‘Garda can no longer afford to let the past dictate the future’

Restructure could free up 1,500 gardaí, head of inspectorate tells MacGill Summer School

Speakers Conor Brady, Josephine Feehily, Jim O’Callaghan  and Robert Olsen  at Glenties. Photograph: North West Newspix

Speakers Conor Brady, Josephine Feehily, Jim O’Callaghan and Robert Olsen at Glenties. Photograph: North West Newspix


The current operational culture is inhibiting change and preventing the Garda from reaching its potential, the head of the Garda Inspectorate has told the MacGill Summer School.

Without major change, the current Garda culture and structure will continue to challenge any modernisation or reform efforts, Robert Olsen said on Friday during a debate on transforming the Garda into an efficient and effective force.

“Many staff view their organisation as insular, defensive and operating with a blame culture that results in leaders that are risk-averse in making decisions,” said Mr Olsen, a former senior US police officer who is chief inspector of the Garda Inspectorate.

“The Garda can no longer afford to let the past dictate the future.”

Mr Olsen said that had recommendations made in a number of previous reports on reforming the Garda been implemented, “many of the previous policing issues that resulted in inquiries, tribunals and government reports could have been minimised or avoided”.

He said the Garda now operated with six regions, 28 divisions and 96 districts. Within them were 124 individual duplicative administrative units.

All 96 districts had the same type of units operating – for example 96 administrative units, 96 community policing units and 96 detective units.

Lack of consistency

Mr Olsen said several inspectorate reports had pointed to how “potentially hundreds of thousands of valuable member and Garda staff hours are being wasted all across the country on inefficient administrative and investigative processes”.

He said the inspectorate believed there were at least 1,500 gardaí in non-operational posts who could be released for frontline duties.

“By creating 28 unified divisional administration units from the current 124 in existence, significant economies of scale will allow, as a first step, for the release of the 250 sworn administrative positions for frontline duties,” he said.

If the performance capacity of the Garda workforce could be raised by just 10 per cent, it “would have the equivalent effect of increasing the level of police service provided to the country by 1,000 employees without hiring anyone”.

Josephine Feehily, chairwoman of the Policing Authority, said that while her organisation, politicians and society could help transform the Garda, ultimately it was up to the leadership to achieve change.

Referring to the challenge facing the Garda Commissioner, Nóirín O’Sullivan, Ms Feehily said: “It is not easy to transform any large, long-established organisation. It is particularly not easy when you have to keep the lights on while rewiring the house, to coin a phrase.”

Measurable progress

Conor Brady, former editor of The Irish Times and a member of the Garda Síochána Ombudsman Commission from 2005- 2011, said one measure that would benefit the Garda and society would be to recruit experienced people from careers outside the force and place them in middle to senior ranks.

“Such an initiative would, of course, be resisted tooth and nail by the gardaí themselves,” he said. “But the new policing authority has the powers, if it wishes, to make appointments at middle and senior grade, from outside the force.”

Fianna Fáil TD and justice spokesman Jim O’Callaghan proposed that more gardaí should be encouraged to engage in specialised third-level training and qualifications. He also proposed graduate recruitment into the force and recruitment from outside forces.