Dáil Questions: Justice

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Dáil Issues, Justice

DÁIL QUESTION addressed to the Minister for Justice and Equality (Deputy Frances Fitzgerald)

by Deputy Clare Daly
for ORAL on Wednesday, 28th September, 2016.

To ask the Tánaiste and Minister for Justice and Equality her plans to strengthen GSOCs ability to deal with complaints against Gardaí and particularly the problems being experienced in relation to their dealing with Protected Disclosures and the difficulties being experienced in having the claims effectively investigated and the rights of the whistleblowing Gardaí protected during the process.

– Clare Daly
REPLY.
The Garda Síochána Ombudsman Commission (GSOC) has a hugely important role in ensuring that public confidence in the Garda Síochána is safeguarded, and has extensive powers under the 2005 Act to enable it to carry out its responsibilities.

GSOC has been operating now for 10 years and in that time its role has been expanded by, for example, bringing complaints against the Garda Commissioner within its remit and making it the body to whom Gardaí can make Protected Disclosures.

Prior to the Protected Disclosures Act 2014 coming into operation, whistleblowing by members of the Garda Síochána was provided for under the Garda Síochána (Confidential Reporting of Corruption or Malpractice) Regulations 2007. Those Regulations were revoked by the 2014 Act and an entirely new system was put in place.

The 2014 Act was part of the then Government’s comprehensive approach to enhancing the protections available to whistleblowers, including members of the Garda Síochána. Under the Act, GSOC is now the prescribed body authorised to receive protected disclosures on Garda matters. Where a protected disclosure is made to GSOC the Act provides that GSOC may, if it appears to it desirable in the public interest to do so, investigate the disclosure.

It is important to recognise the very significant fact that a member of the Gardaí who makes a disclosure in accordance with the Act is entitled to all the protections provided for whistleblowers in the Act. These protections include protection from having their identity revealed, protection from dismissal and protection from being penalised in their employment as a result of having made a protected disclosure.

I am aware of the comments made by the Chairperson of GSOC at the Justice and Equality Committee on 21 September, 2016. I am of course pleased that the Committee has had the opportunity to hear from the Chairperson and her views on how matters might be improved. Judge Mary Ellen Ring has been in place for a year now and she has made a significant contribution to ensuring confidence in its oversight role.

There are undoubtedly matters which can be examined with a view to improvement. I am aware of the Chairperson’s general views on the legislation which governs the manner in which GSOC operates and my Department will be studying in detail the remarks she made to the Committee. In that regard, it is the case that the relevant legislation is under review in the Department in the light of its operation and views which have been expressed by GSOC to the Department in recent discussions. Following that review I will consider specific proposals for change in this area.

I should mention that GSOC’s budget for 2016 is €9.546 million, which represents an increase of some €500,000 on the 2015 amount. Resources and funding will be kept under continuing review to ensure that GSOC is enabled to continue to operate effectively and efficiently and in accordance with its statutory remit and there will be ongoing consultation between the Department and GSOC on this matter.

QUESTION NO: 64

DÁIL QUESTION addressed to the Minister for Justice and Equality (Deputy Frances Fitzgerald)
by Deputy Clare Daly
for ORAL on Wednesday, 28th September, 2016.
To ask the Tánaiste and Minister for Justice and Equality her views in relation to the fact that a person (details supplied) is being held in continuous solidarity confinement, in violation of their human rights and that the advice of medical professionals regarding their custody plan has not been implemented; and if she will make a statement on the matter.

– Clare Daly
REPLY.
I am advised by the Irish Prison Service that violently disruptive prisoners are managed under the Irish Prison Service Violently Disruptive Prisoner Policy, which was revised as recently as September 2016. Management in accordance with the policy includes an input from all of the relevant services in relation to the prisoner’s conditions of detention. This involves case conference discussion on a regular basis, with participation from a multi-disciplinary team including operational, therapeutic and healthcare services.

I can advise the Deputy that the prisoner referred to is one of a small number of violently disruptive prisoners currently being managed within the terms of the Violently Disruptive Prisoners Policy. Any decisions that are taken in relation to the regime in place for the prisoner are taken in full consultation with the relevant services and are cognisant of the advice received from them. In this case, the prisoner can spend all prison unlock periods out of cell, to include access to the exercise yard, gym, shower facilities, phone calls, visits, healthcare services and association with a small number of prisoners, assessed as suitable by the Governor.

The Deputy will appreciate that when dealing with prisoners who pose a particular challenge to the good order of a prison and a safe environment for staff and prisoners, a balance is required between the rehabilitation of individual prisoners and the requirement to provide safe, secure and humane conditions while in custody.

The Irish Prison Service is in the process of setting up a specific unit to better manage the risks and needs of such prisoners. This unit is being developed based on international best practice and will allow for the management of particularly high risk prisoners within a small and highly supervised unit, where their management is informed from both an operational and psychological perspective. This unit will allow for specialist assessment of individual risks to be carried out, followed by individual and/or group work to try to reduce the risk of harm to others, thus enabling a return to normal or a more appropriate location as risk reduces.