11 April 2017

Speech on Motion re Garda Síochána, Dáil Éireann, 11th April 2017

I move the amendment in my name and that of my Labour Party colleagues.

In doing so, I want to concentrate on the many areas on which there is I believe broad agreement in this House.

We were all disturbed at the news that over 145,000 District Court summonses for road traffic fixed charge offences were wrongly issued at the behest of the Garda.

That 14,700 of those cases resulted in a conviction and penalty being wrongfully imposed by the courts, and that each of these cases must now be brought back to court so that the convictions can be set aside, is shameful.

Hand in hand came news that the Garda Síochána can no longer stand over its data relating to roadside breath tests. It withdrew the figures because they are irreconcilable with data provided by the Medical Bureau of Road Safety from its breath test device database,

This revelation completely undermines our national road safety strategy. Mandatory alcohol testing has been a key feature of the strategy since 2007. Determining the incidence of drink driving, using data collected at the point of enforcement, has been a specific target of that strategy for 10 years.

As the RSA’s chief executive Ms Moyagh Murdock said: “the absence of credible and reliable enforcement metrics such as the numbers of drivers being breath tested, makes it almost impossible to evaluate and measure the effectiveness of road safety interventions”.

And the scale of the discrepancy, between Garda Pulse records showing 1,995,369 breath tests and MBRS records showing 1,058,157 tests, makes us all seriously wonder about Garda commitment to the statutory national road safety strategy.

We are all in this House dissatisfied at the ongoing inability of Garda administration to provide any explanation for these failures in the performance of their statutory functions.

And we all agree that these revelations are merely the latest in a series of controversies which have cumulatively undermined public confidence in the ability and credibility of Garda management.

In particular Garda management has shown no ability to respond effectively to the modernisation agenda being championed by the Garda Inspectorate.

The Inspectorate has described the Garda as “an ineffective structure, struggling to cope with modern demands”. It has characterised the current Garda culture as inhibiting change and has expressed frustration – as have we all – that so many of the Inspectorate’s key recommendations have not been acted on.

All this has happened notwithstanding a major legislative overhaul back in 2005, including setting up both GSOC and the Inspectorate.

That Act also dedicated the Garda Síochána to providing policing services with the objective of vindicating human rights, preventing crime, bringing criminals to justice and regulating and controlling road traffic and improving road safety, in a manner that respects human rights and supports the proper and effective administration of justice.

But the more we dig, the more we discover that these were all just legislative platitudes and signalled no real change at all.

And the net result of all of this is that most of the public, and most of us here, do not have confidence in the management of the Garda Síochána.

The problem here is not just a ‘cultural’ one – the term the Garda Commissioner uses so often.

The problem here is a structural one.

I say that with hesitation because the statutory structure is by now complex. We have various satellite bodies orbiting around the Garda Síochána, each with their own boards and officers, their own functions, mission statements, strategy statements, five year plans and annual plans.

We have GSOC, to look at complaints; the Garda Inspectorate, to look at best practice; the Policing Authority, to oversee performance; and the Minister, to secure eventual accountability.

But amidst this plethora of bodies and functions, it is increasingly clear what we don’t have.

We do not have any body with the power, duty and capacity to bring senior Garda management into the modern age.

An age in which effectiveness and efficiency and openness, transparency and accountability are expected and delivered.

An age in which targets and standards are set.

And an age in which those who fall short are identified and held to account.

What we don’t yet have but what we urgently need is a body that can direct the Garda Commissioner to adopt Inspectorate reports and recommendations.

That can issue her with written directives to take specified steps within specified times, to implement the change agenda.

So I think again a majority of us agree that we need as a first and immediate step to change the law. We need to give the Policing Authority the clearly necessary power to take this matter in hand and to sort it out, whatever that takes.

We need, in other words, to give the Policing Authority the necessary authority. We need to vest it with the statutory power to publish a radical reform programme, based on the recommendations of the Garda Inspectorate, and to have the statutory power to make directions to Garda management in implementing this programme.

But we need more. There will be no once-off, quick-fix solution to this real and substantial crisis in public confidence.

No two crises are ever identical and no two solutions should be identical either. We do not need Chris Patten and we do not need to borrow his exact terms of reference or the terms of his report.

But we do need a policing review, under an independent commission, that is both radical and comprehensive.

I would simply repeat that there is no way this House would accept the setting up of such a commission as an excuse to long-finger any part of Garda reform agenda.

There is no excuse for failing to proceed with all those many recommendations of the Garda Inspectorate, which could transform aspects including organisational structure, governance and culture, workforce modernisation and use of technology.

The commission should have broader terms of reference. It should inquire into policing and bring forward proposals for future structures and arrangements for the Garda Síochána that promote policing that is both effective and efficient and also fair and impartial.

A policing service that is truly representative of our communities and fully accountable both to the law and to the community.

And I think the time has now come when we can maturely examine whether we need a policing service separate and apart from national security and intelligence.

I have examined, just briefly so far, the draft terms of reference published by the Tánaiste this afternoon.

I agree with the statement that our concerns relate to the accountability of An Garda Síochána, its leadership and management capacity and its culture and ethos and that these concerns undermine public confidence in policing and the legitimacy of the Garda Síochána.

And I agree that it faces challenges rooted in a changing context, including increased expectations of transparency, accountability and professionalism, the changing nature of crime, and the changing nature of society. 

I agree there must be a fundamental review of the structures, leadership and management, ethos and culture of policing and existing oversight arrangements.

At first blush, the draft terms of reference appear comprehensive. We will of course revert after a more detailed examination.

Above all, though, we need a mind-set in Government and in Garda management that not just accepts but enthusiastically endorses the conviction that there is no contradiction between efficient and effective policing, on the one hand, and a clear framework of Garda accountability to the law and the community it serves, on the other.

I regret that the Tánaiste could not find the time to meet with the Association of Garda Sergeants and Inspectors at their conference. I understand the demands on her time but I don’t believe that distancing herself from the workforce is a helpful contribution at the stage.

I am glad the association is agreement with so many of us here in arguing that many of our problems may not have arisen at all if Garda Inspectorate reports had been implemented.

There is a final matter on which I think we can all agree. This should be the last time we gather to express collective dismay and disbelief about the latest revelations of mismanagement in the Garda Síochána.

There must be no more piecemeal reacting on the hoof, no more seeking to minimise the damage, no more ad hoc solutions.

I am cautious in calling for something as hackneyed as ‘root and branch’ reform. But I do believe we need an examination of Garda structures and processes that is sufficiently thorough and far-reaching, and a commitment to embrace the changes that follow, that we can say we have put an end to our ‘fire brigade’-style response to successive Garda crises and that we have resolved this issue for our political lifetimes.

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