Check against delivery 

Dáil Éireann 

 

11th April 2017 

 

 

[I propose the Government's countermotion] 

We are at a crucial time in determining the future of policing in this country. 

I would not, for one moment, seek to underestimate the seriousness of the issues which have arisen recently in relation to fixed charge notices and Mandatory Alcohol Tests. 

What emerged was as unacceptable as it was disturbing. I don't think much divides Deputy O’Callaghan and I - or, indeed, other Deputies - on our assessment of that. 

And last week we had the report by Mr Justice Fennelly. This showed - if we needed to be shown once again - that over the decades organisational problems have accumulated in An Garda Síochána that have not been fully addressed.  

The great respect which we have for the work which members of An Garda Síochána do, sometimes at great personal cost, cannot blind us to the need for profound and lasting change in the way An Garda Síochána does its work. 

Trust in our police force has been shaken. The men and women who protect us everyday from burglars, criminal gangs and even the treat of terrorism, have been undermined by the events of recent weeks, the roots of which can be traced back many, many years.  

I suspect, with hindsight, that down through the years all Governments, as long as the Gardaí were relatively successful in keeping the community safe and protecting our security, were slow to recognise the problems that accumulated, as the nettle of necessary reform was not grasped.  

Since my appointment as Justice Minister I have initiated a programme of fundamental reform of An Garda Síochána.  

That programme is addressing many of the problems there are. But I accept that the recent issues highlight the need for us to go further, while relentlessly driving the programme of change that is already in place.  

There are an array of competing motions and countermotions before the House, and what I am doing in the countermotion, is setting out a clear, coherent and comprehensive approach to the issues which must be addressed. 

We need to fully and independently investigate all aspects of what happened in relation to fixed charge notices and Mandatory Alcohol Tests. At my request the Policing Authority are doing just that. And they will use outside professional expertise to help them discharge this task, as I have provided for in the legislation underpinning the Policing Authority. They will also examine the measures taken to ensure this cannot happen again. 

The capacity of senior management within An Garda Síochána needs to be strengthened. In the short term, three civilian senior managers are being recruited to the Garda leadership team: An Executive Director of Strategy and Transformation; an Executive Director of Legal and Compliance and a Chief Information Officer.  

The Garda Inspectorate will be reporting to me later in the year on how we can open up recruitment to An Garda Síochána to police from other police services and to people with other relevant experience.  

We would be very foolish in response to different controversies to constantly deviate from the path to reform that is already there. So we need to make sure that existing plans for change are carried through fully.  

Crucial to these changes are the Garda Síochána Modernisation and Renewal Programme 2016-2021 which reflects the recommendations in the Garda Inspectorate report on 'Changing Policing in Ireland'. Many of the Deputies in this House have referred to that report over the past weeks.  

The Policing Authority clearly has a crucial role in overseeing all of these reforms. I have asked Josephine Feehily, the Chairperson of the Authority to report to me every quarter on the implementation of that seminal Inspectorate Report. I intend to publish those reports. 

And I attach particular significance to a cultural audit of An Garda Síochána to be overseen by the Policing Authority. 

Culture is a problem grappled with in policing worldwide. We know that laws of themselves do not change culture.  

Public trust is earned by professionalism, high standards, honesty and openness. That is the culture that needs to take hold. And those are the sort of issue that the cultural audit will have to address. 

All these changes, when carried through, will greatly improve the capacity of An Garda Síochána to be the police service they and the community deserve. But in the Government's view that is not enough. 

Without inhibiting in any way the changes I have outlined, the time has come for a root and branch review of policing in Ireland in the future.  

The Government today agreed draft Terms of Reference for a Commission on the Future of Policing in Ireland and I have published these. I want to thank members of this House for discussing the proposed terms with me last week. 

They provide for a thorough review of all aspects of policing in Ireland including the structures, leadership, management; composition, recruitment and training of personnel; the culture and ethos of policing. 

They also account for all aspects of oversight and accountability, including looking at the role of existing oversight bodies, including the Department of Justice and Equality and the Government. 

People want An Garda Síochána to succeed; they need An Garda Síochána to succeed.  

A well functioning police service, trusted by the people, is a cornerstone of any democracy worthy of the name.  

So, as the democratically elected representatives of the people, all of us in this House must work to make An Garda Síochána succeed. 

Politicising the issues and jockeying for position will not help.  

Personalising the issues and acting as if deep seated problems can be changed by constant changing of personnel will not help. 

And populism, parading as reform, won't help. 

In fairness to Deputy O'Callaghan and some others, I have no issues with much of what is in the Fianna Fáil motion and I very much recognise the deep concerns which he has. 

But I believe he is in danger of overlooking one fundamental point. This House established a Policing Authority to independently oversee An Garda Síochána and take politics out of policing.  

Political interference in our police force throughout this history of this State has damaged An Garda Síochána.  

The Deputy wants to increase the powers available to the Authority. That is something I have no problem with in principle. However, it is difficult to square that with his apparent unwillingness to let a body, independent by law, get on with their job. 

The position of the Government in relation to confidence in the Garda Commissioner remains unchanged. But it is worth bearing in mind that the Policing Authority already has the power to recommend to the Government the removal of certain Garda Officers from their post, including the Garda Commissioner, something that I have built into the legislation.  

However inadvertently, I believe that attempts in the motion to move the Authority in that direction could interfere with its independence. Moreover, the legal advice available to me is that there is no statutory mechanism for the Government to make a request to the Policing Authority of the kind referred to in the motion and, indeed, that making such a request could prejudice any later formal recommendation by the Authority. 

The Policing Authority should be allowed carry out its work without interference or hindrance. 

To conclude Ceann Comhairle, I think all of us in this House would agree that it takes courage to be a member of An Garda Síochána.  

We might think of the courage required when a gun is produced or a knife raised.  

But courage is required in other areas too.  

The courage to say “No” if the instruction is wrong.  

The courage to cry halt to a practice that may have been going on forever, but that should stop right there and then. 

The courage to embrace and contribute to reform at all levels.  

I think we can all agree on that.  

Against that background, I commend the countermotion to the House.