Landmark Policing, Security and Community Safety Bill Marks a New Departure for Policing in Ireland
The Minister for Justice, Helen McEntee TD, announced that she has secured Government approval to publish the landmark Policing, Security and Community Safety Bill to mark a new departure for policing in Ireland.
The Bill marks a new departure for policing in Ireland giving effect to the recommendations made by the Commission on the Future of Policing in Ireland (CoFPI). It provides a comprehensive and robust framework of accountability, governance and oversight of policing and security and a new approach to community safety.
The Bill will embed a key principle from the Commission’s Report that preventing crime and harm and making our communities safer does not rest with An Garda Síochána and the Department of Justice alone – it will be most effectively achieved as a ‘whole of government’ responsibility with Departments and agencies such as health and social services, education authorities and local authorities, the Gardaí and the wider community working together to prioritise and support the overall objective of safer communities.
It is a shared responsibility with Departments and agencies such as health and social services, local authorities, the Gardaí and the wider community working together. In line with this, the Bill establishes Local Community Safety Partnerships that will develop local safety plans that are tailored to the priorities and needs identified by communities themselves.
The safety partnerships will provide a forum for state agencies and local community representatives to work together to deliver safer communities. In effect, local communities will work in tandem with State organisations to draw up plans to improve community safety in their areas.
The Bill was the subject of extensive engagement with stakeholders, including with the Garda Commissioner, the policing oversight and complaints bodies, the Oireachtas and civil society.
Announcing publication of the Bill, Minister McEntee said, “An Garda Síochána has performed a vital role in protecting our communities and the State for the past century. In this centenary year, I believe this Bill will build on the achievements of An Garda Síochána and strengthen the organisation for the demands of the coming decades.”
“As Minister for Justice, I am incredibly proud of the work done by the members and staff of An Garda Síochána. Through their vital work, they protect and uphold human rights and protect the public from harm, and I want to thank all Garda personnel – past and present – for their commitment to serving their communities. I am all too conscious of the daily risks they take in doing so but they will always have my support and that of the Government.”
“This legislation maintains the momentum and supports the widespread policing reform being advanced by the Commissioner and my Department under ‘A Policing Service for our Future’, the implementation plan based on the CoFPI report which is overseen by the Department of the Taoiseach. At the heart of this Bill, and of our approach, is everyone’s right to be safe and feel safe in their communities. The Bill acknowledges that community safety is not the responsibility of An Garda Síochána alone but requires a range of State agencies working with local communities.”
“Our new Community Safety Partnerships will put this approach into practice right across the country – with communities working with a range of agencies and organisations to draw up Community Safety Plans on how to make their localities safer. The focus is now shifting to the task of implementation. My Department is already engaged in planning and coordinating this vital work, in conjunction with our Agency partners, so that the provisions and the new bodies can be put in place promptly on the Bill’s commencement.”
The target date for full implementation is the end of 2023 with commencement to follow in January 2024. When enacted, the Bill will repeal the Garda Síochána Act 2005 (as amended) in its entirety.
The General Scheme of the Bill completed pre-legislative scrutiny at the Oireachtas Committee on Justice earlier this year. Subsequent refinements are reflected in the Bill as approved by Cabinet. In particular, the accountability framework applying to the Garda Commissioner has been reviewed and clarified and the Bill now includes a clear statement that the Garda Commissioner is, subject to the Act, independent in the performance of his or her functions.
The roles of the governance and independent oversight structures provided for in the Bill have also been refined to ensure that they complement each other and work together to improve the performance and accountability of our police service.
The Minister said, “the Policing, Security and Community Safety Bill takes into account the suggestions of a wide range of stakeholders, including the pre-legislative scrutiny of the Oireachtas Justice Committee. I wish to thank all of those who contributed their views to the process. The recommendations of the Commission on the Future of Policing in Ireland are central to the Bill and recognising that upholding the human rights of individuals and communities and preventing harm, in particular to individuals who are vulnerable or at risk, are core to the role of An Garda Síochána, is rightly at the forefront of these reforms.”
Minister of State for Law Reform, James Browne, said, “community safety is about people being safe, and just as importantly feeling safe in their community. This is not something that can be achieved solely by traditional, boots-on-the-ground policing though of course that will continue to be needed. The innovative Local Community Safety Partnerships will provide a forum for State agencies and local community representatives to work together to listen to, prioritise and act on community concerns. The Partnerships will build on the structures of the Joint Policing Committees, in order to develop and deliver a modern dynamic forum for the future.”
The Bill will introduce stronger independent external oversight of An Garda Síochána. A new Policing and Community Safety Authority, combining the existing oversight functions of the Policing Authority and Garda Síochána Inspectorate, will be established.
The new Authority will oversee and assess in an independent and transparent manner the performance of An Garda Síochána in relation to policing services, with the benefit of an expert in-house inspection function, which will have stronger inspection powers including the power to conduct unannounced visits of Garda premises. The new body will continue to engage with the Garda Commissioner and the senior leadership team including through regular public meetings.
The complaints body, the Garda Síochána Ombudsman Commission, will be renamed the Office of the Police Ombudsman with redesigned processes and much greater financial independence, including for the first time its own Vote. The body itself will be restructured, replacing the current three person commission with an Ombudsman and Deputy Ombudsman model, so that the organisation will have a clear and publicly identifiable leader.
An overhaul of investigation procedures to support timely and effective resolution of complaints and the conduct of investigations is also provided for in the Bill. The new streamlined procedures include appropriate safeguards protecting the rights of everyone involved to fair procedures and natural justice.
Commenting on the new independent external oversight mechanisms, Minister McEntee said, “the new Policing and Community Safety Authority builds on the strengths of our existing oversight arrangements, notably the public scrutiny provided by the Policing Authority and the work of the Garda Inspectorate in benchmarking Garda performance against best practice and driving continuous improvement.”
“The value of the role of the Policing Authority has been clearly demonstrated, including through its recent enquires into the cancellation of 999 calls. The new Policing and Community Safety Authority will be empowered to undertake similar scrutiny of how An Garda Síochána is performing its policing role with an added ‘in-house’ inspection capacity that is not currently available to the Policing Authority.”
“The new Police Ombudsman constitutes a major overhaul of the system for the handling and investigation of allegations of wrong doing. Not only will this body greatly strengthen independent oversight and enhance transparency, it will improve efficiency and the time taken to resolve complaints. The Bill introduces stronger independent external oversight of An Garda Síochána.”
The Bill will support the internal capacity of An Garda Síochána to manage itself effectively, deliver reform, increase diversity, and improve outcomes for communities. The Garda Commissioner will act as a “true CEO”, in a similar manner to other public sector bodies, to lead the organisation and drive change.
The Bill will deliver an independent impartial best practice system of making appointments to An Garda Síochána at all levels bringing greater alignment between the recruitment of Garda members and Garda staff.
The Garda Commissioner, as recommended by CoFPI, will be empowered to recruit Garda staff directly to the police service rather than to the Civil Service as is currently the case.
Commenting on this Minister McEntee said, “empowering the Garda Commissioner to recruit Garda staff directly will enable the different skills and experience of Garda members and staff to be leveraged to contribute to enhancing the capacity of the organisation to deliver. In the case of existing Garda staff I want to assure them that there will be engagement with their trade unions before any change in their status takes effect.”
The Commissioner will be supported and held to account by a non-executive statutory board, as is the standard across the public and private sector. The Garda Board will not have any role in relation to operational matters. Referring to the establishment of the Board the Minister said, “the existence of a Board is the norm in public bodies of this size and scale. The Board will help An Garda Síochána to anticipate and respond to changes in the ways in which policing will need to be delivered in the coming decades. It will also provide assurance to the Minister of the day around internal governance and risk management and mitigation.”
The Bill will also strengthen Ireland’s national security infrastructure through the establishment of a new body – the Independent Examiner of Security Legislation.
The Independent Examiner will be an independent voice in this very sensitive area of Government responsibility, where the public interest lies in ensuring confidence in the effectiveness and proportionality of security measures.
The work of the Independent Examiner will complement the work of the policing oversight bodies in relation to the work of An Garda Síochána.
The Minister said, “the Commission on the Future of Policing recommended separate and new arrangements for the oversight of national security matters, recognising that this area is highly sensitive. The Independent Examiner will enhance Ireland’s national security response through the review and oversight of the operation and effectiveness of security legislation and practice.”