A bill that would improving the oversight and governance of an Garda Síochána was being debated in the Dáil today (22 February), marking the beginning of its legislative journey.
James Browne (Minister of State with responsibility for law reform and youth justice) introduced the Policing, Security and Community Safety Bill 2023 on behalf of the Minister for Justice Simon Harris.
Minister Harris described the proposed legislation as a “landmark bill” that provided a new framework for policing, security, and community safety.
It includes many of the recommendations made by the Commission on the Future of Policing.
The Irish Council for Civil Liberties (ICCL) has called, however, for new proposals on garda oversight to be strengthened.
New oversight authority
The bill provides for the establishment of a new Policing and Community Safety Authority, which will merge the existing functions of the Policing Authority and the inspection function of the Garda Síochána Inspectorate.
It also provides for reformed processes and procedures for the handling and investigation of allegations of garda wrongdoing in a new Office of the Police Ombudsman, which the Department of Justice says will strengthen the mandate of the existing Garda Síochána Ombudsman Commission.
The bill also sets up a new non-executive board of AGS, which will oversee the strategic direction of the force. The board will also oversee arrangements for managing the performance of the Garda Commissioner, though its role will not extend to operational policing or security matters.
The legislation will also set up an independent examiner of security legislation, a move aimed at improving the oversight of national-security arrangements in the State.
When enacted, the Bill will repeal the Garda Síochána Act 2005 (as amended) in its entirety.
The ICCL warned that the powers of the new Police Ombudsman should not be watered down, and that the new office should be “fully independent”.
While it welcomed the creation of a new independent examiner of security legislation, it called for the removal of exemptions in the bill, linked to anything that might affect “international intelligence sources” or “the identity of a person”.
The body also criticised the bill for retaining the power of AGS to prosecute, instead of giving such powers to independent prosecutors.