Garda Ombudsman powers should be strengthened urgently, says O’Loan

Office should be able to investigate force’s most senior officers

Former  Police Ombudsman for Northern Ireland  Nuala O’Loan. File Photograph: Matt Kavanagh/The Irish Times

Former Police Ombudsman for Northern Ireland Nuala O’Loan. File Photograph: Matt Kavanagh/The Irish Times

Mon, Feb 17, 2014, 00:16

“The fact that the Garda Ombudsman does not have complete powers in a serious problem,” Northern Ireland’s first Police Ombudsman has said.

Nuala O’Loan said it was “a matter of urgency” that the legislation underpinning the Garda Siochana Ombudsman Commission ought to be reviewed to grant powers of investigation to senior officers including the Commissioner.

The State whould not have to confront this type of situation again, she said.

She further recommended that the position liaison officer, presently taken from the Garda, to act as a go-between between the Ombudsman and the Garda should be held by someone from outside the force.

Referring to her experiences as the first Police Ombudsman in Northern Ireland, Dame Nuala said tensions between the force and the oversight body were inevitable.

“We know that from the beginning, from the establishment of the Garda Ombudsman there have been tensions between the Garda and the Garda Ombudsman,” she told RTÉ Radio today.

“That’s not surprising. There were tensions between my office and the police in Northern Ireland and there are tensions across the world where you have independent investigators. There are certainly tensions in England and Wales where the independent police complaints commission operates.”

She further said that routine security sweeping of offices and communication systems was necessary and results ought to be kept secret. Such practices were “good housekeeping”, she said.

“The reality is that anybody who is doing investigations in the way that the Garda Ombudsman is, and indeed as I did, needs to bear in mind that there are people who might want to infiltrate you. It is just good housekeeping to carry out security sweeps. We did it. We never told anyone we were doing it. We never told anyone the results but we did it. You have to do it.

“You have to identify your possible attackers,” she said. “There are organised criminals who might have corrupt police officers working with them. Or you have to bear in mind that, yes, the police may wish to listen to what you are doing. It is common sense.

“You have to keep an open mind. And you can’t be put off by expressions of outrage by the Garda. I’m not going to talk about how often we would have done it (security sweeps), but we would have done it at intervals. We would have done it as good housekeeping simply and we would always have been risk-assessing the possibility that someone might have had an even greater interest in what we were doing at a particular time in a particular investigation and we would therefore have been keeping an eye on any necessary counter-intrusion techniques that we needed to sue. I’m not going to be more specific than that, but it is good housekeeping.”

She added: “I would not have told anyone the results because by so doing you are telling them how your systems operate. If you tell somebody that then that means that somebody who wants to compromise your systems has further useful information.”