The Policing Authority has said it will not be offering any clarity to Garda members around when they can use force, despite comments by Minister for Justice Helen McEntee in the immediate aftermath of the Dublin riots.
Authority chairman, Bob Collins, has said he was pleased no request to provide “clarity” on the use of force was contained in correspondence it received from Ms McEntee in the wake of the riots. However, in the same interview on RTÉ Radio One, Mr Collins added Ms McEntee had “specifically” asked the authority to review how gardaí might be better trained, and know the law, around use of force.
While his comments appeared to contain some contradiction, a Policing Authority spokeswoman on Monday told The Irish Times it would not be advising gardaí about how force could be used. She said the authority would review how well equipped and trained Garda members were “to facilitate their decision making” around the use of force.
However, the authority would not be offering any clarity to gardaí around the manner they could use force, including to ensure they avoided subsequent investigation. Instead, senior Garda officers must set out tactics for operations and individual gardaí must use discretion, based on the nature of the situations they faced while on duty.
In reply to queries, the Department of Justice did not address questions about why Ms McEntee’s request to the Policing Authority did not specifically reference clarity around the use of force by gardaí.
It added Ms McEntee had asked the authority to examine the Garda’s implementation of a 2019 report on public order policing by the Garda Inspectorate and to examine related issues “at a system level”. This included “training, policy, practice and resourcing” aimed as supporting gardaí “in the exercise of their lawful powers including the use of force”.
In the immediate aftermath of the riots, Ms McEntee and Garda Commissioner Drew Harris acknowledged some of the gardaí on duty were reluctant to use force. The Garda staff associations have said their members feared being the subject of complaints about excessive use of force and then being investigated, even for years, by the Garda Siochána Ombudsman Commission (Gsoc).
Ms McEntee said she did not want gardaí “looking over their shoulders responding to these incidents where they feel that force is necessary”. As a result, she planned to ask the Policing Authority “to provide that clarity” for gardaí “so they do not feel that they are operating with their hands behind their backs”.
However, while Ms McEntee has said contacted the authority, her letter stopped short of asking it to provide clarity to gardaí around use of force. Instead, she asked the authority to explore how gardaí might be better prepared for situations involving force. This included training, equipment and knowledge of the law and any other measures that “might enhance policing performance and support the gardaí” when faced with violence like that witnessed during the riots.
Speaking on the This Week programme on Sunday, Mr Collins said it was not within the statutory remit of the Policing Authority to provide clarity to gardaí around using force. That was for “the law” and senior Garda officers to do.
He said gardaí had discretion around the use of force, and should be prepared to use it, “even if the consequence is there be a complaint made” about them to Gsoc. Perceptions of “a lack of fairness” or delays with those Gsoc inquiries “need to be addressed”.
But he did not believe any Gsoc inquiry “inhibits the capacity of the gardaí to police properly”. The Garda code of ethics established by the authority at the beginning of 2017 also made it “quite clear that powers are available to gardaí”.
“And it says, simply and clearly, in that code ‘law and public safety may oblige gardaí to use their powers’; oblige, not permit. Oblige. And in those circumstances it’s difficult to be certain as to why there might be a reluctance or an apprehension to protect themselves, to protect the public, to deter illegal activity, to protect their colleagues.”
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