91. Deputy Sean Sherlock asked the Minister for Justice and Equality if his attention has been drawn to the methodologies used by An Garda Síochána to accurately measure the number of homicides here; and if he will make a statement on the matter. [5557/18]
Minister for Justice and Equality (Deputy Charles Flanagan): I have requested a report from the Garda authorities in relation to the methodologies used by An Garda Síochána in measuring homicides and I will contact him directly when the report is to hand.
As the Deputy will be aware, An Garda Síochána is working with the Central Statistics Office (CSO) to resolve an issue which emerged in relation to the classification of homicide offences. The expert oversight by the CSO of crime statistics is welcome in order to ensure that we can have confidence in the official crime statistics and can tailor our policies accordingly.
I am advised that when a homicide occurs, the offence may be classified as murder, manslaughter or violent death. My understanding is that an issue emerged due to the fact that the classification of a crime may change as investigations evolve, for example, a murder charge may ultimately lead to a manslaughter conviction in the Courts, or an assault causing harm may subsequently result in a death some time later, necessitating a reclassification to murder or manslaughter.
I want to clarify that the issue about the classification of homicide statistics is not new. It was identified some time ago by the Gardaí themselves and intensive work has been ongoing to resolve the issue. This work involves An Garda Síochána, the Policing Authority, the CSO and my own Department.
An Garda Síochána initiated a review of homicide classifications, initially for the period 2013-2015 but later extended the review to cover the period from 2003-2017. This is obviously a time consuming and complex process but it is important that both An Garda Síochána and the CSO are confident that their data is robust and accurate. While the review is under way, the CSO has suspended the publication of quarterly crime statistics, with the most recent published figures being for Q4 2016. The review by An Garda Síochána has not been published as it is not yet complete, however the details will be made public on completion.
I am extremely concerned about reports that unlawful deaths were not properly investigated. Any substantiated allegations of this kind would be very serious and a cause of grave public concern. The issue that has arisen in respect of homicide classification is complex and it is essential to clearly establish the facts.
I have not received any protected disclosures or allegations that unlawful killings have not been investigated, and Garda management are adamant that all unlawful killings are investigated. I have seen no evidence to the contrary but I have asked An Garda Síochána for further formal assurances in this regard.
While I note that a figure of 41 deaths requiring reclassification has been mentioned in public discourse, this is incorrect. An Garda Síochána has advised that their examination of 524 cases for the period 2013-2015 identified 41 cases which required further examination and, out of those 41 cases, 12 deaths were identified which required reclassifications on PULSE. In addition, a further ‘peer review’ verification process is underway in relation to these figures, as requested by the Policing Authority.
It is important to note that, in the review of the 41 cases, it was identified that each death was fully investigated by An Garda Síochána . An Garda Síochána has also indicated that their Family Liaison Officers were in contact with the families of the 12 deceased persons whose PULSE records required reclassification.
The Policing Authority continues to monitor this issue and ensure that there is independent scrutiny of how An Garda Síochána records data and I welcome their continued diligence in this matter. I also note the statement made by the Authority last week indicating that these issues will be considered again at the Authority’s meeting with the Garda Commissioner which will be held in public on 22 February 2018.
In advance of this meeting, I can also advise the Deputies that I, along with officials from my Department, will be meeting with representatives from the Policing Authority and An Garda Síochána tomorrow to discuss the progress being made on this important issue. I have also discussed this issue with the Garda Commissioner yesterday during the course of one of our more general meetings.
Please be assured that my Department remains in close contact with the CSO, An Garda Síochána and the Policing Authority to ensure an early return to the publication of official Crime Statistics by the CSO at the earliest possible opportunity.