Shatter’s moves on Garda fall short of reform needed

Opinion: Whistleblower episode is just a symptom of much deeper issues of accountability in the way the State is policed

Mon, Feb 10, 2014, 01:01

The 2005 Act was fundamentally flawed in that it puts the commissioner beyond the remit of GSOC.

In contrast, the police oversight bodies in Northern Ireland and in Britain have authority to investigate their various chief constables.

This does not simply put the individual who happens to be commissioner off limits for GSOC. It means that every action or file that passes through the commissioner’s office, every instruction given from there and every decision taken there in relation to operational matters can be sealed off from GSOC inquiry.

Superficially plausible

Mr Shatter, like other ministers for justice before him, argues that this is necessary because the commissioner is also head of the national security service. This is a superficially plausible but inherently indefensible position. It allows the Garda to duck and dive behind the protective screen of “State security” whenever any embarrassing set of circumstances presents itself. And it means that decision-making at the highest levels in the national police force is effectively beyond independent scrutiny.

It was the invocation of “State security” that largely facilitated the Donegal policing scandals.

Policing and security functions

It would a relatively simple matter to separate the c

ommissioner’s policing and security functions. In fact the 2005 Act provides a complex mechanism, involving judicial oversight, for doing so in relation to certain investigations, although it has never been implemented.

In such an arrangement, GSOC could have oversight of the commissioner’s civic policing role (as in Northern Ireland and Britain) while alternative arrangements could be made for oversight of his security role.

For example, in Britain the heads of MI5 and MI6 report to the intelligence and security committee at Westminster. (In effect, the Garda Commissioner reports to no-one outside the Department of Justice on his stewardship as head of national security.)

If the Minister and the Government were serious about bringing transparency and accountability to An Garda Síochána, these are the sort of measures that should be under active consideration.

Sgt McCabe and former Garda John Wilson were, in effect, thrown to the wolves and subjected to vile threats and slurs from so-called colleagues.

The reputation of the force itself has been damaged and senior officers have been placed in invidious positions.

Attending to the symptoms, as the Minister has belatedly undertaken to do, is better than nothing. But it is a long way short of the real reform that is required.

Conor Brady was a member of the Garda Síochána Ombudsman Commission from 2005 to 2011. He is a former editor of The Irish Times

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