Deputy Donnchadh Ó Laoghaire asked the Minister for Justice and Equality the timeline for completion and publication of the review into the misclassification of homicides. [7119/18]
274. Deputy Donnchadh Ó Laoghaire asked the Minister for Justice and Equality the last occasion, prior to meeting An Garda Síochána on 7 February 2018, on which he was updated by An Garda Síochána in relation to the review into misclassification of homicides; and the previous meeting prior to 7 February 2018 at which it was discussed. [7121/18]
283. Deputy Róisín Shortall asked the Minister for Justice and Equality if An Garda Síochána has given him a formal assurance that all unlawful killings are properly investigated; the precise wording of this assurance; if he has satisfied himself with this assurance; and if he will make a statement on the matter. [7346/18]
Minister for Justice and Equality (Deputy Charles Flanagan): I propose to take Questions Nos. 273, 274 and 283 together.
As I advised the Dáil last week, An Garda Síochána is working, with input from the Central Statistics Office (CSO) as appropriate, to resolve an issue which was identified by An Garda Siochána 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 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 I am assured that intensive work has been ongoing to resolve the issue by An Garda Síochána with oversight from the Policing Authority, the CSO and my own Department.
The Deputy will be aware that this issue was already in the public domain at the time of my appointment as Minister for Justice and Equality. Since my appointment as Minister I have been briefed regularly on the issues relating to crime statistics. On 5 February, in the course of a wide ranging meeting with An Garda Síochána on policing issues, I was briefed on the issue by Acting Commissioner O Cualáin and his wider team. On 7 February I met the Chair and CEO of the Policing Authority with the Acting Commissioner and Deputy Commissioner to discuss the progress made to date in resolving this issue and progress yet to be made. I strongly underlined the need to have matters addressed on an urgent priority basis, while acknowledging the labour intensive complex work involved in cases stretching back over many years. An Garda Síochána outlined the process of the peer review currently being undertaken and other aspects of the ongoing process on which they will report to the Authority at their next scheduled public meeting on 22 February.
I support the Authority’s important work in relation to this matter and I understand that this issue will continue to be examined both in public meetings and in the ongoing work that takes place in between such meetings until the Authority is fully satisfied. This oversight is appropriate and welcome, as the Policing Authority was established by the Government as an independent body to oversee the performance of An Garda Síochána in relation to policing services in Ireland. Its key objective is to promote trust and confidence in policing and to help shape policing services for Ireland in the future. The Minister has full confidence in the ability of the Authority to do the work with which they are tasked.
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 underway, 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.
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 by An Garda Síochána that each death was fully investigated by them and this has been stated both orally and in writing. I have received assurances from the Garda Commissioner that he is confident that all 41 cases which were identified by An Garda Síochána as requiring further examination have been properly investigated in accordance with Article 2 of the European Convention on Human Rights. This article, as the Deputy will be aware, protects the right to life and places an obligation on States to investigate suspicious deaths.
My Department remains in close contact with the CSO, An Garda Síochána and the Policing Authority to ensure a return to the publication of Crime Statistics by the CSO at the earliest possible opportunity.