Delay in recruiting Commissioner ‘troubling’, says Garda watchdog

Delay could mean a new commissioner is not in place until summer 2019

Head of Policing Authority Josephine Feehily addresses the joint Oireachtas Committee on Justice on September 27th, 2017.

Head of Policing Authority Josephine Feehily addresses the joint Oireachtas Committee on Justice on September 27th, 2017.

 

The head of Policing Authority, Josephine Feehily, has said she was “troubled” by a suggestion that the process to fill the Garda Commissioner’s vacancy not even begin for another 12 months.

“The idea of a lacuna troubles me,” Ms Feehily told the joint Oireachtas Committee on Justice early today.

However, she said that idea and others put forward by the Commission on the Future of Policing in Ireland needed to be fully considered by the authority.

Ms Feehily also suggested waiting to begin the recruitment process would delay the appointment of the new commissioner by far more than one year.

It would take several months to draw up the new job specification, as the labour market and remuneration all needed to be researched to inform the new recruitment process that was being drawn up. Once that research had been completed, the actual recruitment process would take six months.

If the Government were to take the advice of the Commission on the Future of Policing in Ireland and not even begin the process for 12 months, it could be further nine months, summer 2019, before a new Garda commissioner would be in place.

Acting Garda Commissioner Dónall Ó Cualáin has taken over at the head of the force on an interim basis since Nóirín O’Sullivan stepped down in recent weeks.

Ms Feehily also said there was too much “ambiguity” in the legislation setting out how the Policing Authority recruited senior Garda officers, saying there was a different process for every rank.

Last night the Commission on the Future of Policing in Ireland said so much change was required in the Garda, and with the role of commissioner, that a job description for the Garda commissioner to be used in the recruitment process could not even be drawn up at present.

Its chair Kathleen O’Toole has also told Minister for Justice Charlie Flanagan by letter that he and the Government should wait until after its report on the future of Irish policing was published in 12 months before the recruitment process begins.

Appearing before the joint Oireachtas Committee on Justice early today, chair of Policing Authority Josephine Feehily said she agreed with many of the concerns now being raised by the commission.

She agreed, for example, with the commission’s view that any possible candidate considering applying for the Garda commissioner’s job needed to know what the post involved and what form the Garda would take in the years to come.

But she said several times during the hearing this morning that the idea of waiting for another year to begin looking for a replacement for former Garda commissioner Nóirín O’Sullivan was troubling to her.

She confirmed that while the authority would devise the process under which the new commissioner would be recruited, the Public Appointments Service would run the process, and she did not believe that arrangement was ideal.

However the Policing Authority would remain involved with the panel of people who would interview the candidates.

“We would expect to be significantly represented on such an interview panel,” she said.

On other matters, Ms Feehily said a long awaited report from the Garda on mistakes in how homicides were recorded and counted in official records for over a decade had finally been lodged with the authority in recent days.

She added the authority had never considered using its power to approach Government and recommended Ms O’Sullivan be removed from her position while she was Garda commissioner.

Ms Feehily said in the Commission of the Future of Policing letter to Mr Flanagan, which emerged last night, that it had pointed to the fact that there was insufficient capacity in the Garda to reform the force.

She added that until it could be determined whether “non compliance” or a lack of capacity was to blame for the slow rate of reform in the Garda, deciding if a Garda commissioner should be removed would not arise.

But she also said the authority’s last report on how the Garda was progressing with its reform was “shrill” in pointing out the slow and poor record of Garda reform of late.

On the issue of breath testing, she said she concerned at recent comments by the Garda Representative Association, which suggested its rank and file members had been pressured into inflating breath test numbers by senior officers chasing targets and promotion.

Ms Feehily believes the GRA should have spoken up earlier and that anyone in the Garda pressuring others to inflate data should be subject to investigation.

However, she added the GRA’s allegations first needed to be “stood up” before it could be acted on and action taken against individuals who pressured more junior Garda colleagues.