A decade on from its creation, Gsoc barks but still lacks bite

Judge Mary Ellen Ring tells committee the watchdog still has ‘teething’ problems

Garda Síochána Ombudsman Commission chairwoman Judge Mary Ellen Ring appeared before the Joint Oireachtas Committee on Justice and Equality on Wednesdsay. Photograph: Gareth Chaney Collins

Garda Síochána Ombudsman Commission chairwoman Judge Mary Ellen Ring appeared before the Joint Oireachtas Committee on Justice and Equality on Wednesdsay. Photograph: Gareth Chaney Collins

 

There have been years of poor relations between the Garda and Garda Síochána Ombudsman Commission (Gsoc), much of that linked to the former moving slowly when providing information to its watchdog.

The Garda has been through a series of scandals of late, at the core of which has been its reluctance to face its problems and reform.

As Gsoc nears its 10th birthday, it is difficult to decide whether the claimed continued Garda resistance to oversight, or the watchdog’s sheer ill preparedness for its job, was the more serious issue outlined by Gsoc chairwoman Judge Mary Ellen Ring to the joint Oireachtas Committee on Justice and Equality yesterday.

She suggested that Gsoc’s “teething problems” were still in evidence a decade on from its creation. Chief among these was that it had “no teeth” at all.

She complained Gsoc did not have powers to seriously face down and compel the Garda to share information and evidence when it did not want to.

She hoped that after a decade the Government might reform the body in some significant way.

“We open a complaint and we need to see information,” she said of the cases Gsoc handles.

Documentation, information and exhibits were requested from the Garda for Gsoc to determine the identity of the Garda members and witnesses it needed to interview. And while sometimes that information was forthcoming, any co-operation remained in the gift of the Garda.

“We are aware clearly in major matters there’s a longer period of time being taken,” she said of the Garda providing the information in its possession that Gsoc needed for investigations.

“But we have no penalty. We ask for the documentation or the evidence and we get it when we get it.”

She looked with envy to the situation in the North where the Police Ombudsman could go to the courts and secure orders compelling the PSNI to immediately surrender documents and other evidence it needed for its investigations.

She now wants the same for her own organisation.

Ring recalled being present when the PSNI Chief Constable George Hamilton had been in the company of the North’s Police Ombudsman Dr Michael Maguire.

“The chief constable said he accepts that the ombudsman exists, they have a role. And if the ombudsman looks for documentation then there’s a purpose and its given to the ombudsman,” Ring told the Oireachtas committee.

“We would like to see that same sentiment [in the Republic]; but not only the sentiment, the process [too].

“If we have some way of starting a process where we could say ‘failure to respond will result in an application to the courts’, at least it would give us teeth. When we don’t get co-operation [from the Garda] or it’s slow in coming then we have no teeth.”

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