Garda authority vows to question top management ‘rigorously’

Josephine Feehily says policing benefits from ‘the maximum transparency possible’

File photograph of Policing Authority chairwoman Josephine Feehily: “I think the public meetings are our biggest soft power in asking the commissioner questions.”

File photograph of Policing Authority chairwoman Josephine Feehily: “I think the public meetings are our biggest soft power in asking the commissioner questions.”

 

The new Policing Authority will publicly question Garda Commissioner Noirin O’Sullivan and her senior team repeatedly and rigorously about their record in office, the body’s chairwoman Josephine Feehily has said.

Speaking 10 days before the first public appearance of Commissioner O’Sullivan before the authority, Ms Feehily said the public nature of the meetings would bring transparency.

She also said the authority would publish a lot of written material and reports presented to it by Garda Headquarters on various areas of policing in Ireland and she expected senior Garda management to do the same.

“I think the public meetings are our biggest soft power in asking the commissioner questions,” Ms Feehily said.

At the first appearance of Commissioner O’Sullivan before the authority next Monday week, Ms Feehily said she would be selecting the section on community policing contained in the Garda’s current policing plan and would quiz the senior officers on whether the objectives in it had been met.

These public sessions would occur at least four times a year and could only lead to greater “community confidence,” she said at the close of the Association of Garda Sergeants and Inspectors (Agsi) annual delegate conference in Westport, Co Mayo.

“I don’t know whether they’ll perceive it as pressure or not, you’ll have to ask them that,” she said of Commissioner O’Sullivan and her team.

“But certainly the rigor of regular public meetings, I think will bring a discipline and a persistence to the discussion around performance which I think is healthy.

“And it’s healthy for the community to see the commissioner and her team being asked questions regularly; not just now and again (on the occasion of) the latest outrage.”

She believed the regular and public holding to account of senior Garda officers had been missing from the criminal justice system in Ireland to date.

While the Garda Inspectorate’s reports had been critical of community policing it represented just “one side of the discussion”. The other side would emerge when the commissioner was questioned about it.

“There is no getting away from the fact that community confidence is enhanced by visibility; that’s clear,” Ms Feehily said.

However, while a lot of the public debate had centred around claimed increases in rural crime, she said the crime data showed the problem was worse in urban areas.

She said the authority had not yet considered the impact of Garda station closures but would do so in the autumn.

However, there was a difference between “policing and physical bricks and mortar”. And the discussion about stations being closed had “overshadowed the discussion about policing in the community”.

Ms Feehily spoke to the media at the same conference that the leadership of Agsi had said they were willing to break the law banning them from striking if they did not get some level of pay restoration after years of cutbacks.

And when Commissioner O’Sullivan was asked for her comments, she declined to take questions, walking away from the media and saying she was under time pressure.

Asked if the Garda had a closed and fearful culture around dealing with the media, Ms Feehily said did not know yet. However, she believed “the maximum transparency possible” was best for policing.

“If there are public meetings from time to time and they are broadcast, maybe that will assist in changing the culture. Because, ‘why wait to come to the public meeting to say something’.

“The transparency piece that the authority can bring, perhaps it will influence that culture in a positive way.”

On the issue of how the Garda met the challenges posed by organized crime gangs, Ms Feehily believed the force had been very successful.

“They know the actors and you’ve seen the successes they’ve had when they deployed against (gangland) figures.

“And I think there’s been a very active period since the Regency (Hotel shooting) in terms of arrests and successes and so on.”