The Policing Authority is considering conducting an inquiry into why members of An Garda Síochána, civilian staff, and members of the reserve are not signing up to the code of ethics for the force, launched almost two years ago.
The authority's chair, Josephine Feehily, told Garda Commissioner Drew Harris on Thursday that there was a need to "get under the bonnet" and see why so many gardaí were deciding not to sign the code.
Two years after the authority had drawn up the code, the numbers signing it had “stalled”. This was something that was exercising the mind of the authority “a lot”, Ms Feehily said.
She was speaking at a public session of the authority in Dublin Castle, attended by Mr Harris and other senior officers. She said gardaí were going to courses on ethical behaviour and then choosing at the end not to sign the code of conduct. “For me, that’s an active behaviour,” she said. “We need to get under the bonnet of that particular decision.”
The decision of Garda members and staff not to sign the code “could in itself be creating a very cynical environment”, Ms Feehily said.
She said the authority may look at the data to see if the disinclination to sign the code was particularly strong in some regions, or within certain specialist areas. The authority was particularly concerned that the low take-up applied to civilian staff as well as sworn members, she said.
Mr Harris said it was “one of the mysteries to me”. He often went unannounced to stations and was impressed by the quality of the gardaí he met and the work they were doing. The fact that almost half of the force have not signed the code “sits oddly with the personal experience”.
The meeting heard that approximately 55 per cent of all gardaí have signed the code. People seeking promotion and new recruits have to sign and if people in such categories are discounted, then less than half of the organisation has chosen to sign up to the code, said authority member Bob Collins.
Mr Collins questioned whether behaviour was the most important indicator of the health of the organisation’s culture.
“Being good unwillingly is not adequate in a police organisation,” Mr Collins told the commissioner, who had said he believed the culture of the organisation could be changed by addressing behaviour and taking action.
Mr Harris said the level of signing of the code was “entirely unacceptable” and that any concerns members had about signing should have been allayed by now.
There have been reports that some members fear that signing the code might increase their vulnerability in any later disciplinary inquiries, but Mr Collins said it was clear that there was no link with the issue of discipline.
“What is it in the mind of the organisation that so many members cannot sign the code of ethics?” Mr Collins asked.
Referring to a report on the culture of An Garda Síochána, Mr Harris said he would like to see members identify more with the organisation and a little less with their close friends and colleagues.
Mr Collins asked if it troubled Mr Harris that new recruits might be taking up duty at stations where the sergeant had not signed up to the code of ethics.
Mr Harris said people might have a variety of reasons for not signing the code but he was concerned about new recruits encountering cynicism about the organisation they had joined.
As the meeting ended, Ms Feehily appealed to those who are using the roads this bank holiday weekend, to take particular care.