CHECK AGAINST DELIVERY

I propose the Government's countermotion

 

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

 

There have been 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.

 

Trust in An Garda Síochána has been damaged by the recent revelations.  Yesterday I said they are as unacceptable as they are disturbing. I repeat that here today.

 

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.

 

Before I turn to the question of reform, I want to deal first with the substance of, and the background to, the Sinn Féin motion.

 

While there are elements of the motion with which everyone in this House can agree, the central thesis must be rejected.  Rather than focusing on the need to reform An Garda Síochána it seeks to personalise the problems with the service by focussing on the Garda Commissioner. 

 

In a document  published by Sinn Féin yesterday entitled ‘Restoring Public Confidence in Policing’ the party makes a number of proposals aimed at enhancing the functions and responsibilities of the Policing Authority, the first of which is the immediate commencement of the legislative provisions governing the removal of senior members of An Garda Síochána.

 

In fact, the entire Garda Síochána (Policing Authority and Miscellaneous Provisions) Act 2015 has been commenced.  The provisions relating to the removal of the Commissioner and Deputy Commissioners were commenced on 1 January 2016 and those relating to the ranks of Assistant Commissioner, Chief Superintendent and Superintendent on 1 January 2017. 

 

Also since that date the Policing Authority will have responsibility for running competitions for appointments to the senior Garda ranks of Assistant Garda Commissioner, chief superintendent and superintendent. The first appointment of an Assistant Commissioner under this new process was made by the Authority last March and they are now running the competition for Chief Superintendents.

 

That means that now there is a statutory framework in place that allows both the Government and the Policing Authority, at their own initiative, to invoke the provisions of section 11 of the Garda Síochána Act 2005.  There is no role for this House in that statutory framework, nor in my view should there be.

 

 It is one thing for this House to debate motions of no confidence in persons who can defend themselves in this House, it is another for it to insert itself into carefully calibrated legislation that is designed to observe due process and natural and constitutional justice – which is the right of any employee. 

 

It would be a major departure if individual public servants, individual nurses, guards or teachers, as Deputy O’Callaghan has referred to in recent days, were to have their reputations shredded in this House with no opportunity to put their side of the story. 

 

Such a procedure would not even meet the low standards of a kangaroo court. 

 

Rather than focusing on what would be clearly a wrong path for this House to embark on, I want to return to the issue of reform. 

 

Since my appointment as Minister for Justice and Equality, I have been pursuing an ambitious programme of Garda reform.

 

It would be very foolish – it would be tragic – to 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 is the Garda Síochána Modernisation and Renewal Programme 2016-2021 which reflects the recommendations in the Garda Inspectorate report on 'Changing Policing in Ireland'.

 

The Policing Authority oversees implementation of the Commissioner’s reform programme. And I have used my powers under the Garda Act to refer the Inspectorate Report to the Policing Authority to oversee its implementation and to report to me on progress.

 

An Garda Síochána, overseen by the Authority, must get on with implementing the reform programme.

 

Change must keep happening. Once all of recommendations are implemented over the lifetime of the Modernisation Programme, there will be other things that will need to be done - because reform can never stop.

 

Culture is the most difficult change to make. An organisation that impulsively turned inwards, must now, instinctively face outwards with professionalism, high standards, honesty, meeting the highest ethical standards and openness.

 

A tendering process has been completed for a cultural audit that will be conducted this year.  This audit, which is being overseen by the Policing Authority, at my request, will set a benchmark against which the culture of the service will be measured over the years as the reform programme is implemented. 

 

There have been many reports into aspects of policing in Ireland.  Some have been investigations into wrong-doing or bad practice, such as Morris and O’Higgins while others have been directed at reform, including in particular the 11 reports published by the Inspectorate.  All have been drafted within the confines of the structures of policing that have existed since the foundation of the State. 

 

The policing landscape has seen many significant changes, first by the establishment of the Garda Síochána Ombudsman Commission and the Garda Inspectorate under the 2005 Act and more recently by the establishment of the Policing Authority in January 2016.

 

These very important changes deal with the historic structures of policing in this country that remain to this day. The gravity and scale of recent events mean that we must now question whether those core structures are fit for purpose.

 

It is for that reason that the Government believes that the time is ripe for a fundamental examination of all aspects of policing in Ireland. 

 

The establishment of a Commission on the Future of Policing in Ireland was agreed by the Government yesterday and the draft Terms of Reference have been published.

 

They attempt to be comprehensive and provide for a thorough-going review of all aspects of policing including the structures, leadership, management; composition, recruitment and training of personnel; the culture and ethos.

 

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.

 

This includes whether a unitary police service dealing with policing, security and immigration is appropriate for the 21st century.

 

The Commission will have among its members people with international expertise and knowledge.

 

It will provide an opportunity for the country to stand back and have an honest discussion about how we are to be policed as we approach the centenary of the establishment of An Garda Síochána.

 

Throughout that time, the men and women of An Garda Síochána have kept us safe in the face of grave threats and dangers.

 

They have played a crucial role in thwarting those, including the Provisional IRA, who wanted to overthrow this State.  Some brave Gardaí paid the ultimate price.

 

Today I remember, in particular, Detective Garda Jerry McCabe who was brutally and callously murdered when he was just doing his duty.

 

An Garda Síochána face many problems. But the solution does not lie in this politically motivated motion from Sinn Fein.

 

A well functioning police service, trusted by the people, is a cornerstone of any democracy worthy of the name. Some people in this House were late converts to democracy but I hope that even they would agree that as the democratically elected representatives of the people, all of us must work to make An Garda Síochána succeed.

 

Ceann Comhairle, we can pay no greater tribute to the men who founded our police force in the difficult early years of the State -  and those men and women who followed in their footsteps down through the decades -  than to begin the second century of policing with a police service that embodies the best traditions of An Garda Síochána.  

 

One of the greatest failings of the motion before the House is its lack of ambition.  Rather than articulating a vision of the future of policing in Ireland, it resorts to the blame game.  Personalising the issues and demonising individuals gets us nowhere. 

 

This Government is ambitious for policing in Ireland. 

 

It is for that reason that we reject this defeatist motion and commend to the House a countermotion which sets out a clear and coherent way forward.

 

ENDS