Independent Garda inspectorate to be established

 

The incoming government is committed to an independent Garda inspectorate which will have powers to investigate Garda actions, whether or not complaints have been made.

The programme for government includes the Fianna Fáil election manifesto proposal to expand the Garda Síochána by 2,000 members, bringing it to a strength of 14,000. This will take the annual Garda budget to well over €1 billion, probably within the next year.

The "Crime" section of the programme contains all the main proposals outlined in the Fianna Fáil manifesto, including many measures on which work had already begun during the last administration.

The Government's rejection of a Garda ombudsman is likely to attract criticism from both main opposition parties who supported this proposal in their manifestos.

Labour proposed an "accountability" mechanism of an ombudsman along with an additional layer of oversight administration between government and the Garda, in the form of a Garda Authority, independent of either the Garda or the government.

Fine Gael proposed the establishment of a Garda ombudsman along the lines of the Police ombudsman in Northern Ireland. The Fine Gael proposal also included provision for a separate Garda inspectorate which would be attached to the ombudsman's office.

Earlier this year, the Minister for Justice, Mr O'Donoghue, made detailed proposals for the establishment of an independent Garda inspectorate under the direction of a retired judge.

The proposed inspectorate will have the functions of a police inspectorate - like Her Majesty's Inspectorate of Constabulary (HMIC) which oversees policing standards in Britain - and those of an ombudsman, in that it would be able to investigate, independently, complaints against gardaí.

The inspectorate proposals also go further than the Northern Ireland ombudsman in that the inspectorate could carry out investigations into police wrongdoing, whether or not there was a complaint from the public.

The preparatory legislation for the establishment of the Garda inspectorate is at an advanced stage and it could be in place by late this year or early next year.

The programme states that extra Garda resources should be targeted at areas suffering from drug problems and public order problems.

A measure to be considered during the incoming term will be the use of "community wardens" who could carry out low-level policing duties and free up gardaí to tackle crime.

The programme continues the strong anti-drugs line of all recent governments. It proposes that there be compulsory testing of prisoners suspected of drug abuse, something that might prove difficult given that a high proportion of the State's 3,000 prisoners are heroin addicts.

Convicted drug dealers will also have to register with the Garda on release from prison. Each Garda district will have to set out and meet targets on tackling drug problems.

As part of its efforts to tackle public-order offences, the programme proposes the re-introduction of night courts and weekend courts so that people arrested for disorder offences can be brought before the courts quickly. The present norm in many urban areas is for offenders to be released "on summons" to appear before a court weeks or sometimes months later.

Absent from the programme is any promise of minimum mandatory prison sentences, such as the 10-year minimum sentence for possession of £10,000 worth of drugs which was introduced under the 1999 Criminal Justice Act. That provision has been largely ignored by the judiciary.