Gardaí should lose power to decide if people are prosecuted, reform report says

Commission calls for creation of a national centre for intelligence collation and analysis

Kathleen O’Toole, chairperson of the commission on the future of policing in Ireland. Photograph: Nick Bradshaw/The Irish Times

Kathleen O’Toole, chairperson of the commission on the future of policing in Ireland. Photograph: Nick Bradshaw/The Irish Times

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Gardaí should lose the power to decide if people are prosecuted and members of the public should be able to report any concerns to the Garda by mobile app, a new Government-appointed group has recommended.

In order to free up more gardai for on-street policing, the commission also recommends the practice of gardaí prosecuting cases in court should stop, adding they should also not be required to attend inquests.

The Courts Service, and not gardaí, should also serve court summonses. And the Prison Service, rather than gardai, should escort prisoners; with the exception of high risk prisoners.

Also aimed at freeing up gardai for front line duties, the commission says all “immigration duties” performed by the Garda should be reassigned to the Irish Naturalisation and Immigration Service within the Department of Justice.

The Commission on the Future of Policing in Ireland reportalso recommends that Garda recruits who already have degrees should spend considerably less time in the Garda College, Templemore.

It also states gardaí who do not have third level education on joining the Garda should be encouraged to get a degree; adding a career in the Garda should be considered as a profession.

The commission, which has considered policing at home and abroad for over a year, published its report on Tuesday.

Headed by former US police chief Kathleen O’Toole, the commission’s report is intended to become a blueprint for Garda reform for the next decade.

It has recommended that a new district model for policing be introduced that priorities communities and ensures more frontline gardaí are visible in the ground in communities across the State.

Human rights

It also believes members of other police forces should be able to join the force.

The report says human rights should be the foundation and purpose of Irish policing and said the Garda should create a Human Rights Unit that would “implement and monitor strategy” to ensure “better human rights protection”.

It also says human rights training should be the starting point of a Garda recruit’s course and a theme running though every aspect of it”.

It said personnel in the Garda’s oversight and governance bodies should also undergo human rights training.

While human rights forms the recommended “first principle” for the Garda, the “second principle” is that “policing and national security are not the responsibility of the police alone”.

Under that principle the commission has called for other agencies and stakeholder organisations - including businesses, schools and voluntary organisations - should become involved in local policing partnerships.

The commission recommends a Cabinet sub-committee on justice and equality should review “joint strategic plans” for policing drawn up by a range of civilian organisations in the community in conjunction with the Garda.

A new Policing and Community Safety Act should be enacted, the commission says, “redefining policing and the role of the police service and other state agencies in harm prevention”.

Intelligence

The commission has also recommended “the immediate creation of a national centre for intelligence collation and analysis” that would be called the Strategic Threat Analysis Centre - STAC.

This would be “situated centrally within government”. It should be headed by a “national security coordinator” and answer directly to the Taoiseach.

The commission also calls for the creation of a “National Cyber Security Centre” that would report to the national security co-ordinator.

It has also recommended the creation of a new post called the “independent examiner of terrorist and serious crime legislation”. It would review the legislation governing national security. It would also adjudicate in those cases where Garda oversight bodies have been denied evidence or information from the Garda on national security grounds.

A new Policing and Community Safety Oversight Commission (PCSOC) is recommended to supersede the Policing Authority and the Garda Inspectorate.

The new oversight commission would have the power to carry out inspections and oversee policing. The Garda commissioner would submit reports to it and the body would also play a role in setting policing priorities.

It recommends the replacement of the Garda Siochana Ombudsman Commission with “a new independent complaints body”.

And this would have the power to investigate not only serving Garda members, but also those who have since retired or resigned.

A new unit should be established in the Garda to “reinforce the organisation’s commitment to addressing indiscipline”.

The report has also proposed a redundancy package.

Another proposed change would see responsibilities allocated to six Garda assistant commissioners based in the regions moved to three senior officers based in Garda Headquarters in Dublin.

Reaction

Responding to the report Garda Commissioner Drew Harris said its recommendations would help to deliver better policing.

“The report has over 50 recommendations and many more points of good practice. Some of the recommendations outline significant cultural, staffing, structural and system changes. As such, it is important that we carefully consider the implementation of this report”.

Minister for Justice and Equality Charlie Flanagan said the report made any innovative proposals including strengthening our national security arrangements and also contained a welcome focus on human rights.

He said the centenary of the establishment of An Garda Síochána in 2022 would be an appropriate target for implementation of the recommendations.

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