19 February 2004 Edition

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Garda Bill must be exactly right, not partly right

Responding to the publication of the Garda Siochána Bill 2004 on Tuesday, Sinn Féin Dáil spokesperson on Justice, Equality and Human Rights, Aengus Ó Snodaigh, said he "recognised that improvements had been made" to the Minister's original proposals but that the Bill was still deficient.

"We need to get this critical area of public policy exactly right, not partly right," he said.

He said that the party was still considering the lengthy 86-page Bill. "We recognise the changes and welcome the improvements that have been made since the Heads of the Bill were published last summer, but having said that, we want to give it the detailed consideration it deserves," he said.

"It is clear that some of these changes have been introduced as a result of the proposals put forward by both Sinn Féin and human rights groups who have taken an active interest in this issue," he added.

While welcoming the increased powers the Minister intends to give to his Ombudsman Commission, Ó Snodaigh said that from his reading, the Bill still falls far short, particularly in relation to one area of specific concern, the lack of power to conduct retrospective investigations.

"If we are to redress the legacy of the deficiencies that have existed in relation to the Garda Complaints Authority, the power to conduct retrospective investigations is crucial," he said.

"We are also not convinced that the Minister's reforms will provide for sufficient civilian oversight, transparency and local accountability. We acknowledge that he has introduced some changes to his original proposals but both the Minister and the Garda Commissioner still retain too much discretionary power under the Bill as published. "This is a critical area of public policy. We must get it exactly right, not partly right.

"We believe it is still possible to achieve a Bill that is based on international best practice and which could achieve consensus support across all political parties, and the endorsement of the human rights sector, including the Irish Human Rights Commission. And while we recognise that improvements have been made, we are not there yet. This Bill is still deficient."

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