MacGill Summer School: confidence in Garda ‘seriously undermined’

Brendan Howlin says revelations suggest routine institutionalised maladministration

Labour Party leader Brendan Howlin: “You can’t truly support An Garda Síochána today if you don’t hold them to modern standards of accountability.”  Photograph: Gareth Chaney/Collins

Labour Party leader Brendan Howlin: “You can’t truly support An Garda Síochána today if you don’t hold them to modern standards of accountability.” Photograph: Gareth Chaney/Collins

 

Garda management has shown no ability to respond effectively to efforts to modernise the force, and public confidence in its credibility has been seriously undermined, Labour leader Brendan Howlin has said.

During a debate at the MacGill Summer School on restoring confidence in policing in the State, Mr Howlin also queried whether the Department of Justice was a blockage to the proper reform of the Garda.

Mr Howlin referred to “the institutional resistance” of the department, and said it was resistant to Labour proposals to establish a policing authority as long as 11 years ago. It took until 2015 to form the body that oversees the performance of the Garda.

“I have long been convinced that the department hasn’t seen securing Garda accountability as a core role. You can’t truly support An Garda Síochána today if you don’t hold them to modern standards of accountability.”

Mr Howlin said the recent revelations in the media about the Garda were most dispiriting because they seemed to suggest routine institutionalised maladministration.

“In particular, the stupefying news that Garda Síochána breath tests data throughout the State were, it appears, systematically falsified. And still, months later, no one can say why.

“Public confidence in the ability and credibility of Garda management has been seriously undermined. In particular, I believe Garda management has shown no ability to respond effectively to the modernisation agenda that is championed by the Garda Inspectorate.”

Modern age

Mr Howlin said the problem with the Garda was not just a “cultural” one, as Garda Commissioner Nóirín O’Sullivan had so often said, but a structural one. “We still do not have anybody with the power, duty and capacity to bring senior Garda management into the modern age.”

The Labour leader said there should be a debate on calls to create a national security service that would be separate from the Garda.

“If it is valid; if things could be better done by a new agency; then let us go down that road – and soon. But let us do it for the right reason,” he said.

“Often our advantage as a nation in debating reform is that we come to it so late. We can see the mistakes that have been made elsewhere...Other countries have controversies about the creation of national security agencies that are subject to no proper democratic oversight or accountability. We must not stumble unthinkingly into that territory.”

Denis Bradley, former vice-chairman of the North’s Policing Board, commended Mr Howlin for taking the Department of Justice to task over the failure to reform the Garda. What Mr Howlin had said was “enormously important” and addressed the core of the problem.

Mr Bradley also proposed that the Policing Authority should follow the model of the Policing Board in the North and appoint some politicians to the Policing Authority. He pointed out how the North’s board has 10 politicians and nine individuals on the board, whereas there are none on the authority.

Public attitudes

Pauline Shields, deputy chief inspector of the Garda Síochána Inspectorate, pointed to a recent public attitudes survey that found 88 per cent of those polled said they trusted the Garda.

“This was an enviable position from the perspective of many police services and a reflection of a strong bond between gardaí and the community,” said Ms Shields, who is a former senior PSNI and RUC officer. “It is this trust that gives legitimacy essential for policing in a democratic society.”

She said “this trust in the Garda Síochána must not be wasted” or taken for granted.

“In the last few years weaknesses in their systems and poor internal governance have been exposed. The public is aware of this, how could they not be? The concern is that public confidence will be eroded if real change is not embraced. This must be prevented at all costs.

“The time for talking is over. The opportunities to create a 21st century policing service that inspires trust and confidence are here and are now.”