Plans to allow gardaí to use facial recognition technology (FRT) are not about racial profiling or mass surveillance, but to help solve the most serious crimes, Minister for Justice Helen McEntee has said.
The Green Party has been resisting a proposal to include provision for the use of FRT in a new law to allow gardaí to wear body cams.
The party has civil liberties concerns and has been arguing for FRT to be dealt with in separate legislation.
Simon Harris, who took on the role of minister for justice while Ms McEntee was on maternity leave, had been trying to get the plan to include it in the body-cam legislation over the line in recent weeks.
Ms McEntee resumed her role as Minister for Justice on Thursday, setting out priorities including increasing Garda numbers and implementing the zero-tolerance plan to tackle domestic and sexual violence.
She also said she looks forwards to engaging “very closely” with Government colleagues, including the Green Party, on FRT.
“It’s over a year since I received a letter from the Garda Commissioner outlining why they need it. This is not for racial profiling. This is not about mass surveillance,” Ms McEntee said, adding that it will not be “live” FRT.
She said “this is for the most serious of crimes” and gave the examples of murders, child sexual abuse and abductions.
Ms McEntee said it is about equipping gardaí so that trawling through hundreds of hours of video footage can be “much quicker”.
She said: “I really look forward to working with my colleagues in Government but I really want to see this pass for all of those reasons.”
It is unclear whether Ms McEntee will seek to proceed with Mr Harris’s plan to include FRT in the body-cam legislation, and a spokesman did not immediately respond to a query on her plans.
The Green Party says it supports the original legislation to allow gardaí to use body cams but did not support Mr Harris’s plan to amend this to include FRT.
A spokesman said: “While we are not ruling out the introduction of a limited form of FRT, we believe that the introduction of any form of artificial intelligence could have such enormous consequences that the Government should proceed with caution.”
He pointed to a Government working group that is developing principles around the proper and ethical use of artificial intelligence (AI) and said this could be “used to inform a stand-alone bill on FRT which would then be studied in-depth by an Oireachtas committee”.
The spokesman said: “Such a move would allow the existing body-cam legislation to proceed as originally intended while avoiding taking a rushed approach towards the extremely sensitive area of FRT.”
Ms McEntee, a Fine Gael TD for Meath East, gave birth to her second child, Vincent, in December.
She said on Thursday: “He’s great. He’s 5½ months now – didn’t know I even left the house.
“My other little fella may be a little bit more upset to see mammy go but all went well this morning.”
Tweeting a picture of her return to office on Thursday morning, along with a briefing document that had been scribbled on with a marker, she joked: “Someone got to my brief at home before I did.”
Ms McEntee was the first serving cabinet minister to give birth while in office when her first son, Michael, was born in 2021.
There remains a lack of formal maternity leave provision for TDs and Senators.
Earlier this week The Irish Times reported that the Oireachtas Women’s Parliamentary Caucus is to meet Minister for Equality Roderic O’Gorman after he warned that introducing maternity leave for Oireachtas members would have “practical implications”.
This included how allowances for women politicians should be dealt with while on maternity leave.
The Government previously said it would legislate for maternity leave for women Oireachtas members in the Work Life Balance Act 2023, which was signed into law by President Michael D Higgins last month.
However, due to the “complexity” of the proposals around maternity leave for politicians, Mr O’Gorman decided to bring such measures forward in a stand-alone Bill.
Chair of the Women’s Caucus, Fianna Fáil Senator Fiona O’Loughlin, said ad-hoc arrangements are still in place when it comes to maternity leave for politicians.
She said there “needs to be clear policy and legislation enacted to support present and future members of the Oireachtas”.