Garda watchdog seeks extra powers of inquiry
New measures would make ombudsman commission more independent
GSOC commissioner Kieran FitzGerald yesterday said he accepted its response to Seán Guerin’s requests for information for his report on the response by the State to Garda whistleblowers was too slow.
The body charged with investigating complaints against gardaí is pushing for a range of new powers in response to the problems that it and Garda whistleblowers have encountered in trying to investigate and expose wrongdoing in the force.
News that the Garda Síochána Ombudsman Commission (GSOC) wants additional powers comes just a day after Minister for Transport Leo Varadkar said the agency was “toothless” and needed to be strengthened.
Mr Varadkar also suggested that the Department of Justice was not fit for purpose because it had simply accepted the assurances of the Garda when questions were asked about the force’s work.
GSOC was criticised in the report by Seán Guerin SC into the response by the State when Garda whistleblowers Sgt Maurice McCabe and former garda John Wilson raised their concerns.
Specifically the report noted that documentation sought by Mr Guerin from the commission was not forthcoming. It also said State agencies like GSOC needed to heed voices like Sgt McCabe when they came forward.
The commission pointed out it was prohibited from investigating complaints by gardaí against others in the force. It said it had prepared documentation for Mr Guerin but was seeking assurances it would be treated confidentially and was not aware there was such a tight deadline.
GSOC commissioner Kieran FitzGerald yesterday said he accepted its response to Mr Guerin’s requests for information was too slow.
The Irish Times has learned GSOC has made a submission to the review process of the Garda Síochána Act 2005 being undertaken by the joint Oireachtas Committee on Justice in response to recent controversies. The Act provides for GSOC and other elements of Garda oversight, including the Garda Inspectorate and Confidential Recipient, all of which were established in the wake of the first reports by the Morris tribunal into Garda corruption in the Donegal division.
Security sources said some of the powers being sought would strengthen its hand greatly in dealing with the force and would see it investigate “the Garda culture, not just complaints”. These include:
lHaving the power to investigate all Garda members, including the commissioner; an office currently beyond its reach.
lBeing empowered to investigate complaints by Garda members against their colleagues. The inability to conduct such work, it said, meant it could not investigate the whistleblowers’ allegations.
lThe ability to instigate investigations into Garda “practice, policy and procedures”; investigations it can only carry out at present when requested by Government.
lThe power to investigate “service failures” on the part of gardaí in a particular station or area, rather than investigate specific acts of misconduct or wrongdoing against named Garda members. This would include the refusal by groups of gardaí collectively to launch criminal investigations into matters that appear to warrant investigation, as Sgt McCabe has alleged about cases mostly in the Cavan-Monaghan division.
lGSOC also wants control of its own budget and resources to make it more independent.
The commission did not comment when contacted by The Irish Times. Its senior staff will appear before the justice committee on Wednesday as part of the review of the Garda Síochána Act.