High-level meetings are taking place this week in a bid to resolve “legal issues” that appear to be blocking progress in implementing key recommendations in the Policing Commission report.
The Future of Policing in Ireland Commission said co-operation between the gardaí and other agencies involved in policing, community safety, and harm prevention should be put on a more formal footing and that these agencies should devise joint strategic plans.
The commission’s report, published last September, said there was “currently little sharing of information” and cited a “lack of will, or at least of instinct to share”.
It said that “timely and effective information-sharing” between the agencies was required.
The Government’s implementation plan for the commission’s report had set the end of June of this year as the deadline for finalising a formal agreement between gardaí and Tusla — the Child and Family Agency — for the sharing of information between the two agencies.
It said a roadmap for implementing the protocol was supposed to be in place by the middle of the third quarter (July-September) and that implementation should commence in the last quarter.
Parallel with this, the Policing and Community Safety Bill was to be prepared and consultation conducted, with formal drafting of the legislation supposed to have happened by now.
But the Policing Authority has found that that the work to finalise an information-sharing protocol between the An Garda Síochána and Tusla has raised “legal issues”, and that the protocol has not been finalised.
It said the matter had been referred to the National Child Safeguarding Strategic Liaison Committee, which has recommended a more detailed review of the issues — but with no timeline.
“It is not clear that there will be any improvements proposed or implemented in the short term,” the authority found.
In a statement, Tusla said they and the gardaí were meeting senior officials from the Department of Children, the Department of Justice, the Attorney General’s office and the data commissioner this week “to finalise” an agreed position on the protocol.
It said that if there were “any legal impediments” preventing Tusla and An Garda Síochána from sharing information, these matters would be brought to the minister for children and the minister for justice.
Tusla pointed out that there was an existing arrangement in place, in the 2017 Joint Working Protocol for An Garda Síochána/Tusla, that related to sharing of information.
It said the more recent negotiations were prompted by recent data protection laws and the desire from both agencies to strengthen joint working and have a formal agreement.
Commenting, Johnny Connolly, a member of the Policing Commission and an academic at the School of Law in the University of Limerick, said there had been improvements in sharing information in recent years and noted the Tusla statement that it and the gardaí were keen to improve on that with an Information Sharing Agreement.
It is unclear from the Policing Authority what the precise legal barriers are to information-sharing, or what legislative changes might be required to resolve them.
Mr Connolly said the commission had recommended a Cabinet committee on justice matters, chaired by the Taoiseach, which he said could address “any barriers to effective cooperation”.
Mr Connolly said the proposed oversight body, superseding the authority and the Garda Inspectorate, should have a “core role” in monitoring the effectiveness of inter-agency cooperation.