Justice Minister Charlie Flanagan has strongly rejected assertions that proposals to transfer powers from the Policing Authority to An Garda Síochána represent a “watering down” of oversight.
The minister said he would bring a plan for the implementation of the report of the Policing Commission to the Cabinet very soon and intended to publish it by the end of the year.
Addressing the Oireachtas Justice Committee, he said a three-tier structure had been set up to implement the recommendations of the commission, which published its report last October.
This included an Implementation Programme Office, operating under an Implementation Group for Reform, overseen by a High-Level Steering Board for Policing Reform.
The minister indicated that other state agencies – covering housing, health and social work – would be required to provide a 24-hour service to assist gardaí.
The report of the Commission on the Future of Policing in Ireland drew up a blueprint for reform, with 50 recommendations covering a wide range of areas.
Key recommendations concerned reforming the oversight structure and giving greater powers to the Garda Commissioner and the creation of a new internal Garda Síochána Board.
The Board would now be responsible for governance and budgetary matters and hold the commissioner and senior gardaí responsible for performance.
The Board would have powers, currently held by the Policing Authority, to make recommendations for positions of commissioner and deputy commissioner to the Government. It would also assume powers on Garda plans and strategies.
The Commissioner would become a chief executive and be given powers, under the supervision of the board and currently held by the Policing Authority, to appoint senior officers.
Mr Flanagan said he was “reluctant to depart” from the commission's main recommendations but said this was subject to what the Government finally agreed on.
Independents 4 Change deputies Mick Wallace and Clare Daly said the proposals marked a “watering down” of oversight by the Policing Authority and the giving back of power to the Garda.
Mr Flanagan said there was “no question of any weakening” of the roles or functions of the authority or the Garda Inspectorate (which will be merged into a new body).
He said a “strong case” had been made for rationalisation of the bodies – but that should not be seen as “taking back power or reducing oversight”. The minister said that given the Garda Commissioner was being given full responsibility for HR then that would include the appointment function.
Fianna Fáil TD Jack Chambers said that the splitting of oversight and addition of a new Garda Board “seemed like a lot of overlap” and asked was there a fear it would create more, rather than less, confusion.
Fianna Fáil justice spokesman Jim O'Callaghan asked the minister did he have any concerns about “terminating” the authority.
The minister said the proposals were about addressing the lack of clarity around oversight bodies and the overlap of their functions.