28 March 2017
By Tom O’Sullivan
Cork East and Labour TD Seán Sherlock questioned Minister for Justice Francis Fitzgerald during the debate on the Garda Management yesterday in Dáil Eireann.
“If the Minister has faith in the Policing Authority and if she has known about this since June 2016, why did she leave it until yesterday, according to her statement, to meet Josephine Feehily, the chair of the authority, to state that she was formally referring these issues to her under the Garda Síochána Act?” said Deputy Sherlock, speaking on behalf of the Labour Party.
“It is easy with hindsight to comment on the scale of the issue, but neither the Garda nor I knew the scale that is now very obvious and which emerged just at the press conference last week and in the reports to my Department around 14 March,” said Minister Fitzgerald.
“Another point to be made is that on Thursday, I think, the Garda Commissioner met the Policing Authority. As soon as the scale and seriousness of this emerged in its full form last week, I was in touch with the Policing Authority and arranged over the weekend to meet Josephine Feehily. Of course, I am in ongoing contact with her regarding the work she is carrying out. As I said, the Policing Authority is a very important oversight body for An Garda Síochána and is one that needs to be developed. It is also probably the appropriate body to conduct this independent investigation because under the legislation it can employ people to carry out, for example, professional forensic accounting to examine what has happened. I have faith in the Policing Authority.”
Deputy Sean Sherlock stressed that what he was trying to understand is the “internal dynamic that exists between the Minister, the Garda Commissioner, the Garda Inspectorate and the Policing Authority. People watching these proceedings will question why the Policing Authority issued a statement today that states:
The Authority again expressed its disappointment at not being advised in a timely manner that an audit into the breath test issues was underway. What I am trying to get at is the reason the Policing Authority would issue a statement of this nature. One can only surmise, and I ask the Minister to correct me if I am wrong, that the Government does not have enough faith in the Policing Authority due to its not engaging in a more timely fashion with the Department regarding the modalities of the issue at hand.”
Deputy Frances Fitzgerald rejected the suggestion.
“Why would he draw that conclusion? What the Policing Authority said was that it reacted, and in a forthright statement, as the Deputy said, when it heard about the scale of the issues. It put out the statement from which the Deputy quoted stating that it did raise the most serious issues. It was disappointed and annoyed, I would say, that the alcohol testing information had not been passed on to it.”
However Deputy Sean Sherlock stressed that the issue “speaks to the heart of the culture of management in An Garda Síochána. Again, there is an inherent weakness in this regard. There should have been an obligation on the part of An Garda Síochána, surely, to inform the Policing Authority in a timely fashion.