Garda highly secretive, says law expert


THE GARDA is one of the most secretive police forces in the world, according to a professor in criminal law.

Prof Dermot Walsh, director of the Centre of Criminal Justice at the University of Limerick, was speaking in Limerick yesterday at a conference on Police Governance and Accountability, organised by the college.

According to Prof Walsh, who delivered at paper on Garda corruption and reform, the Garda does not publish documents and policies that it should do as a publicly accountable body.

“It is still the case, for example, that standing orders covering all aspects of Garda management and practices are not publicly accessible. The same applies to the existence and contents of Garda policies. For as long as such basic information is kept secret, transparent governance and accountability will remain elusive and the Garda will continue to be one of the most secretive police forces in the western world,” he continued.

Prof Walsh said some “major progress” was made in recent years in relation to Garda accountability to the public but he warned that major challenges must be faced.

“The lack of transparency is one; the gardaí still hold on to this institutionalised notion of secrecy. Unlike many other police forces in western liberal democracies, they are reluctant to open up. They really need to start allowing their policies, their practices to be opened up to public scrutiny,” he added.

According to Kathleen O’Toole, chief inspector of the Garda Inspectorate, while there is “always room for improvement” the Garda is one of the world’s most accountable police forces.

“The Garda is far more accountable than the Boston police where I came from and far more accountable than most US police services,” she said.

“I think the Garda enjoys an 80 per cent satisfaction rate with the public but there is always room for improvement no matter where we are in the world, be it Boston Dublin or Belfast,” she continued.

In his paper, which discussed complaints, Kieran Fitzgerald of the Garda Ombudsman Commission, sought to justify involving gardaí in some of the commission’s investigations.

He said that many people believed that involving gardaí in investigations was a return to the old, flawed system of gardaí investigating gardaí.

“I’m trying to show that the underlying philosophy of inculcating this culture of accountability is something that is worthwhile and good and does justify involving the guards,” he said.