AGSI Attend Consultation Seminar on Justice Reform
Hosted by Frances Fitzgerald, Minister for Justice and Equality at Farmleigh House
Friday, 20 June 2014
Address by Baroness Nuala O’Loan
Address by Minister Fitzgerald
Ladies and Gentlemen
I am delighted to welcome you to this consultation seminar on justice reform in Farmleigh House. I am very pleased that so many of the people who have been invited have been able to attend to discuss matters which are of major importance for our country and its people.
The background to the consultation seminar is very familiar to everyone here today. In particular, you will be fully aware of a wide range of significant events that have arisen in respect of the Garda Síochána and the functioning of our justice system:
- It has been just over a week since the Cooke Report was published;
- Shortly before this the Guerin Report was published;
- Many serious allegations have been made by Garda whistleblowers in relation to a wide range of issues; and
- The enforcement of the penalty points system has given rise to serious public disquiet.
The concerns that have emerged are not just confined to specific matters or individual cases but they also point to broader systematic failures which have called into question the capacity of the Garda organisation to function properly and to carry out its core tasks.
This is a matter of deep regret because we all recognise the substantial contribution of the Garda Síochána and its members, particularly in preserving the security of the State. Indeed, recently I attended the annual Garda Memorial Day commeroation in Dublin Castle to honour the memory of members who have lost their lives in the line of duty.
However, and very clearly, the confidence of the public in the Garda Síochána has been seriously undermined. It is essential that this confidence is restored. This is a key task for the Government and for me as Minister for Justice – to ensure that throughout the country the men and women of the Garda Síochána will be fully supported in fulfilling their duties to keep our communities and our country safe.
The Government has, therefore, taken decisive action to deal with the relevant issues effectively and impartially, in a manner that will restore the confidence of the public. The very wide scope of these measures reflects the seriousness with which the Government views the situation that has developed.
In particular –
– The penalty points allegations have been referred to GSOC for independent investigation;
– A Commission of Investigation under Mr Justice Fennelly has been established and has commenced the task of examining issues concerning the recording of Garda telephone calls and other matters;
– The Government commissioned a report by Mr Sean Guerin SC into the handling of certain Garda whistleblower allegations; and
– The Government also commissioned a report by Mr Justice Cooke into claims of unlawful surveillance of GSOC.
At the same time the Government fully recognises that it is not enough, in itself, to tackle specific areas where difficulties have been identified. Accordingly, it has initiated a comprehensive programme of justice reform to address the wider systematic problems that have emerged in the fields of policing and the overall criminal justice system. For that purpose a high level Cabinet Committee on Justice Reform has been established chaired by the Taoiseach; and the other members are the Tánaiste, the Minister for Communications, Energy and Natural Resources and myself as Minister for Justice and Equality, and the Attorney General. The Committee is overseeing and driving the reform programme.
As I have indicated this programme is comprehensive and under it –
– An Independent Garda Authority is to be established by the end of this year;
– Future appointments to the position of Garda Commissioner will be by way of open competition;
– The Garda Inspectorate has been tasked with carrying out an inquiry into serious crime investigation, as well as management and operational issues arising from the findings in the report of Mr Guerin;
– The Government has undertaken to establish a Commission of Investigation in line with recommendations made in the Guerin Report;
– An independent expert review of the performance, management and administration of the Department of Justice and Equality has been established and its report is expected by July
– Amendments have been made to the Protected Disclosures Bill, which is currently going through the Oireachtas, to enable a Garda whistleblower to report their concerns direct to GSOC;
– New legislation will shortly be introduced to strengthen the powers and remit of GSOC: Some of the measures being considered include –
o Bringing the Garda Commissioner within the remit of GSOC;
o Enabling GSOC to undertake reviews of Garda practice and procedures on its own initiative;
o Enhancing the investigative powers available to GSOC; and
o Providing for the implementation of protocols entered into by the Garda Síochána and GSOC.
The establishment of an Independent Garda Authority, for the first time, is a fundamental element of the reform programme. It will bring about the most significant change in the oversight arrangements for the Garda Síochána since its foundation.
This project has been the subject of a consultation process undertaken by the Cabinet Committee on Justice Reform. On my own behalf, and on behalf of the Committee, I would like to express my thanks to the individuals and the organisations who made submissions on the matter to the Cabinet Committee. Many of the parties involved are here today.
In addition the arrangements to be made in respect of the new Authority are being considered within the Oireachtas Joint Committee on Justice, Defence and Equality. I welcome the extensive hearings that have been conducted by the Joint Committee, in connection with the Authority and the reform of GSOC. I also look forward to the conclusions and recommendations that will emerge from the deliberations of the Committee.
Given the pivotal role that it will have, the establishment of the Garda Authority is very much at heart of the programme for our seminar today. In that regard the opportunity has been provided to discuss the functions of the new body and its relationships with the Government, the Oireachtas and other parties with a significant Garda oversight role.
The Government intends that the Authority will be in place by the end of the year. While this will be very challenging it will be a top priority for me and for my Department.
As the implementing legislation is being developed decisions will have to be taken in respect of a range of complex issues. This is a process that will be supervised by the Cabinet Committee.
To inform the necessary decisions, the Cabinet Committee wishes to ensure that the widest facility is made available to key stakeholders to present their views on the relevant topics. In that context I am very pleased that so many stakeholders are participating in this seminar. I can assure all the parties involved that their contributions will be fully taken into account by the Committee.
In addition to matters relating to the establishment of the Garda Authority the items selected for specific attention at this seminar are the challenges facing policing in this country and the restoration of confidence in policing here. The significance of these issues is self evident and I am sure that they will generate a very stimulating discussion.
I am grateful to Tom Arnold who is chairing the seminar following on from the very successful role he undertook with the Constitutional Convention.
I also wish to express my thanks to Acting Garda Commissioner Noirin O’Sullivan, Dr Vicky Conway and Baroness Nuala O’Loan who will address the seminar.
Finally, I would encourage all the participants to engage with the platform provided by the seminar and I look forward to the results of what I am sure will be a very fruitful experience.