Interim commissioner says Garda must change relationship with GSOC

Recent controversies affecting the force have provided it with the opportunity to improve as an organisation, conference hears

An Garda Síochána needs to redefine itself as an organisation and, as part of the transformation, it must change its relationship with both the Garda Síochána Ombudsman Commission (GSOC) and the Garda Inspectorate, according to the interim Garda Commissioner, Noirín O'Sullivan.

Ms O’Sullivan told delegates at the annual conference of the Association of Garda Sergeants and Inspectors (AGSI) that line managers, and others, must have the courage to challenge how the organisation, with 16,000 members, goes about its business as a police force.

“It means changing the relationship with our oversight bodies like GSOC and the inspectorate, and anybody else who genuinely wants to help us improve,” said Ms O’Sullivan, who was addressing her first AGSI annual conference.

“It means looking at the recent GSOC and inspectorate reports to see how we’re doing on relevant recommendations and how we can continue to build on what they have proposed. And it means reminding ourselves that their input will make us a better and stronger organisation.”


Ms O'Sullivan, who was given a standing ovation by the 150 or so delegates at the convention at the Malton Hotel in Killarney, said there was "a sense that while we never wanted the recent controversies, they nonetheless open up new possibilities" for the force.

And she pointed out that the Garda had, rather than getting rigid about discipline and clamping down on concerns, had adopted a more flexible approach, citing the example of gardaí looking for a new policing authority and a more robust confidential reporting charter.

"Sometimes when people criticise us, we shouldn't push back against that criticism. Sometimes criticism gives us opportunities to reflect on practices that we have always done and look at ways that we can do them differently. And I think this is a great opportunity to do that."

Asked about whistleblowers, Ms O’Sullivan reiterated her view that dissent should not be seen as disloyalty and said it was very important that management build an environment within An Garda Síochána where people who wanted to raise issues or concerns could come forward.

“In any organisation as large and complex as An Garda Síochána there will be people who want to bring issues to our attention. Some of their concerns may not always be right but they need to feel listened to and we need to engage with them in a way that shows them that we’re listening.”

Ms O'Sullivan said she believed the Protected Disclosures Bill, now before the Oireachtas, would provide a mechanism whereby people felt comfortable and confident about coming forward and raising issues or pointing out where they thought things could be fixed.

She revealed that more than 800 gardaí of all ranks had so far responded to an online survey of their views on the force. However, as the survey was only five days old and remained open until April 27th, she felt it was too early to comment on what gardaí were saying.

Ms O'Sullivan also paid tribute to AGSI for its proactive representation of its members and its effective engagement with management to ensure that the organisation meets the needs of both its membership and the communities it serves.

She said that, as frontline managers, AGSI members had been hardest hit by the moratorium on recruitment and promotions but recruitment was now taking place, with interviews for several ranks ongoing, which would make a difference to the running of stations.

Barry Roche

Barry Roche

Barry Roche is Southern Correspondent of The Irish Times