Gardaí ‘using weaknesses in law to delay inquiries into members’

Garda Ombudsman seeks ability to compel force to surrender evidence in malpractice cases

The Garda Síochána Ombudsman Commission (Gsoc) wants the Government to give it powers to obtain court orders forcing the Garda to surrender necessary evidence when it is investigating allegations of malpractice against members of the force.

Gsoc said the Garda was still too slow in responding to requests for evidence and documentation when complaints against its staff were under investigation by the force’s watchdog.

In a submission critical of the Garda and the legislation that gives the commission its powers, which has been presented to the Joint Oireachtas Committee on Justice, Gsoc says significant reforms are needed to strengthen its hand over the force.

The remarks emerge at a time when the Garda has enjoyed a calmer few months following a prolonged period of controversy over whistleblowers, penalty point terminations and other issues.


In the submission, Gsoc deconstructs the 2015 legislation that provides for it, concluding it is not strong enough and not providing satisfaction to the public.

As well as seeking the power to compel the Garda through the courts to surrender evidence needed for its investigations, the watchdog also says it believes the Garda has used the existing legislative weaknesses to delay investigations into its members.

It says that when Gsoc investigates alleged breaches of discipline, it is being stalled by a lack of Garda co-operation. As a result, such complaints were taking an average of 14 months to complete.

It says that at the end of the investigations, the Garda reviewed Gsoc’s findings against individual gardaí and could reject or overrule the findings or decide not to impose the recommended sanction.

This can be done without explaining its rationale to Gsoc or the complainant.

“This happens not infrequently,” the Gsoc submission states, saying the situation undermines the whole ethos of police accountability and justice for members of the public.

“It contributes to a feeling of futility for a complainant and for Gsoc - particularly when such a result is the culmination of years of engagement with, and work on, an investigation.”

Northern Ireland

Gsoc chair Judge Mary Ellen Ring told the committee on Wednesday that the Police Ombudsman in Northern Ireland had the power to secure a court order compelling the PSNI to surrender documents and evidence it requested as part of investigations.

She wanted the same powers for Gsoc in the Republic, adding that while the level of co-operation offered by the Garda had become a little faster in the wake of the recent controversies, it was still far too slow.

The judge also said the way Gsoc was set up under the Garda Síochána Act, 2005, was focused too much “on retribution and not enough on resolution”.

She said that in some cases members of the public had made complaints to Gsoc alleging that when they had fallen victim to crimes, gardaí handling the cases never investigated them and never returned phone calls.

However, the Act was so poorly constructed that such complaints could be upheld and gardaí involved fined for breaches of discipline, yet the crime the complainant had suffered would still not be revisited and investigated.

Conor Lally

Conor Lally

Conor Lally is Security and Crime Editor of The Irish Times