AGSI rules out GSOC as confidante for whistle-blowers

Gardaí reluctant to confide in body which may have investigated them, conference hears

GSOC should not be appointed as a confidential recipient for Garda whistle-blowers as members may be reluctant to confide in a body which may have investigated complaints against them, the AGSI conference has heard.

AGSI National Executive member Antoinette Cunningham said the Garda Síochána Ombudsman Commission (GSOC) was set up with the very clear objective of investigating complaints against members of An Garda Síochána and that asking it to act as a confidential recipient may not achieve the aim of encouraging whistle-blowers to come forward.

“There is a suggestion that GSOC might be the appropriate confidential recipient. AGSI at national executive level do not agree with this proposition,” Ms Cunningham told delegates at the association’s annual conference in Killarney.

GSOC “was established to deal with complaints against members of An Garda Siochana and we believe our members would be reluctant to confide in a body that may have previously investigated them,” she said.

Ms Cunningham welcomed recent comments by Acting Garda Commissioner Noirín O’Sullivan that people who come forward within An Garda Síochána with concerns about malpractice need to be protected and mechanisms need to be in place to allow them come forward with these concerns.

“But we must ensure that our members are not discouraged from raising issues because of who the confidential recipient is, and therefore we call on the Garda Commissioner to review the current charter and ensure that any system that is reviewed is safe , robust and confidential,” she said.

Ms Cunningham welcomed a motion from the Donegal branch and said that they were justified in seeking a review of the existing confidential reporting charter to make it more robust in the protection of genuine whistleblowers within An Garda Síochána.

“The fundamental element of any charter is that confidential reporters or whistleblowers do not suffer reprisal or fear of victimisation. Their identity must be protected and their claim taken to be genuine unless it subsequently proves not to be so.

“We do not want to see allegations of malpractice being buried - we have nothing to be afraid of and we want to be able to report in confidence,” said Ms Cunningham, adding the damage caused by recent the recent whistle-blowers controversy needs to be repaired as a matter of urgency.

“Consideration too has to be given by management that confidential reporting is even more difficult where a hierarchy command exists as it does in An Garda Síochána and so greater protections must be provided for those reporting to be put in place.

“Protective measures need to be included where members do not suffer retaliation as a result of reporting with sanctions and remedies clearly outlined,” said Ms Cunningham who welcomed the appointment of retired District Court Judge Patrick McMahon as a confidential recipient.

Proposing the motion which was unanimously supported Jim Collins from Donegal said that it was clear from media coverage of recent events that existing protections were not robust enough and this had dealt a serious blow confidence in the current system of confidential reporting.

“It is our belief that the current system is deterring whistle-blowers within An Garda Síochána from reporting any matters they may deem relevant to these regulations, thus defeating the intended purpose of the legislation and regulations created to allow for the confidential reporting of corruption or malpractice in An Garda Síochána.”

Barry Roche

Barry Roche

Barry Roche is Southern Correspondent of The Irish Times

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