Policing Authority wants all higher Garda posts opened to outsiders

Chairwoman Josephine Feehily criticises how Garda oversight bodies operate

Chairwoman of the Policing Authority Josephine Feehily: said Government had created a “crowded, confused and inefficient oversight regime” in which holding the Garda to account was difficult. Photograph: Alan Betson

Chairwoman of the Policing Authority Josephine Feehily: said Government had created a “crowded, confused and inefficient oversight regime” in which holding the Garda to account was difficult. Photograph: Alan Betson

 

All Garda posts at superintendent and higher should be opened up so those outside the force can apply, the Policing Authority has said.

And it also wants all successful candidates to have a probationary period built into their contracts.

Such a step, which the authority is pressing for before any more recruitment is done, would mirror practices in the private sector.

In many companies new employees are reviewed after a probationary period and a decision made on whether they are retained on a permanent basis or let go.

Chairwoman of the Policing Authority, Josephine Feehily, has criticised the “ambiguity” in how Garda oversight bodies, including her own, are provided for in law.

“Linked to this, has been the challenge of overseeing the performance of the Garda Síochána as an organisation while the head of that organisation, the Garda Commissioner, is accountable to the Minister [for Justice],” she said.

Government had created a “crowded, confused and inefficient oversight regime” in which holding the Garda to account was difficult.

“It has also impacted on the manner in which some stakeholders and groups, including An Garda Síochána and the Department of Justice, engage with the authority. This is largely as a result of a cumbersome legislative scheme,” Ms Feehily added.

She made her remarks in a report to Minister for Justice Charlie Flanagan on the authority’s operations since its inception three years ago.

Areas of concern

In its report the authority has highlighted many areas of concern and pushes for key reforms.

It wants the power to fill specific senior policing vacancies in the Garda.

At present it appoints senior officers to a rank; effectively promoting them from one rank to the next.

But it is the commissioner who assigns those officers to specific posts.

The Policing Authority now wants the power, not only to promote a candidate to a higher rank, but to hire them for specific posts.

Many in the Garda will see that as an interference in operational policing and an undermining of the commissioner’s position.

However, other Garda members believe promotions are rife with nepotism and favouritism and still badly in need of radical reform.

The authority also wants a much clearer definition of the Garda’s “security services”. It currently has no oversight role in that area.

This suggestion is likely to be met with resistance in Garda Headquarters, in the Phoenix Park, Dublin.

State security

Senior Garda officers fiercely guard the area of State security on the basis that it is too important and sensitive for outside scrutiny.

However, the authority says the “lack of information” and absence of “transparency” in how the Garda’s security services operate needs to be addressed.

The authority says it is concerned about the continued slow rate of recruiting more civilians into the Garda.

And it says the Freedom of Information Act needs to be applied to the force to improve transparency generally.

Currently the FOI Act only applies to the Garda in a very limited way.

The authority also wants to increases its membership from nine to 12. And it said that while the Garda code of ethics had been drawn up and launched, its rollout had been less than successful.

“It is disappointing that a full year on from the launch of the code only a small number of [Garda] managers have received training,” the report said.

In the area of fighting crime; it said the rate of detection, or solving, of many crime types was also getting lower.

Data from the Garda was not always available and concern about its quality was affecting the authority’s work, it added.

It also wants stronger powers to compel the Garda to surrender information as required.

The Garda Síochána Ombudsman Commission (Gsoc), a separate agency which investigates complaints against gardaí, made the same appeal to Government just last week.

It was concerned that evidence it need for its investigations, including documents, was being surrendered too slowly and undermining its inquiries.

In the area of recruitment to the Garda, the Authority said it was “most uncomfortable” with being responsible for the appointment of senior civilian staff.

It pointed out it was the Garda that ran the recruitment process for such positions.

The authority said it should run both the recruitment process and make the appointments, just as it did for most senior Garda grades.