109. Deputy Niall Collins asked the Minister for Justice and Equality if she will provide an update on the operation of the witness protection programme; if operational concerns have been raised with her; her plans to review the programme; and if she will make a statement on the matter. [19576/15]
Deputy Frances Fitzgerald: The Garda Síochána has operated a witness security programme since 1997 to respond to attempts by criminal and other groups to prevent the normal functioning of the criminal justice system, including threats of violence and systematic intimidation of witnesses. Given the highly confidential nature of the programme and the need to maintain the protection of persons who receive support, it has been the policy of successive Ministers for Justice, for obvious reasons, not to set out the procedures of its operation in detail and certainly not to go into the details of specific cases. I can say that the programme has been and is used in a significant number of cases and has proven its value in helping to secure the conviction of very serious criminals while at the same time protecting individuals who have assisted in securing those convictions.
For the Deputy's information, admission to the programme is considered by a high level group that comprises senior gardaí and a representative from the Office of the Director of Public Prosecutions and it assesses the range of legal, security and other issues. The operation of the programme is kept under constant review. In particular, the question of how to provide a statutory framework of guidelines for the programme is under consideration by my Department. The Deputy will appreciate that trying to strike an effective balance between an appropriate legislative framework while maintaining the necessary confidentiality and flexibility in the operation of the programme is a complex matter. Some issues relating to persons who have received support under the programme are among those being considered under the mechanism for the independent review which we discussed earlier. I should make it clear, however, that persons who have concerns about their personal safety should bring those concerns directly to the Garda Síochána and that the security measures that should be put in place for an individual is an ongoing operational decision for the Garda Síochána.