Dáil Eireann 9 February, 2017

I want, first of all, to thank members of this House for agreeing to statements being taken on this important matter in the House today.  As the House will be aware I have laid the relevant material before the House to give full effect to the recommendations of Mr Justice O'Neill.  

However, I believe it is sensible before moving to seek approval for the relevant motion that we discuss these matters here.  I am already persuaded from discussion which I have had that there may be some improvements which can be made to put beyond doubt that certain matters will come within the remit of the proposed Commission.  I intend to reflect on what is said here today and make any amendments to the proposed draft order in the light of those discussions.

I have to emphasise, as Mr. Justice O'Neill indicated, that is imperative that certain allegations be examined and I believe we should stick as closely as possible to the terms of reference he proposed, not least because otherwise we could delay finding out the truth about these matters.

Mr. Justice O'Neill does not know if the allegations he says should be inquired into are true; I don't know if they're true; nor does any member of this House.

But we have to remember that the truth or otherwise of allegations is not determined by their seriousness or their frequency, but by the facts.  And establishing those facts, without fear or favour, is what I am determined should happen.  I am very grateful that Mr Justice Charleton, of the Supreme Court, has agreed to act as the Commission.

It is of the utmost importance that allegations of wrongdoing by members of An Garda Síochána are fully addressed.  And there is no doubt that in the past this did not happen as it should.  But it is very important that in addressing one injustice that we do not create others.

Just as failing to address allegations of wrongdoing, or victimising those who have the courage to come forward and identify wrongdoing, is unacceptable, so too is damaging, without evidence or fairness, the good names of people.

I would remind the House that we have seen in the recent past Commissions of Investigation establishing that people who have made allegations have been found to be correct in the face of denials and obstruction.

And, on the other hand that persons investigated had behaved completely properly.  They had to live for a long time under the shadow of allegations that were found not to be well-based and, in some cases, their careers were ruined with great personal cost.  That is the reality behind charges which can be made in this House.  

But it has a solemn duty to act with scrupulous fairness and in the public interest when allegations of wrongdoing are made.  

That is why when I received disclosures from two members of An Garda Síochána last October I asked Mr Justice O'Neill to review the allegations and recommend what further action may be taken and his full report will be made available to the Commission of Investigation. 

I have set out in the statement of reasons before the House the conclusions and recommendations contained in his report and Mr. Justice O'Neill's recommended terms of reference.  The priority must be to give full effect to his recommendations.  

I recognise, of course, that other members of this House may have views about what should or should not be included in those terms of reference and I will listen to those views this afternoon. 

I want to address directly suggestions which have been made that the Garda Commissioner should stand aside.

It is easy for members to come into this House to make allegations - even where they are described as not being allegations - against someone who is not here to defend themselves.

And I do have to speak out in favour of fairness.

Some people in this House appear to believe that the making of serious allegations against someone, which have not been tested in any way, is a sufficient basis to expect someone to step aside.  

Allegations are not convictions. 

There has been absolutely no finding of wrongdoing against the Garda Commissioner and I believe in those circumstances she is entitled to our full confidence.  It is a matter of fact too that Mr Justice O'Neill did not recommend that she, or anyone else, should stand aside.

Just as it would be outrageous for some sort of smear campaign to have taken place against whistleblowers, it would be as egregious for anyone else to be targeted in such a fashion.

While allegations of wrongdoing have to be taken very seriously, the need to protect the public is of great importance too.  In that An Garda Síochána play a vital role.  They have been confronting many challenges head on, not least in tackling the activities of gangland criminals.  We should all be mindful of the dangers of disrupting the leadership of that organisation at a time of great risk to communities and for no established cause.  Actions have consequences and it is fanciful to imagine that a temporary Garda Commissioner could be in the interests of An Garda Síochána and, consequently, the community.

In short, asking the Commissioner to stand aside in the particular circumstances which have arisen would be neither fair nor in the public interest.

I am conscious that in recent years that An Garda Síochána have been hit by a series of controversies.  It was against that background that I  moved to introduce a range of very significant reforms, including the establishment of the Policing Authority. I am grateful for the support which I had from members of this House in bringing them forward.  I indicated in speaking in the House recently on the very useful Justice Committee report on governance and accountability that I will be introducing legislation to enhance the powers of the Garda Síochána Ombudsman Commission.  Of course, while An Garda Síochána by and large do a very good job in protecting the community, there are cultural issues which have to be addressed.

We often talk of "drawing a line under" bad episodes in the work of An Garda Síochána. I don't accept that. It is not about drawing lines under anything. Instead it is about rooting out bad practice and putting in place proper, durable, and sustainable policies and procedures to prevent a recurrence.
And reform must be the watchword of the organisation, reform that never stops. 
Reform and investment will give us a police service that meets the realities, challenges and expectations of 21st century Ireland. 

In the meantime we have to deal with issues which arise  - not by making political charge or counter-charge in this House, nor by pretending to be Commissions of Investigations ourselves; but by putting procedures in place to ensure that allegations are fully and fairly investigated.  That is exactly what is being done in the proposal to establish a Commission of Investigation.