The Garda Síochána Ombudsman Commission (Gsoc) has more than 1,000 active investigations ongoing, latest published figures show.
With just 35 investigators in the watchdog’s ranks, it means every investigator is dealing with an average of 30 cases at any one time, prompting claims it is too overloaded to carry out its statutory function.
Minister for Justice Charlie Flanagan, in response to a parliamentary question, said by the end of last year there were 1,035 "active investigations" of alleged wrongdoing by gardaí being undertaken Gsoc.
While the majority were as a result of public complaints, 13 cases were referred to the ombudsman by the Garda commissioner, eight were referred by the Minister for Justice and 11 were initiated by Gsoc itself.
It is not possible for Gsoc to fulfil its statutory function until it is properly resourced by Government
Some 25 of the ongoing investigations are as a result of whistleblowers coming forward under the protected disclosures process.
Jim O’Callaghan, Fianna Fáil’s justice spokesman, said more resources were urgently needed if the ombudsman was to cope with the workload.
“It is not possible for Gsoc to fulfil its statutory function until it is properly resourced by Government. Minister Flanagan needs to act on the commitment he previously gave to ensure that Gsoc is fully resourced so that it can carry out its statutory function.”
Justice Mary Ellen Ring, chairwoman of Gsoc, recently told an Oireachtas Justice Committee that the "umbilical cord" between the ombudsman and the Department of Justice should be cut so it could appeal directly for central exchequer funding. It did not need "a parent" anymore to decide its funding, she told TDs and Senators.
Last year the ombudsman asked for 12 more staff to be assigned to a new dedicated protected disclosures unit. A budget for just five more staff was sanctioned, but only two have been recruited so far.
A Gsoc spokeswoman said it has made a submission to the Department of Justice in which it makes a business case for an additional 37 staff.
“In the business case Gsoc describes the urgent need for these additional staff to address a worrying lack of capacity and resilience in the organisation,” she said.
“Gsoc notes in that business case: ‘At present, Gsoc has no capacity or resilience to deal with increases in demands and particularly with more serious cases, including those that are clearly in the public interest’.”
Gsoc said 24 of the extra staff being sought would be for investigations and operations, while the remaining 13 were necessary for administrative staff to support the investigations side.
The measures would cost €1.7 million a year, it is estimated.
In her submission to the Oireachtas Justice Committee last month Ms Ring said one of the issues with being understaffed was being unprepared for surprise complaints or referrals.
She cited as an example that Gsoc was not aware that the Garda commissioner was sending it an audit report for investigation last June, or the scope of that investigation when considering its organisational demands at the beginning of the year. “This is a prime example of the ‘unexpected’ that can arise in Garda oversight.”
There are currently 86 staff working with Gsoc, of which 35 are investigators, three are on secondment (two to the Disclosures Tribunal), two are in the protected disclosures unit, six are in Gsoc’s Longford office, and six are in the Cork office.
It also has in the region of 20 case workers attached to its operations hub which deals with the core activities of complaint-handling and investigations.