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Garda Síochána Bill, 1996: Second Stage (Resumed).

Wednesday, 12 June 1996

Dáil Éireann Debate
Vol. 466 No. 7

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Acting Chairman: Deputy Dukes was in possession with three minutes of his time remaining.

Mr. E. Byrne: Information on Eric J. Byrne Zoom on Eric J. Byrne May I make my contribution as an Opposition speaker is not offering?

Acting Chairman: I will be obliged to seek an Opposition speaker.

Mr. E. Byrne: Information on Eric J. Byrne Zoom on Eric J. Byrne One does not seem to be present.

Acting Chairman: Is Deputy Lenihan offering?

Mr. Lenihan: Information on Brian Joseph Lenihan Zoom on Brian Joseph Lenihan I am. I understood that, on the last occasion. Deputy Dukes moved the Adjournment of the House on the basis that he would be in possession when the debate resumed.

Acting Chairman: Deputy Dukes had three minutes remaining but I am advised he will not avail of them

Mr. E. Byrne: Information on Eric J. Byrne Zoom on Eric J. Byrne How much time does [1800] Deputy Lenihan have to make his contribution?

Acting Chairman: Each Deputy has 20 minutes. I will facilitate Deputy Byrne's contribution at the earliest possible opportunity.

Mr. Lenihan: Information on Brian Joseph Lenihan Zoom on Brian Joseph Lenihan I would like to be associated with the tributes to Detective Garda McCabe. The assassination of any member of the force is shocking and, before addressing the principle of this measure, I would like to be associated with the various tributes that were paid in connection with this outrageous episode. I also take this opportunity to wish a speedy recovery to Detective Garda McCabe's colleague.

I understand why the Minister for Justice must introduce this legislation. It is an attempt to resolve a long-standing dispute which has brought no credit to the force. The Minister can relax because Fianna Fáil will not divide the House on this issue. The measure will not be defeated at the conclusion of this debate. Fianna Fáil supports the Minister on this issue. It is important to note that this side of the House takes a constructive and responsible approach in relation to the administration of criminal law. Harsh criticisms have been made on this side of the House about that subject which relates to the failure of the Government to come to grips with some aspects of the extensive problems of crime, drug abuse and lawlessness.

Considering this matter from first principles, in that context the Minister quoted the words of Mr. Justice Walsh in the Aughey case, it is essential that there should be one representative body with which the Minister can negotiate. Fianna Fáil's spokesperson on justice made it clear that the party is of the view it is desirable that there should be only one Garda representative body. As a matter of first principles, there is no obligation on anyone to join a body. Members of the Garda Síochána are not obliged to belong to the Garda Representative Association. It is not being [1801] suggested that there is such a duty on any member of the force. However, the Minister must be in a position to deal with some group or body of persons. I take it that is why the necessity has arisen to introduce this legislation.

There is a constitutional right not to belong to a body but it is important to state that the federation has a constitutional right to form an association. However, this legislation is not about the formation of associations, it is concerned with the right to negotiate with the Minister. It involves the bodies with which the Minister can deal. It would be impossible for the Minister for Justice to deal with a multiplicity of associations representing one rank in the force. A body is entitled to form an association; what is at issue is the question of negotiation rights. Short of reforming the ranks structure, there is no other way forward for the Minister than the course she has adopted.

The regrettable feature of this Bill is that it may not necessarily solve the problem it seeks to address. There is a substantial continuity in the Bill between the Garda Representation Association and the body, as reformed and revised by this measure, which will exist following the implementation of the Bill. This leaves the problem of the dissatisfied members who opted to form an alternative body. The Minister has sought to bring these people on board by reforming the structure of the Garda Representative Association. I appeal to all sides, at the conclusion of this debate, to look again at whether it would be possible to reach a satisfactory agreement on this matter through mediation.

I do not seek to reflect on the Minister, but it is disappointing that the dispute must be brought before this House for resolution. I urge her to provide time, following the conclusion of Second Stage, to allow the parties a final opportunity to resolve their differences in an amicable way. In recent days there have been signs of further divisions within the alternative body which was established after the initial dispute that arose in the [1802] Garda Representative Association. I appeal to the Minister to consider whether the Committee Stage of the Bill could be delayed to allow the parties a final opportunity to resolve their differences. If that is not possible, the measure must proceed. From the point of view of the representation of the membership of the Garda Síochána, it is important that representative structures exist which are viable, function and enable representations to be made through proper, orderly channels to the Department and the Minister in connection with the conditions of service of members of the force. If that machinery is not present, there is a definite gap in the system of orderly relations between the Minister for Justice and the Garda Síochána.

From reading the Bill, I understand that the essential compromise the Minister has struck is that she is prescribing a new rule book for the association. This provision is set out in the Schedule to the Bill. The Minister is also providing an appeals mechanism to deal with the cases of those disciplined by the association. Those disciplinary measures were a substantial part of the dispute between the Grada Representative Association and its dissatisfied members.

With regard to prescribing a rule book for the force, questions can be asked as to how much independence a representative body retains when the Minister must lay down the rules and regulations governing its administration. In her reply will the Minister deal with the extent to which consultations were held with the different bodies on the precise contents of this Schedule, which sets out a mandatory rule book for the representative association? A point that arises on the Schedule is that the Garda College at Templemore will no longer have a representative on the executive of the association. The statute provides that the Garda College at Templemore shall be deemed to be a district of the Tipperary division and I understand that to mean there will no longer be direct representation from the training [1803] college on the executive of the representative association.

The Minister should examine that matter again because it relates only to one representative, and while the number of persons engaged at the college is quite small, the number of persons there at any one time is quite substantial and they will have numerous representations to make in connection with their conditions.

Another matter the Minister might clarify relates to the question of the appointment of a president and a vice-president at the annual conference. On reading the Schedule, apart from anything the Minister said in her contribution, it is unclear to me exactly what the procedure will be under this proposal on the election of a president and a vice-president of the association.

I agree with a point raised by Deputy Dukes on the question of the general secretary. I take it the reason for the general secretary being a member of the force was that he was under the same discipline as the other members whom he represented. It seems unobjectionable that a person outside the force could be appointed general secretary of the representative association. I do not see any reason that appointment should be subject to the approval of the Minister who may attach such conditions to such approval as he or she thinks fit. This seems to be a rather cumbersome, bureaucratic intrusion on what should be a matter of internal choice for the representative association.

There is provision in paragraph 10 (8) of the Schedule that persons appointed to be the general secretary, deputy general secretary and assistant general secretary may attend meetings of the central executive committee by leave of the committee but they shall not be members of the central executive committee, shall not vote on matters submitted to the vote of the central executive committee and shall not propose or second motions at a meeting of the central executive committee.

That provision is unworkable because [1804] it envisages that the central executive committee and the permanent staff side of the association should be in a position to separate themselves. While I accept that the staff side in the association should not propose or second motions or have a vote at meetings of the executive, the provision is unworkable unless they at least have the right of attendance at executive meetings.

Any person appointed to the position of general secretary, deputy general secretary or assistant general secretary must have the right to attend and speak at meetings of the executive. It is difficult to see how a harmonious relationship could exist between the executive and the staff side in the absence of such an express provision in the Schedule.

I raise these somewhat detailed matters in relation to the Schedule because we are laying down detailed rules and regulations for the internal operation of the representative association. There is an onus on us to examine them with great care.

In section 2 it is provided that an association established under the Act for the rank of garda should have the support of such majority of the membership of that rank as satisfies the Minister that in matters which concern that rank as a whole, the association can speak and make agreements on behalf of that rank as a whole. There is no specified per centum or majority set out in that section and it gives the Minister a far-reaching power in relation to the recognition of the association. It is improper to give a Minister such a vague, wide-ranging power to in effect refuse to recognise a representative association established under statute.

If we, as a body, believe the Garda Síochána is entitled to have a representative structure, it should not be left open to the Minister to decide that a representative association does not speak for or make agreements on behalf of that rank as a whole on the basis of a somewhat vague criterion that she must be satisfied it has the support of such majority of the membership as satisfies her that it is representative. A [1805] more definite criterion than that would have to be laid down in the Bill if any credence or respect is to be had for the association which, as amended, will operate under this legislation. I appeal to the Minister to re-examine section 2 to see whether a more definite criterion can be laid down.

On the question of the review of certain disciplinary decisions referred to in section 6, it is envisaged that a statutory procedure should be established enabling a review of internal disciplinary decisions arrived at by the representative body. On reading the section one can see it applies to decisions made by the association since 1 January 1994 in relation to the member or former member as may be specified by the Minister.

Will the Minister clarify in her reply whether the review procedure envisaged by the legislation will apply to proceedings already before the courts because, as I am sure the Minister is aware, a number of court cases are pending in relation to the exercise of disciplinary powers by the representative association. Any attempt through this legislation to interfere with those proceedings might be found by the courts to be unconstitutional. It would be unfortunate if a measure, carefully balanced though it may be, enacted by us for the purpose of establishing a representative body for the rank of garda infringed the Constitution and became unworkable as a result.

The Minister should take care with regard to section 6. It is not open to us to simply appoint a committee to review a disciplinary decision which may be the subject matter of a judicial review or judicial proceedings elsewhere. I ask the Minister to deal with this matter in her reply.

Fianna Fáil does not propose to divide the House on the Bill. There is a technical point in relation to section 1 where it is provided that, for the purpose of representing members of the Garda Síochána in matters affecting their welfare and efficiency, there may be established one association and one [1806] association only for each rank of the Garda Síochána. I always understood that sergeants and inspectors had an association representing two ranks and I am not sure whether that practice is correctly comprehended in the measure as drafted in section 1. That is another matter the Minister might consider when replying to the debate.

Mr. E. Byrne: Information on Eric J. Byrne Zoom on Eric J. Byrne Last week the people were shocked, saddened and reminded yet again of the vulnerability of members of the Garda Síochána as they struggle every day to maintain law and order on our behalf. In certain areas society is beset by social disintegration, increasing levels of violence and the ever present threat of violence from paramilitaries, be they the IRA, the INLA or others on the unrepresentative lunatic fringe. The cold-blooded slaughter of Garda McCabe and the attempted murder of his colleague shocked all of us and reminded us of the debt we politicians and society owe the Garda Síochána. Garda McCabe's murder was directed not only at the serving police officer and his comrade — both men with outstanding records of service — but was an assault on all of us and on society itself and must be condemned wholeheartedly. In a civilised society there can be only one response to outrages of this kind — wholehearted, unequivocal condemnation and a determination to pursue those responsible with the full force of the law. Anything less would compromise all of us.

We need to recognise the deficiencies in our policing system. I would argue most strongly that we need to provide innovative and constructive responses to the new challenges facing us as a society. We need to recognise that society, particularly urban society, has changed drastically since the establishment of the Garda Síochána.

My party welcomes this Bill. At a time when many parts of the country are facing a mounting crime wave it is unacceptable that the energies of the Garda Síochána should be diverted into such an unseemly and unhelpful internal [1807] police squabble. The provisions of this Bill will ensure that the situation we have confronted in recent years is not repeated while also ensuring that members of the Garda have recourse to democratic representation. No one would wish to deny them that important democratic right. Most of us will have read the statement by the Garda Commissioner, Mr. Patrick Culligan, who called for a wider debate on the changing role of a the Garda Síochána. I am happy that we should have this opportunity to address that issue. He expressed particular concern that the crime problem “has been exaggerated by members of both the political establishment and the media”. I realise that much of the debate has been anything but flattering to the Garda Síochána. I appreciate the frustrations felt by the Garda as it attempts to tackle the problem without the necessary financial or material resources, and in some cases judicial resources, at its disposal.

Mr. Culligan is undoubtedly right when he points out that Ireland as a whole has a low crime rate compared with other developed societies. However, dealing in averages is misleading. Some areas of Dublin City are battling with a drugs and crime problem which is almost impossible to overestimate, while at the same time within Dublin there are communities, areas and postal districts that have little or no local crime.

In Dublin's south inner city there are an estimated 1,000 intravenous drug users as well as the frightening and alarming fact that approximately 500 young people, some as young as 12 years, are engaged in the smoking of heroin which ultimately will lead to intravenous drug use, addiction and increased crime levels for those communities.

Juvenile crime, much of which is associated with drugs, has reached alarming proportions. In 1994 a total of 14,720 juvenile cases were reported nationally. Over half of those involved were aged between 13 and 16. Of the [1808] 14,720 juvenile cases reported, 7,500 crimes were committed by young men and young women between the ages of 13 and 16. That augurs badly for the future. A disproportionate number of these crimes would have occurred in inner city areas and in the sprawling local authority estates on the outskirts of Dublin, Cork and Limerick.

In this context it is inevitable that public representatives as well as the media should question the organisational and operational efficiency of the Garda Síochána as it attempts to fight crime. It is disappointing that the Garda Síochána has been singularly unsuccessful in making arrests of those gangsters — romantically known as hitmen — who roam not only Dublin but other parts of the country and who can shoot down in cold blood, often unmasked in the capital city and in my constituency, be it in the Drimnagh Road, Weaver Street or wherever. I am not aware of the arrest of any of these hired killers. That disturbs me and my constituents. I am disturbed to the extent that I question the organisational and the operational efficiency of the Garda Síochána in tackling this type of modern criminal.

The questioning we must engage in should not focus exclusively on the Garda Síochána. As Mr. Culligan pointed out, we need an integrated approach involving not only the Garda but the statutory and voluntary agencies. It is incredible that we do not have an effective and statutorily-based system of co-operation between the Garda Síochána and Revenue Commissioners to target the drug barons, many of whose names and business interests are well known. I would welcome the establishment of a task force involving the relevant agencies and Departments with the specific aim of targeting drug profits and drug barons.

It is not only at national level that we need an integrated approach to the crime and drugs epidemic. Such an approach is equally vital at local level. I suggest we need to examine and implement options such as community policing councils, together with [1809] expanded community drugs teams, fast track treatment facilities and accessible drugs education programmes. I appeal to the Minister to examine urgently the provision of extra resources for the forensic science laboratory to ensure that evidence collected in respect of drugs charges can be processed with the minimum delay and that suspects are not released, as they are today, for up to six months pending examination of the drugs that have been found on the person.

Debate adjourned.

Sitting suspended at 1.30 p.m. and resumed at 2.30 p.m.

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