The Policing Authority, which was set up to depoliticise control of An Garda Síochána, is engineered so that the real power remains with government, a leading legal academic has said.
The authority was "a pale shadow" of the Northern Ireland Policing Board and even its predecessor the Police Authority of Northern Ireland, which was itself widely seen as toothless and ineffective, said Prof Dermot Walsh.
The Policing Authority was established in 2014 in the midst of a long list of Garda controversies, some of which are still ongoing
Prof Walsh, who lectures at Kent University’s law school, said the legislation setting up the authority was watered down to such an extent that, far from improving oversight, “it may actually prove a further impediment to democratic police accountability and transparency in the Republic of Ireland”.
His article appears in the London School of Economics' prestigious Modern Law Review journal.
The Policing Authority was established in 2014 in the midst of a long list of Garda controversies, some of which are still ongoing. The idea was to set up an independent police oversight and accountability body which Garda management would report to. Previously the Garda reported directly to the Minister for Justice, leading to accusations of the force being under improper political control.
Then minister for justice Frances Fitzgerald hailed the establishment of the authority as the "most far-reaching reform of An Garda Síochána since the foundation of the State".
Since then the authority, headed by ex-Revenue Commissioners chairwoman Josephine Feehily, has held regular public meetings with Garda management, questioning it on a wide range of issues including the breath-check controversy and the misrecording of crime statistics.
It seems more accurate to describe it as an elaborate national advisory body rather than a national police authority
However, Prof Walsh said a combination of factors meant it had little actual power, and was still largely a political organ when compared to equivalent bodies in other countries.
“It seems more accurate to describe it as an elaborate national advisory body rather than a national police authority. Despite the Irish government’s initial endorsement of the latter, it is likely that it never intended anything other than the former.”
Prof Walsh said the authority lacked a “democratic mandate in any meaningful sense” as its members were selected by the government from a shortlist provided by the Public Appointments Service. It was the Minister for Justice who signed off on the appointment service’s selection process. “These arrangements seemed designed to ensure that the Minister and the government retain a firm grip over the membership.”
The authority had no remit when it comes to the Garda’s State security role, “a striking limitation”, Prof Walsh said. This was especially concerning as the Garda’s State security role had been “a source of serious and persistent criticisms of Garda methods for decades”.
He said the underpinning legislation also made no mention of human rights policing.
A spokeswoman for the Policing Authority said it had not yet had time to analyse Prof Walsh’s article, but she pointed to the authority’s latest effectiveness report which detailed its achievements and areas which required improvements.