The Government has approved the publication of the Policing, Security and Community Safety Bill, which gives effect to the recommendations made by the Commission on the Future of Policing in Ireland.
When enacted, the bill will repeal the Garda Síochána Act 2005 (as amended) in its entirety.
A new Policing and Community Safety Authority, which will combine the existing oversight functions of the Policing Authority and the Garda Síochána Inspectorate, will be established.
This body will oversee and assess an Garda Síochána, and will have stronger inspection powers – including the power to conduct unannounced visits of Garda premises.
The complaints body, the Garda Síochána Ombudsman Commission (GSOC), will be renamed the Office of the Police Ombudsman, with redesigned processes and greater financial independence.
The body itself will be restructured, replacing the current three-person commission with an ombudsman and deputy ombudsman.
An overhaul of investigation procedures to support timely and effective resolution of complaints and the conduct of investigations is also provided for.
The Commission on the Future of Policing in Ireland report set out that preventing crime was a ‘whole of government’ responsibility to prioritise the objective of safer communities.
The bill establishes Local Community Safety Partnerships as a forum for State agencies and local community representatives to work together to improve community safety.
Justice minister Helen McEntee said that the bill would build on the achievements of an Garda Síochána, and strengthen the organisation for the demands of the coming decades.
The target date for full implementation is end-2023, with commencement to follow in January 2024.
Pre-legislative scrutiny at the Oireachtas Committee on Justice earlier this year led to clarification on the accountability framework applying to the Garda Commissioner.
The commissioner is, subject to the act, independent in the performance of his or her functions.
The governance and independent oversight structures provided for in the bill have also been refined to ensure that they complement each other and work together.
James Browne (Minister of State for Law Reform) said that community safety could not be achieved solely by traditional, boots-on-the-ground policing, and that the partnerships would provide a forum to prioritise and act on community concerns.
“The partnerships will build on the structures of the Joint Policing Committees, in order to develop and deliver a modern dynamic forum for the future,” he said.
The bill will support the garda commissioner to act as chief executive, as in other public-sector bodies, to lead the organisation and drive change, the justice minister said.
An independent, impartial best-practice system of appointments at all levels is also planned.
The garda commissioner, as recommended by the Commission on the Future of Policing in Ireland, will be empowered to recruit garda staff directly to the police service, rather than to the civil service, as is currently the case.
The commissioner will be held to account by a non-executive statutory board, which will not have any role in relation to operational matters.
“The existence of a board is the norm in public bodies of this size and scale. The board will help an Garda Síochána to anticipate and respond to changes in the ways in which policing will need to be delivered in the coming decades. It will also provide assurance to the minister of the day around internal governance and risk management and mitigation,” the minister added.
The bill also strengthens Ireland’s national-security infrastructure through the establishment of the Independent Examiner of Security Legislation as an independent voice in this area, with the goal of ensuring confidence in the effectiveness and proportionality of security measures.
The work of the independent examiner will complement the work of the policing oversight bodies in relation to the work of an Garda Síochána.