Garda watchdog seeks independence from department

‘We have failed people who have come to us,’ says Gsoc chair Ms Justice Mary Ellen Ring

‘We are seeking independence from the Department of Justice so all lines will be clearer into the future,’ says Gsoc chairwoman Ms Justice Mary Ellen Ring. Photograph: Aidan Crawley

‘We are seeking independence from the Department of Justice so all lines will be clearer into the future,’ says Gsoc chairwoman Ms Justice Mary Ellen Ring. Photograph: Aidan Crawley

 

The chairperson of the Garda Síochána Ombudsman Commission (Gsoc) has said that it should be taken out of the Department of Justice’s remit and allowed to operate, subject to controls, “on its own”.

Ms Justice Mary Ellen Ring said “we have failed people who have come to us” as a result of staffing and resource issues.

“It is important now that we move forward to protect these people, to serve these people and in terms of our general remit, to stand away from the department and serve the community better,” Ms Justice Ring told RTÉ Radio 1 on Sunday.

She said any money allocated would be subject to oversight from the Public Accounts Committee (PAC) and that “we’ve no difficulty with that”.

“It is an unusual position that an oversight body, Gsoc, reports to a ministry who is responsible for the organisation, the guards, that we oversee.

“We are seeking independence from the Department of Justice so all lines will be clearer into the future.”

Ms Justice Ring was reappointed Gsoc chairwoman in December 2016 having previously served as judge in both the Circuit Court and the High Court. She said she had met with former tánaiste and minister for justice Frances Fitzgerald in January 2017 and that “she indicated that it seemed possible that there should be legislation for such independence”.

“We have made a case to the [CURRENT]Minister and provided that to him [Charlie Flangan] in December and hopefully this will move the parties that haven’t moved to date.”

Ms Justice Ring was responding to details of a confidential report relating Gsoc being made public by RTÉ’s This Week programme under Freedom of Information Act.

Disclosures unit

One of the reports outlined that Gsoc wrote to the Department in November 2016, requesting 12 extra staff for a Protected Disclosures Unit. They were seeking eight investigators, a senior investigating officer and a head of unit at principal officer grade.

“We got no extra support, we got no extra analytic support which we looked for and we have in effect got five bodies given to us, none of which have started, I hasten to add; they’re going through a process,” she said.

“Everything else in terms of support for that unit has to come out of our existing resources.”

Ms Justice Ring added Gsoc had roughly 20 protected disclosures on their books at present. When asked had Gsoc been able to bring any protected disclosure investigations to a satisfactory conclusion, Ms Justice Ring replied “no”.

In response to her comments, the Department of Justice said it examined Gsoc’s request, sought sanction for a number of posts to the get the new unit established and informed Gsoc that it could revisit the issue when the unit had been operating for a time, and in light of the workload.

“So far, Gsoc have not provided any update on the operation of the unit,” a spokesman for the Department of Justice said.

“The Minister met with Gsoc on September 7th 2017 and the issue of resources was discussed. Gsoc undertook to provide briefing to the Department on what it estimates are its overall staffing requirements to meet all contingencies.

“This will be considered once it is received.”

Ms Justice Ring said it was important that members of An Garda Síochána “have confidence in our ability to do the work they expect of us”.

“We have been criticised, and rightly criticised in the past about delays, some of which are our own making due to staffing resources also coupled with difficulties with getting documentation and such like from An Garda Síochána.

“If we are to give the priority to protected disclosures that the 2014 [Protected Disclosures] Act suggests we should then we need the people to do it and we need the avenues within An Garda Síochána to make that easy to do.”