Senior gardaí call for Gsoc chair to clarify remarks

Ombudsman says proper oversight of An Garda Síochána is ‘not possible’

 

Garda superintendents have called on the chair of the Garda Síochána Ombudsman Commission (Gsoc), Ms Justice Mary Ellen Ring, to clarify her remarks that, they said, suggested gardaí were covering up investigations into members of the force.

President of the Association of Garda Superintendents Noel Cunningham said any suggestion that disciplinary and criminal investigations being carried out by the Garda into some of its own members were being “hidden” did “not make sense” to him.

Speaking at the association’s annual delegate conference in Naas, Co Kildare, on Wednesday Supt Cunningham said Ms Justice Ring would hopefully clarify her remarks.

The Irish Times revealed on Wednesday that Gsoc had made a submission to the Oireachtas Committee on Justice in which it said it was not being told by the Garda about some investigations the force was conducting into its own members or police events.

Gsoc added it only learned of some serious incidents, which were already under Garda investigation, by reading about them in the media. This was despite the fact it should be notified of any such investigations.

And in her remarks to a sitting of the committee on Wednesday morning, Ms Justice Ring said when the Garda did not inform Gsoc it was carrying out investigations; the force was leaving itself open to a charge of “cover up”.

‘Doesn’t make sense’

Supt Cunningham said he had seen the remarks by Ms Justice Ring and while he would like to examine them in detail, they “do not make sense” to him.

“It doesn’t make sense that somebody (in the Garda) would be trying to hide an investigation or suggest that it’s not happening,” he said.

“Generally with an investigation (into Garda members), especially a criminal matter, there will be witnesses. And the witnesses will be civilians; people not involved in the (Garda) organisation.

“So you are not going to cover-up them, or hide their complaint. If they have a legitimate complaint, obviously they are entitled to talk about that too. So it just flies in the face of reason for me.

“So I’d like to get a greater understanding and maybe Judge Mary Ellen Ring would give us that clarity.”

He said while Gsoc was complaining the Garda was carrying out its own investigations into some of its own members, the Garda watchdog was also referring hundreds of complaints about gardaí each year to Garda for the force to investigate.

The Association of Garda Superintendents also called for more armed units to provide a back-up response for unarmed gardaí when they encountered an armed, or otherwise serious, threat while on duty.

Having more armed units, available 24-7, would reduce response times, something that was badly needed as the Garda had a duty of care to its own members and the public.

Supt Cunningham said the Armed Support Units also brought more to a flashpoint and dangerous situations than firearms, such as trained negotiators skilled at de-escalating fraught situations.

“The skill set they bring to the organisation is the huge,” he said. “The more of them that are available, the more professional the Garda will be in our approach.”

However, neither he nor his association was in any way calling for the status of the Garda as a largely unarmed force to be change.

Indeed, he believed the public was closer to the Garda and had such high levels of trust in the Garda because they were unarmed.

Reduced policing levels

He said one dividend of the peace process had been a reduction in policing levels in the border regions; in terms of Garda station opening hours and also front line gardaí on the group.

That resulted in less contact between Garda members and the public in those areas, where criminals were taking advantage of reduced policing; most recently to steal ATMs.

Yet it was that kind of contact with the public that built relationships between gardaí and the community their policed.

And when the Garda needed information about criminals and their crimes, they can lean on those relationships and get information from the public.

Supt Cunningham said with Garda numbers now rising, manpower needed to be deployed into those areas that were perhaps neglected during the recession when Garda recruitment was paused for years.

On the issue of protected disclosures being made by members of the Garda and others, Supt Cunningham said the rights of the complainant and the person at the centre of allegations both needed to be respected.

He said when a vexatious complaint was made and was proven to be vexatious; the person who was exonerated was powerless in taking action against the vexatious complaint maker.

This was despite the Garda members being investigated having been put through considerable stress while under investigation. They even had to pay for their own legal advice, he said.

Supt Cunningham added it was sometimes said that if sanctions were put in place for people who made vexatious complaints in protected disclosures; it would discourage genuine complainants from coming forward. However, he disagreed with that proposition.

“I think people who have legitimate complaints will come forward and should come forward and have the matter investigated.”