Q&A: How is oversight of Garda performance set to change?

New Bill will lead to the most ambitious programme of Garda reform in decades

The Bill is implementing the recommendations of the 2018 Commission on the Future of Policing which found existing oversight organisations had emerged haphazardly and in response to various policing crises.  Photograph: Getty Images

The Bill is implementing the recommendations of the 2018 Commission on the Future of Policing which found existing oversight organisations had emerged haphazardly and in response to various policing crises. Photograph: Getty Images

 

The Policing, Security and Community Safety Bill, which was approved by Cabinet on Tuesday, will be the most ambitious programme of Garda reform in decades and will involve a total restructuring of policing oversight.

Given its massive scope, it is unlikely to be be passed before 2023, when it will replaced the Garda Síochána Act 2005 in its entirety.

We explain some of the main points here.

Don’t we already have our fair share over Garda oversight bodies?

There are currently three agencies with oversight roles. The Garda Síochána Act 2005 set up the Garda Ombudsman Commission (Gsoc) to investigate complaints against gardaí, and the Garda Inspectorate to conduct broad thematic assessments of the force, either at the request of Government or on its own authority.

A decade later the Policing Authority was established. It was given the dual role of holding the Garda commissioner to account and deciding on senior appointments within the Garda, something previously done by the government.

So why do we need even more?

Actually, under the proposals there will be fewer agencies but they will have stronger powers. The Policing Authority and the Garda Inspectorate will merge into the Policing and Community Safety Authority, which, unlike either of its predecessors, will have the power to conduct unannounced inspections of the Garda.

It will also be able to conduct broad ranging assessments of Garda performance, and will retain the regular public meetings with Garda leadership previously conducted by the Policing Authority.

Gsoc will remain but in an altered form. Instead of a commission it will be run by a single ombudsman, similar to its Northern Ireland counterpart. It will also receive additional powers, including the power to investigate Garda civilian staff and take complaints from Garda members instead of just members of the public.

Why is this being done now?

The Bill is implementing the recommendations of the 2018 Commission on the Future of Policing which found existing oversight organisations had emerged haphazardly and in response to various policing crises.

It found there was significant confusion over the Policing Authority’s dual governance and oversight role. The present system was “set up to fail”, and has led to a situation where the “buck stops nowhere” in terms of accountability, it said.

So the Garda will operate under a bigger microscope?

Yes. But it will also have more power to manage its own affairs. The governance powers of the Policing Authority, such as the appointment of senior officers, will be transferred to the commissioner, who will assume the powers of a “true CEO”, similar to the power HSE chief executive Paul Reid enjoys.

This is in recognition of the commission’s view that “the internal governance of the police should be the responsibility of the police” .

As well as hiring and firing officers, the Garda commissioner will have power over all financial matters within the budget, and will assume control over the Garda’s vast estate.

That sounds like a lot for one person to take on

It is. The Garda has almost 19,000 employees and an annual budget of €2 billion. To assist the commissioner a Garda non-executive board is to be created which will be made up of experts in areas such as human resources, financial management and leadership training. This will assist the commissioner, similar to how a board of directors operates in the private sector. However, the board will only weigh in on governance matters; operational issues will remain the sole responsibility of the commissioner.