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Home > Dáil Éireann debate. Garda Siochana (Functions and Operational Areas) Bill 2021: Second Stage.

[Oireachtas] Dáil Éireann debate. Garda Siochana (Functions and Operational Areas) Bill 2021: Second Stage. (22 Sep 2021)

External website: https://www.oireachtas.ie/en/debates/debate/dail/2...


Minister for Justice (Deputy Heather Humphreys): I am pleased to introduce this Bill to the House. The purpose of the Bill is to make some technical changes necessary to facilitate the roll-out of a new Garda operating model. In September 2018, the Report of the Commission on the Future of Policing in Ireland was published. The report presents a clear vision for the future of An Garda Síochána. The consultation by the commission led to the development of ten key principles for the future of policing in Ireland and a comprehensive set of recommendations to meet not just current but also future challenges. A plan entitled "A Policing Service for the Future" which sets out the approach to implementation was subsequently published. The many actions set out in the plan include several significant pieces of legislation.

This Bill relates to one part of the "A Policing Service for the Future" plan, that is, the implementation of a new organisational operating model for An Garda Síochána. An earlier report from the Garda Inspectorate, "Changing Policing in Ireland", had also made recommendations for reform. In particular, it underlined the advantages of a smaller number of divisions and regions. The new operating model was announced by the Garda Commissioner in August 2019. The main aim of the model is to introduce structural changes to provide more front-line gardaí, increased Garda visibility and a wider range of policing services for local communities. The new divisional model of policing means that all services will be managed and co-ordinated at divisional level. This allows divisions to be more operationally autonomous and responsive to local needs. The model will also enhance the investigation of crime through the delivery of a greater range of specialised services in local areas, such as the investigation of sexual crime, domestic violence, cybercrime and economic crime.

Moving from a district model to a functional model will allow for specialisation, which means that services can be more effective. Streamlining administration and bureaucracy, alongside the ongoing process of civilianisation, will result in more front-line gardaí. This also involves the deployment of more Garda sergeants and inspectors to the front line, where they can lead and supervise their teams. At present, there are 28 divisions, each divided into districts. Each district is headed by a superintendent. Under the new model, Garda districts will no longer exist and, instead, there will be 19 divisions.

A division will have four functional areas, covering: community engagement, including roads and community policing; crime, including serious crime, security intelligence and immigration; performance assurance, including performance standards, internal discipline and engagement with the Garda Síochána Ombudsman Commission; and business services, including finance and logistics, human resources and general administration. Superintendents will head up each of the functional areas of community engagement, crime and performance assurance. The business services area will be headed up by a civilian.

The introduction of the operating model is not just a legislative matter. It is being introduced as part of the Commissioner's role under the Garda Síochána Act 2005 for the general management and administration of the Garda organisation, including the deployment of members of An Garda Síochána throughout the State. Work has been under way in An Garda Síochána for some time to prepare for and implement the new organisational structure. There are, however, a number of technical legislative changes that need to be made in order to allow the operating model to be fully rolled out. As I mentioned, the new model will mean that districts will no longer form part of the organisational structure. There are numerous references across the Statute Book to Garda districts. All of these references need to be amended. There were also regulations made in 1924 stating that the organisation is to be divided into districts and divisions. These regulations will need to be revoked. The main purpose of this Bill is to make those changes.

In addition, there are responsibilities assigned in numerous statutes to Garda members at superintendent rank. Given that roles at superintendent level are to be allocated on a functional rather than a geographical basis, some statutory functions assigned to superintendents under the current model would be concentrated in a single superintendent for a division under the new structure. The workload this entails could impact on the delivery of the relevant services. One of the aims behind the Bill is to remove these legislative obstacles so as to enable the operating model to be fully rolled out. The Bill removes references to Garda district from the Statute Book. Most of these references will be replaced with references to Garda division. The Bill will also amend the rank at which certain responsibilities are assigned, to ensure that the delivery of relevant services are not affected by the new structures.

Turning now to the individual provisions of the Bill, section 1 is a standard provision relating to the commencement and Short Title of the Bill. Section 2 provides definitions for terms used in the Bill.

Section 3 provides for the revocation of the Garda Síochána (Designations, Appointments and Discipline) Regulations 1924, which set out that the Garda Síochána is to be divided into districts and divisions. There are saving provisions in this section which will address the fact that the model is to be rolled out on a phased basis for different divisions.

Section 4 provides for the amendment of 32 Acts set out in Schedule 1 and the amendment of seven statutory instruments set out in Schedule 2. References in that legislation to Garda districts will be replaced with references to divisions or other appropriate wording. It will also amend references to the superintendent of a district. In most cases this will be replaced with references to a superintendent in a division. This is necessary under the new model where there will be multiple superintendents in a division. In some cases, as I have said, this will be replaced with reference to an inspector.

This transfer of responsibilities is being made, as I have outlined, to ensure that the new structure does not have an impact on the delivery of the relevant services. The Bill makes this change in relation to gaming and lotteries, in the context of the issue of fitness-and-probity certificates for the purposes of betting licences and for managers and beneficial owners of private members' gaming clubs. Where the function concerned is administrative in nature, for example, where notice of a court application is to be given, the Bill also assigns those functions at inspector level.

While not directly related to the introduction of the new operating model, during the drafting process an issue was identified whereby a number of items of legislation refer to the Dublin metropolitan area. The latter is not used by An Garda Síochána and is not defined in legislation. The Bill, therefore, also makes amendments to clarify that references to the Dublin metropolitan area are to be read as references to the Dublin metropolitan region, which is a region of An Garda Síochána.

I will outline some examples to illustrate the nature of the changes being made. Under section 25 of the Petty Sessions (Ireland) Act 1851, warrants in criminal proceedings are to be addressed to the superintendent or an inspector of the Garda district where the person resides or where the warrant was issued. This is being amended in the Schedule to the Bill so that the warrant is to be addressed to: "a superintendent or an inspector in a Garda division where the person resides or where the warrant was issued."

There are amendments to the Betting Act 1931. The amendments to this Act relate to applications for certificates of fitness and probity, which licensed betting operators are required to have. Applications are currently made to the superintendent in the district in which the person resides or carries out business. Under this amendment, applications will be made to an inspector in the division in which the person resides or carries on business.

Section 5 provides for the amendment of miscellaneous provisions listed in Schedule 3 and Schedule 4 to replace the phrase "district or place" with "area or place". There are several provisions across the Statute Book that use this phrase. They generally allow a requirement to be imposed on a person that he or she reside in a particular district or place. This is the case, for example, when a person is released on bail. As the term "district" here could be understood to be a Garda district, it is being replaced with the word "area".

Section 6 provides for the amendment of the Firearms Act 1925 to provide a power for a superintendent to delegate specific functions. Under this section, a superintendent may appoint an inspector to perform certain licensing functions of the superintendent under the Act of 1925. These functions will remain at superintendent level. However, the proposed legislation also facilitates the delegation by a superintendent of those functions - other than revocation functions - to an inspector. As the new Garda divisions will be larger in geographical size and population than they were previously, it is envisaged that the delegation mechanism will be used to avoid the build-up of backlogs under the new operating model.

Section 7 amends the Sex Offenders Act 2001. That Act requires persons to whom the legislation applies to make certain specified notifications at a district or divisional headquarters. There will, of course, no longer be district headquarters. Under this amendment, the Commissioner may designate stations at which notifications can be made instead of district headquarters. The new subsection (8A) will require that any Garda Síochána stations designated shall be in writing and a list of designated stations shall be published.

Section 8 makes a similar amendment to the Criminal Justice Act 2006. That Act requires persons to whom the legislation applies - those convicted of drug trafficking offences - to make certain specified notifications at a district or divisional headquarters.

Section 9 provides a power for the Minister to amend specific references to a Garda district or Garda rank in statutory instruments, and to make certain other amendments, to give effect to a determination of the Commissioner of the Garda Síochána under section 33(1) of the Garda Síochána Act 2005. Section 33(1) of that Act provides that the Garda Commissioner shall determine the manner in which the Garda Síochána are to be distributed and stationed throughout the State. The purpose of this section is to allow the Minister to make a statutory instrument to amend other statutory instruments which refer to district. The amendment will be along the same lines as those in the Bill.

Section 10 is a general provision designed to capture any references to Garda districts in the Statute Book that are not amended by the Bill. It clarifies that references to district on the Statute Book can be construed as references to the equivalent division. It also provides that any references to superintendent in the context of a district are to be construed as references to a superintendent of the Garda Síochána in the equivalent division.

Section 11 clarifies the meaning of Garda division in enactments being amended by the Bill and any enactment made after the date the section comes into operation. Garda divisions are not defined in statute currently and this will add clarity.

Section 12 provides for the construction of references to Royal Irish Constabulary or Civic Guard districts as Garda Síochána divisions. There are several references to police districts in legislation dating from before the establishment of An Garda Síochána. This provision makes it clear that they are now to be understood as references to Garda divisions.

Sections 13 to 27, inclusive, are transitional provisions relating to the amendments being made by section 4. The transitional provisions address situations where, for example, court proceedings relating to an Act being amended are ongoing at the time the legislation comes into force.

They will also address situations where an application has been submitted before the date of commencement but has not yet been determined. The purpose of the section is to ensure that court processes or applications will not be adversely affected by the amendments being made to legislation.

Section 13 is a general transitional section.

Sections 14 to 26 each relate to particular legislative measures.

Returning to the examples I gave earlier, section 14 is a transitional provision relating to the Petty Sessions (Ireland) Act 1851. If a warrant is issued before the amendment comes into force, it will have been addressed to a superintendent or inspector in a district. This section ensures that it will still be valid after amendment even though the legislation will now state that the warrant must be addressed to a superintendent in a division.

Section 16 is a transitional provision relating to the Betting Act 1931. Applications are currently made to a superintendent. Under the amendment, applications will be made to an inspector. This transitional provision will deal with, for example, applications that have been made to a superintendent before the amendment is made. The application will be deemed to have been made to an inspector instead for the purpose of subsequent provisions of the section.

I note section 27, which is a transitional provision that addresses the fact that the operating model is to be rolled out on a phased basis. Some of the new divisions are due to be created at a later date.

I look forward to the debate on this Bill. It is very technical but will enable a key piece of the policing reform programme, which is something to which the Government is committed. I commend the Bill to the House and look forward to working with Deputies as it progresses…

[For the full debate, click on this link to the Oireachtas website]

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