New Garda board to act as ‘firewall’ between Minister and commissioner

The new group will identify risks in Garda early ‘so controversies are forestalled’

Garda Commissioner Drew Harris. Currently the commissioner is accountable to the Minister for Justice and reports to the Government through the secretary general of the Department of Justice. Photograph: Cyril Byrne

Garda Commissioner Drew Harris. Currently the commissioner is accountable to the Minister for Justice and reports to the Government through the secretary general of the Department of Justice. Photograph: Cyril Byrne

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A new “firewall” is to be created between the Minister for Justice and the Garda Commissioner with the establishment of a Garda Síochána Board, it has emerged.

According to briefing documents given to Fine Gael, Fianna Fáil and the Green Party during government-formation talks, the new board will identify risks in An Garda Síochána early “so that controversies are forestalled”.

“Crucially, the board is intended to act as a firewall between the Minister/Government and the commissioner in the event of any issues emerging,” the briefing states.

The new board will have up to nine members and will meet a minimum of 11 times every year. It will also have a role in relation to the selection and removal of the commissioner and deputy commissioners and will also have a role in relation to the approval of appointments or removal of other senior officers.

Legislation to create the new structure is being prepared by the Department of Justice on foot of a report from the Commission of Future Policing in Ireland, which previously found that the current governance and oversight framework for policing is “set up to fail”.

Lack of clarity

This is because of a lack of clarity about where responsibility lies between the Garda Commissioner, the Policing Authority and the department and Minister, the briefing states.

“As responsibility is so diffuse no one is accountable and the end result is that when controversies arise they quickly escalate to the highest levels of Government.”

Detailing how the new board will work, the parties were told that the responsibility for running the Garda organisation will rest with the commissioner.

“The legislation will confer on the office-holder the levers of control to act as a true CEO. He will be held to account by the Garda Síochána Board for how he manages the organisation.” The new board will be “more akin to the board of the HSE”.

“It will have no Garda management members and it is intended that its membership will be people of the appropriate calibre with relevant expertise and experience, who will both challenge and support the commissioner in his management of the organisation.”

Currently the Garda Commissioner is accountable to the Minister and reports to the Government through the secretary-general of the department. Under the new scheme, the commissioner will be accountable to the board in terms of the running of the organisation.

Under the new structure the Minister will be “focused on determining policy, providing information on policing and security to the Oireachtas and public.”

However, the commissioner will still be required to keep the Minister informed of “significant developments concerning policing and security”.