Gardaí need clearer guidelines on arrests for drunken disorder
Delegates told many Garda stations had insufficient cells to hold all of those arrested for being intoxicated
PJ Stone, GRA general secretary, said the promotions system within An Garda Síochána was biased, with the sons or daughters of serving or former senior officers more likely to be promoted than others. Photograph: Conor Ó Mearáin
The death of a teenager after he was released from Garda custody underlined the need for clear guidelines on how the force should handle intoxicated people, the annual conference of the Garda Representative Association (GRA) has heard.
Delegates were also told that many Garda stations around the State had insufficient cells to hold all of those arrested for being intoxicated.
Garda Michael Corcoran, representing the Cork City division and a member of the GRA central executive, said while there were clear rules on the release of drivers arrested on suspicion of drunk driving, this was not the case for those arrested under public disorder provisions due to being intoxicated.
Garda Corcoran said members of the force always operated on the understanding they had a duty of care to those they had arrested for intoxication. In most cases they were released into the care of family members or loved ones. However, the difficulty arose for gardaí when they were unable to contact anyone on behalf of an arrested person or when nobody was available to attend the Garda station. It meant some people were being released without a family member or loved one there to meet them.
In one recent case, an 18-year-old was released after gardaí were unable to organise for anybody to be there to meet him. The teenager died a short time later, underlining the need for clearer procedures on the release of people arrested for intoxication.
Garda Corcoran said gardaí should be given discretion to hold people for longer than currently stipulated in legislation and until they were satisfied prisoners had sobered up.
He said there was also an accommodation problem, with only three Cork city stations having cells into which prisoners could be placed. This was insufficient, especially when a high number of prisoners were being held for being drunk.
Garda Ciarán O’Neill, representing the Special Detective Unit and also a member of the GRA’s central executive, said the process of interviewing suspects in custody was being hampered by the fact that gardaí had to write longhand all answers the suspects gave.
Despite interviews being audio and video recorded, gardaí were still working under antiquated rules. “We have to take everything said down in longhand and sometimes have to ask the prisoner to slow down while he or she is being interviewed,” he said.
He said the taped recording of the interview was only used in evidence when a dispute arose over the written version. On arrest, offenders were cautioned that anything they said would be written down and might be used in evidence against them.
Garda O’Neill said the caution had been changed in the UK a decade ago but remained the same in the Republic.
“There’s no point in us writing everything down and it’s not practical when it’s being recorded because we can’t have a free-flowing conversation with the prisoner,” he said.
At a time when the Garda was looking to develop smart policing, he believed the taped version of an interview should be used in the first instance.