Audit of Garda finds ‘supervision vacuum’ and culture of silence

Some 6,500 officers respond to PWC survey and call for more sergeants to be appointed

Rank-and-file gardai have called for the appointment of more sergeants to manage and oversee teams of rank and file gardaí. Photograph: The Irish Times

Rank-and-file gardai have called for the appointment of more sergeants to manage and oversee teams of rank and file gardaí. Photograph: The Irish Times

 

The Garda is an organisation where speaking up to highlight wrong-doing is difficult and where attitudes to change and innovation are poor, according to a cultural audit of the force.

Garda members also strongly believed police powers were used responsibly and said a culture of honesty and integrity existed in the force.

The audit, the first of its kind for the Garda, was carried out by PricewaterhouseCoopers.

It highlights a “supervision vacuum” and one of its key recommendations is the appointment of more members to sergeant rank to manage and oversee teams of rank and file gardaí.

This concern has been echoed in repeated reports, including studies by the Garda Inspectorate, for almost a decade.

It will put pressure on Minister for Justice Charlie Flanagan to secure an increased Garda budget to allow more promotions to supervisory ranks.

The report comes after years of Garda controversies including the cancellation of penalty points and the inflation of Garda breath test figures.

The has also been concern in recent years about the accuracy of the Republic’s crime figures. The underestimation of the Republic’s annual homicide rate is now the subject of a major 15-year review.

The controversy arising from allegations brought forward by Sgt Maurice McCabe has been running for a decade. The Charleton Tribunal, which is currently underway. is the latest process examining Sgt McCabe’s allegations.

Responded

Some 6,500 Garda members responded to the PWC survey, around 40 per cent of the force. The findings suggest that while change is underway, very significant reforms are needed.

Based on the survey questions, eight “key cultural insights” emerged. Most will make difficult reading for the senior officers in Garda Headquarters.

The eight key cultural insights were:

- “Small is beautiful: We are committed to our immediate teams, but don’t hold senior leadership in as high regard.

- “It’s all about who you know: Our promotion / competition process isn’t based on meritocracy.

- “Silence means survival: Generally we have the personal courage to speak up, but fear the consequences of doing so.

- “Box ticking trumps the human touch: We spend considerable effort covering ourselves, in case our work is scrutinised unfairly.

- “We succeed despite our limitations: We believe we make a positive difference to our communities, but we don’t have access to the right resources, skills or ICT to help us.

- “Captives, not champions: There is a disconnect between likelihood to remain and likelihood to recommend AGS as a place to work.

- “One rule for me, another rule for others: I am held to account for my decisions and actions, but I don’t feel everyone else is.

- “Supervision Vacuum: There is insufficient front line supervision to coach mentor new recruits.

‘Big bang’

Acting Garda Commissioner Dónall O’Cualáin said he and his team would consider the report before decided how to respond to it. However, instead of a “big bang” response, approximately five reforms would be selected and then properly executed.

For example, measures to make it easier and more welcoming for Garda members to come forward with protected disclosures were being improved at present.

Senior Garda officers had also undergone integrity training. Competitions were also underway in the Garda to fill sergeant and inspector vacancies.

Mr O’Cualáin said the audit had highlighted poor transparency in the Garda. This was being address with reforms to the promotion system to make it more transparent.

“There are many positives from the audit. The great pride our people have in An Garda Síochána’s central role in protecting and supporting communities is evident,” he said.

“The strong belief that policing powers are used appropriately, and that we act with honesty and integrity. The esprit de corps among our people

“However, the audit makes it clear that we have a lot more work to do to reform our culture to meets the needs of our people, which should then result in an improved service to the public.”

Overall, Garda members believe the recently introduced code of ethics was being bedded down and having a strong influence on the force.

And while gardaí were slightly less convinced the five-year modernisation plan was working, overall it was regarded as having some positive impact on policing performance and culture in the Garda.

However, when asked about ‘cultural reinforces’ - the work practices they encountered day to day - the responses from those gardaí who took part in the survey were concerning.