Garda Síochána ‘generations behind’ in technology says commission head

Seattle Police Commissioner Kathleen O’Toole says she is focused on the future

The head of the Commission on the Future of Policing in Ireland, Seattle Police Commissioner Kathleen O’Toole says she is focused on the future not the present or the past. Photograph: Matt Kavanagh

The head of the Commission on the Future of Policing in Ireland, Seattle Police Commissioner Kathleen O’Toole says she is focused on the future not the present or the past. Photograph: Matt Kavanagh

 

The head of the Commission on the Future of Policing in Ireland, Seattle Police Commissioner Kathleen O’Toole says she is focused on the future not the present or the past.

She envisages that the Commission will make recommendations in five key categories rather than hundreds of suggestions, she told RTÉ’s Today with Sean O’Rourke show.

There is now a real appetite for reform, she said. “Once the economic crisis hit it seemed like people lost focus, they had greater priorities. There is a sense of urgency now. “

The independent commission on Irish policing was formed in 2016 in the wake of several scandals in An Garda Síochána. Garda Commissioner Nóirín O’Sullivan retired earlier this month, citing the “unending cycle” of investigations and inquiries as a reason. Recent controversies include inflated breath test figures, the Disclosures Tribunal chaired by Mr Justice Peter Charleton and a Public Accounts Committee investigation into financial mismanagement at Templemore Garda training college.

The Commission on the Future of Policing is tasked with examining the structure of An Garda Síochána, the culture and ethos, recruitment, training and management. Oversight and accountability in the force will be examined as will whether the Policing Authority and the Garda Síochána Ombudsman Commission (Gsoc) should be given more powers will also form part of the scope of the inquiry.

“The appetite in Government for change waned during the Recession. Now there is an appetite for change,” said Ms O’Toole.

The recommendations from the Commission will have to be transformational, she said.

“We didn’t want to propose a list of one hundred recommendations. We will focus on five categories for massive change such as the governance structure, technology and innovation - sadly the Garda Síochána is generations behind.”

On the issue of leadership and structure she said that no one person will be able to pull off the required changes, the force will have to rely on people with a variety of skills.

But she warned that unless there is the political will to implement the recommendations then the changes will not occur.

Transparency and honesty are essential when dealing with oversight bodies, she added.

Leadership is not just about policing skills, she said. “One has to run what is essentially a business with 16,000 to 17,000 staff and a budget of €1billion.

When asked about a proposal for more civilian members of Garda management, Ms O’Toole said this should happen and that a large proportion of her team are ‘non-sworn.’

Recent events within the Garda Síochána had been devastating for morale within the force, she said and people were really receptive to new ideas.

In reply to an answer about last week’s GRA claim that Garda management encouraged the ‘elevation’ of breath test figures, she said that there was a need for reliable date and that the issue will ‘rightfully be questioned.’

Ms O’Toole also said there was also recognition that the force could use some technical advice.

She said that the Commission wants to encourage a national dialogue on policing and that the public has been extremely supportive. “They want to see the Gardaí succeed. They want to see things get better for the organisation.”

She added that she would like to weigh in and have a say in what a future Garda management team should look like.

“In the end we want these recommendations to be transformational.”

Ms O’Toole said she had deliberately ruled herself out of the running for the position of Garda Commissioner so there could be no confusion.

When asked if the next Commissioner should come from within or outside the force, she said: “I think it needs to be the best person.

“There is some incredible talent coming up through the ranks. We shouldn’t rule out any one.”

Ms O’Toole’s contract with the Seattle police department concludes later this year after which she anticipates spending more time in Ireland. The public consultation process will require her to spend more time here, she added.