Garda Ombudsman wants power to investigate Garda Commissioner
Gsoc seeks major new powers including independence from Department of Justice
The Garda Síochána Ombudsman Commission wants the right to carry out no-warning searches at Garda stations. Photograph: Bryan O’Brien
The Garda Síochána Ombudsman Commission (Gsoc) wants the right to carry out no-warning searches at Garda stations and to investigate the Garda Commissioner without the consent of the Minister for Justice.
Currently, if the watchdog plans to carry out searches as part of its investigations into complaints about the force it must give the Garda prior warning.
If the watchdog’s request for major new powers was granted it would become a much more aggressive and faster moving organisation, with complete independence from Government.
Gsoc says the Garda Síochána Act 2005, which provides for the complaints body, is too complex. It says the Act contains so many shortcomings it should be set aside in favour of a completely new piece of legislation.
Judge Mary Ellen Ring, Gsoc’s chairwoman, has repeatedly complained the agency was not properly resourced and needs to be streamlined and made more powerful.
Gsoc, in a submission to the Government, has set out the full extent of what it is seeking, and the proposals would likely put it on a collision course with Garda management and staff associations.
For example, Gsoc wants the power to delay retirements of older Garda members until any investigations into them are completed. This would be met with strong resistance from the Garda Representative Association and Association of Garda Sergeants and Inspectors.
Currently a criminal charge can be pursued against retired gardaí, but not less serious disciplinary investigations.
If its request for independence from the Department of Justice were granted, it would only answer to the Dáil’s Public Accounts Committee.
Currently Gsoc’s accounting officer is the secretary general of the Department of Justice.
Gsoc believes this undermines its independence to investigate the Garda, which also comes under the remit of the department.
Gsoc investigates complaints against individual gardaí made by members of the public. It can also inquire into any issue or event related to the Garda that it deems in the public interest; though ministerial permission is needed for some investigations.
The watchdog must also investigate any incident involving the death or serious injury of a person at or around the time they have been in contact with the Garda.
In its proposal Gsoc says that rape and sexual assault should be added to the definition of serious injury.
It is also seeking greater powers to compel the Garda to furnish any evidence it needs for its investigations, which has been a major bone of contention in the past.
Gsoc has previously accused the Garda of frustrating investigations into very serious allegations of wrongdoing by delaying the surrender of evidence, such as documents.
It is also now seeking a much bigger role in investigating protected disclosures.
For example, in cases where Gsoc begins an investigation into a protected disclosure, it wants the power to broaden its inquiries when it sees fit. Currently it is compelled to focus on the specific allegations in the disclosure.
It wants to keep the identities of those making protected disclosures secret from the Garda authorities for much longer than at present.
It believes this would help ensure that neither witnesses nor evidence could be interfered with by gardaí under investigation or any other garda personnel.
Gsoc also wants more complaints to be resolved informally. It wants the power to decide when complaints can be dealt with in that way.
At present both the complainant and the Garda member must consent to formal resolution.
This has resulted in only one per cent of cases being dealt with that way. For all others a formal and lengthy inquiry must take place.