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Minister for Justice, Helen McEntee T.D. with Gardai during a parade at Dublin Castle in Dublin marking 100 years of the force. Alamy Stock Photo
National Security

New 'landmark' Policing Bill to radically change Irish national security apparatus

Cleared by cabinet this morning the Policing, Security and Community Safety Bill is expected to become law next year.

THE CABINET HAS cleared the way for major new laws which, the Government say, will radically change policing in Ireland including the management of national security threats and a rebranding of the garda complaints mechanism.

Helen McEntee, the Minister for Justice announced that she has secured Government approval to publish the “landmark” Policing, Security and Community Safety Bill. It is expected to become law next year.

The bill looks to place in statute key findings from the Commission on the Future of Policing in Ireland (CoFPI) report, published in 2018.

This is despite garda superintendents echoing concerns expressed by Commissioner Drew Harris that the new Bill grants the Garda Ombudsman and Policing Authority “almost draconian” powers.

The government has been accused of granting excessive powers to oversight bodies managing gardaí.

The key developments in the new legislation, the Government say, will be greater independent oversight and governance of An Garda Síochána.

There will be provision for stronger independent oversight of policing through the new Policing and Community Safety Authority incorporating its own inspection function.

A complaints Ombudsman will be be given greater independence and an expanded reach  and remit – it will mean a rebranding of the Garda Síochána Ombudsman Commission.  

One of the biggest moves is to establish a new role of Independent Examiner of Security Legislation to further strengthen independent review of security legislation and the delivery of security services.

That will mean a major reimagining of Ireland’s National Security apparatus and see a Judge monitoring the system and carrying out reports – it is modeled on a similar system in Australia and Britain. 

This new body, the Independent Examiner of Security Legislation, the Government state will be “an independent voice in this very sensitive area of Government responsibility”.

The work of the Independent Examiner will complement the work of the policing oversight bodies in relation to the work of An Garda Síochána.

McEntee said: “The Commission on the Future of Policing recommended separate and new arrangements for the oversight of national security matters, recognising that this area is highly sensitive. The Independent Examiner will enhance Ireland’s national security response through the review and oversight of the operation and effectiveness of security legislation and practice.”

The Minister said in a statement that the Bill will provide a comprehensive and robust framework of accountability, governance and oversight of policing and security and a new approach to community safety.

“An Garda Síochána has performed a vital role in protecting our communities and the State for the past century. In this centenary year, I believe this Bill will build on the achievements of An Garda Síochána and strengthen the organisation for the demands of the coming decades.

“At the heart of this Bill, and of our approach, is everyone’s right to be safe and feel safe in their communities. The Bill acknowledges that community safety is not the responsibility of An Garda Síochána alone but requires a range of State agencies working with local communities.

“Our new Community Safety Partnerships will put this approach into practice right across the country – with communities working with a range of agencies and organisations to draw up Community Safety Plans on how to make their localities safer,” she said.

The complaints body, the Garda Síochána Ombudsman Commission, will be renamed the Office of the Police Ombudsman with redesigned processes and much greater financial independence, including for the first time its own Vote (expenditure is provided for under ‘votes’ approved by Dáil Éireann. This would mean the Office would have an expenditure budget of its own, rather than being part of a different ‘vote’).

The body itself will be restructured, replacing the current three person commission with an Ombudsman and Deputy Ombudsman model, so that the organisation will have a clear and publicly identifiable leader.

There will also be an overhaul of the investigation procedures to support timely and effective resolution complaints. 

“The new streamlined procedures include appropriate safeguards protecting the rights of everyone involved to fair procedures and natural justice,” the department said. 

A spokesperson for GSOC said that the organisation “hailed” the new Bill as a step in the right direction for their body. 

GSOC said the new laws would be a “a significant step forward in addressing a clearly-defined, and long-signalled, gap in Ireland’s policing accountability infrastructure”.

In particular, GSOC has welcomed provisions in the Bill that strengthen its independence as a civilian police oversight body.

A statement has been requested from An Garda Síochána.

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