Garda watchdog is seeking a radical new system

GSOC wants extra powers to investigate complaints against members of the force

The Garda Síochána Ombudsman Commission’s offices.  Photograph: Collins

The Garda Síochána Ombudsman Commission’s offices. Photograph: Collins

Wed, May 14, 2014, 13:03

The Garda Síochána Ombudsman Commission (GSOC) has said the entire system of Garda oversight introduced after the Morris Tribunal needs to be “reset” and believes it should be permitted to subsume the office of confidential recipient into its operations.

The extra powers now being sought by the Garda watchdog, coupled with its recently introduced unfettered access to the Garda’s PULSE data base, would usher in a radical new system under which the oversight powers of the commission over the Garda force would be total.

The commission, which outlined its proposals to the Oireachtas Committee on Justice this morning, also wants to investigate a wider range of complaints against members of the force.

For example, under the current provisions of the Garda Síochána Act, which provides for the commission, only cases involving “death or serious harm” to a person around the time of contact with Garda members must be referred by the Garda Commissioner to the watchdog for investigation.

GSOC chairman Simon O’Brien told the committee that definition does not include allegations of, for example, sexual assault on the part of a Garda member.

“(Sex crimes) can be investigated internally, which we do not believe is fair for any party involved,” he said.

He complained the commission was continuing to experience delays in receiving evidence, files and documents requested from the force as part of its investigations.

This is despite a high profile dispute with the force, when it alleged the Garda had for years deliberately frustrated its biggest investigation to date.

In that case allegations around the handling of a Garda informant who was allegedly still dealing drugs while an informer and had serious drugs charges against him dropped were probed for four years. No evidence of wrong doing was ever found.

The reforms now being sought by GSOC have emerged under a new review process of Garda oversight being conducted by the Justice Committee at the instigation of Government and following the recent Garda whistleblower controversies. They include:

*A streamlining of GSOC’s procedures for handling what it termed minor complaints against gardaí. It believes allegations of discourtesy or poor response performances by Garda members should not be dealt with by GSOC being obliged to open a full and formal investigation. It believes informal resolution should be used more often and that restrictions stipulating such as procedure can only be used if the gardaí at the centre of complaints agrees needs to be removed. Currently only one per cent of complaints to the commission are informally resolved.

* GSOC believes the current system of it referring some serious complaints to the Garda to investigate on its behalf, though with oversight retained, is unsuitable and should be stopped. However, if the system were retained, the Garda force should be obliged to send the full file on its investigation to GSOC so the watchdog can decide on any further actions to be taken.

* It is pushing for the placement on a statutory footing the obligations of the Garda in cooperating with requests from GSOC during investigations. These include the timely provision of information and evidence to the watchdog, an obligation GSOC has long claimed is not being adhered to and for which it believes there is no deterrent.