O’Sullivan’s report card reveals struggling efforts at Garda reform

Policing Authority report shows ex-commissioner reforms flagging in key areas

During Nóirín  O’Sullivan’s last days as Garda Commissioner the force said it had found 2,055 jobs “suitable for consideration with a view to possible civilianisation”. Photograph:  Colin Keegan/Collins

During Nóirín O’Sullivan’s last days as Garda Commissioner the force said it had found 2,055 jobs “suitable for consideration with a view to possible civilianisation”. Photograph: Colin Keegan/Collins

 

The crises around inflated breath tests, the wrongful conviction of motorists and financial governance at the Garda College in Templemore all stalked the last days of Nóirín O’Sullivan as Garda Commissioner.

There was a sense her approach towards them was led by damage limitation rather than admitting problems publicly at the earliest opportunity and then trying to fix them.

On Thursday, just four days after O’Sullivan stepped down, an update about how the Garda was getting on with its reforms was published by the Policing Authority.

It is effectively the last report card we’ll have of the O’Sullivan reign. It is by no means all bad. But it suggests her reform programme was struggling in many areas, as this summary of findings in three key areas underlines.

Code of ethics

The measure was enshrined in the Garda Síochána Act 2005 but not followed through. It was only earlier this year that the code was launched.

It is underpinned by nine principles, from committing to “uphold and obey the law” in a “fair and impartial way” to everyone in the Garda being “responsible for challenging and reporting wrongdoing”.

The authority believes if the code is introduced properly, gardaí would in time instructively act, and even think, by the code and the Garda would be transformed.

In its latest report it said while the implementation of the code was expected to unfold over the course of 2017, no implementation plan was devised.

It was only six months after the code’s January launch that a senior officer was appointed to take charge of its implementation, with its implementation now getting under way. This includes copies of the code being distributed to all Garda members, as well as regional launch event and training about the code.

The authority was concerned at the delays and will monitor the matter in the months ahead.

Victims

A major element of the Garda’s reform programme is to make police work victim-centred; including providing support for them and ensuring they are up to date with all developments in their cases.

This is being done by the creation of new units and teams across the country manned by staff trained to be expert in dealing with victims, often complex, needs.

The authority is to date very pleased with the “considerable” progress in this area.

It said the rollout by the Garda of the first protective services units and creation of a victim services office were milestone developments.

These could offer specialist policing services and support for all victims, including the vulnerable, children and trafficked persons among them.

In divisions across the Republic teams of 10 gardaí are being put together to work under a sergeant and with oversight from an inspector. All will be specially trained to deal with victims.

“Representatives from victims’ groups were unanimous [in] recognising the positive changes that have occurred with the establishment of the victim services offices,” the authority said.

Later it added: “Certainly there is great optimism and welcome amongst victims’ groups for the units and their benefit to victims.”

Staffing and civilianisation

Garda recruitment was stopped for much of the recession. And the pace of civilianisation has been slow. Hiring more sworn and civilian Garda members forms a key part of the Garda’s reform programme.

However, the authority has found lingering problems, especially with civilianisation.

The inspectorate for several years said it had found 1,500 jobs being done by gardaí that could be civilianised. The Garda initially disagreed, identifying between 152 and 163 posts that could be civilianised.

In a welcome move, we now know that during O’Sullivan’s last days the Garda said it had found 2,055 jobs “suitable for consideration with a view to possible civilianisation”.

While worried about the vague language used, the authority was also concerned that Garda Headquarters and senior ranks were not seen as suitable for civilianisation. “This something to which the authority will return,” it said.

Some 134 new civilian posts were sanction in January of this year. Yet despite staff pressures in areas such as IT and human resources, the positions remain unfilled. Some civilian IT positions sanctioned in 2015 are still not filled.

Business cases for new positions must be compiled and presented by the Garda to the authority. And the authority must then take the case to the Department of Justice and Department of Public Expenditure and Reform.

However, most of the business plans were of such poor quality they were could not be used and so Garda members are now being assisted by the authority in how to prepare them. And in other cases business plans were given to senior officers who did not pass them along to the authority.