Law professor says Barr and Morris tribunals and reports a watershed


THE MORRIS tribunal and its eight reports represented a watershed without precedent in the Garda Síochána, according to a leading academic expert.

The tribunal reports offer the first detailed blueprint for human rights-based reform in Irish policy since the establishment of the force, it is argued.

Human Rights and Policy in Ireland: Law Policy and Practice by Prof Dermot Walsh of the University of Limerick will be published by Clarus Press early this year.

The research was commissioned by the Irish Human Rights Commission. When the book is published, the commission will be making a policy statement on policing, informed by and drawing on this research, its chief executive Éamonn Mac Aodha said.

Prof Walsh writes that the tribunal reports “exposed with searing honesty the extent to which policy in Ireland has remained mired in the norms of the middle and later decades of the 20th century, while other liberal democracies had been active in embracing human rights and transparency values at the heart of their policing systems.”

Human rights in policing are not confined to suspects, but also involve the rights of actual or potential crime victims to an adequate and professional police service, and the right of all citizens to an environment in which all human rights can be enjoyed.

Prof Walsh examines the Garda record in relation to human rights from a wide variety of sources, including the Morris and Barr tribunals; court cases in which the evidence and behaviour of gardaí were questioned; complaints to the now-defunct Garda Complaints Board; and the Ionann human rights audit, commissioned by the Garda Commissioner in 2004.

This audit revealed a number of shortcomings within the Garda, and it, along with the recommendations of the Barr and Morris tribunals, prompted a number of initiatives from the Government and within the force.

The key questions now are, says Prof Walsh, whether these responses have been sufficient to address the nature and scale of the human rights challenges facing the service, and whether the proposed actions have been implemented.

The expansion of Garda powers in recent legislation has not been accompanied by checks and safeguards to ensure they are compatible with human rights standards, he says.

He recommends a number of measures to address these issues, including the replacement of close governmental control of the Garda Síochána with a broad-based independent police authority; stronger institutional machinery within the force to monitor human rights and to put human rights at the centre of its work; and improved education and training.