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Policing, Security and Community Safety Bill

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Ireland

On Tuesday 27 April 2021, Minister for Justice, Ms Helen McEntee T.D, announced the Government's approval for the drafting of the Policing, Security and Community Safety Bill ("the Bill").

The Bill has been developed on the basis of the recommendations of the Commission on the Future of Policing in Ireland ("the Commission") following its review and builds on the reforms of recent years, in particular the work of the Policing Authority in providing independent public scrutiny of the performance of An Garda Síochána in relation to its policing functions. The Bill, when enacted, will replace the Garda Síochána Act 2005 (as amended). 
 
According to the Government, the Bill will:
 
  1. make the prevention of harm and protection of people who are vulnerable or at risk an objective of An Garda Síochána and make the safety of communities a “whole of government” responsibility;
  2. strengthen and consolidate independent, external oversight of An Garda Síochána;
  3. enhance the internal governance of An Garda Síochána and the role of the Garda Commissioner as CEO;
  4. improve the independent oversight of our national security infrastructure.

There are currently three agencies with policing oversight roles in Ireland.
 
  1. The Garda Ombudsman Commission ("GSOC") whose primary function is to investigate complaints against members of An Garda Síochána;
  2. The Garda Síochána Inspectorate whose objective is to ensure that the resources available to An Garda Síochána are used to achieve and maintain the highest levels of efficiency and effectiveness in its operation and administration;
  3. The Policing Authority whose primary remit is to oversee the performance of An Garda Síochána in delivering policing services. 

Under the Bill, it is envisaged that the Policing Authority and the Garda Síochána Inspectorate will merge into a new body known as the Policing and Community Safety Authority ("PCSA"). The PCSA will oversee and assess in an independent and transparent manner the performance of An Garda Síochána in relation to policing services, with the benefit of an expert in-house inspection function and will:
 
  • focus exclusively on providing robust independent oversight;
  • have stronger inspections powers, including the power to carry out unannounced visits of Garda stations as part of its inspections;
  • continue to engage with the Garda Commissioner and the senior leadership team including through the regular public meetings held by the Policing Authority.

Under the Bill, GSOC will remain in being. However, instead of a three-person Commission, it will be led by a single Ombudsman and will receive additional powers, including the power to investigate Garda civilian staff and take complaints from Garda members instead of just members of the public. The Bill will also:
 
  • overhaul its investigation procedures to support timely and effective resolution of complaints and investigations to the mutual benefit of complainants and the subjects of complaints;
  • restructure the body itself and replace the current three person Commission with an Ombudsman and Deputy Ombudsman model, so the organisation will have a clear and publicly identifiable leader;
  • reinforce its independence by giving the Office of the Garda Ombudsman greater financial independence through its own Vote for the first time and creating a new Chief Administrative Officer ("CAO") to free up the Ombudsman to focus on investigation and oversight work.

As identified by the Commission in their report, much of the work of Gardaí on a daily basis is concerned with the non-crime related activity of preventing harm to people with addiction or mental health conditions, resolving issues for those who are homeless, the elderly, children and others at risk. According to the Government, the Bill will also embed a key principle from the Commission’s Report that preventing crime and harm and making our communities safer does not rest with An Garda Síochána and the Department of Justice alone - it will be most effectively achieved as a ‘whole of government’ responsibility with Departments and agencies such as health and social services, education authorities and local authorities, the Gardaí and the wider community working together.

 
It is envisaged that the Bill will achieve this by:
 
  • Placing statutory obligations on Departments and public service bodies to cooperate with each other to deliver safer communities;
  • Establishing national structures to provide strategic direction and ensure that collaboration is working;
  • Establishing innovative local Community Safety Partnerships to develop local safety plans tailored to the priorities and needs identified by communities themselves.
Over the next three years, three pilot projects will run in Dublin’s North Inner City, Waterford and Longford which will inform the drafting of the Bill and the subsequent rollout of the Safety Partnerships to local authority areas in the country.

The Bill will also allow for the establishment of an agency which will oversee national security matters and an independent examiner of security legislation similar to models in in other jurisdictions such as the UK and Australia.

To view the Countering the Threat of Internal Corruption report click here

To view the Commission on the Future of Policing in Ireland 2018 report click here.

To view the General Scheme of landmark Policy, Security and Community Safety Bill click here

Written by Sinéad Taaffe, Colm Reddan, Michael O'Tighearnaigh and Rebecca Bolger.
 

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