15. Deputy Mick Wallace asked the Minister for Justice and Equality his views on the fact that An Garda Síochána is conducting criminal investigations of its own members without the knowledge or participation of GSOC; and if he will make a statement on the matter. [21109/19]
Minister for Justice and Equality (Deputy Charles Flanagan): I recognise the concerns raised in the Deputy’s question with regard to Gardaí investigating other Gardaí. I know that the Garda Síochána Ombudsman Commission have raised this matter on a number of occasions including more recently.
The House will be aware that last year I secured sanction to increase the number of staff of GSOC by 42 full time equivalents. These additional staff, when fully deployed, will allow GSOC to reduce the time taken for investigations as well as enable it to carry out more investigations without referring complaints to the Gardaí themselves. We all recognise that it is not ideal for Gardaí to be investigating complaints against other Gardaí. My understanding is that GSOC investigates the most serious complaints against Gardaí. However, I am informed that circumstances may arise in which An Garda Síochána takes the lead in an investigation not arising from a complaint.
I see no particular issue with Gardaí investigating lower level complaints against other members. I am talking here about complaints that would probably be categorised as discourtesy where the person making the complaint merely wants an acknowledgement that the service which they received was not up to the proper standard. Some years ago the Chairperson of GSOC cited a case which fell within this category which took over a year to complete and took up a considerable amount of GSOC time. She said that these cases should be handled in a timely manner at local level.
As the Deputy will be aware, last December, the Government endorsed the report of the Commission on the Future of Policing in Ireland including its package of proposals for the reform of the Garda Síochána Ombudsman Commission. A key element of this package is that all serious issues of concern about standards of policing or police integrity itself should be the subject of an independent investigation even where no member of the public has made a complaint. Examples of the types of conduct cited by the Commission include potential breaches of law, violations of human rights or corruption, or which appear to indicate a widespread or systemic problem within An Garda Síochána.
Work is underway as a matter of priority in my Department on the preparation of the General Scheme of the Policing and Community Safety Bill to provide for these proposals and other elements of the Commission’s report. I believe that the Bill will provide the appropriate mechanisms for the independent investigation of alleged criminal offences by members of the Garda Síochána.
As part of that work, my officials have met with relevant stakeholders including GSOC and An Garda Síochána and are considering their submissions. It is my intention to bring the General Scheme to Government for approval later this year.