MacSharry: Information on Marc MacSharry Zoom on Marc MacSharry It sounds familiar.

An Ceann Comhairle: Information on Seán Ó Fearghaíl Zoom on Seán Ó Fearghaíl I call Deputy McDonald.

(Interruptions).

An Ceann Comhairle: Information on Seán Ó Fearghaíl Zoom on Seán Ó Fearghaíl Can we have order for Deputy McDonald please?

Deputy Mary Lou McDonald: Information on Mary Lou McDonald Zoom on Mary Lou McDonald I wonder should I click my heels and say: "There's no place like home."

Deputy Marc MacSharry: Information on Marc MacSharry Zoom on Marc MacSharry Red shoes - no place like home.

Deputy Fiona O'Loughlin: Information on Fiona O'Loughlin Zoom on Fiona O'Loughlin Where are the red shoes?

Deputy Timmy Dooley: Information on Timmy Dooley Zoom on Timmy Dooley The Deputy is no stranger to marching, all right.

Deputy Mary Lou McDonald: Information on Mary Lou McDonald Zoom on Mary Lou McDonald The process undertaken by the Policing Authority is now complete and Mr. Drew Harris is to be appointed as the new Commissioner of An Garda Síochána. It is significant that somebody from the North, a serving PSNI officer and former RUC officer, has been appointed to this position. I met Mr. Harris and the Chief Constable of the PSNI, Mr. George Hamilton, in Belfast two weeks ago. For our part, we will continue to pursue comprehensive policing reform. We want to work constructively with the new Commissioner and we will hold him to account, as we have with previous Commissioners.

Deputy Timmy Dooley: Information on Timmy Dooley Zoom on Timmy Dooley He might hold the Deputy and her colleagues to account.

Deputy Mary Lou McDonald: Information on Mary Lou McDonald Zoom on Mary Lou McDonald I acknowledge that Mr. Harris comes to this job with his own story of loss and pain from the conflict in the North. That cannot be minimised in any way; Mr. Harris lost his father. What also cannot be minimised or sidelined are the concerns raised by victims of British state collusion, such as those expressed by Stephen Travers of the Miami Showband on the radio this morning. Mr. Travers spoke of RUC collusion and the old RUC culture of political policing and cover up. He regards Mr. Harris as part of that culture which has denied people the truth. Similar concerns have been voiced by representatives of the Relatives for Justice campaign group. They say that Mr. Harris "has at every opportunity sought to thwart families in the search for truth and accountability", and that he "has had a stranglehold on legacy and has acted partially and with vested interest at all times".

The issue of Mr. Harris's evidence at the Smithwick tribunal being described as "nonsense" by a former Garda Commissioner has also arisen. The question of any intelligence to which Mr. Harris had access in terms of British state collusion in the Dublin and Monaghan bombings has also arisen.

Did the Taoiseach hear Stephen Travers on the radio this morning? Has he read the statement from Relatives for Justice? I believe it is appropriate for the Taoiseach to acknowledge and respond to the concerns they have expressed. Mr. Harris's main job must be to deliver radical reform of An Garda Síochána, and to develop an ethos of transparency, best practice and accountability. To do this, he must first earn the confidence and trust of the public, particularly regarding his involvement with legacy cases. He has to demonstrate that he in no way subscribes to the toxic, vindictive policing culture which necessitated the disbandment of the RUC.

How does the Taoiseach respond to Stephen Travers? What assurances can he give that the new Garda Commissioner will play the part demanded of that office in exposing collusion, uncovering truth and holding those responsible to account?

The Taoiseach: Information on Leo Varadkar Zoom on Leo Varadkar I have not had an opportunity to read the statement from the Relatives for Justice. I had an opportunity to hear Mr. Travers on the radio this morning. My sympathies go to anyone and any family affected by the Troubles, that awful period of our history and those decades during which various organisations wrought appalling violence on people north and south of the Border. As the Deputy mentioned, the new Commissioner designate was affected by that in one of the most direct ways in losing his father to terrorism. We can all understand how that affects people for their entire lives.

The process by which the new Commissioner designate, Mr. Drew Harris, was appointed was very much in line with the reforms we have introduced to policing in recent years. There was an open international competition. We sought applications from within policing and without, from within Ireland and from other states. A large number of people applied for the job and a shortlist was produced. The work was done by the Public Appointments Service working with the Policing Authority, which then made a recommendation to Government. Government was very pleased yesterday to approve that recommendation and to appoint Mr. Drew Harris as Commissioner designate. It is intended that he will take over in September.

I thank the acting Commissioner, Mr. Dónall Ó Cualáin, in particular for agreeing to stay on during that period to work with Mr. Harris on the transition, and for the good job he has done in recent months, very much steadying the ship in the Garda. I thank him for that particular service.

Drew Harris will bring about better policing in Ireland - policing our communities better and policing our home places better. He will be able to bring about greater accountability on behalf of the Garda. He was very much involved in the transition from the RUC to the PSNI, which I believe we all agree has been a big success. He can bring those abilities to An Garda Síochána.

He is familiar with the accountability mechanism such as the policing board which exists in Northern Ireland and he will engage very well with the Policing Authority in that regard. He will have considerable support from Government because transforming, changing and modernising a big organisation is not easy and can never be done by just one person. We will certainly support him in his work in the years ahead.

Deputy Mary Lou McDonald: Information on Mary Lou McDonald Zoom on Mary Lou McDonald I am sure the Taoiseach will agree that in order to bring about that radical transformation of policing, the new Garda Commissioner must have public confidence and that is what I am asking the Taoiseach about. Yesterday I raised with him the case of Pat Finucane. Many times we have raised incidents, not least the Dublin and Monaghan bombings, where British state collusion was writ large. The fact of collusion is well established and accepted at this stage. However, families and individuals have been actively thwarted and blocked in their search for truth. They have said it out loud. Let us pretend we did not hear what Stephen Travers had to say. He said that at this point - before Mr. Harris even assumes his new role - he is raising incredibly serious questions about confidence in the incoming Garda Commissioner. The Taoiseach needs to answer that.

Deputy Timmy Dooley: Information on Timmy Dooley Zoom on Timmy Dooley Does the Deputy have confidence in him?

Deputy Mary Lou McDonald: Information on Mary Lou McDonald Zoom on Mary Lou McDonald I want to know what he has to say to Stephen Travers and to the other families.

An Ceann Comhairle: Information on Seán Ó Fearghaíl Zoom on Seán Ó Fearghaíl I thank the Deputy. Time is up.

Deputy Mary Lou McDonald: Information on Mary Lou McDonald Zoom on Mary Lou McDonald I want to hear that from the Taoiseach, as Head of Government. It would also be appropriate for Mr. Harris to make a statement addressing those issues of confidence - those real and deep-seated concerns - because we all know that reform of An Garda Síochána-----

An Ceann Comhairle: Information on Seán Ó Fearghaíl Zoom on Seán Ó Fearghaíl Time is up.

Deputy Mary Lou McDonald: Information on Mary Lou McDonald Zoom on Mary Lou McDonald -----has to work. This has to succeed. For it to succeed, the incoming Commissioner must enjoy public confidence.

The Taoiseach: Information on Leo Varadkar Zoom on Leo Varadkar The incoming Commissioner has the confidence of the public. The Garda representative associations that have commented on this have been broadly supportive. The main Opposition party has been broadly supportive. The sense I have from gardaí on the ground is that they welcome this appointment and this change. The general sense I have from the majority of the public is that they welcome this appointment and that they see it as a new departure and an opportunity for a new and better policing in Ireland.

I am a little disappointed by the position that Deputy McDonald is taking now, which is almost in the space of trying to undermine confidence in the new Garda Commissioner-----

Deputy Timmy Dooley: Information on Timmy Dooley Zoom on Timmy Dooley Yes.

The Taoiseach: Information on Leo Varadkar Zoom on Leo Varadkar -----before he has even taken up office.

When it comes to the issues of truth and reconciliation, everyone has a part to play. Yesterday I expressed in the Dáil the Government's strong view that there should be a public inquiry into Pat Finnucane's murder. The Tánaiste has met members of the family and will do so again. Truth and reconciliation require that everyone plays their part and that everyone who has information about crimes committed in the past and about atrocities that were inflicted on people should bring that information forward. That applies to-----

Deputy Mary Lou McDonald: Information on Mary Lou McDonald Zoom on Mary Lou McDonald The Garda Commissioner.

The Taoiseach: Information on Leo Varadkar Zoom on Leo Varadkar -----Sinn Féin and all the people associated with Sinn Féin as much as it does to anyone else.

Deputy Brendan Howlin: Information on Brendan Howlin Zoom on Brendan Howlin There are two ways a Government can damage the economy - reckless spending and failure to invest, both of which are ruinous. The doctrine of the Minister for Finance, Deputy Donohoe, has been to circle the wagons around the national finances and to limit debate by not publishing the full range of national statistics. For example, because the Minister has decided to pursue his own so-called fiscal stance, the objective data on Ireland's fiscal space are no longer being published.

I accept we need to lower the national debt, but the best way to do that is by putting in place the conditions for the future growth of the economy, as the Labour Party has repeatedly done.


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