Policing Authority strongly questions wisdom of proposed Garda reforms

Commission on Future of Policing in Ireland has suggested changes to Garda oversight

Kathleen O’Toole, chairperson of The Commission on the Future of Policing in Ireland. Photograph: Nick Bradshaw

Kathleen O’Toole, chairperson of The Commission on the Future of Policing in Ireland. Photograph: Nick Bradshaw

 

The Policing Authority has questioned some of the proposals for enhanced oversight of the Garda made by the Commission for the Future of Policing in Ireland.

The proposals published last week may not maintain current levels of oversight and transparency at the top of the Garda, let alone enhance them, the authority suggests.

In strong remarks ahead of its first public meeting with new Garda Commissioner Drew Harris on Thursday afternoon, the authority said it was not clear to it how the commission’s proposals would work.

The authority further suggested the creation of a board at the top of the Garda and a new oversight body - the Policing and Community Safety Oversight Commission (PCSOC) - would be counterproductive in complicating oversight.

The Commission on the Future of Policing in Ireland issued its report last week. It was headed by former US police chief Kathleen O’Toole and deliberated for a year.

Its proposals are intended to reform the Garda after years of scandal. However, some of its ideas around how Garda oversight could be improved were greeted with some surprise in Garda circles.

Among over 50 recommendations was the proposal the new PCSOC body would supersede both the Policing Authority and the Garda Inspectorate.

The new board, made up of members from outside the Garda and with a range of expertise, would be created to oversee the Garda and assist the commissioner of the day in reforming the force.

In its remarks today, the authority said it needed to better understand the proposals being made. It insisted it was not interested in maintaining current oversight structures for the sake of continuity.

However, the authority, which is lead by the former head of the Revenue Commissioners Josephine Feehily, also directly questioned whether the proposals for Garda oversight were useful.

“The Authority’s focus has always been on enhancing public confidence by placing transparency at the heart of its oversight activity,” its said.

“It is not clear to the Authority how the public interest and the current level of transparency can be maintained, let alone enhanced, through the architecture of the proposed internal board given the usual fiduciary duties that attach to the board of a public body.

“The Authority had expressed a view, which was echoed by the Joint Oireachtas Committee on Justice and Equality, that it might be worthwhile to consider ensuring a ‘single pair of eyes’ on Garda performance for the avoidance of oversight gaps.

“It is somewhat surprising that the Commission proposes adding two further layers, and the Authority will be interested in hearing the detail of how this might work.”

At present Garda oversight is provided by the Garda Siochana Ombudsman Commission, which investigates complaints made by the public about individual Garda members.

The Garda Inspectorate is also a key part of Garda oversight. It studies all areas of Garda procedures and practices and recommends reforms.

The authority, the newest agency, close reviews any area of policing it wishes. It calls senior Garda management before it for regular public meetings.