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The Minister for Justice has sought to quell opposition to proposed powers for garda watchdog

The new Bill has already drawn criticism from Commissioner Drew Harris who declared some of it unconstitutional.

Minister for Justice Helen McEntee at the AGSI conference in Killarney
Minister for Justice Helen McEntee at the AGSI conference in Killarney
Image: Niall O'Connor/The Journal

THE MINISTER FOR Justice has sought to quell opposition to a new Bill which proposes sweeping powers for a garda watchdog to search stations without the need of a court issued warrant.

At the Association of Garda Sergeants and Inspectors (AGSI) conference in Killarney today Helen McEntee defended the bill and said that there was a need for dialogue. 

The Garda Commissioner Drew Harris, garda superintendents, and now the AGSI have strongly hit at the new laws governing policing in Ireland. 

One key area of disagreement is the ability for the Garda Síochána Ombudsman Commission to carry out investigations of alleged wrongdoing and that it may include an ability to enter workplaces without the need of a court issued search warrant. 

Speaking in Killarney earlier McEntee said she supports the recommendation in the Policing, Security and Community Bill.

“I appreciate there are different views here, we are going through a process. There are a lot of recommendations, it’s quite a significant Bill.

“What I want to ensure is that key element – keeping people safe – is the core of what we do. Of course I want to listen to any of the concerns that (Garda) members have, and the Commissioner has, and to take those into account as we go through what is a lengthy process,” she said.    

When asked if she supported the proposal that warrants would not be required to search garda stations she said that was still open to discussion. 

“I think in some instances, we have to make sure that there is an ability for an oversight body to come in to do their work.

“Again, whether that means with a search warrant or not, we’ll have to work through this process. But I do support a lot of the recommendations that have been that have come out of the commission feature of policing that have resulted in this bill.

“And now it’s about finding that balance and making sure that as many people are involved in the implementation of it are happy,” she said. 

McEntee said she “hoped” the opposition to the Bill now being voiced from garda ranks would not result in a very protracted process over years before the legislation would be enacted.

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Paul Curran, the AGSI President launched a stinging attack and said that it has caused “considerable disquiet” in the garda ranks.  

“The Policing, Security, and Community Safety Bill is probably one of the biggest pieces of policing legislation to impact members in a very long time.  

“This new Bill, if passed will give, we believe, extensive and far-reaching powers to GSOC which we completely disagree with,” he said.   

Curran said that there were concerns also that the increased powers for GSOC do not come with any accountability for the body handling complaints.

“Concerning too is the complete lack of oversight for the newly proposed GSOC and whom they are accountable to when fair procedures against AGSI members are breached or when frivolous or vexatious complaints are made,” he said. 

The three day conference was opened today and will continue until Wednesday.

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