Garda Bill paves way for local policing committees

Local TDs and councillors are to have an advisory role in Garda operations, Justice Minister Michael McDowell said today.

Local TDs and councillors are to have an advisory role in Garda operations, Justice Minister Michael McDowell said today.

Under the new Garda Bill, joint policing committees will be set up to encourage gardai and local representatives to co-operate on policing priorities in their area.

At the Local Authority Members Association meeting in Dundalk, Mr McDowell said the committees would not be ‘one-way avenues’ for making complaints about Garda inadequacies.

“They will also deal with issues such as estate management, planning, traffic and lighting issues and by-laws regarding drinking and public spaces,” he said.

Under the 2004 Garda Bill, the joint policing committees will be made up of Garda representatives, councillors, TDs and other members of public bodies.

Mr McDowell said gardaí could use the committees to point out if there were problems with late pub and nightclub closing times in certain communities. The local authority already has the power to influence the granting of late night exemptions for licenced premises.

“Overall, I believe these joint policing committees are a significant innovation which will strengthen policing at local level,” said Mr McDowell.

However, he firmly ruled out the rapid establishment of a Garda volunteer unit, which is provided for in the Garda Bill.

The plan for up to 1,200 unpaid civilians to carry out routine policing duties had been criticised by opposition parties and Garda representatives.

“No decision has been taken by the Government to establish a reserve of volunteer members, but it is valuable to lay the statutory foundation for such a reserve so that it can be utilised if future circumstances warrant it,” said Mr McDowell.

The Garda Bill will require members of the force to take an oath to protect human rights. A new Garda Ombudsman will replace the Garda Complaints Board and will have the power to initiate investigations and examine garda stations for evidence.

Mr McDowell’s earlier proposal to impose five-year jail terms on gardaí who supplied information to journalists was dropped from the bill.

He said he was advocating the reforms in the bill not to “undermine but to underpin the work the force does to protect our freedoms as individuals and as a society”.

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