Garda sergeants reject plans for greater GSOC powers

Frances Fitzgerald set for AGSI clash over reforms to see watchdog handle whistleblowers

New Minister for Justice Frances Fitzgerald is set for her first clash with Garda members after the group representing sergeants and inspectors said it "rejected" her first reforms to Garda oversight announced this afternoon.

The Association of Garda Sergeants and Inspectors (AGSI) is in strong disagreement with the decision by Ms Fitzgerald to assign to the Garda Síochána Ombudsman Commission (GSOC) the role of receiving from Garda whistleblowers confidential reports of Garda corruption and malpractice.

AGSI's general secretary John Redmond said only yesterday that he "seriously doubted" if his members would turn whistle-blower and go to report their concerns to GSOC, the very agency established to investigate complaints against them and their Garda colleagues.

He said today AGSI was now seeking an “urgent meeting” with Ms Fitzgerald to discuss its concerns.


The confidential recipient, a one-man part-time office whose holder is appointed by the minister for justice of the day, has been responsible for that function.

To date, GSOC has had no role in receiving or investigating allegations from Garda whistleblowers. And while it is charged with investigating complaints made against Garda members, it has only ever had the power to take complaints from the public. Since its inception, it has been prohibited from taking complaints from Garda members about others in the force.

“The questions arises as to how seriously the minister actually is about this whole matter in An Garda Síochána,” AGSI’s Mr Redmond said today of the changes announced by Ms Fitzgerald in the Dáil this afternoon.

“AGSI has stated widely that to make such an appointment will not add any credibility to the whistle blowing process.

“On the contrary, many of the men and women who are Sergeants and Inspectors have grave concerns about having to report to the GSOC, given that that very body investigates complaints and allegations against those very members.”

He also said until the publication of the Cooke report into suggestions on part of GSOC that its phones and WiFi were tampered with and likely bugged, Garda members would not know for certain whether the organisation they will now go to with serious concerns is under surveillance.

“Can people have confidence in reporting and discussing such issues in GSOC when that office may well have been bugged or may be bugged into the future?”

While he made those comments today, Mr Redmond had yesterday used his appearance before the Joint Oireachtas Committee on Justice to set out the opposition among the Garda force's middle management to the proposal by GSOC that it should become the confidential recipient.

The Ombudsman Commission appeared at the same hearing.

Both were before the committee, along with other stakeholder organisations, as part of a review by it into the Garda Síochána Act, which provides for GSOC and the other arms of Garda oversight.

That review was instigated by Government in response to the recent controversies around the State's handling of allegations raised by St McCabe and fellow Garda whistle-blower former Garda John Wilson.

The decision revealed this afternoon to give GSOC the powers currently held by the confidential recipient will be provided for by amending the Protected Disclosures Bill currently before the houses of the Oireachtas.

Until now, when Garda whistleblowers went to the confidential recipient, their allegations were then forwarded on the basis on anonymity to the Garda to investigate, despite their allegations being about the force.

In the recent case of St McCabe, the Garda probe concluded his allegations, mostly in connection with failure of service in Cavan-Monaghan in complaints made in 2008, were not supported by proof.

However, a review by Sean Guerin SC and published last week concluded the Department of Justice had taken the Garda’s word at face value and should not have done so.

Mr Guerin said while St McCabe's allegations were at this stage no more than allegations, an independent commission was now needed to test them.

Conor Lally

Conor Lally

Conor Lally is Security and Crime Editor of The Irish Times