Taoiseach Leo Varadkar has said he will speed up the enactment of a new body-worn camera law to protect gardaí from the kind of aggression and violence that some officers have experienced in recent months.
Mr Varadkar said that providing digital technology (including body cameras, dashcams and drones) to gardaí will help the prosecution of people who have committed crimes as well as give gardaí an additional tool to boost their personal safety.
“I’ve been appalled to see the level of aggression and violence against members of the gardaí in recent times,” said Mr Varadkar.
“I don’t know whether it’s got worse or not but it’s bad and we want to do everything we can to support them.”
Acts of violence against gardaí in recent months include an assault outside a public house in Ballyfermot, Dublin.
The Taoiseach was speaking during a round-robin interview with political reporters at Christmas.
The An Garda Síochána (Recording Devices) Bill is scheduled to be brought before the Dáil for its second stage debate soon after the Dáil resumes in January.
The Bill has been brought forward by Minister for Justice Helen McEntee. As well as allowing gardaí to wear body cameras, it will also make provision for the use of Automatic Number Plate Recognition (ANPR), retention and use of ANPR data, and the use of CCTV installed by An Garda Síochána and local authorities.
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The use of such technology is controversial and has been opposed by the Irish Council for Civil Liberties (ICCL). However, there have been calls from within the force for new video technologies to be introduced, especially in public order scenarios where gardaí have been confronted by angry crowds.
“In terms of protecting gardaí, I’m very keen to have that legislation through on body-worn cameras because that can obviously help in terms of the prosecution of people who have committed crimes but also it can enhance the safety of gardaí,” said Mr Varadkar.
In a submission on this matter, the ICCL has expressed its opposition to the introduction of body cameras.
“There is no substantive evidence that body-worn cameras are necessary or effective ... Further research is necessary into this issue and into the effectiveness of CCTV in preventing and detecting crime. We urge the Government to ensure that further research is carried out to prove its necessity and confirm its effectiveness in combating crime before surveillance technology is expanded for An Garda Síochána,” it stated.
It cited the Data Protection Commissioner’s findings that An Garda Síochána had made several breaches in the use of ANPR cameras, and in terms of access to CCTV monitoring rooms.
“The ICCL considers that this legislation, in providing for powers in relation to digital recording and surveillance tools, will impact people’s rights to privacy, protection of personal data, freedom of expression, non-discrimination, protest, and association,” it stated.
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Mr Varadkar reiterated the Government commitment to take in 1,000 new recruits to the force in 2023, which he said would make up for some of the shortages experienced when recruitment was halted during the Covid-19 pandemic.
“We’ll have the new Garda station on O’Connell Street in probably March or April of 2023 and that will mean a larger, and more permanent, presence in that part of the city which I think will be very welcome.
The Taoiseach also said he has told the temporary Minister for Justice Simon Harris that he had to give the job equal priority to his job as Minister for Higher and Further Education.
“That is not a caretaker role, I need him to give it his full attention and equal attention as he will for his other ministry and I know he will do that,” he said.