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Defence Forces (Evidence) Bill 2019

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Defence Forces (Evidence) Bill 2019

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Snippet Contents:

It is wrong when Bills to ensure that our serving men and women receive a fair and correct rate of pay are relegated to the list of other legislation. The Minister of State needs to move on the working time directive. Numerous other items of legislation have been promised and proposed in recent years but this is the first defence Bill introduced in years and the first in the lifetime of this Dáil. This is regrettable and requires further explanation.
I welcome and will support this modernising Bill, which mirrors what is already in place in the criminal justice system with regard to DNA samples being taken and used by An Garda Síochána. While we support the proposals, it should be noted that this is lengthy and complex legislation which needs to be examined. From my engagement with the members of the Defence Forces, there was an expectation that the Bill would include measures to professionalise the military police corps and codify who could serve in particular roles. Perhaps the Minister of State will outline whether he will propose amendments in respect of the military police in order that the Bill will not simply deal with evidence but will update other matters. There was an expectation in the defence community that the Minister of State was going to expand the legislative remit of the military police corps, such as in the context of overseas missions. I seek further information on this and perhaps the Minister of State will update the House on whether there was ever a proposal to update the legislation in this regard.
Generally, there is a feeling that the military police corps is below strength and under-resourced. The provisions of this Bill will not change that. In recent days, I heard that a number of people have left the military police to join a multinational that is paying them multiples of what their former colleagues are paid. The exodus from this part of the Defence Forces is ongoing and the Bill will do little to address it. The Minister of State could have broadened the Bill to include modernising the corps.
In the main, the changes proposed will ultimately allow the military police to better carry out their work. The military police already have close working ties with a range of agencies involved in crime detection, including the Office of the State Pathologist, the Garda National Technical Bureau and the Forensic Science Ireland. The Bill will ensure even greater co-operation between these agencies and the Defence Forces, which is to be welcomed.
The Bill will also enable the creation of a DNA database system to hold samples taken and this will be managed by Forensic Science Ireland. This is a modern and useful tool in crime detection used in investigating serious crime in a broad range of areas. Fianna Fáil published legislation in 2010 to set up a DNA database. The database has helped in more than 750 cases since its establishment, and so should be welcomed. It is also extremely useful in exonerating innocent individuals and for the purposes of identifying missing or unknown persons. When the legislation to set up the existing database was being debated, Fianna Fáil pointed out the need for similar provisions to apply to the military police. That was many years ago.
Fianna Fáil is studying in detail the process of taking samples in order to ensure this is done in a proper and safe manner. The Bill states that nothing in it authorises the taking of a sample in a cruel, inhuman or degrading manner. There are also references to non-intimate samples being extracted using reasonable force. Perhaps the Minister of State will provide more information on what this means and the legislative effect of what is proposed in this regard. The legislation states that samples can only be authorised where there are reasonable grounds for suspecting involvement in an offence. This is an important safeguard and it is appropriate that it is in the Bill.
As per the existing DNA database, I note the strict rules governing the destruction of samples where proceedings have not been initiated against an individual or where a person is acquitted of an offence or has his or her conviction quashed. As already stated, the Bill has been promised for the past half decade. A great deal has changed in the past five years but one thing that is unchanged is the need for more activity regarding the pace of reform in the Department under the leadership of the Minister of State. Why have we waited so long for the Bill after the heads were published? The Minister of State clearly does not have an active legislative role because no other Bills relating to his area of responsibility have been forthcoming. If we are to progress reform in the Defence Forces, a Bill such as this should have been passed in the previous Dáil or, if not, early in the term of this Dáil. Had this been done, we would now be discussing the working time directive and the defence (amendment) Bill, the purpose of which would be to improve matters for our service personnel overseas. There is also legislation to update the legal framework of the Red Cross. This is on the list of other legislation and probably will not be dealt with in the lifetime of this Dáil. These are matters on which the Minister of State can comment.
For people in the defence community, the fact we are now discussing the first item of defence legislation introduced in the lifetime of this Dáil does not give much hope for an implementation plan in other areas of the Defence Forces, such as in the context of the findings of the pay commission. Much import has been attached to the work of the high-level working group involving the Department and the Department of the Taoiseach in that regard. If the pace of change is the same as that relating to the legislative programme, it will not give much hope to those who badly need improvements in pay and allowances.
We support the legislation but we would like to see the Minister of State in the House more with other Bills relating to his portfolio. Perhaps he will inform us when he intends to bring the next such Bill before the Dáil.