45. Deputy Mick Wallace asked the Minister for Justice and Equality the status of the recruitment process for the post of Garda Commissioner; the timeframe to fill the post; and if he will make a statement on the matter. (Question 51744/17 asked on 05 Dec 2017)

Deputy Mick Wallace: It will be three months this weekend since the resignation of Nóirín O’Sullivan as Garda Commissioner. She was on leave before that, since 17 July, which makes it almost five months since she has performed her role. The Policing Authority told us on 11 September that it had commenced consideration of and research into the process to identify and appoint the next Commissioner. The Minister often points out that it is the Policing Authority which runs the appointments process, but we have heard nothing from the body since last September. If it is running the process, why did Ms Kathleen O’Toole, head of the Commission on the Future of Policing in Ireland, write to the Minister stating that the process is suspended until the commission has completed its report?

Deputy Charles Flanagan: The Policing Authority under section 9 of the Garda Síochána Act 2005, as amended, has responsibility for nominating persons for appointment by the Government to the post of Garda Commissioner. In the meantime we have an excellent acting Commissioner in Dónall Ó Cualáin. 

This will be the first time that the new legislative process is utilised and I have consulted with the chairperson of the authority about a process to identify and appoint a permanent Commissioner to An Garda Síochána. We are agreed that it is crucial that a deliberate and considered recruitment process takes place in order that the best possible candidate is appointed following a selection process. We are also agreed that an overly long delay in the appointment of a new Commissioner would not be optimal for the organisation in terms of performance and morale. In the interim I have, of course, authorised a Deputy Commissioner to exercise all of the functions of the Commissioner during the term of the vacancy.

As I have previously stated, the authority has, over recent months, undertaken some essential ground work for the recruitment process in advance of the formal triggering of the statutory process by Government. This work has included the conduct of some research into aspects of the appointment process and engagement with my Department and with the Public Appointments Service, which will undertake the competition on behalf of the authority.

Importantly, the intervening period has also allowed the authority to explore with the Commission on the Future of Policing in Ireland, as the Deputy mentioned, how it sees the future role and responsibilities of the new Commissioner. As the Deputy is aware, the commission is undertaking a comprehensive review of all aspects of policing and is due to report in September 2018. The Commission has a wealth of experience and expertise and the timeframe that I have outlined will facilitate the authority in exploring with the commission how it sees the future role and responsibilities of the new Commissioner. This will assist in ensuring that potential candidates have as much information as possible in relation to the future direction of policing in the State.

Deputy Mick Wallace: Does the Minister not agree that Robert Olson’s report was a blueprint for how we should do policing? Why in God’s name are we paying Kathleen O’Toole €170,000 a year probably to regurgitate the same thing? Can the Minister justify the fact that she is double-jobbing? She will continue to be involved with the Seattle job until January. We do not have to reinvent the wheel. I do not understand this for the life of me.

The Minister said “we have an excellent acting Garda Commissioner”. I am not so convinced that he is excellent. Why does the Minister not answer the letters concerning the same gentleman which came into his possession in the last while? I am also disappointed that the same acting Commissioner cannot find time to appear before the Oireachtas Joint Committee on Justice and Equality this week. We are not getting the Commissioner or an acting Commissioner, we are getting an acting acting Commissioner. I do not agree that he is an excellent acting Commissioner. There is no one in charge of An Garda Síochána. Given the number of problems going on around the country it is pretty obvious that there is nobody running the ship.

Deputy Charles Flanagan: I do not accept that the current vacancy at the level of Commissioner has been damaging to An Garda Síochána. Suggestions from Deputy Wallace and others that all of Garda top management should be replaced are unrealistic, irresponsible and unfair to many of the individuals involved in An Garda Síochána. The gardaí have a most important job to do in this State. They do it day in day out, on a 24-7 basis, fighting crime, fighting terrorism, dealing with people around the clock, ensuring safer streets and communities. They have had many successes. No responsible Government would jeopardise the safety of our communities by removing expertise, as Deputy Wallace would like to see. It is important that we acknowledge the role and function of the Commission on the Future of Policing in Ireland. Deputy Wallace should consider making a submission to that commission. It is open to hearing from people, from stakeholders and certainly from public representatives with information that Deputy Wallace appears to have.

Deputy Mick Wallace: I find it mindboggling that the Minister is prepared to kick this down the road for so long. He might have noticed the comments of Denis Bradley the former vice chairman of the Northern Ireland Policing Board who went to the nub of the issue when he stated that the Patten Commission worked because there was clarity as to who was in charge: “The Northern Ireland Policing Board would be the hub and the driver of change, appointing all senior police officers and holding the chief officer to account for delivery and change.” We do not have that here. We watered down what we were going to do with the Policing Authority. It is a creature of Government. It does not have the independence it requires to do its job properly.

We are not making progress and the Minister says it would be so unfair to move people from the hierarchy but it is unfair to most of the gardaí of Ireland to leave them in place. The Minister could give them a different job. I am not saying put them on the dole but the majority of gardaí would like a change of hierarchy because they know they would have a better police force with a good authority. The fish rots from the head, as the Minister well knows. We need change. Does the Minister disagree with what was done with the Patten report because it recommended removing the hierarchy and starting again? We have to start afresh or we will not do things any differently than we have done for a long time. There are serious problems.

Deputy Charles Flanagan: One of the great attributes of the democratic process is the answering of questions by a member of the Executive on a daily basis. It throws up the type of challenges that we see on the matter of Deputy Wallace’s intervention. I am accused on one side of the House of not acting smartly enough-----

Deputy Mick Wallace: I never accused the Minister of that.

Deputy Charles Flanagan: Deputy Wallace accuses me of kicking the can down the road.

Deputy Mick Wallace: Yes.

Deputy Charles Flanagan: The Chairperson of the Policing Authority and I are agreed that the process of the appointment of the new Commissioner must be approached in a careful and considered manner to ensure that it delivers the outcome that will provide for the calibre of a person required to lead our national police service. It could well be along the lines suggested by Deputy Wallace but I believe that to rush at this, simply to have a person in a post would be a mistake. We must allow for the authority to take adequate time to complete its preparatory work. We must allow it to engage with the Public Appointment Service, the Department and the Commission on the Future of Policing in Ireland. I do not accept that is can-kicking. The authority has over the past few days submitted its views to me on the various aspects of the process and I expect to see real progress on this matter between now and the end of the year.