‘Disrespectful’ gardaí failed to appear at Oireachtas committee

Absence of senior officers was criticised as committee hears of homocide case reviews

“I think it is disrespectful, I think it is a laugh and I think it is wrong,” Labour TD Alan Kelly said. Photograph: Cyril Byrne

“I think it is disrespectful, I think it is a laugh and I think it is wrong,” Labour TD Alan Kelly said. Photograph: Cyril Byrne

 

Top-ranking gardaí were branded “disrespectful” by politicians for failing to appear before the Oireachtas Justice Committee on Wednesday in a perceived snub its members said would not be tolerated again.

Acting Commissioner Dónall Ó Cualáin was invited to address issues on oversight and accountability, but was overseas. Deputy Commissioner John Twomey, meanwhile, was attending a ceremony at the garda training college in Templemore.

Their absence drew sharp criticism from committee members seeking their views on a range of issues including an ongoing review into garda homicide statistics.

“I think it is disrespectful, I think it is a laugh and I think it is wrong,” Labour TD Alan Kelly said, noting the committee had not been forewarned of the unexpected absence.

Mr Twomey’s participation at a Templemore ceremony represented, he said, a “choice between giving out certificates . . . or coming here for an accountability exercise on behalf of the Irish people. Now I would think the latter is, with all due respect, the bigger priority.”

Independent TD Clare Daly said the non-attendance “will not be happening again”, and explained that it made the committee’s job difficult.

At one point, the committee chair, Sinn Féin TD Caoimhghín Ó Caoláin, said it had been made clear “that this is not something we would accept on a continuum, that’s for sure”.

Civilian manager

The garda team at the committee was headed instead by chief administrative officer Joseph Nugent, the force’s highest-ranking civilian manager who assured the committee its frustration would be relayed to the Commissioners.

However, he pointed out the invitation was for the Commissioner or a nominee and that he was at the same level as a Deputy Commissioner with many of the agenda issues occupying his area of responsibility.

“It doesn’t always have to be the case that somebody in uniform has to sit here and I would like to think the committee would agree with that,” he said.

In his opening address, Mr Nugent said a review team established to examine homicide classifications had completed 12 of 41 priority cases between 2013 and 2015.

“Certain commonalities have been identified in the cases reviewed such as the revisiting and upgrading of investigative actions and crime classification on [the garda database] Pulse, which had been overlooked,” he said.

Recommendations have been made for changes to the Pulse system but the work of the review group will not be completed by its initial deadline at the end of April.

Mr Nugent and other officers reassured the committee that civilian analysts Lois West and Laura Gilligan were playing a central and “equal” role in the review, following a series of questions on their treatment by An Garda Síochána.

The analysts had previously sought to highlight concerns with homicide statistics but had come under pressure from garda officers to sign off on data. Their treatment had been labelled “deplorable” by the Policing Authority.

“I would like to believe that the two individuals concerned would see that there is a change in the approach and that they are directly involved and that they are considered important and equal members of the process,” Mr Nugent told the committee.

‘Key people’

Chief Superintendent Brian Sutton, overseeing the review of 41 deaths, said the analysts were “key people” on his team.

Meanwhile Mr Nugent conceded that garda ICT (information, communications and technology) staff numbers had fallen “very significantly”, leading to an over reliance on contract staff.

“We recognise that that’s not the way we want to run the operation,” he said.

“It’s a source of some frustration that the process of getting approval for ICT staff has been quite cumbersome.”

Mr Nugent said this had followed severe budgetary issues during the recession, when capital expenditure had fallen by 50 per cent.

“In the last 12 months, the number of in-house skilled resources in ICT has increased and it will increase further in the coming years,” he said.