13. Deputy Bríd Smith asked the Minister for Justice and Equality if he will consider new legislation or new regulations to prevent members of An Garda Síochána from retiring when they are subject to an ongoing investigation into their conduct in view of recent cases; and if he will make a statement on the matter. [49789/18]
Minister for Justice and Equality (Deputy Charles Flanagan): The issue raised by the Deputy’s question is a very complex one. It is, however, based on the proposition that an investigation must, necessarily, relate to an individual rather than to conduct which falls below acceptable standards. For the sake of clarity, let me say that if a member, or indeed, former member of An Garda Síochána is accused of a criminal offence, then it is of no consequence whether that person is, or was or remains a member while the criminal investigation is on-going. The position may be different if the investigation is one of a non-criminal nature and for which the ultimate sanction may be some form of disciplinary process. Clearly a former member cannot be subject to disciplinary sanction.
I’m sure the Deputy can see the difficulty which will arise if a member seeks to retire from An Garda Síochána and it is sought to prevent him or her doing so, even where an investigation of a disciplinary nature into his or her conduct is underway.
But let me say that it is a matter to which my Department will be giving consideration in the context of new legislation which will arise in the implementation of the Report of the Commission on the Future of Policing. One possible option is to provide in law, as has been done in the UK, that a member remains subject to some form of sanction for a period after retirement in respect of a finding of a breach of discipline for actions which occurred prior to his or her retirement.
As the Deputy will be aware, in early 2017 the Government approved the drafting of the heads of a Bill to address a number of operational issues that had been brought to the attention of my predecessor by the Garda Síochána Ombudsman Commission - GSOC.
In May 2017, the Commission on the Future of Policing in Ireland was established and its remit involved reviewing the police oversight architecture including how complaints against members of An Garda Síochána are handled.
GSOC prepared a case for fundamental reform of the legislation relating to its structure and operation. One of the matters covered in GSOC's proposals was one which would make it possible to delay the retirement of a member who is under investigation. Given its remit, I referred these proposals to the Commission as an input to its work and I am aware that GSOC engaged with the Commission in its own right.
As the Deputy will be aware, the Commission on the Future of Policing in Ireland published its report on 18 September. One of the Report’s recommendations is that GSOC’s existing mandate to investigate allegations of criminal behaviour against members who have retired or resigned should be continued under any new complaints body. It also recommended that the investigation of incidents relating to former staff which do not involve alleged criminal behaviour should also be addressed in its remit. It is worth emphasising that the report stated that the complaints body should investigate incidents rather than individuals. The Government noted this Report on publication and my Department has consulted widely on the issues raised including with GSOC and with the Garda Commissioner in advance of my returning to Government in December with a high level implementation plan.
That high level plan is being prepared at the moment, taking into account the Commission Report itself and the observations of interested parties, including GSOC. Without wishing to pre-empt the Government's consideration of the Report in December, I can say that the proposals in relation to GSOC are ones that I broadly support, though the detail will have to be teased out in the drafting of legislation to give them effect.