Garda Síochána Act should be updated to allow GSOC function more effectively -Justice & Equality Committee

The legislation underpinning the Garda Síochána Ombudsman Commission, the Garda Síochána Act 2005, has been in operation for over ten years and should be amended and updated to facilitate GSOC in functioning more effectively and efficiently, according to a new Report on Garda Oversight and Accountability published today, 15 December by the Joint Committee on Justice and Equality.

Specifically, legislative reform should include:

•    At present, approximately 20% of the matters dealt with by GSOC are relatively minor complaints relating to service issues, such as alleged rudeness, verbal abuse. Handling these complaints can be both costly and time-consuming, and could be more efficiently dealt with by Garda Síochána line management. GSOC’s role in these instances should be limited to acting as a secondary body for unresolved matters.

•    Informal resolution, mediated by GSOC, to be used more widely and effectively, with GSOC granted the power to decide if informal resolution should be attempted.

•    Improved oversight of complaints referred to An Garda Síochána  for investigation under the Act.

•    Enhanced powers for GSOC in relation to reviewing investigations.

•    Dispense with the requirement for a second senior Garda officer to review the investigation file in supervised investigations.

•    In supervised investigations, Garda Síochána deciding officers ought to be required to provide a rationale for disagreeing with GSOC recommendations.

•    Implement measures to improve the timeliness of either conducting investigations and prompt provision of all information sought by GSOC.

•    A statutory framework for providing An Garda Síochána with observations of systemic issues arising out of complaints.

Other recommendations outlined in the report include:

•    Consideration should be given to extending an explicit statutory power to GSOC to investigate former members of An Garda Síochána.

•    That GSOC be empowered to accept and undertake to investigate matters dated beyond its current time limitation in circumstances where GSOC believes it appropriate or desirable.

•    The Garda Síochána (Policing Authority and Miscellaneous Provisions) Act 2015 makes provision for the Policing Authority to appoint persons to the senior ranks of An Garda Síochána.  The regulations and commencement order should be completed without further delay.

•    The statutory remit of the Policing Authority must be expanded to include the following functions and responsibilities:

(a) Supervise the functioning of the Garda Commissioner’s Office and supervise the discharge of functions by the Commissioner; 

(b) Appoint, supervise and, where appropriate, discipline senior management within An Garda Síochána, including the Garda Commissioner, the Deputy Garda Commissioner and Assistant Garda Commissioners. Such office holders should be fully accountable to the Authority for the performance of their functions and be liable for removal from office by this body if warranted; 

(c) Establish policies or procedures for An Garda Síochána, including the issuing of policy Directives; 

(d) Cause to be published and made accessible to the public all sections of the Garda Code and Garda operational policies and procedures, with the exception of certain clearly-defined tactical and/or security-related procedures; and
(e) Review the adequacy and appropriateness of the policies and procedures which underpin the operation of an effective policing service.

•    The Garda Inspectorate should be given the statutory power to make unannounced visits to Garda premises. The Inspectorate, in its presentation to the Committee, highlighted that it would not be a commonly used power if created.  It also noted that similar bodies in some other jurisdictions have this power. 

•    The important role played by whistleblowers within An Garda Síochána needs to be acknowledged and commended. Gardaí who identify and report poor policing and/or wrongdoing within the force play an invaluable role in improving accountability and enhancing the service provided by An Garda Síochána to the public. Although senior officers within An Garda Síochána assert that the actions of Garda whistleblowers are welcome, the culture within An Garda Síochána must develop and mature so that the true benefit of Garda whistleblowers who identify malpractice and/or wrongdoing is properly recognised within the force.

•    That sanctions should be introduced and applied to serving members of An Garda Síochána, up to and including demotion, where they are found to have interfered with and/or obstructed legitimate whistleblower claims and evidence; and in the most serious of cases, that sanctions up to and including dismissal from the Garda service apply.

•    That all structures engaged in Garda oversight and accountability be adequately resourced, in consultation with the respective bodies, to enable them to carry out their functions efficiently and effectively.

Committee Chairman Caoimhghín Ó Caoláin said: “One of the first items of priority for the Joint Committee at the outset of the 32nd Dáil was the issue of Garda oversight and accountability. Notwithstanding the outstanding work of the overwhelming majority of members of An Garda Síochána in ensuring the safety and security of the citizens of this State, the Service has been mired in controversy in recent years, relating, in particular, to whistleblower allegations. It is critical that public confidence in the Gardaí is restored and maintained by having the very highest standards of oversight and accountability.

“The primary focus of the Committee’s work was on changes to legislative powers of oversight bodies proposed in the hearings. As such, this report outlines in turn the views expressed by the three oversight bodies – the Garda Síochána Ombudsman Commission (GSOC), the Policing Authority, and the Garda Síochána Inspectorate. The Committee also met with the Garda Commissioner and senior representatives of An Garda Síochána.

“The Committee agrees that reform of An Garda Síochána oversight mechanisms is a matter of the highest importance, and should be addressed with both care and urgency.

“This Report has been sent to the Tánaiste and Minister for Justice and Equality, and the Committee looks forward to further engagement on this matter. The Committee recommends that the Minister gives due consideration to the suggested reforms detailed in this report and advises, at her earliest convenience, of the steps she intends taking and the timeframe involved.”

Access the report here.

ENDS/

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Committee Membership:

Deputies

Caoimhghín Ó Caoláin (Chairman) Sinn Féin
Colm Brophy                Fine Gael
Jack Chambers                Fianna Fáil
Clare Daly                Independents4Change
Alan Farrell                Fine Gael
Jim O’Callaghan            Fianna Fáil
Mick Wallace                Independents4Change

Senators

Frances Black                Civil Engagement Group
Lorraine Clifford-Lee            Fianna Fáil
Martin Conway                Fine Gael
Niall Ó Donnghaile            Sinn Féin