Opposition parties have strongly objected to “watered down” legislation creating the Policing Authority which they claim will keep the garda commissioner from being legally accountable to the Government.
Dáil deputies said the authority will not be sufficiently independent of the justice minister.
However, Justice Minister Frances Fitzgerald insisted the authority will be “independent” and will have “extensive functions” to oversee the governance, structures and performance of the Garda Síochána in policing.
Ms Fitzgerald and opposition politicians were yesterday debating the Policing Authority Bill 2015.
Sinn Féin’s justice spokesman Padraig Mac Lochlainn said he welcomed aspects of the bill, but was concerned at key provisions.
“The authority as proposed is not independent,” he said. “It will not have the necessary powers and functions.”
He said the minister and Government retain power over the appointment and removal of the commissioner and deputy commissioners.
Fianna Fáil justice spokesman Niall Collins said concerns were being raised about the commissioner’s accountability to the authority, the removal of provisions in the original draft legislation for a human rights monitoring function and oversight of garda resources.
Independent TD Mick Wallace said the authority will be a “weak and toothless body” and that political and ministerial control over the gardaí and the commissioner “is maintained”.
He said the commissioner remains directly and legally accountable to the minister, not the authority, who the commissioner merely reports to. He asked the minister how can the authority hold the commissioner to account if it has to get the minister’s permission to ask the Garda Ombudsman to investigate the police boss.
Mr Wallace said the minister retained the power to issue directives to the commissioner on policing — a power the authority will not have. The minister will also be able to issue directives to the authority.
“If the authority is not being asked to hold the commissioner to account, who remains accountable to the Government and the minister, what is the point in having an authority at all?”
Ms Fitzgerald said the norm across the world was for governments to have “ultimate” say on appointment of a police chief. She said “an appropriate balance” had to be struck between the role of government and the functions of the new authority.
© Irish Examiner Ltd. All rights reserved