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Garda Reform welcome but not nearly enough

10 February, 2005

Speaking during a debate on the Garda Síochána Bill in the Dáil today Sinn Féin Justice spokesperson, Aengus Ó Snodaigh TD called the Minister's reform proposals "welcome but not nearly enough" and recommended that the Minister instead adopt the Garda reform package proposed by his party.

Deputy Ó Snodaigh said, "Reform and greater accountability of the Gardaí are sorely needed in this state. The reality is that many people in working class communities such as the one I represent feel under seige by particularly high levels of anti-social crime, but have stopped reporting to or cooperating actively with the Garda Síochána because they have come to believe the Gardaí do not serve their families or communities. That must change. The onus for change is on the Minister and the key to this is reform that introduces effective oversight of the Garda Síochána and real accountability to communities.

"That said, the change in focus towards Garda reform is particularly welcome from a Minister who has until now done very little to increase the security of working class communities in this State.

"I acknowledge that the Gardaí are a legitimate police force, and I recognise the good work done by many Gardaí in our communities over the years. They are not the RUC-PSNI. However, their history is not unblemished. And it is not just a case of a few bad apples in the Heavy Gang, or a bushel of them in Donegal. Misconduct including killings under disputed circumstances, torture, rape, break and enter, lying under oath, falsifying evidence, and misappropriation of funds, have been much more widespread for 80 years. The Special Branch has also been used as a political police force against republicans. The power of the Gardaí has been abused and those guilty have generally gotten off scot-free. We need reforms that can bring a definitive end to the culture of impunity for Garda misconduct.

"Sinn Féin wants to see an all-island police service established. In the interim, we want policing services North and South that can attract widespread support from, and that are seen as an integral part of, the host community as a whole. We want effective policing with local democratic accountability, shaped as a community service and imbued with that human rights ethos. We have an opportunity now to shape the policing of the future for the people of Ireland. It is critical that we get it right.

"To this end Sinn Féin submitted to the Minister a set of interlocking policy proposals on Garda reform that are consistent with the minimum standards set out in the Patten model. Among other things, we are seeking the establishment of an independent Garda Ombudsman, a Policing Board for civilian oversight, and Community Policing Partnerships at District level to create a mechanism for local accountability.

"I am glad to see that the Minister has taken some of our recommendations on board and I want to support this Bill. But as presented the proposed reforms are still too weak to be acceptable to Sinn Féin. We will therefore be tabling amendments in line with our own proposals and in a constructive spirit. However if the Minister does not adopt key Sinn Féin amendments on the Bill we will be forced to vote against it." ENDS

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