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 Header Item Written Answers Nos. 21-29
 Header Item Cross-Border Policing Strategy
 Header Item Garda Investigations
 Header Item Free Legal Aid Expenditure
 Header Item Equality Tribunal Cases
 Header Item Human Rights Issues
 Header Item Garda Resources
 Header Item Garda Vetting Applications
 Header Item Garda Reserve
 Header Item Garda Policing Plans

Wednesday, 6 March 2013

Dáil Éireann Debate
Vol. 795 No. 2

First Page Previous Page Page of 91 Next Page Last Page

Written Answers Nos. 21-29

Cross-Border Policing Strategy

 21. Deputy Niall Collins Information on Niall Collins Zoom on Niall Collins asked the Minister for Justice and Equality Information on Alan Shatter Zoom on Alan Shatter the progress that has been made in developing a strategy to tackle cross border crime; and if he will make a statement on the matter. [11652/13]

Minister for Justice and Equality (Deputy Alan Shatter): Information on Alan Shatter Zoom on Alan Shatter I am glad to inform the House that there is close and ongoing co-operation between the Garda Síochána and the PSNI on all aspects of policing and that a joint strategy has already been developed and is in operation for quite some time. In 2010 the two police forces put in place a joint Cross Border Policing Strategy which has as its aims to improve public safety throughout Ireland, to disrupt criminal activity and to enhance the policing capability of both police services on the island. The joint Cross Border Policing Strategy includes sections dealing with Operations; Cross Border Investigations; Intelligence-sharing and Security; Information and Communications Technology; Training; Human Resources, and Emergency Planning. The two Forces are jointly engaged in implementing initiatives in all these areas.

I meet and maintain contact very regularly with the Northern Ireland Minister of Justice, David Ford, to address matters of mutual concern and enhance effective co-operation and co-ordination on all criminal justice matters. Under the Intergovernmental Agreement on Co-operation on Criminal Justice Matters we operate a structured framework to further develop this co-operation. Officials from our Departments meet regularly to assess and report to us on developments in a number of areas where co-operation is pursued. The two Justice Departments, the police authorities and the public prosecutors North and South have jointly developed and put in place a Joint Manual of Guidance for use in criminal investigations with a cross-border element. The joint manual supports the police and prosecution authorities in both jurisdictions by ensuring that each side has an awareness of the needs of the other jurisdiction and can bear those in mind in conducting an investigation. The joint manual allows them to maximise the chances of a successful detection and prosecution.

The fight against the threat from paramilitary groups is a priority for both police services. The Gardaí co-operate seamlessly with their counterparts in Northern Ireland in actively bearing down on these criminal terrorists. The Garda Commissioner and the Chief Constable of the PSNI who have responsibility for operational policing co-operation have repeatedly emphasised that the close and high quality co-operation between their forces has been instrumental in preventing attacks, combating criminality and saving lives.

I would emphasise that the joint Cross Border Policing Strategy recognises the particular value of interagency co-operation in certain areas, for example, in ongoing efforts to combat organised crime. The Cross-Border Task Force on Fuel Laundering and Smuggling which comprises representatives from the two police forces, the two customs services, the Criminal Assets Bureau and the Serious and Organised Crime Agency has underpinned successful actions which have disrupted the activities of a number of groups involved in the laundering and distribution of illegal fuels. A similar interagency group, the Cross Border Tobacco Enforcement Group, is in place to support the fight against the activities of gangs engaged in tobacco fraud.

There is positive and dynamic North-South co-operation at policy and operational levels in combating crime. The challenges that crime presents are shared ones on this island and joint working will continue to enhance efforts to improve community safety for all.

Garda Investigations

 22. Deputy Denis Naughten Information on Denis Naughten Zoom on Denis Naughten asked the Minister for Justice and Equality Information on Alan Shatter Zoom on Alan Shatter further to Parliamentary Question No. 8 of 20 June 2012, the current status of the Garda review of the murder of Fr. Niall Molloy in Clara, County Offaly, in July 1985; if he will accede to the request by the family for an independent inquiry into the priest's violent death; and if he will make a statement on the matter. [11417/13]

 194. Deputy Finian McGrath Information on Finian McGrath Zoom on Finian McGrath asked the Minister for Justice and Equality Information on Alan Shatter Zoom on Alan Shatter if there will be an independent inquiry into the death of Fr. Niall Molloy in Clara, County Offaly. [11936/13]

Minister for Justice and Equality (Deputy Alan Shatter): Information on Alan Shatter Zoom on Alan Shatter I propose to take Questions Nos. 22 and 194 together.

I am advised by the Garda authorities that the examination surrounding the circumstances of the death of Father Niall Molloy is almost complete and that a report of this examination will be submitted to the Commissioner in the coming weeks. Upon receipt of a report from the Commissioner I will review the situation. I understand that the officers carrying out the examination are continuing to keep the family members of the deceased updated on progress. While I fully appreciate the concerns of the family, in any case where criminal behaviour is suspected it is only through a Garda investigation, and where evidence of criminal wrongdoing is available through the submission of a file by the Gardaí to the Director of Public Prosecutions, that persons can be brought fully to account. Therefore, I hope that the Deputy will agree that, in the first instance, we need to allow the present Garda examination to proceed to its conclusion.

Free Legal Aid Expenditure

 23. Deputy Micheál Martin Information on Micheál Martin Zoom on Micheál Martin asked the Minister for Justice and Equality Information on Alan Shatter Zoom on Alan Shatter the amount of money paid out in free legal aid in 2009, 2010, 2011, 2012 and to date in 2013; the amount paid to defendants with prior criminal records in each of the years; and if he will make a statement on the matter. [11675/13]

Minister for Justice and Equality (Deputy Alan Shatter): Information on Alan Shatter Zoom on Alan Shatter Total expenditure on criminal legal aid for the years referred to by the Deputy was as follows: 2009 - €60.3 million; 2010 - €56.5 million; 2011 - €56.1 million; 2012 - €50.5 million; 2013 to date €5.8 million. The Deputy will note that total expenditure for 2012 represented a reduction of 10% over 2011. This reduction in the annual expenditure is the largest ever recorded and represents a fall of approximately €10 million, or 16%, over the peak recorded in 2009. That significant reduction follows savings measures I introduced since coming into office including cuts to fees in the course of 2011.

As the Deputy will be aware, under the Criminal Justice (Legal Aid) Act 1962 the courts, through the judiciary, are responsible for the granting of legal aid. An applicant for legal aid must establish to the satisfaction of the court that his/her means are insufficient to enable him/her to pay for legal aid him/herself. The Act specifies that the court must also be satisfied that, by reason of the "gravity of the charge" or "exceptional circumstances", it is essential in the interests of justice that the applicant should have legal aid. An applicant's previous convictions are not a criterion for access to legal aid under the Act and the information sought by the Deputy regarding persons with prior convictions is therefore not recorded.

I am sure the Deputy appreciates that an accused person who faces serious charges is entitled to a fair trial and the presumption of innocence and if he/she cannot afford to pay for legal representation there is a right to legal aid. Under the Constitution, the State is obliged to provide an accused person with the means to obtain appropriate legal representation. Moreover, the European Convention on Human Rights provides that every person charged with a criminal offence is entitled to defend him/herself in person or through legal assistance of his/her own choosing or, if he/she has insufficient means to pay for legal assistance, to be given it free when the interests of justice so require. The Deputy will appreciate that the Criminal Legal Aid Scheme must operate with due regard to these rights and that any unreasonable block on legal aid could give a convicted defendant an avenue for appeal or prohibition of the prosecution. My overriding concern is to ensure that no risk arises in relation to the prosecution of persons charged with criminal offences before the courts.

I can inform the Deputy that a new Criminal Legal Aid Bill is being drafted to update and strengthen the system of granting legal aid including transferring responsibility for the administration of the Scheme to the Legal Aid Board. Consideration is being given to including in the Bill provisions to, inter alia, regulate better the taking of statements of means, increase the sanction for false declarations, allow the Board to verify the means of applicants and to prosecute cases of abuse. Provision to give power to the Legal Aid Board to recover the costs of criminal legal aid or to make application to a court to revoke a criminal legal aid certificate are also under consideration. These provisions will have regard to a person's rights to the presumption of innocence, to a fair trial and to be given legal aid, where appropriate. I hope it will be possible to publish the Bill during the course of this year.

Equality Tribunal Cases

 24. Deputy Caoimhghín Ó Caoláin Information on Caoimhghín Ó Caoláin Zoom on Caoimhghín Ó Caoláin asked the Minister for Justice and Equality Information on Alan Shatter Zoom on Alan Shatter if he plans to establish a non-judicial independent authority competent to deal with cases of discrimination in the provision of goods and services. [11553/13]

Minister for Justice and Equality (Deputy Alan Shatter): Information on Alan Shatter Zoom on Alan Shatter At present, the Equality Tribunal is the main forum to hear or mediate complaints of alleged discrimination in access to goods and services, under the Equal Status Acts 2000 to 2012. It is impartial, independent and quasi-judicial and its decisions and mediated settlements are legally binding. Reform of the workplace relations institutions will involve the Equality Tribunal in a merger with the Labour Relations Commission, Employment Appeals Tribunal (EAT) (first instance functions) and National Employment Rights Authority to form a single agency for dealing with first instance complaints. The drafting of legislation to give effect to this merger and related matters are, as the Deputy will be aware, a matter for my colleague, the Minister for Jobs, Enterprise and Innovation.

  In regard to the pursuit of complaints under the Equal Status Acts, I refer the Deputy to my reply below to Parliamentary Question No. 54483 of 11 December 2012. The position is unchanged since then.

"I can provide absolute assurance to persons with potential discrimination claims under employment equality legislation and equal status legislation that they will, on the merger of the Equality Tribunal into the new Workplace Relations Service, continue to be able to pursue formal complaints before the new body and that these complaints will be dealt with as effectively as by the Equality Tribunal.  "

Human Rights Issues

 25. Deputy Mary Lou McDonald Information on Mary Lou McDonald Zoom on Mary Lou McDonald asked the Minister for Justice and Equality Information on Alan Shatter Zoom on Alan Shatter if he will ensure that the legislation establishing the Human Rights and Equality Commission will make it accountable directly to the Oireachtas rather than his Department in order to ensure that it is compliant with the Paris Principles.  [11564/13]

 37. Deputy Gerry Adams Information on Gerry Adams Zoom on Gerry Adams asked the Minister for Justice and Equality Information on Alan Shatter Zoom on Alan Shatter if he has plans for the merged human rights and equality body to take on the role of the disbanded National Consultative Committee on Racism and Interculturalism; and if he will make a statement on the matter. [11550/13]

 45. Deputy Mary Lou McDonald Information on Mary Lou McDonald Zoom on Mary Lou McDonald asked the Minister for Justice and Equality Information on Alan Shatter Zoom on Alan Shatter the way he intends to ensure that the merged Human Rights and Equality Commission will be fully compliant with the UN Paris Principles as is outlined in the Heads of Bill; and if he will make a statement on the matter. [11562/13]

 51. Deputy Brian Stanley Information on Brian Stanley Zoom on Brian Stanley asked the Minister for Justice and Equality Information on Alan Shatter Zoom on Alan Shatter the number of staff he will allocate to the merged human rights and equality body; and if he will make a statement on the matter. [11551/13]

 53. Deputy Michael Colreavy Information on Michael Colreavy Zoom on Michael Colreavy asked the Minister for Justice and Equality Information on Alan Shatter Zoom on Alan Shatter the steps he will take to enable the new Human Rights and Equality Commission to more effectively, efficiently and cohesively champion human rights and equality. [11561/13]

Minister for Justice and Equality (Deputy Alan Shatter): Information on Alan Shatter Zoom on Alan Shatter I propose to take Questions Nos. 25, 37, 45, 51 and 53 together.

I am entirely satisfied that all the elements of my proposals in relation to the establishment of the new Irish Human Rights and Equality Commission (IHREC) as set out in the General Scheme published last June are fully in accordance with the Paris Principles (which are the set of rules or standards that relate to the accreditation of National Human Rights Institutions for UN Purposes). I have consulted with the UN Deputy High Commissioner for Human Rights and provided a detailed response to issues and questions raised with regard to the General Scheme by the Office of the High Commissioner for Human Rights (OHCHR). A high-level delegation met with the relevant OHCHR senior officials on 8 October 2012. This was a very positive meeting and addressed fully all the issues and concerns raised previously by the High Commissioner. The OHCHR consider that Ireland has engaged in a good process in the development of the new Commission; has full confidence that the Government is approaching the issue in the right way and considers our approach as a best practice model for other countries.

I am on record regarding my concerns in relation to the disproportionate budgetary cuts made to the Equality Authority and the Human Rights Commission in the past. I consider the fact that the provision for 2013 in the budget for the new IHREC of €4.409m is a significant achievement given the current financial pressures on the public purse. This level of funding maintains the combined 2012 level of Exchequer grant-in-aid funding of both bodies and demonstrates the Government's strong commitment to strengthening our institutional framework for promotion and protection of human rights and equality.

As a consequence of the merger of both bodies, bringing together and integrating two separate staff streams will be an initial task for the new Commission. Also the new Commission will as a priority task undertake a review of staffing needs and prepare a business case for any essential additional staff. Again I am on record as saying this will have funding implications, but will be considered as favourably as possible even in the current extremely difficult climate. The proposals in relation to functions as published in the General Scheme are designed to give the new body a wide mandate in promoting equality and human rights while also giving it effective legal powers of protection and enforcement to address issues at a systemic level and to assist individuals in vindicating their rights.

As regards the former National Consultative Committee on Racism and Interculturalism the new body will have a role in relation to integration issues with regard to migrants and also some of the functions of the Committee were subsequently absorbed into the Office for the Promotion of Migrant Integration, an office of my Department. In relation to direct reporting to the Oireachtas, I would refer the Deputy to Heads 19 and 20 of the published General Scheme of the Bill which addresses this detail.

Garda Resources

 26. Deputy Mick Wallace Information on Mick Wallace Zoom on Mick Wallace asked the Minister for Justice and Equality Information on Alan Shatter Zoom on Alan Shatter if he is satisfied that the Garda confidential recipient system is operating effectively and provides protection for whistleblowers; if he has any plans to make any changes to the operation of same; and if he will make a statement on the matter.  [11600/13]

Minister for Justice and Equality (Deputy Alan Shatter): Information on Alan Shatter Zoom on Alan Shatter The Garda Síochána (Confidential Reporting of Corruption or Malpractice) Regulations 2007 provide for the appointment, and functions, of a Confidential Recipient to whom members of the Force can report, in confidence, instances where they believe there may be corruption or malpractice within the Force. The Confidential Recipient is required to transmit each report to the Commissioner but, in doing so, is bound to protect the identity of the confidential reporter. Any communication between the Confidential Recipient and the Commissioner is absolutely confidential and there are strong safeguards in the Regulations for the protection of confidential reporters. I have full confidence in the Confidential Recipient, and his office. Whistleblowing provisions for members of the Garda Síochána are however being examined in the light of the provisions in the Protected Disclosures in the Public Interest Bill 2012 being developed by my colleague, the Minister for Public Expenditure and Reform.

Garda Vetting Applications

 27. Deputy Michael Moynihan Information on Michael Moynihan Zoom on Michael Moynihan asked the Minister for Justice and Equality Information on Alan Shatter Zoom on Alan Shatter the average waiting time for Garda vetting clearance in 2010, 2011, 2012 and to date in 2013; and if he will make a statement on the matter. [11659/13]

Minister for Justice and Equality (Deputy Alan Shatter): Information on Alan Shatter Zoom on Alan Shatter I am informed by the Garda authorities that the average processing time for Garda vetting applications for the years 2010 to 2012 are as follows:

2010
2011
2012
12 weeks
8 weeks
8 weeks
  The current average processing time is approximately 8 to 10 weeks. However, seasonal fluctuations and the necessity to seek additional information on particular applications can result in this processing time being exceeded on occasion.

  The Garda Central Vetting Unit currently provides employment vetting for approximately 20,000 organisations in Ireland which employ personnel to work in a full time part time, voluntary or student capacity with children and or vulnerable adults and who are registered with the Unit for this purpose. All organisations are aware of the processing time frames for the receipt of vetting and have been advised to factor this into their recruitment and selection processes. The Unit processed approximately 328,000 vetting applications on behalf of these organisations in 2012. To ensure equity and fairness all applications are dealt with in chronological order from date of receipt.

  It is my objective that processing times should be kept to a minimum, while maintaining the overall integrity of the vetting system. In that regard, following discussions with the Department of Public Expenditure and Reform, sanction was recently granted for an additional 25 staff to be re-deployed from the Department of Agriculture to the Unit in the near future. The Deputy may wish to note that Garda Central Vetting Unit will become the National Vetting Bureau under the provisions of the National Vetting Bureau (Children and Vulnerable Persons) Act 2012 and will have a substantially expanded role under that legislation. I am currently engaged with An Garda Síochána and the Department of Public Expenditure and Reform in addressing the staffing issues relevant to the coming into force of the 2012 Act.

Garda Reserve

 28. Deputy Barry Cowen Information on Barry Cowen Zoom on Barry Cowen asked the Minister for Justice and Equality Information on Alan Shatter Zoom on Alan Shatter the total strength of the Garda Reserve; his plans for the future of the Reserve; the total 2013 budget for the force; and if he will make a statement on the matter. [11661/13]

Minister for Justice and Equality (Deputy Alan Shatter): Information on Alan Shatter Zoom on Alan Shatter I have been informed by the Garda Commissioner that the personnel strength of the Garda Reserves is approximately 1,108 Garda Reserves with a further 138 in training. The moratorium on recruitment and appointments in the public service does not apply to the Garda Reserve, as members are volunteers and do not draw a salary. The Commissioner has carried out an internal review of the Reserve and has decided to extend their powers to include additional training in additional areas such as Domestic Violence, Child protection, Conflict Resolution, Garda policy on Bullying and Harassment, Out of Vehicle Safety Training (OVST), First Aid and Ample Probe Training. Continuous Professional Development courses continue to be provided annually to Garda Reserves on a Divisional basis.

I would like to assure the House that the Government are fully committed to the continued development of the Garda Reserve. I would also like to put on record my appreciation to the members of the Garda Reserve for their spirit of volunteerism and the services they provide to communities everywhere. The total budget for An Garda Síochána in 2013 is approximately €1.412 billion.

Garda Policing Plans

 29. Deputy Michael McGrath Information on Michael McGrath Zoom on Michael McGrath asked the Minister for Justice and Equality Information on Alan Shatter Zoom on Alan Shatter if he will detail the implementation plan for new smart policing mechanisms to replace closed Garda stations; the timeframe for the implementation of same; if a plan has been published; the budget that has been set aside for its implementation; and if he will make a statement on the matter. [11681/13]

 165. Deputy Catherine Murphy Information on Catherine Murphy Zoom on Catherine Murphy asked the Minister for Justice and Equality Information on Alan Shatter Zoom on Alan Shatter if he will explain in detail the elements involved in smarter policing with specific regard to the way imbalances in geographic Garda deployments are taken into account in the application of the policy; if there will be any large scale rebalancing of the way Gardaí are deployed as part of this process; and if he will make a statement on the matter. [11784/13]

Minister for Justice and Equality (Deputy Alan Shatter): Information on Alan Shatter Zoom on Alan Shatter I propose to take Questions Nos. 29 and 165 together.

  The Deputy will be aware that the Garda Commissioner is responsible for the detailed allocation of resources, including personnel, throughout the organisation and I have no direct function in the matter. This allocation of resources is constantly monitored in the context of demographics, crime trends, policing needs and other operational strategies in place on a District, Divisional and Regional level to ensure optimum use is made of Garda resources and the best possible Garda service is provided to the public.

  One of the key elements of the 2013 Plan is that it sets out proposals for continuing the process of restructuring the way in which Garda services are organised and delivered, with the objective of enhancing the efficiency of the Force at a time of financial constraint. This copperfastens the commitment of the Commissioner to smart policing in using available resources efficiently and effectively and ensuring that the maximum number of Garda personnel are available for front-line policing. A specific example of this is the targeted use of resources under Operation Fiacla in dealing with burglaries.

  In that overall context I believe that the objectives set out in the Garda Policing Plan for 2013 will be achieved and that, despite the pressure on the public finances, it will be possible for the Force to operate to the optimum benefit of our communities in a manner that will facilitate the presence of operational Gardaí on patrol preventing and detecting crime. The Garda Commissioner has stated that the revised structures will continue to support the Garda community philosophy through the clustering of services at policing hubs. This centralisation of services will facilitate the introduction of enhanced patrolling arrangements which, in turn, will provide increased Garda visibility as well as maintaining existing Garda links with communities throughout the country. The objective will be to ensure that the best possible policing service will continue to be provided to our communities. The Garda Commissioner has also advised that closure of stations will result in some additional 61,000 patrolling hours being available for operational policing.

  I am confident that the Garda Síochána will continue to provide a professional policing service right across the country in a manner that is effective and is consistent with the highest standards for which the Force is renowned.


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