I thank the Chairman and members of the committee for inviting me to meet with them today to discuss the commission’s report and to share the rationale behind our recommendations. I am joined by Sir Peter Fahy, former Chief Constable of the Greater Manchester Police; Helen Ryan, a well-known Irish consultant and former CEO of Creganna Medical; and Professor Donncha O'Connell, NUI Galway.
As members are aware, the commission was tasked to undertake a fundamental review of policing in Ireland. We saw our role as charting a vision for the future that would be rightly ambitious for Irish policing and would anticipate future challenges given changes in society, criminality and technology. However, we recognised at an early stage in our work that vision would also need to be grounded in the reality of some significant challenges both for An Garda Síochána as an organisation and for the system as a whole.
The shortcomings we encountered in the course of our work are not merely, or even mainly, a question of resources. They are critical systemic problems related to culture, structures, accountability mechanisms and management processes. There is an urgent need for comprehensive and fundamental change. We respectfully suggest that implementation should be a first-order national priority. We have been encouraged by the initial response to our report by the Garda Commissioner, individual members of An Garda Síochána, Government and others, including several members of this committee. The announcement in the recent budget of specific financial commitments to the transformation process, the roll out of the IT mobility project and training needs is welcome. I know that a detailed consultation process is under way at present with the Garda Commissioner and the relevant agencies and Government Departments. This committee will also have a key role in informing the Government's views on our recommendations.
How our recommendations are implemented is, ultimately, a matter for Government and the Oireachtas. I am, however, more than happy to share with members the context for the recommendations we made and to answer any questions they may have. Members will be familiar with much of the detail of the report and will also be aware of our view that it should be implemented as a holistic reform package given the interdependence of key recommendations.
Before we move to our discussions, I am pleased to have the opportunity to share some insights into our recommendations and to highlight some key elements. At a fundamental level given that the purpose of policing is to protect the human rights of all members of society to live free from violence, abuse, crime and fear, we have recommended that An Garda Síochána has a human rights strategy and a human rights unit within the organisation to develop, implement and monitor that strategy.
We also proposed a new approach to policing and community safety that will ensure police are more visible in communities and can focus on preventing harm as distinct from a reactive approach. I understand that the committee's deliberations this term have a particular emphasis on community policing and that it has recently heard a detailed presentation on our proposals in this critical area from Dr. Johnny Connolly of the University of Limerick, who was also a member of the commission. In summary, we have recommended a new overall structure for An Garda Síochána that aligns the organisation with the core ethos of policing, which is service to the community and working with communities. We have recommended an approach at district level that makes local communities the central focus for An Garda Síochána to ensure that gardaí are more visible on the front line. We proposed a new definition of policing to include the concept of community safety and a stronger emphasis on harm prevention. We have also recommended that other agencies work with police in multidisciplinary teams to protect people and prevent crime and that communities should be formally consulted regarding how their local areas are policed. I am pleased that the emphasis in our report on the need for stronger interagency co-operation has been welcomed. We saw clear evidence during our consultation process of the frustrations and gaps in service to the community that can arise where the work of An Garda Síochána and other key agencies intersects. As we are all aware, in many circumstances the gardaí are likely to be among the few public servants on duty outside normal office hours. We have, therefore, recommended that interagency co-operation be underpinned by sharing information, with the appropriate safeguards, about persons identified as being at risk. We have also renewed a recommendation made in 2009 in a joint report by the Mental Health Commission and An Garda Síochána for multiagency crisis intervention teams, the objective being that police and other concerned agencies should be well equipped to handle mental health crises together. Police also need to be trained in the necessary special response techniques required in incidents involving vulnerable individuals.
We also made several recommendations for measures that would deliver a professional, ethical, modern and effective police service. Ireland deserves a professional police service that is well-managed, cost-effective and properly trained and equipped. The people of An Garda Síochána are its greatest resource. We say very clearly in our report that policing should be seen, and see itself, as a profession. This carries solid implications. A profession requires proper qualifications, robust training, continuous professional development, a commitment to a code of ethics, clear policies, high standards of service, accountability and a culture of continuous improvement. Our report includes important and substantive recommendations in all of these areas. It is vital that An Garda Síochána fosters psychological safety within the organisation and an environment in which people at all levels of the organisation feel able to share ideas on challenges, opportunities, problems without fearing retribution or marginalisation. This new culture must start from the top of the organisation and be embedded at all levels. Our recommendations include a new approach to recruitment and will mean one Garda organisation reflecting the full diversity of Irish society and with sworn and non-sworn members part of a single workforce with a shared mission. We have also endorsed recommendations by the Garda Inspectorate on new entry routes at more senior levels in the organisation and we have recommended recruitment of staff with the necessary specialist technical and other skills.
We have recommended a new approach to education in partnership with higher education institutions, no longer confined to Templemore. We have also recommended a flatter structure than currently exists with much greater scope for local decision making, new ideas and innovation. An Garda Síochána must develop effective management processes supported by technology. We have also been clear about the capacity and skills we believe are required in senior leadership to drive the necessary reforms and to run the police organisation effectively and efficiently. At a fundamental level, we recommended that the Garda Commissioner and leadership team be empowered to manage the organisation so that it can be truly accountable for delivery of its objectives.
To strengthen the internal corporate governance and management of the police organisation and ensure efficient use of resources, the commission has recommended that An Garda Síochána have a statutory board. The purpose of the board is to strengthen the governance and accountability of the organisation. The board will hold the Commissioner and senior management to account for the effective performance of their responsibilities. Its establishment would provide a more appropriate framework of governance between the Department of Justice and Equality and An Garda Síochána than currently exists. This fact was endorsed by the independent effectiveness and renewal group chaired by Pádraig Ó Ríordáin in its second progress report published last month in the context of the structural and governance reforms now being undertaken in the Department of Justice and Equality. The commission’s recommendation for a statutory board simply makes sense. It is "corporate governance 101", a term used by one governance expert earlier this year in the context of the restoration of the board of the HSE.
It is not a substitute for oversight of policing in Ireland as some commentators have claimed.
I want to be certain that this committee is fully informed on our recommendations on oversight. The commission’s report does not recommend the abolition of the Policing Authority or its functions, the abolition of the Garda Síochána Ombudsman Commission, GSOC, nor the undermining of an effective, independent complaints mechanism, nor does it recommend or imply any dilution of oversight or scrutiny of policing. On the contrary, it explicitly recognises the unique nature of policing and the importance of independent oversight in that context. We recommend combining and expanding the work of the Policing Authority and the Garda Inspectorate under a single umbrella oversight body, which we have suggested could be called the Policing and Community Safety Oversight Commission. It could just as easily be called the Policing and Community Safety Authority. The report is clear that the functions of this body would involve transparent scrutiny of policing, including through public meetings with An Garda Síochána, the opportunities presented by social media and other forms of meaningful engagement. The responsibilities will also include an enhancement of the inspection function, a focus on benchmarking professional standards of policing, and a role in promoting the interagency co-operation we believe to be central to the transformation of policing in Ireland. These functions are set out in Chapter 13 of our report.
We have recommended that the responsibility for appointments, including senior appointments, within An Garda Síochána should move to be the responsibility of the organisation itself, under the leadership of the Commissioner and the scrutiny of the board. Our view, as set out in the report, is that it is not appropriate for an agency responsible for oversight to have also responsibility for managing appointments. It compromises the ability of that agency to oversee and scrutinise with complete independence. This is especially problematic when it comes to making senior appointments. The report makes it clear that what we envisaged is a clear and transparent process for such appointments, carried out in line with current common practice in the public sector, which usually involves the Public Appointments Service or other expert recruitment organisations. It is not a regressive step. Also, and as we set out in the report, the successor to the Policing Authority, the Policing and Community Safety Oversight Commission, would have a defined and independent oversight role in making judgments on the integrity and effectiveness of this process.
The commission’s proposals for reform of GSOC would significantly strengthen the organisation as an independent and effective complaints mechanism. Under its proposals, GSOC would be renamed. This is not a strictly cosmetic change. Its purpose is to ensure no doubts about its independence from the Garda organisation. Likewise, to underline its independence, the head of the organisation would become the Accounting Officer. This function would no longer rest with the Department of Justice and Equality as it does now. In addition, the new complaints body would carry out all investigations itself. This would mean that police would no longer be investigating themselves, as is now often the case.
The new organisation would investigate incidents as well as individual actions, so that any broader lessons for the organisation could be identified. It would assess all complaints received and make a timely determination whether the complaint was a performance management issue. If this was the case, it would refer the issue back to An Garda Síochána to be addressed under performance management processes, which also require reform.
In the context of oversight and the proper exercise of accountability for policing, we also respectfully recommend a structured programme of meetings between this committee and An Garda Síochána. We hope that such an approach would also enhance the accountability system.
Overall, our proposals in this area respond in large part to the recommendations set out in this committee's report on oversight produced earlier this year. In summary, we believe the time has come to make a clear distinction between, on the one hand, the internal governance of the police organisation, for which An Garda Síochána and its Commissioner must be responsible, and the roles of the Department of Justice and Equality and the oversight bodies, whose independence must be without question to ensure their effectiveness. Let me stress that this approach enhances both the overall accountability of the police and the role of oversight bodies to investigate and scrutinise independently how police exercise their responsibility.
I now refer to the commission's proposals on national security. As we all know, the main threat to national security in the past has come from domestic groups. That threat has not disappeared and remains the source of concern, particularly in the Brexit context, combined with the non-operation of political structures in Northern Ireland. Today, however, the nature of the threat to national security is changing. Many places that in the past have not seen themselves as targets for international terrorists have suffered attacks. The means employed by terrorists have also changed, as social media and the Internet are used to plan attacks, radicalise impressionable minds and recruit operatives. Against this backdrop, the commission was of the view that the national security function should not be lodged entirely within the police organisation. We considered carefully whether to recommend the creation of a separate agency with powers going beyond analysis and intelligence co-ordination, but we are not convinced that this is either necessary or realistic at the present time.
In light of the changing threats to national security, however, we believe that it is vital now that security intelligence should be co-ordinated at a national level. This is also relevant in a context where it is increasingly important for Ireland to engage in important security co-operation with international partners. We therefore recommend the establishment of a new strategic threat assessment centre, STAC, at central government level, headed by a national security co-ordinator. The STAC would answer to the Department of the Taoiseach. It would bring the various relevant agencies of the State together to pool expertise and information and produce a comprehensive picture of the threats to the State. It would provide a permanent structure to support the work of the National Security Committee and Cabinet committee F, and support the development of a national security strategy. We have recommended that An Garda Síochána should retain operational responsibility for national security and a ring-fenced budget for its security and intelligence capability to enable the necessary recruitment of specialist expertise.
Our report also has important recommendations on cybersecurity. Across the world, government entities and private companies experience attempts to hack into their systems every day. Irish Government institutions, infrastructure and companies are all at risk from such cyber attacks, as are the many foreign companies based in Ireland that are important to this nation’s economy. We recommend the early formulation of an updated and comprehensive national cybersecurity strategy.
Ireland also needs to develop its capacity to address the threat, both within An Garda Síochána and in the national cybersecurity centre, and expand work with academia and the private sector. This is a matter not only of resources but also of the security apparatus of Government. The national security co-ordinator should therefore also be responsible for the national cybersecurity centre.
Some of the submissions received by the commission called for a single oversight framework for policing and security, a single set of eyes. I understand that this is an issue that this committee has also discussed. Our recommendations, however, are based on an analysis of international oversight arrangements for security and recognise that the security function of An Garda Síochána sits within a much broader state security framework. This will be reinforced by the establishment of the STAC.
We recommend the appointment of an independent examiner of terrorist and serious crime legislation, with powers to assess the conduct of security operations and to maintain a continual review of how security legislation is being implemented by police and other agencies.
Trust and consent of the people form the bedrock of an effective police service. My sense is that Ireland has done well, despite the challenges of recent times, to retain positive community relationships. However, community support and trust cannot and should never be taken for granted.
This is my final engagement as chair of the commission. It has been a real privilege to work with my colleagues on a transformative programme for the future of policing in Ireland at such a critical time. I see great commitment by all stakeholders to making it happen, once and for all. There will, no doubt, be hurdles ahead in implementation and delivery, but if all involved - An Garda Síochána, the Government, the Oireachtas, and the policing oversight bodies - really get behind a shared vision, it will succeed.
The vital role of individual members of An Garda Síochána and their staff associations in this process cannot be underestimated. We believe it can be done - indeed it must be done - in the interests of An Garda Síochána and the people it serves. I look forward now to discussions with committee members.