Garda Síochána set to undergo radical reform up to 2022
New programme for force focuses on human rights, community policing and oversight
Taoiseach Leo Varadkar and Garda Commissioner Drew Harris. Photograph: Maxwellphotography.ie
An ambitious programme to radically reform and modernise the Garda and its oversight bodies, covering all aspects of police practice and culture, has been set out by the Commission on the Future of Policing in Ireland.
After more than a year working on the plan, the commission has set out a vision for the Garda with the protection of human rights at its core and in which community front-line policing would take priority.
If implemented, it would bring about the biggest transformation of the Garda in its near 100-year history.
The commission, headed by former US police chief Kathleen O’Toole, has suggested a major shake-up and reshaping of the Garda oversight bodies established in 2005 in the wake of the Morris tribunal on Garda corruption. The commission believed the current system of Garda oversight was too complex and confused.
Ms O’Toole said on Tuesday the proposals could be implemented by 2022. She believed the “transformative changes” put forward for the Garda would put it “at the forefront” of international policing.
The commission envisages greater powers for the Garda Commissioner in appointing his senior management team, including senior Garda officers working around him.
Also recommended is a new strategic threat-assessment centre within Government. It would gather and co-ordinate security intelligence at a time when global security challenges, including terrorism, become more complex.
It would report to the Taoiseach and would effectively mean civilian and political input into, and oversight of, both the Garda and Defence Forces State security functions for the first time.
However, the commission has stopped well short of recommending the creation of a standalone agency outside the Garda responsible for State security, as is the case in other countries.
Minister for Justice Charlie Flanagan described the commission’s report, which was published on Tuesday, as a “new blueprint for policing in Ireland”.
An implementation plan and new expert group to oversee the reform programme’s implementation would be in place in three months, he said.
The commission has suggested replacing the Garda Síochána Ombudsman Commission (Gsoc) with a new agency to take on the job of investigating complaints against gardaí.It believes the Garda Inspectorate and the Policing Authority should merge into one entity, called the Policing and Community Safety Oversight Commission.
This would examine and inspect Irish policing delivery, standards and practices, and empower local communities to become more involved in setting policing targets and priorities for in their own areas. The Garda Commissioner of the day would also be required to submit reports to it.
The inspectorate and authority noted the publication of the commission’s report, adding they would now study it and comment further later.
The commission has also suggested the creation of a statutory board at the top of the Garda to strengthen internal governance and management. The board would be made up of members with backgrounds in business and professional sectors and would help Garda Commissioner Drew Harris to “reorganise the police”.
Mr Harris said the proposals could help to deliver “better policing”. It contained over 50 recommendations “and many more points of good practice”.
“Some of the recommendations outline significant cultural, staffing, structural and system changes,” he said. “As such, it is important that we carefully consider the implementation of this report.”