Garda Oversight: Discussion (Continued)

Wednesday, 14 May 2014

Joint Committee on Justice, Defence and Equality Debate

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(Speaker Continuing)

[Mr. Mark Kelly:]  Lastly, I endorse the comments made by my colleague, the acting chairman of the Irish human rights and equality commission. It is now seven years since Ireland signed - it has yet to ratify it - the optional protocol to the UN convention against torture and we do not yet have the independent, national preventive mechanism required under the treaty, one of the functions of which would be to carry out independent inspections in Garda stations. This is another significant lacuna. If the committee is looking at the 2005 Act in the whole, this missing piece should be included.

Chairman: Information on David Stanton Zoom on David Stanton I thank Mr. Kelly and invite Mr. Devitt to make his submission.

Mr. John Devitt: I thank the Chairman and the committee for their invitation to address them. I am joined by Susheela Math who is Transparency International Ireland’s legal counsellor and manages our Speak Up helpline. We have been operating a free telephone helpline for whistleblowers since 2011. It is part funded by the European Commission. So far, we have worked with approximately 400 clients, including Garda John Wilson and Sergeant Maurice McCabe who used the helpline in 2012. We offer advice, referral and information to whistleblowers and witnesses of economic crime and other forms of abuse of authority. Our submission is largely informed by our engagement with the two whistleblowers mentioned and other whistleblowers who have approached us for advice. We have also undertaken systematic reviews, with the support of the Department of Justice and Equality in 2009, of the governance of public bodies. They included a national integrity system study and an addendum study in 2012 which I will be happy to share with committee members after the meeting.

In summary, Transparency International Ireland welcomes the Government’s intention to establish an independent Garda authority. We also welcome its promise to reform Garda oversight measures and recommend that the Minister’s current powers under the 2005 Act be transferred to the new Garda authority, particularly in respect of the appointment of senior members of An Garda Síochána and investigation and oversight of the Garda Commissioner. This change would go some way towards placing some distance between the Garda and the Department of Justice and Equality and address the risk of political interference in policing.

We also believe members of An Garda Síochána should be able to make reports, under section 62(4) of the Garda Síochána Act, directly to the Garda ombudsman, without fear of disciplinary action. In my notes to the committee I failed to mention, as we did in our submission, that under the Garda Act and the regulations, specific offences and penalties should be specified in the regulations for intimidation or harassment of gardaí who reported concerns in compliance with the Garda Act and the protected disclosures legislation which is due to be taken in the House later today.

We believe the Garda Síochána Ombudsman Commission should be able to access the PULSE database and investigate reports made under Regulation 7(2) of the Garda Síochána (Confidential Reporting of Corruption or Malpractice) Regulations 2007 against the Garda Commissioner. If the Garda Inspectorate is to be retained, it should be able to commission its own inspections and inquiries where it believes it is in the public interest to do so.

We recommend that the post of confidential recipient be retained and enhanced, with an open recruitment process, and that consideration be given to the establishment of an office of confidential recipient, with adequate civilian support, to enable professional advice and support to be given to Garda whistleblowers before and after disclosing concerns.

We are happy to answer questions and to go into further detail on matters raised in our submission.

Chairman: Information on David Stanton Zoom on David Stanton I thank Mr. Devitt and appreciate that he stayed within the time allocated.

Ms Brigid Quilligan: I am delighted to be here, on foot of our submission, to talk about oversight of An Garda Síochána. I am joined by my colleague, Mr. Damien Walshe, membership development worker with the Irish Traveller Movement.

I welcome the opportunity for our organisation to feed into a vital process to ensure the police force has an independent process to oversee policing. I stress from the outset that the Irish Traveller Movement recognises the difficult job the women and men of An Garda Síochána face in their work, facing not only dangerous and potentially life-threatening situations on a daily basis but also the impact of cutbacks to their services, which places additional pressures on members of the Garda in carrying out their functions. The Irish Traveller Movement has a strong relationship with the racial, intercultural and diversity office of An Garda Síochána and our organisation has been regularly invited to talk to trainees in Templemore on the issues Travellers face and the work we do as a movement.

As committee members will have seen in our submission, our members, local Traveller organisations, have stressed the positive relationships that have been built between Travellers, Traveller organisations and An Garda Síochána at a local level through initiatives such as the local Traveller inter-agency committees. This work is to be applauded as it has had a substantial influence in building trust between members of my community and members of the Garda. Trust in the policing service, given the pivotal role An Garda Síochána plays, is vital for every member of Irish society, regardless of ethnicity. However, as noted in our submission, trust in the police force among Travellers is not as strong as it is among the general population. Our submission to the committee stressed and our presentation will stress the need for an independent policing board and suggest Traveller representation on the board will be vital to build on this trust into the future.

In comparison with a Garda public attitudes survey, PAS, a Traveller-ethnic minority communities attitudes survey, TEMCAS, conducted by An Garda Síochána in 2007 showed significant levels of dissatisfaction with the force among Travellers. While 14% of the general population surveyed were “very satisfied” with the service of An Garda Síochána, only 5% of Travellers were. More worrying, while 16% of the general population were “dissatisfied”, 26% of Travellers were and while only 3% of the general population were “extremely dissatisfied” with the service of An Garda Síochána, 22% of Travellers were. Therefore, we can see from a survey carried out by the force that there is cause for concern in terms of the relationship between Travellers and An Garda Síochána. We note that this survey, which has not been replicated since, was carried out before the establishment of local Traveller inter-agency committees, whereby relationships have developed between Traveller organisations and An Garda Síochána.

The Traveller-ethnic minority communities attitudes survey suggested attitudes towards the Garda were related negatively to personal experience of the Garda. In both surveys with the general public and minority groups those who had no contact were more likely to express higher levels of overall satisfaction with the Garda than those who had contact. This is borne out by concerns raised by our members in preparing our submission to the committee. Many Travellers do not believe the Garda offers protection to them as Travellers when they are the victims of crime - for example, there is a slow response time to calls about incidents on Traveller halting sites. Travellers believe gardaí see them only as criminals, never as victims, and cite the practice of frequently stopping and searching or questioning Travellers, especially van drivers and young Traveller men, which further erodes trust between the force and the community. Some Travellers report frequent Garda car patrols on halting sites or group housing schemes, up to three times a day in some cases. Travellers believe this is merely to keep them under surveillance, as during these patrols there is no interaction between gardaí and the community. The surveillance, or perceived surveillance, of the entire community by gardaí further alienates Travellers from An Garda Síochána. Installation of CCTV cameras beside existing or planned Traveller accommodation, without notification or public consultation, erodes trust further.

On direct contact between Travellers and An Garda Síochána, while many Travellers have positive relationships not only in reporting crime and making inquiries, members of An Garda Síochána have been tasked with carrying out evictions of Traveller families, which strains relationships. Travellers often believe the use of armed response units and large numbers of gardaí when other State officials are visiting halting sites creates a conflictual stance whereby the Garda is no longer their police force.

On Travellers using the Garda, some Travellers do not believe they are treated with respect when they need to use Garda stations, for example, there is a lack of eye contact and an unfriendly manner, while gardaí casually drop into an unrelated conversation the fact that they know other family members who have criminal records, which makes innocent people feel criminalised and that they have been racially profiled.

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