Over 1,300 inquiries into alleged Garda misconduct launched last year

Total number of such inquiries is equivalent of 10% of the force being under investigation

More than 1,300 inquiries into alleged Garda misconduct were launched last year, a total that is the equivalent of almost 10 per cent of the force being under some form of investigation.

There were 557 criminal investigations of Garda misconduct opened by the Garda Síochána Ombudsman Commission (Gsoc) in 2021 and 752 disciplinary investigations which were referred by Gsoc to Garda management for investigation, according to figures provided to the Public Accounts Committee.

The committee noted that the total number of these inquiries was equal to almost 10 per cent of the force. There are currently just in excess of 14,000 serving gardaí.

The committee also heard that only a small percentage of complaints about alleged Garda misconduct met the criteria for a full investigation, generally less than 5 per cent.

Last year Gsoc, the Garda watchdog, referred 21 files to the Director of Public Prosecutions (DPP) for consideration of criminal charges. "So on 21 occasions the commission came to a view that the actions may amount to a criminal offence," commission member Hugh Hume told the committee.

In addition, there were 60 sanctions imposed by Garda Commissioner Drew Harris internally on foot of disciplinary matters in 2021.

Rise in complaints

Gsoc chairman Mr Justice Rory MacCabe said there had been a 12 per cent annual increase in complaints about alleged Garda misconduct last year. There was also a 40 per cent increase in referrals to Gsoc where a death or serious injury occurred during or shortly after an interaction with gardaí.

He said Gsoc faced significant resourcing challenges. The chairman said that when he took up the role in January he noted that staffing levels, particularly among investigative staff, “falls well short of what is required”.

This had been made worse by high caseloads and staff turnover, he said. On taking up the role, Mr Justice MacCabe applied for and was immediately granted approval for 22 extra staff to help with backlogs.

“Recruitment is, however, not a fast process, particularly with such a range of regulatory organisations fishing in the same pool, all of whom require specialist skills to investigate and analyse complaints of negligence or wrongdoing,” he said.

Industrial action by Garda superintendents last year, when they refused to investigate disciplinary complaints referred to them by the commission, had damaged confidence in Gsoc, Mr Hume said.

Such disciplinary investigations are supposed to be completed within 16 and 20 weeks. The work to rule by the superintendents meant many referrals were delayed beyond this time period.

Mr Hume said it had to contact all complainants to tell them this was happening and placed a notice on its web page. “It will have an effect on the reputation of Gsoc. It will undermine the confidence of complainants who are potentially being told that their investigation has been delayed.”

Processing of the Gsoc referrals resumed last month. Mr Hume said the true impact of the delays would not become apparent until later.

Concerns on statistics

The committee also heard from the Policing Authority on the matter of concerns about the quality of statistics provided by the Garda. For the past several years such statistics have been labelled as "under reservation" when published by the Central Statistics Office (CSO).

Policing Authority chief executive Helen Hall said the Garda had made a "significant amount of changes and improvements" in its data collection but that she expected the CSO label to be maintained for several more years.

“I think it will take a number of years for the reservation to disappear but from our interactions with the CSO, they are quite satisfied the guards are making good progress in the right direction.”

Conor Gallagher

Conor Gallagher

Conor Gallagher is Crime Correspondent of The Irish Times