Tánaiste backs plans to fast-track use of controversial facial recognition technology by the Garda

Green Party has said it has concerns about the plan being pursued by Minister for Justice Simon Harris

Tánaiste Micheál Martin said he understood the concerns people have but that he favoured the use of FRT. Photograph: Jim Watson/AFP via Getty Images

Tánaiste Micheál Martin has backed plans to fast-track the use of contentious Facial Recognition Technology by the Garda without dedicated legislation, amid signs of a growing internal row in the coalition on the issue.

The Green Party has said it has concerns about the plan being pursued by Minister for Justice Simon Harris, which would see a piece of legislation currently working its way through the Oireachtas amended to enable the use of the technology.

The party, alongside other government TDs, wants dedicated legislation put in place so full parliamentary scrutiny of the proposal can be undertaken.

However, Mr Martin today indicated support for Mr Harris’ intended approach. “I would be personally ok with that,” he told reporters at a Fianna Fáil 1916 commemeration in Dublin’s Arbour Hill on Sunday. “We will discuss that at a government level - people have different perspectives, I acknowledge that,” he said. “Once the adequate safeguards are put in place, I do believe it’s moving in the right direction”.


Last week, a spokesman for the Greens in government said that party believes the issue of facial recognition technology is “far too complex to be dealt with by way of an amendment to an existing bill. This is particularly true given that significant concerns have been raised about its use in other countries”.

On Sunday, the Tánaiste said he understood the concerns people have but that he favoured the use of FRT in “very selected specific circumstances”, such as around child abuse and murder. He said every resource possible should be given the gardai to “either intervene and prevent the occurrence of terrible crime and deeds and also to enable them to investigate and uncover those who are responsible for crimes”>

He said technology was changing the world substantially and it was important to provide the tools to the force that are necessary to deal with some “heinous” crimes that do occur.

The Sunday Independent reported that the Garda commissioner, Drew Harris, had written to Mr Harris warning that new laws giving gardaí body cameras must include the ability to use FRT. The intervention, the paper reported, came just over two weeks ago. The Minister for Justice has outlined his intent to amend the Garda Síochána (Recording Devices) Bill currently going through the Dáil to allow for this.

Coalition to hear proposal on Garda use of facial recognition tech after concerns raisedOpens in new window ]

Mr Martin said crimincals are using technology and it was important that the Garda also be enabled to do so. A paper has been developed on the options available to government, he said, “so the particular legislative vehicle is not quite the issue in relaity”.

“Once you legislate, it’s the background work in respect of the issue,” he said.

Elsewhere, Mr Martin said it would be “very, very challenging” to put a so-called ‘Dublin bonus’ into the pay packets of teachers and nurses. While the government recongises the challenges they face in affording the cost of living - especially housing - he said drawing up a pay framework that would reflect and response to that would be difficult.

“I think there are broader measures we can take in respect of which we’ve taken in the last budget and the cost of living package around the tax credit for renters for example”. He said the government would assess the situation and engage with the unions more broadly.

Jack Horgan-Jones

Jack Horgan-Jones

Jack Horgan-Jones is a Political Correspondent with The Irish Times