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Defence Forces (Evidence) Bill 2019: Second Stage (Resumed) (Continued)

Thursday, 3 October 2019

Dáil Éireann Debate
Vol. 987 No. 3

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(Speaker Continuing)

[Deputy Seán Crowe: Information on Seán Crowe Zoom on Seán Crowe] The Minister of State needs to have everyone on board. If members of the Defence Forces have concerns, those concerns will need to be addressed. Defence Forces members are on the front line and the proposed changes will affect them. The Minister of State needs to engage fully with them about their concerns. Perhaps he can answer these questions in his summary. We will support this Bill but it would be useful to go into more detail on Committee Stage to strengthen it and address concerns about its impact on civil liberties and personal freedom.

Deputy Mattie McGrath: Information on Mattie McGrath Zoom on Mattie McGrath The Defence Forces (Evidence) Bill 2019 seeks to provide for members of the military police to take and use DNA samples, primarily from members of the Defence Forces. It also provides for the establishment, management and oversight of a DNA military police database system operated by Forensic Science Ireland.

Ar an gcéad dul síos, ba mhaith liom mo bhuíochas a ghabháil leis na military police a bhíonn anseo go déanach gach oíche agus go luath gach maidin. They look after us here always with decorum and dignity and have a proud record of doing that in the many decades since the inception of the State. I salute them and thank them for that and the many other duties they perform.

As I understand it, the Military Police Corps is responsible for the prevention and investigation of offences, the enforcement of discipline and the general policing of the Defence Forces. It has additional wartime roles, including the control of prisoners of war and refugees. We face Brexit and many other imponderables and unknowns, including talk of creating a border, which I have been mentioning for three years. I travel once a year to Bosnia-Herzegovina although I have not yet gone this year. Massive border posts have been constructed in the past ten years on a motorway in that country, not by the Bosnians or Croatians but by the European Union. I put that to Michel Barnier in this House when he came to talk about this and he played blind man's bluff saying that if we were to have a hard Brexit, we would not have a border. The devil and his mother, the queen and the cats and dogs on the street knew we would have to have a border. It is as simple as that but all we got was bluff and bluster. Maybe the military police will be called on much more often. Like others, I wonder if it is well enough resourced.

Traditionally, the military police also has considerable involvement in State and ceremonial occasions. We saw them in the wonderful 100th anniversary of the first Dáil organised by the Ceann Comhairle and his officials. It works closely with An Garda Síochána which also assists in providing specialist training to the military police in the area of crime investigation, which is to be welcomed.

The Bills digest, prepared by the Oireachtas Library and Research Service, provides an interesting outline of the uses of DNA which the military police will be allowed to collect under this Bill. The digest notes that DNA evidence as a forensic tool has been described as "the single greatest advance in the search for truth since the advent of cross-examination". That is a fair statement.

The Law Reform Commission, in its comprehensive report on the subject, identified the purpose of a DNA database as assisting in three areas. The first is in "identifying links between crimes, such as in the case of stains left at the scene of the crime by serial offenders", and we know the havoc serial offenders can cause. The second is in the "rapid exclusion from the ambit of the investigation of suspects who are already on a database and whose profiles do not match". This has to be a good thing and a welcome advance in modern technology. The third is in the making of "cold hits", which is "where a stain is matched with a profile of a person on the database who was not a suspect". That is also a major breakthrough which could save a lot of time, energy and effort and could speed up many investigations. A DNA database is, therefore, capable of being used in a number of stages of the criminal justice process.

It is for these obvious benefits that I see no overwhelming reason to oppose the Bill before us. Any concerns I may have had with respect to data collection and privacy seem to be have been comprehensively addressed in the Bill. For example, I note that DNA profiles must ordinarily be removed from the database within three months of the occurrence of specified circumstances set out in the Bill, such as where the person has been acquitted or a conviction was quashed, or where no proceedings have been instituted within 12 months of the taking of the sample from which the profile was generated. However, the Provost Marshal may, in certain circumstances, authorise an extension of the retention period by 12 months to assist in the investigation of an offence. The maximum time a profile can be retained on the basis of such extensions is six years and the person from whom the original sample was taken can appeal the extension. These provisions all appear to be adequate in terms of the protections we would expect. I hope that in the Committee Stage debate we will be able to get more assurance on that area.

I could not let the occasion go without drawing attention to the shameful neglect of our Army, military police and Garda Síochána and the downright blaggarding that the Ministers give them, especially the Defence Forces. The Minister of State has been in his job for six years and this is his first Bill. I may be corrected but that says a lot about the order of importance the Government gives to the Defence Forces, which have served us so well. That includes the many members who have a proud record of service in Kickham Barracks in Clonmel, which the Government has ravaged and devastated. We could keep Cromwell out of Clonmel but we could not save our barracks from the Fine Gael Government. It has taken away every vestige of pride we have in Tipperary but it will pay for it very soon.

An Ceann Comhairle: Information on Seán Ó Fearghaíl Zoom on Seán Ó Fearghaíl The Deputy should try to stick to the provisions of the Bill.

Deputy Mattie McGrath: Information on Mattie McGrath Zoom on Mattie McGrath I am making my comments on the Bill but it would be remiss of me not to support our good soldiers and the military police. I have acknowledged the work they do here but the Defence Forces do not have the numbers. We heard only last week of the crisis in the Air Corps which does gallant work. It will not have pilots to fly the military helicopters. Twice in the past 12 months the Defence Forces on peacekeeping duty have been abandoned and could not get home to their families and loved ones after their six-month stint, with cock-ups here and there. This should not happen. With military precision these things would not and should not happen, if the Minister of State had his eye on the ball and he cared enough about the Defence Forces. I know constituents who were looking forward to coming home for first communions, confirmations and weddings but were held up as they were doing their tour of duty, leaving their loved ones waiting for them. We got glib answers when we asked the question as much as to say we should not be asking it. I will always stand up for members of the Defence Forces because I know what they do. The Government is giving them paltry pay, below the minimum wage and the family income supplement hardly keeps them going. An army cannot march on an empty belly in a time of war. The members of the Army have to have the wherewithal and the tools of the trade to provide for their families and to put a roof over their heads, which is a noble gesture.

It is the same for the Garda Síochána. We heard blunder and bluster this morning from the Minister for Justice and Equality about all the new policies. I met a garda outside this building today. She told me she was sent up here to mind us but her duty today was in Temple Bar, as a community garda. There was only one squad car and two gardaí along with her and she was sent up here. That is shocking in the capital city. That is going on in every corner of Ireland and the Government thinks it can wipe it away. That was told to me today at approximately 11.45 a.m. after I had questioned the Minister for Justice and Equality.

An Ceann Comhairle: Information on Seán Ó Fearghaíl Zoom on Seán Ó Fearghaíl The Deputy is wandering again.

Deputy Mattie McGrath: Information on Mattie McGrath Zoom on Mattie McGrath I admit I am wandering but I am just putting that on the record. I am nearly finished. That is what the Government is standing over and this is the first Bill the Minister of State could be interested in bringing forward for the Defence Forces. All we get is disdain when we raise the issues. The Minister of State and the Government are neglecting the Army, military police and all the other officers of the State and taking them for granted because they cannot strike. That is disdain. They are noble and proud people who do noble service and I am proud of them. The Minister of State should respect them.

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