Justice minister Helen McEntee has moved to quell opposition from gardaí about a new policing reform bill after middle-ranking gardaí slammed the legislation at their annual conference.
Ms McEntee was in Killarney this evening to address the members of the Association of Garda Sergeants and Inspectors (AGSI).
She said the Policing, Security and Community Safety Bill is “about keeping people safe, it is about people feeling safe, and it is about supporting members of An Garda Síochána to do their job in that regard”.
She said she appreciated that there are different views on it.
“It is quite a significant bill, but what I want to ensure is that that key element — keeping people safe — is the core element of what we do," she said.
"Of course, I am willing to listen to any of the concerns that members have, that the Commissioner has, and take that into account as we go through what is a lengthy process.
Asked if she agreed that investigators from Garda oversight agencies should be allowed to target serving gardaí in searches without a warrant, as is planned under the bill, Ms McEntee conceded that there are currently "differences of opinion" on that.
"I think, in some instances, we have to make sure that there is an ability for an oversight body to come in and do their work," she said. "Whether that means without a warrant or not, we will have to work through this process."
AGSI president Paul Curran criticised the Policing, Security and Community Safety Bill in his address to delegates attending the conference.
He said the association is not “anti-transformation”.
But he said that the proposal to give extended powers to the Garda Síochána Ombudsman Commission “are without proper justification".
He said that AGSI feels the proposed legislation “creates a multi-layered, confusing, and complex system of boards and bodies whose functions are similar, but all who require independent and individual accountability, to such a degree one would question how the Garda organisation can function when different layers of oversight may have different visions for how it can effectively operate”.
He said there is no reference in the bill to the newly established Garda Anti-Corruption Unit and where it fits into the governance, accountability, and investigative structures, and it also appears that members could be subject to multiple investigations by various bodies relating to the same issue.
The AGSI’s criticism of the bill follows similar comments from Garda Commissioner Drew Harris recently.