Powers to be restored to Garda under new Coalition plans

Legislation would see Garda Commissioner regain power to hire and promote officers

 Garda Commissioner Drew Harris.  Photograph: Nick Bradshaw

Garda Commissioner Drew Harris. Photograph: Nick Bradshaw

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The Garda commissioner would regain the power to make appointments and promotions in the force, under plans agreed by the Coalition for the future of the Garda Síochána and its oversight agencies.

Those powers to appoint and promote officers would be taken away from the Policing Authority and returned to the Garda under the Garda commissioner, the Irish Times has learned. Informed sources say the Policing Authority is very strongly opposed to the move having seen the initial legislative changes. It would represent a major shift for the Garda.

In reply to queries, the Policing Authority said it was “considering the proposed legislation in detail, giving it the appropriate time and attention that such significant changes warrant”.

It would provide a response on the proposals to Minister for Justice Helen McEntee “in due course” and preferred not to comment further at this time.

Moving the promotions and appointments system out of the Garda and under the remit of an independent oversight agency was seen as crucial to reforming the force after a series of scandals.

In 2013 the Smithwick Tribunal, into allegations of Garda collusion in the IRA murders of two senior RUC officers in 1989, concluded the Garda was an organisation where “loyalty is prized over honesty”.

Other tribunals and commissions into the various Garda scandals over the past two decades have pointed to an organisation where speaking up about wrongdoing or poor performance was very difficult as promotions were controlled by more senior officers.

Some of the key findings of a cultural audit of the Garda, compiled before the Policing Authority began making appointments in 2017, noted that Garda members did not believe promotions were based on meritocracy but rather on “who you know”.

Contentious

The plan to move the promotions and appointments system away from the Policing Authority and back under the remit of Garda Headquarters was recommended by the Commission on the Future of Policing in Ireland but was seen as contentious.

However, it was one of a series of changes now being planned for by the three coalition parties, with plans for the Garda compiled in a policing document while the Government was being formed during the summer. That document confirms that the commission’s proposal of two years ago is the Government’s official policy.

While most of the plans were suggested by the commission in 2018, under chairperson Kathleen O’Toole, the document drawn up between the new Government partners is the first to reveal the specific plans. They include: the Garda commissioner becoming the “true chief executive ” of the force , accountable to a new board; and responsibility for overseeing Garda policing plans, budgets and appointments passing from the Policing Authority to the Garda board.

Two of the three current Garda oversight bodies – the Policing Authority and Garda Inspectorate – would be merged into one: a Policing and Community Safety Authority.

That authority would get the power to carry out unannounced, on-the-spot inspections of any Garda premises or facilities.

Recruitment

While responsibility for recruitment would pass back to the Garda, it is understood the new board would be required to sign off on senior officer appointments, but only after the successful candidates had been selected by a Garda-run process.

The Government would still have final approval when appointments were being made to the rank of deputy commissioner and Garda commissioner. However, under the new plans, appointments to every other rank would be controlled by the Garda.

In reply to questions Garda Headquarters said: “An Garda Síochána accepted all recommendations of the Commission on the Future of Policing. An Garda Síochána does not comment on proposed legislation.”

The Department of Justice said the Government was committed to the “rapid implementation” of the commission’s report. “Work is well advanced on the general scheme of the Bill which will provide a new governance and oversight framework for policing. The Minister expects to seek Government approval of her proposals in the near future,” it said.