The Garda Síochána Ombudsman Commission (Gsoc) has said the legislation which provides for its existence places too much focus on retribution and not enough on resolution.
In a submission to the Joint Oireachtas Committee on Justice and Equality, Gsoc criticises shortcomings that have emerged in its powers, via the Garda Síochána Act 2005.
Gsoc chairwoman Judge Mary Ellen Ring also says Garda co-operation has been poor while the force's cultural shift towards greater transparency has been slow.
Using the case of a woman who reported being assaulted to the Garda, Gsoc says the victim was dissatisfied with the force’s response.
She lodged a complaint with Gsoc, saying her allegations had not been investigated, and that the gardaí assigned to the case failed to return phone calls.
Breach of discipline
The complaint was referred by Gsoc to the Garda for investigation, and the matter concluded with a breach of discipline verdict against one of the gardaí involved and a €100 fine.
The woman’s initial complaint was never revisited.
She was unhappy with the outcome, arguing she had gone to Gsoc as she wanted the assault investigated.
Gsoc carried out a review of the Garda’s process but because it did not have the power to reinvestigate the complaint or the initial report of assault, it concluded the Garda inquiry into her complaint had followed due process and the matter was concluded.
Gsoc also points to problems in the investigation of complaints made by members of the public about gardaí with breaches of discipline, rather than criminal allegations, at their core.
Gsoc can refer the cases to the Garda for it to investigate its own members, under the oversight of the ombudsman’s staff. Or it can investigate the complaints itself.
If the Garda investigates, such cases take an average of nine to 10 months; more than twice the agreed four-month time frame.
If Gsoc investigates a minor complaint itself, it loses the police-style powers it has when investigating serious complaints, which leaves it highly dependent on the co-operation of the Garda.
Gsoc has “experienced difficulty in securing co-operation with this type of investigation” and such inquiries take, on average, 14 months.
In cases where Gsoc finds against the Garda member and in favour of the complainant, the outcome can be rejected by the Garda and it does not have to explain its rationale.
Gsoc is seeking the power to insist that complaints about minor matters are dealt with by way of informal resolution.
It says both the complainant and the Garda member must agree to informal, mediation-style, resolution before the process can be used.
While many victims are content to pursue this option, very few gardaí are.