Dáil Questions: Justice – Garda reform and GSOC

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Dáil Issues, Justice, Justice and Defence, Oral Questions

Minister Fitzgerald drags her feet on Garda reform, seems content that GSOC is not functioning in investigating complaints against Gardai…meanwhile injustice cases before the Review Panel are not investigated properly & are unlikely to get justice…

DÁIL QUESTIONaddressed to the Minister for Justice and Equality (Deputy Frances Fitzgerald)
by Deputy Clare Daly
for ORAL on Thursday, 2nd April, 2015.
To ask the Minister for Justice and Equality if she is satisfied with the functioning of the Garda Síochána Ombudsman Commission; and if she will make a statement on the matter.

– Clare Daly

The Garda Síochána Ombudsman Commission (GSOC) is an independent statutory body established under the Garda Síochána Act 2005. The objectives, functions and powers of GSOC are governed by the 2005 Act. The Act also provides that the management and control generally of the officers, administration and business of GSOC is the responsibility of the Chairperson of GSOC.

It is vital that the public has strong confidence in the Garda Síochána and the system of oversight of the Garda Síochána. This Government is, at present, implementing a comprehensive programme of reform in the areas of policing and justice. This includes plans to establish an independent Garda Authority.

The Deputy will be aware that the Oireachtas recently enacted the Garda Síochána (Amendment) Act 2015 to reform, strengthen and clarify the remit and operation of GSOC. The provisions of the new Act include;
the inclusion, for the first time, of the Garda Commissioner within the investigative remit of GSOC;
a broadening of the scope for me, as Minister, to refer matters to GSOC for investigation;
the conferral of additional police powers on GSOC for criminal investigation purposes;
greater autonomy for GSOC in examining Garda practices, policies and procedures.

I intend to commence this Act very shortly. The Act will ensure that GSOC is fit for purpose and further ensure that the public, as well as the men and women of an Garda Síochána, can have the fullest confidence in its workings.

My Department remains in ongoing discussion with GSOC in relation to staffing and financial requirements,and the changes to their powers and remit, with a view to ensuring that GSOC is enabled to operate effectively and efficiently and in accordance with its statutory remit.

As the Deputy is aware Mr Simon O’Brien resigned from his position as Chairperson of GSOC on 30 January 2015. I will be advertising the position of Chairperson of GSOC shortly. I should point out that the person who will be appointed to GSOC will serve out Mr O’Brien’s term of office which will expire at the end of December 2016.

It is important to understand that the 2005 Act provides for a situation where one member of GSOC has resigned his or her position. Accordingly, the Act permits GSOC to act notwithstanding one or more than one vacancy among its members. So, while I am anxious to fill the vacancy which currently exists there is no question of the Commission not being in a position to function effectively in the meantime.

DÁIL QUESTIONaddressed to the Minister for Justice and Equality (Deputy Frances Fitzgerald)
by Deputy Clare Daly
for ORAL on Thursday, 2nd April, 2015.
To ask the Minister for Justice and Equality the progress with the cases being evaluated under the Independent Review Mechanism;and the reason a process that was supposed to take eight weeks has gone on for more than eight months..

– Clare Daly

The Deputy is referring to the mechanism established for the independent review of certain allegations of Garda misconduct, or inadequacies in the investigation of certain allegations, which have been made to me as Minister for Justice and Equality, or the Taoiseach, with a view to determining to what extent and in what manner further action may be required in each case. A panel consisting of two Senior and five Junior Counsel was established for the purpose, all selected on the basis of their experience of the criminal justice system.

The review is still ongoing. A total of 318 cases have been referred to the Panel. It was originally anticipated, as the Deputy’s question points out, that the review would last some ten to twelve weeks. However, a number of factors have contributed to the process taking longer than had been anticipated. In the first place the number of cases actually referred to the panel is more than had originally been anticipated. Furthermore, many of the cases have proved to be quite complex and require considerably more time to complete. I should also point out that the panel of Counsel are devoting considerable time to carrying out the review while at the same time fulfilling their responsibilities to their legal clients and the courts.

Nevertheless, it is important that counsel take the time necessary to consider each case fully and carefully and that nothing arises which might detract from the integrity of the review mechanism. It has therefore been considered inappropriate to place a time constraint upon the working of the Panel, although Counsel are making every effort to conclude their work as soon as reasonably practicable.

The review of each complaint consists of an examination of the papers in the complaint by a member of the Panel. Following the review of each complaint a recommendation will be made to me as Minister as to whether any further action is desirable and could practicably be taken.

The Panel has made significant progress and the submission of recommendations to me is being prepared by officials. Each recommendation will be very carefully considered, but as a matter of general principle let me say quite clearly that, in coming to a decision in each case, I will be very strongly guided by the independent advice of counsel. Quite clearly having engaged counsel for this review, it would be entirely appropriate to be guided by their advice.

As I have said in reply to earlier questions, I intend to start the process shortly after Easter of notifying the persons concerned of the outcome of the review in their cases.