Garda watchdog not privy to data on gardaí under investigation

Oireachtas group told force failing to provide oversight agency Gsoc with relevant records

Garda Commissioner Drew Harris told media at the Association of Garda Superintendents annual conference, ‘I think we need to share information’. Photograph: Nick Bradshaw/The Irish Times

Garda Commissioner Drew Harris told media at the Association of Garda Superintendents annual conference, ‘I think we need to share information’. Photograph: Nick Bradshaw/The Irish Times

 

An Garda Síochána is failing to provide the body responsible for oversight of the force with relevant records, sought as part of investigations into Garda members, an Oireachtas committee has heard.

Justice Mary Ellen Ring, chairwoman of the Garda Síochána Ombudsman Commission (Gsoc), said the authority’s lack of access to information from gardaí was “troubling”.

There was a “difficulty” in knowing whether gardaí had passed on all relevant information requested for Gsoc enquiries, she told the Oireachtas committee on justice on Wednesday.

Problems arose when gardaí passed on records specifically requested by Gsoc for an investigation, but failed to disclose other relevant information, Ms Ring said. “We can get what we ask for, but we don’t always get what is relevant,” she said.

Gsoc is responsible for investigating complaints against gardaí and whistleblower disclosures from members of the force.

In some cases, information had come to light which An Garda Síochána had previously told Gsoc they had no record of, Ms Ring told committee members.

The commission’s ability to provide effective oversight of the Garda force was hampered, as gardaí continued to conduct criminal and disciplinary investigations into its members, without informing the ombudsman, she said.

Gsoc said it was only becoming aware via media reports of some serious incidents involving Garda members that were being investigated internally. It also said it did not know how many gardaí were investigated internally each year because that information was not available.

This practice risked “undermining public trust if such investigations go wrong”, Ms Ring said.

New legislation would be required to give Gsoc a statutory right to information on cases involving gardaí, with the Department of Justice preparing a draft heads of a Bill.

Garda Commissioner Drew Harris agreed that Gsoc should be informed of investigations being carried out by the Garda into members of the force.

“I think we need to share information,” he said when asked by the media at the Association of Garda Superintendents annual conference in Naas, Co Kildare, on Wednesday evening.

“If there is wrongdoing being carried out by a Garda member then both organisations should know of that and share information accordingly.”

Superintendents react

The association’s president, Supt Noel Cunningham, rejected any suggestion that the Garda was covering up investigations into its own members. He did not believe it would be possible to do so, saying that criminal investigations in particular would involve civilian witnesses, who were not part of the force and who were free to talk about cases.

The same could be said for complainants whose allegations formed the basis of investigations. Supt Cunningham said he would like to see Gsoc expand on or clarify what it meant in raising the suggestion the Garda would be open to the charge of cover-up if investigations it had not told Gsoc about later emerged publicly.

A Gsoc spokeswoman said Ms Justice Ring had no comment outside what she had told the Oireachtas committee. However, Ms Ring was due to meet the Association of Garda Superintendents on the issues raised, said the spokeswoman.