Dáil Éireann - Volume 677 - 05 March, 2009
Appointment of Chairperson to the Garda Síochána Ombudsman Commission: Motion.
Deputy Dermot Ahern Deputy Dermot Ahern
Deputy Dermot Ahern: I move:
That Dáil Éireann, noting that the Government on 3 February 2009 nominated Mr. Dermot Gallagher for appointment by the President to be a member of the Garda Síochána Ombudsman Commission and to be its Chairperson, recommends, pursuant to section 65(1)(b) of the Garda Síochána Act 2005, that he be appointed by the President to be a member and to be Chairperson of the Commission.
The Government at its meeting of 3 February decided to nominate Mr. Dermot Gallagher for appointment by the President as chairperson of the Garda Síochána Ombudsman Commission in accordance with the Garda Síochána Act 2005. A vacancy in the position of the chairperson arose following the untimely death of Judge Kevin Haugh.
On my own behalf and on behalf of the Government, I place on the record my appreciation of the work done by Judge Haugh as the first chairperson of the ombudsman commission. He devoted his considerable talents and much energy to its establishment and was assiduous in his concern that the commission should operate to the highest standards. In addition to his formidable intellect, he was possessed of a warm personality and great good humour that won him many friends at the Bar and beyond. I would also like to express, once again, my condolences to his family and many friends on their loss.
The motion which comes before this House today arises from the operation of the Garda Síochána Act 2005. This is a piece of legislation which has thoroughly reformed the institutional landscape of policing in Ireland. As Deputies will be aware, the Garda Commissioner has been given greater autonomy in the management of the Garda Síochána.
Along with greater autonomy the Act has provided for greater accountability. For example, as Accounting Officer, the Garda Commissioner is directly answerable to the Committee of Public Accounts and has come before that committee on many occasions since the passing of the legislation. He has also taken over responsibility for the employment of the civilian staff of the Garda Síochána from my Department. The Act also provided for the Garda Inspectorate, which acts as a driver of efficiency and effectiveness for the Garda Síochána as it benchmarks the performance of the force against comparable police services and international best practice.
One of the most significant and most important changes instituted by the 2005 Act was the establishment of the Garda Síochána Ombudsman Commission, which replaced its forerunner, the Garda Síochána Complaints Board. I put on record my thanks to the members of the board over the years, and all the staff who served there, for the commendable work they did. The replacement of the board is in no way a reflection of the quality of its efforts and it is rather a recognition of the weaknesses in the legislation under which it operated.
As the body charged with handling complaints against members of the Garda Síochána the ombudsman commission is empowered to independently investigate complaints against Garda members. It has also been conferred by the Act with policing powers of arrest and detention. The commission’s role and values are summed up in the words contained in its official logo — inquiry, independence, impartiality.
 The ombudsman commission has been in operation since May 2007 and has received just over 5,000 complaints to date, 3,539 of which have been finalised. I know that there is a lot of interest in the work of the ombudsman commission and, in particular, in certain cases it has dealt with, as well as other cases it is currently pursuing. As the commission is a fully independent body, it would not be appropriate for me to comment on the specific facts or other elements of any particular case handled by the commission.
With regard to staffing matters, there are 98 sanctioned posts in the ombudsman commission, not including the three commissioners, along with four seconded Garda superintendents. The ombudsman commission has invested heavily in the training and development of its staff. In that area it has worked extensively with the University of Portsmouth and the King’s Inns in developing state-of-the-art training for its investigative staff, in particular.
The ombudsman commission’s budget allocation for 2009 is more than €11 million. This represents a significant investment on the part of the State in the commission and it also reflects the importance of the functions that are involved.
Arising from the experience of its initial period of operation, the ombudsman commission has brought forward a number of proposals for amendments to the provisions of the 2005 Act governing the investigation of complaints against members of the Garda Síochána. The proposals made by the ombudsman commission are still under discussion with the commission and with the Garda Síochána. The issues concerned involve considerable complexity not only from a legislative standpoint but also from an operational one. They require careful consideration by all parties concerned. However, work has been done towards preparing the necessary statutory amendments. I hope that any outstanding issues will be resolved quickly and that I will shortly be in a position to bring proposed legislative changes to Government.
The appointment of members of the Garda Síochána Ombudsman Commission is dealt with by sections 65 and 66 of the 2005 Act. There is a specific formality about the appointment provisions which marks the importance of the commission and its independence. In that context it should be noted that the Act requires the President to make the appointments. Aside from members of the Government and the Judiciary, a very limited number of public appointments are made by the President.
While a person is nominated for appointment as a member of the commission by the Government, it is a requirement that any such appointment must be approved by the Oireachtas in the form of the passage of resolutions by the Dáil and the Seanad recommending the appointment. This is the purpose of the resolution which is before the House today.
The first members of the commission, the late Mr. Justice Kevin Haugh, Ms. Carmel Foley and Mr. Conor Brady, were appointed for a six year term with effect from 12 December 2005. There was unanimous support in both Houses for these appointments. I sincerely hope that this will also be the case in respect of Mr. Gallagher.
The tasks of the chairperson of the Garda Síochána Ombudsman Commission are wide-ranging and demanding. They include overseeing the investigation of complaints of misbehaviour on the part of members of the Garda Síochána; the exercise of policing powers by the commission; management of a large caseload; and supervision of the operation of the relevant provisions of the Garda Síochána Act. These, and the other challenges of the office, require a chairperson of excellent judgment and decision-making, proven management skills and the ability to lead a team of fellow commissioners, investigators and administrative staff.
In Mr. Dermot Gallagher the Government has nominated a public servant who has served this country with great distinction for many years as a senior diplomat and in other fields of public administration. In that regard the Government is fully satisfied that Mr. Gallagher has the necessary capacity and qualifications to make an excellent chairperson of the ombudsman  commission. Members of the House will be aware Mr. Gallagher recently retired as Secretary General of the Department of Foreign Affairs. He previously served as Secretary General in the Department of the Taoiseach. At Secretary General level, which is the very highest post in the Civil Service, he managed the work of two Departments at the heart of Government with broad and complex remits. Mr. Gallagher is one of Ireland’s most distinguished public servants. In particular, he played a central role in the negotiations which led to the conclusion of the 1998 Good Friday Agreement. As Minister for Foreign Affairs, I saw at first hand the diligence, acumen, judgment and leadership skills that I have no doubt he will be in a position to bring to bear as chairman of the ombudsman commission.
Section 66(6) of the Garda Act provides that a person appointed to fill a vacancy following the death of a member of the ombudsman commission shall hold office for the remainder of the term of office of the replaced member. Therefore, the new appointee will only serve until 2011.
Given the importance of the post and the limited duration of the appointment, the Government decided that the position should be filled without delay. It should also be noted that the nomination process adopted in the case of Mr. Gallagher is very much the same as that which was followed when the first members of the commission were nominated by the Government in 2005.
In addition, I would like to mention another aspect of the terms of the appointment. Unfortunately, there has been some speculation in regard to the remuneration for this appointment. In that regard, I want the House to note that Mr. Gallagher has offered to take on the position at an annual salary of €90,000. This will result in a saving of €153,000 per annum.
The role of any police force is extremely challenging. At its core is the prevention and detection of crime and the maintenance of public order. This role frequently brings gardaí into contact with members of the public in what are often difficult circumstances. To carry out their tasks gardaí are given extensive powers, including powers of arrest and detention. These powers, although used in challenging and often dangerous circumstances, must be exercised in a lawful and proportional manner.
The Garda Síochána Ombudsman Commission has been established to investigate complaints of misbehaviour by members of the public on the part of gardaí. It too has a very demanding role.
The highly skilled and dedicated staff of the commission require a chairperson equal to the challenges of the brief. The Government considered carefully the question of whom to nominate to the post of chairperson. In Mr. Dermot Gallagher we are satisfied that we have found a public servant with an outstanding record of achievement who clearly has with the intellectual capacity, expertise and personal dedication to lead the Garda Síochána Ombudsman Commission. I am therefore very happy to recommend the adoption of this resolution to the House.
Deputy Charles Flanagan Deputy Charles Flanagan
Deputy Charles Flanagan: I join the Minister in extending my condolences and those of the Fine Gael Party to the family of the late Mr. Justice Haugh, the former chairperson of the Garda Síochána Ombudsman Commission, his passing in January being the reason we are approving this appointment this afternoon. Mr. Justice Haugh had a distinguished career, the final phase of which involved his chairmanship of the Garda Síochána Ombudsman Commission. He made an excellent contribution to the establishment of the commission in its early stages. I also take this opportunity to commend his work ethic and his commitment to the post. He leaves a fine legacy behind in the many areas of justice in which he participated during the course of his lifetime.
 The late Mr. Justice Haugh is to be replaced by Mr. Dermot Gallagher, a man with an outstanding record as a diplomat and a public servant in his country. He served with distinction in San Francisco, at the UN in New York, in London, Nigeria and Brussels. His pivotal role in the negotiations which led to the Good Friday Agreement has being well documented. We are fortunate that he remains willing to serve and I congratulate the Minister on the appointment.
However, the appointment of Mr. Dermot Gallagher represents both a triumph and a failure for the Government. Securing the appointment of a person of Mr. Gallagher’s status and stature is a most positive achievement. However, the process in which this appointment is taking place is unsatisfactory. The Minister has been a Minister in government for the past 11 years or more and during that time he has seen his party, Fianna Fáil, earn a well deserved reputation for cronyism. Friends of the party were appointed to all manner of State boards, prison visiting committees and film classification panels with no regard for their qualifications or aptitude in the relevant area. Ministers behaved like provincial dictators dispensing patronage on a regular and continuing basis. The only thing that mattered was the colour green of the Fianna Fáil Party membership card.
We are still left in the league of perhaps some tin-pot South American dictatorships or some of the less democratic African regimes. However, the majority of modern democracies have moved from such medieval practices. Regrettably, cronyism is alive and well in Ireland under Fianna Fáil. We only need consider the recent banking and financial scandal to see the labyrinth and network of cronies with fingers in the pies of banks and property development all leading back to the tent at the Galway Races. It is time that changed.
It is important that we bring this country into line with best practice and accountability. My party, Fine Gael, recently suggested that the Dáil be something more than a rubber-stamp, if an appointment comes before the House at all, which generally it does not. The only reason it does in this case is that the Ombudsman Act 2005, as the Minister rightly said, requires a positive resolution of the House to approve or ratify this appointment. We should do things differently.
The Fine Gael proposal is that the practice of placing persons on State boards, whose sole qualification is political allegiance, will end. The suitability of appointments must be vetted by the appropriate Oireachtas committee.
Fine Gael recently published the Public Appointments Transparency Bill 2008, the purpose of which is to provide a measure of accountability and Oireachtas oversight into the appointment of persons to the boards of statutory agencies and public bodies. The Bill makes provision for the placing before Dáil Éireann of the names and qualifications of ministerial nominees to statutory agencies and public bodies. One can exercise a degree of oversight in respect of not only the names and qualifications, but also the aptitude and suitability of the person. The Bill provides for the appearance before the relevant Oireachtas committee of proposed nominees for appointment to the position of chief executive and board chairperson of statutory agencies and public bodies. It provides for confirmation by way of resolution of Dáil Éireann of nominees to the position of chief executive and board chairperson of statutory agencies. It provides that the names of other board members of statutory agencies and nominations to other public bodies shall be laid before the appropriate Oireachtas committee 21 days prior to their nomination taking effect. In doing so the Bill provides a safeguard to ensure that only the most qualified and suitable available candidates are appointed to the position of board chairman and chief executive resulting in greater confidence in the management of statutory agencies.
In introducing the Bill, we are seeking to bring a higher level of standard to high places. The Bill would play a key role in introducing transparency to the appointments process. It would  go some way towards restoring people’s faith in politics and I appeal to Ministers to be more open-minded about the Bill than they have been about other worthy Private Members’ Bills in the past.
By appointing Mr. Dermot Gallagher and then asking this House to rubberstamp the decision, Fianna Fáil has lumped in a distinguished civil servant with the rest of its cronies. It has prompted civil rights agencies to question the absence of an open and transparent recruitment process, which is a shame. Mr. Gallagher should have been given the opportunity to come before an Oireachtas committee to answer questions about his suitability for this post, a task that all Government appointees to State agencies and boards should be subject to. Failing to introduce a transparent and accountable appointment procedure by allowing the Oireachtas a real say in appointments does little for the reputation of the Government, casts an unfair shadow over appointees of the stature of Mr. Gallagher, angers the public and leads to Ireland scoring very poorly in corruption indices carries out by international bodies such as Transparency International. Only this week we have seen a report from that body.
It is high time that we brought our practices up to date and into line with other democracies. It is regrettable from Mr. Gallagher’s perspective that he did not have the opportunity to subject himself to questions and scrutiny on appropriateness because I believe he would have done really well. I do not believe anybody in this House could have anything but the highest regard for one of the State’s most outstanding public servants.
Since its establishment in May 2007 the Garda Síochána Ombudsman Commission has been very busy. It has received more than 3,000 complaints from the public and in excess of 300 referrals from Garda headquarters. Some 34 files have been sent to the Office of the Director of Public Prosecutions.
As a constituency Deputy, I am sometimes approached by members of the public who feel they have a case involving their dealings with the Garda that merits and requires investigation. Having an organisation with a statutory remit to investigate such claims makes perfect sense, both from the point of view of the complainant and the individual being complained about. On its introduction we welcomed the provisions of the Garda Síochána Act 2005 that gave rise to the Garda Síochána Ombudsman Commission. I am very concerned about proposals to limit the remit of the commission to major cases only. I heard the Minister make reference to this again this morning. On the one hand, I can see why the commission would believe that its time would be better spent on the big issues. On the other hand, issues that may be minor for the commission can be a major cause of concern for the complainant. It is essential that justice is not only done but is seen to be done and, accordingly, I would urge both the commission and the Minister to ensure that the commission continues to operate a broad remit. If a lack of resources is an issue, the Minister should examine that issue.
It is two years since the body was established. I would like the Minister to brief the House on how he considers the commission is operating, if it is being held back in any way whether by reason of legislation or resources, and what can be done to help the commission to carry out its functions in the most effective and efficient way possible. How often, for example, is the Minister briefed on the work of the commission?
It is essential that complaints, particularly those of a very serious nature, are investigated in a thorough manner. Nothing less will do in the context of restoring public faith in the Garda Síochána in the light of recent damaging developments such as those confirmed by the findings of the Morris tribunal, the likes of which must never be allowed to happen again. It is essential that lessons be learned from Donegal and that all the recommendations of the Morris tribunal be carried through to the letter.
 In spite of good progress on the findings of the Morris tribunal and corresponding legislative and structural change to the operation and management of the Garda Síochána, concerns still remain. In particular, recent reports have alleged that there are issues of mismanagement, bullying, unacceptable behaviour and unlawful practices at Garda stations in County Cavan. I would hope these are subjected to appropriate scrutiny and dealt with in a thorough manner. There is also concern at the recent Galway taxi case which again goes to the heart of the relationship between the Garda Síochána and the citizens.
Efficiency is key in that allegations must be investigated and dealt with appropriately as soon as possibly to restore the faith of the citizen in the structures of the State and in particular the Garda Síochána. Nothing less is required for the honour and reputation of the Garda, the vast majority of whose members have served with dignity and distinction since the foundation of the State. Nothing less is required for the citizens of the country and for democracy to flourish and prosper here.
I am particularly concerned at the recent case involving the alleged drug dealer and Garda informant, Mr. Kieran Boylan, which should be vigorously and efficiently investigated and, if appropriate, matters should be referred to the appropriate authorities. I understand that the commission is engaged in a public interest inquiry in this matter, but there needs to be a timeframe and the report needs to be advanced urgently.
It is not lightly that I mention the name of any citizen in this House. It has been alleged that Mr. Boylan, a drug trafficker, had a relationship with the Garda that facilitated collusion and resulted in Boylan being shielded from drugs charges by a small group of gardaí in this city. It is alleged that while working with the Garda, Mr. Boylan was trafficking drugs into this jurisdiction with the knowledge of certain members of the Garda who appear to have turned a blind eye and did all in their power to keep him out of prison. Questions must be answered in respect of why charges against Mr. Boylan for importing heroin and cocaine worth an estimated €1.7 million, seized at a truckers’ yard in Ardee, County Louth in the Minister’s constituency in October 2005, were dropped and a nolle prosequi entered. It is alleged the reason is that Mr. Boylan threatened to reveal details of his relationship with members of the force, which would cause embarrassment. Moreover, it has been reported that when people discovered drugs on Mr. Boylan’s premises in 2004 and reported the matter to the Garda in confidence, they were subsequently threatened by Mr. Boylan and his associates, and the Garda appears to have failed to act on the information in an appropriate or any manner at all.
The breach of trust that would result in a confidential report to the Garda by members of the public being ignored and then the person complained about being told about it and threatening those who were carrying out their civic duties is a gross breach of trust and must be investigated. Internal Garda inquiries are no longer satisfactory in matters as serious as that involving Mr. Kieran Boylan. It is essential that the commission carries out this investigation with great care and efficiency but within a specific and definite timeframe. Nothing less is required at this delicate moment in the history of the Garda Síochána.
I acknowledge the Office of the Garda Síochána Ombudsman Commission. I salute those involved for their work to date. I urge the commission to retain its broad remit, to speak out if resources are holding it back and to play its part in maintaining public confidence in the Garda Síochána. I congratulate Mr. Dermot Gallagher on his appointment and wish him and his colleagues well in their important task ahead. I congratulate Mr. Dermot Gallagher on his appointment and wish him and his colleagues well in the important tasks that lie ahead.
Deputy Pat Rabbitte Deputy Pat Rabbitte
Deputy Pat Rabbitte: I wish to share time with Deputy Ó Snodaigh.
Deputy Charlie O’Connor Deputy Charlie O’Connor
Deputy Charlie O’Connor: Is that agreed? Agreed.
Deputy Pat Rabbitte Deputy Pat Rabbitte
 Deputy Pat Rabbitte: I am glad to see Mr. Dermot Gallagher appointed to this important job. As the Minister said, he is a distinguished civil servant. I can say that while agreeing with everything Deputy Flanagan has said about the manner in which we make these appointments. It is unforgivable that the Minister did not even bother to observe the courtesies of consulting the Opposition before presenting this to the House and presenting Mr. Gallagher for appointment to the President.
That is the way the Minister does business and the way the Government does business, except when it is in a hole in the economy of its own making so deep we are talking about international rescue and it wants the co-operation of the Opposition. It does not want the co-operation of the Opposition, however, when it comes to making important public appointments like this. I do not want to retrace everything Deputy Flanagan has said but it is time we changed the system in this regard if we intend to maintain public confidence.
I say that while welcoming Mr. Gallagher to this important job. I am aware of the service he has done the State up to now and it is typical of the man that he would take a much lower level of remuneration for this job, an aspect of the appointment that has attracted a lot of attention outside the House. I do not want to say more about it, except that I am glad he is in the job.
I agree with the Minister in the remarks he made about the late Mr. Justice Kevin Haugh and the courtesy and imagination he applied to the job before his premature death. It is a hugely important job. All one has to do is read the Morris tribunal reports in respect of what went on in Donegal to know that. However, I am more concerned about the more minor transgressions and allegations of more minor misbehaviour that one gets from time to time.
We know, notwithstanding the eminent and dedicated people who served on the Garda Complaints Board, that it did not work and that gardaí investigating gardaí does not work and does not any longer have public confidence. This is despite the fact the population generally has always been, quite properly, supportive of the Garda Síochána and recognises the role it has played in our society since the foundation of the State. It is in the best interests of gardaí themselves that law-abiding citizens would feel that where allegations of misbehaviour are made against individual members of the Garda, they are independently and without fear or favour investigated. While they could not say that up to now, we now have the Garda Síochána Ombudsman Commission.
There was a good deal of argument in the House about the nature and so on of the commission, particularly with regard to whether it ought to be a single commissioner rather than a triumvirate and a whole lot of issues that, for good or ill, have been decided. Now, we need to be able to examine the efficacy of the functioning of this body that threw open its doors in May 2007.
Notwithstanding that, no reports have yet been put up on the website and there is only a single report relating to the fatal accident in which a young man, Derek O’Toole, was killed in Lucan by a car driven by an off-duty garda. The only report on the website states that the commission is not investigating that matter for reasons the late Mr. Justice Kevin Haugh set out in a number of items of correspondence with me.
I do not want to draw any conclusions or for any conclusions to be inferred from what I am saying about the tragic circumstances in which young Derek O’Toole lost his life. I am very concerned about the fact a newspaper immediately put abroad the word that he was known to the gardaí. He was not known to the gardaí and while this was subsequently established, it was leaked by a garda. This was the aspect examined by the commission and it did indeed believe it had identified the garda. However, the manner in which the PULSE system is operated did not enable it to say it was this particular garda because he could say others were logging on to  the same system and it may not be him. That is entirely unsatisfactory. I am somewhat concerned that at this stage we do not have reports on which we can yet measure the performance of this very important body.
I agree with what Deputy Flanagan has said about the exclusion of minor cases, which would be entirely wrong. I do not know what the Minister said about this matter as I cannot find it in his script — I must apologise for not being in the House when he spoke, as I was at another meeting. The exclusion of minor cases would be wrong, and while there is minor and minor, I would be worried about this for the reasons already outlined.
The most controversial case on the desk of the new chairperson of the tribunal is the case of international drugs trafficker Kieran Boylan, his relations with members of the Garda Síochána and the related question of why a nolle prosequi was entered by the DPP in the matter of Boylan having been caught in possession of €1.7 million worth of cocaine and heroin. Boylan had already been convicted and imprisoned in the UK and in Ireland, albeit for a surprisingly short sentence, for serious drug offences. He is a major importer of drugs into this country. While on bail, he was caught red-handed in Ardee, in the Minister’s constituency, with cocaine and heroin valued at €1.7 million. Incredibly, the charges related to this seizure were struck out and only re-entered after members of this House raised the issue. However, that was not the only amazing development. On 31 July 2008, on the last day of the courts session before the summer recess, although not listed for mention and without notice, a nolle prosequi was entered on behalf of the DPP. Questioned by the judge, the senior counsel for the DPP stated only that “it is a matter for very, very careful consideration at a high level”.
Drugs have ravaged some of our communities, destroyed the lives of young people, caused the murder of innocent civilians and, of course, provoked a spate of gangland killings that are still under way. How could the prospects of putting behind bars such a serious drugs dealer, importer and criminal be undermined by a decision at a very “high level”? The only reasonable inference is that Boylan was saved from prison by the intervention of corrupt gardaí or that he was protected because he is a Garda informant.
Mr. Justice Morris dealt with this issue of informants after the Donegal nightmare. The key requirement of the new informant system that he recommended would have required that all informants would be registered compulsorily and that a full assessment of the suitability of the informant would be undertaken by crime and security branch; there would be provision for oversight and periodic independent audits of the operation of the informant handling procedure; and so on. That could not have happened in this case and it raises questions about whether such a critical recommendation of Morris has actually been implemented.
Since the DPP has announced that in certain circumstances he may be willing to provide public information in certain cases where he declined to prosecute, there appear to be compelling reasons why he should explain his decision in the Boylan case. As I understood the “Prime Time” programme, the inference is that Boylan is not a registered informant but has a relationship with individual gardaí and because of this the criminal prosecution system moved to protect him. I do not rule out the possibility of an explanation but most law-abiding citizens will have great difficulty envisaging what greater good could possibly justify the surreptitious entry of a nolle prosequi in the circumstances described.
The findings of the Garda Ombudsman Commission in this case will be a benchmark against which that body will be judged by law-abiding citizens for the future. If there is an explanation why a man importing poison and death should be exempt from the criminal justice system we should be told what it is.
Acting Chairman Acting Chairman
 Acting Chairman: Deputy Rabbitte has four minutes left. I suggest he takes the entirety and I will offer Deputy Ó Snodaigh the next ten-minute slot, if that is agreeable to both Deputies.
Deputy Pat Rabbitte Deputy Pat Rabbitte
Deputy Pat Rabbitte: The Acting Chairman is very kind. Is it not a benefit that we know each other so well and are so mutually supportive? I thank him.
Acting Chairman Acting Chairman
Acting Chairman: I did not enter into it, Deputy.
Deputy Charles Flanagan Deputy Charles Flanagan
Deputy Charles Flanagan: The common link is Tallaght.
Deputy Pat Rabbitte Deputy Pat Rabbitte
Deputy Pat Rabbitte: In addition, the DPP should reconsider his decision not to make any public information available in respect of why a nolle prosequi was entered in such a serious case.
The business of the request to limit the scope of the Garda Síochána Ombudsman Commission must be taken with great care. It is seldom one has an allegation as serious as the importation of €1.7 million worth of drugs. Most of the allegations that come to our clinics in respect of misbehaviour among individual members of the Garda Síochána concern far more minor matters. It is in the best interests of the Garda Síochána and of retaining the confidence of the public that such relatively minor but important allegations are capable of being investigated by the Commission. I would be concerned if we were to narrow the scope of that. I would like to hear the Minister’s view on this when he responds.
I was quite impressed by my meetings with the Commission, and with the calibre of the people working for it. I would have thought it well staffed. The Government cannot be criticised for not making the resources available — it has done that, in my view. If Government has concerns about trivial, mischievous or vexatious cases, it should be possible to strip those out without taking away the obligation to investigate more routine allegations that are, nonetheless, serious matters from the point of view of the public having confidence in the Garda Síochána. That is what this is about.
Deputy Flanagan referred in passing to the Galway taxi case. That is the kind of case that does such damage to the standing of the Garda Síochána, more than all the major eruptions we have seen in recent years. This case deserves not to be shut down on a technicality but merits full examination and recommendations to be made by the Ombudsman Commission. Whatever the technicality is, I hope the Minister will cause it to be put right because this type of case must be dispiriting for good policemen and policewomen. For Gardaí coming out of Templemore fully committed to doing their best to discharge a very difficult job in the public interest, that type of incident does serious damage. I hope the Minister will take up that point in his reply to the debate and tell us that he will protect the case, whatever the nature of the technical deficiency that shut it down.
I wish Mr. Dermot Gallagher every success in his appointment as chairman. He takes on a very important role. I wish the Commission, an important reform, every success. I wish to see more reports beginning to flow from the Commission as soon as possible.
Deputy Aengus Ó Snodaigh Deputy Aengus Ó Snodaigh
Deputy Aengus Ó Snodaigh: Gabhaim buíochas as an deis labhairt ar an cheist seo agus as an breis ama a tugadh dom. Bhuail mé leis an iar Bhreitheamh Kevin Haugh cúpla uair maidir leis an Garda Ombudsman Commission. Bhí cuma air go raibh sé dírithe ar an phost sin agus is trua go bhfuil sé imithe ar shlí na fírinne.
Mar sin féin, caithfidh mé dul i gcoinne an rúin seo. Ní locht ar bith é seo ar charachtar nó ar an obair atá déanta ag Dermot Gallagher thar na mblianta. Bhuail mé leis cúpla uair san am sin, go háirithe nuair a bhí plé á dhéanamh againn ar Chomhaontú Aoine an Chéasta agus ina dhiaidh sin. Duine lách é, a chur chuig na hoibre a bhí os a chomhair agus a d’oibrigh go  maith linn. Ach mar sin féin, is cóir cur i gcoinne an chinnidh seo de bharr an bhealach ar roghnaíodh é. Nílim i gcoinne an duine, ach i gcoinne an phróisis roghnaithe. Ní raibh sé ceart ná cóir, go háirithe nuair a cuirtear san áireamh cé chomh tábhachtach agus atá an post seo. Táimidne sa Stát seo ag iarraidh a chur i gcion ar an phobal go bhfuil neamhspleáchas i gceist leis an gcoimisiún agus go seasann sé ann féin agus gur é an duine is fearr don phost a bheadh roghnaithe.
The primary purpose of the Garda Ombudsman Commission and the position of its chair are vital. I remember arguing with a previous Minister for Justice, Equality and Law Reform, former Deputy Michael McDowell, the need for a single ombudsman rather than a commission. Obviously the position of chair involves a particular job of work. Its purpose may be to investigate individual complaints against individual members of the Garda Síochána but there is a further objective, given the failure over the years of the Garda Complaints Board which had lost the confidence of the public. Members of this House should look at the contributions in the debate when the Garda Ombudsman Commission was being established.
Its ultimate objective is to restore public confidence in the Garda Síochána. That is part of its role, not its sole duty. For the Ombudsman Commission to achieve that, the public must have confidence in that very body. It must be, and be seen to be, totally independent. For that reason, I question whether a very recently retired, high-level Civil Servant could ever command the optimum confidence of the public in a role as an independent scrutiniser of other servants of the State. As I stated earlier, this is not to offer opposition to the person in question but to ask if there should be a cooling off period between appointments, whether of a judge, a retired judge or a person in a position such as Mr. Gallagher held. If there were such a cooling off period perhaps we would be in a better position today.
Concerning the process of selection followed recently, I concur with the statement by the Irish Council for Civil Liberties, whose director reacted to the announcement by stating, “It is very disappointing that the Government has chosen to fill this post with a retired public servant without the open and transparent recruitment process which should accompany any appointment to a body charged with the independent scrutiny of the conduct of agents of the State.”
In the Six Counties appointments such as this must involve the transparent, open and merit-based recruitment process and be subject to prior scrutiny by a panel that is independent of the relevant Department. Last week I asked the Minister by way of a parliamentary question whether he agreed that similar principles should underpin key appointment processes in this State. The Minister in his reply flatly rejected my proposal and showed himself to be out of touch from prevailing public opinions and in denial as to the systems that give rise to them.
Whether fairly in some instances, or unfairly in others, the public associates many Government appointments with cronyism and jobs for the boys. Countless e-mails, letters and telephone calls to my office are testament to that. The source of this suspicion is systemic and must be addressed.
This appointment cannot be divorced from the wider context of economic recession. If the Garda Síochána Ombudsman Commission is to restore confidence in the Garda, the public must have confidence in it. The majority of people looking at this appointment, against their own background of loss of jobs and income cuts, will see it as the appointment of a high earner who on recently retiring from his position as a civil servant, received a fairly large sum and an annual pension of €120,000. He had also been given the job of chair of the governing body of UCD and is now being appointed as chairperson of the Garda Síochána Ombudsman Commission with a nice salary. Even though he has indicated acceptance of a reduced level of remuneration of €90,000, this, on top of the other income, is a nice earner. In my own area, the early focus project in the Mater Dei primary school in Basin Lane, is surviving on less than  that and is currently under threat. The slight reduction in remuneration does nothing, in my view, to restore confidence.
The scarcity of resources and performance to date of the ombudsman commission has not created public confidence in the body. It is to be hoped that as it moves forward this year, it will deliver what the public expects. People are still waiting to see the commission flexing its muscles properly. Suspicion about the appointment of the commission’s members is something it cannot afford.
The Garda Inspectorate and the Garda Síochána Ombudsman Commission need to examine the case referred to in the House, namely, the Boylan case, which concerns a blatant and high profile informer who was allowed carry on his trade. The Garda Síochána Inspectorate, Kathleen O’Toole’s office, should be asked to examine the practice of the non-prosecution of drug dealers or other criminals and using them as informers and allowing them to continue operating with impunity. This is the public perception. Far too often, cases have collapsed on a technicality and the public view is that these are created technicalities to allow informers to carry on their trade, given that these people are caught in the act, caught red-handed and yet the next day they are back on the streets carrying on the same trade in full public view.
There is an aspect of public confidence which needs to be addressed and restored. Those caught red-handed should be brought before the courts and convicted and not escape on technicalities. We need to address the ineffectiveness of the prosecuting gardaí to ensure they have the resources and the wherewithal to properly prepare cases. We need to address the high-profile cases such as the Boylan case and other scandals. It is a big job of work for the Garda ombudsman commission. I have confidence in the appointment of Mr. Gallagher because he has the ability to do the job, but I will oppose the motion on the basis of the selection procedure involved.
Deputy Dermot Ahern Deputy Dermot Ahern
Deputy Dermot Ahern: I thank the members of the Opposition, in particular the spokespersons for Fine Gael and the Labour Party, for their approval of the nomination of Mr. Dermot Gallagher. In reply to Deputy Ó Snodaigh and the other two Deputies opposite, the criticism that has been made of the appointment selection is ironic. What more transparent appointment can be made than the nomination coming before the Oireachtas which is representative of the people? The appointment is debated in the House and Members have the opportunity to express their opinions on it. I do not accept the criticism of the Irish Council for Civil Liberties in that respect.
Deputies expressed the view that Government should have consulted but we followed the letter and the spirit of the law with regard to the Act passed by the Oireachtas in 2005 which stipulated the appointment would be a Government nomination and a three-stage process, including the passing of resolutions in both Houses and appointment by the President. In my view, the Government has behaved correctly in accordance with the legislation.
I refer to some of the high-profile cases which Members have raised. This is an independent commission and for that reason it should be left to independently examine the issues referred to it. There has been publicity about some cases in recent times. The Boylan case was the subject of a recent “Primetime Investigates” programme. I asked for and received an interim report from the Garda Commissioner on that case and this interim report was passed on to the Garda Síochána Ombudsman Commission. An internal Garda inquiry is ongoing and the ombudsman commission has indicated it has opened a public interest investigation on that case. Two inquiries are ongoing, in particular the independent inquiry of the Garda ombudsman commission, and therefore it would be inappropriate for me to comment further.
 Deputy Rabbitte raised the issue of the handling of informants. He is correct in saying that as a result of the earlier reports of the Morris tribunal, a full review of the existing policy and practices was carried out and as a result of that review a new code of practice was drawn up which encompassed best police standards in the management and use of informants and this was put in place in the force in 2006.
With regard to the recent case in Galway, it is inappropriate for me to comment on the specific case. However, in the context of the legislation, and reviewing the result in that case, we are happy there is not a problem with the legislation.
The commission in its February 2008 report referred to required legislative changes. The main changes proposed included a leaseback provision whereby the commission could refer cases involving allegations of less serious criminal offences back to the Garda for investigation.
I hear what Members are saying. That is one of the reasons we have taken our time as regards the potential changes in any legislation. Deputy Charles Flanagan asked how many times I had met the Commissioner. I met him many times on the proposed changes, as well as the Garda Commissioner. I strongly believe that self-regulation is not good, whether in my own or in other professions. If an independent body is set up, it should be allowed to do its work independently. However, a strong case has been made on the issue of minor cases and there has been a response from the Garda to that whole issue of leaseback. Deputy Rabbitte referred to what is or what is not a minor case. Everyone who makes a complaint believes that his or her concern constitutes a major complaint. A judgment call must be made in this and there must be balance.
I would tend to err on the side of leaving as much discretion as possible to the independent body, as set up. At the same time, however, given that it has been inundated with a significant number of cases in its first couple of years in operation, we need to see things settling down to determine how that will pan out. Given that it has already dealt with some 3,500 cases out of the more than 5,000 it has on its books, it is clear that it is still grappling with some 1,500, which is a substantial number. I thank Deputy Rabbitte and accept his confirmation that the Government has allocated the necessary resources, which we believe we have, in these straitened times.
The Commission has asked for other changes in the legislation. It is only fair and proper that a balance is achieved in any proposals we bring forward. I will listen and be amenable to suggestions from the Opposition because the House should not divide on this.
Deputy Pat Rabbitte Deputy Pat Rabbitte
Deputy Pat Rabbitte: Could I have a copy of the document, since it was not sent to us, to my surprise — or at least it was not sent to me, anyway?
Deputy Dermot Ahern Deputy Dermot Ahern
Deputy Dermot Ahern: Which document is that?
Deputy Pat Rabbitte Deputy Pat Rabbitte
Deputy Pat Rabbitte: The document seeking the changes and so on. Perhaps I am incorrect, and that it was sent to me.
Deputy Dermot Ahern Deputy Dermot Ahern
Deputy Dermot Ahern: It was laid before the Houses of the Oireachtas, in February 2005, I believe. Proposed textual amendments are listed at the back to the 2005 Act.
I do not want the House to divide on this. If we set up something independently to look at a profession, it is best to allow it to operate without restriction, but there are issues concerning the complexity and volume of work that needs to be addressed. Even if we were to double or treble the resources of the Garda Síochána Ombudsman Commission, I do not know if we could still deal with the bulk of relatively minor cases.
 I thank Members of the House for the confidence they will place in Mr. Dermot Gallagher. He is one of the best possible candidates that could have been chosen for this job. I wish the Ombudsman Commission well in the future. It is a pity that Deputy Ó Snodaigh cannot support this nomination. It would be preferable if it was unanimous in the House.
Question put and agreed to.
Dáil Éireann 677 Appointment of Chairperson to the Garda Síochána Ombudsman Commission: Motion.