Bad Garda behaviour not the same as ‘flawed culture’

Minister says Government has delivered measurable reforms in justice


Bad behaviour among some members of the Garda should not be “rolled up endlessly” into an accusation of a “flawed culture”, the Minister for Justice has said.

Speaking at the the MacGill Summer School in Glenties, Co Donegal, Frances Fitzgerald said that if one or more gardaí operated in a “shoddy or sleazy way”, they should get the message that this was not what the force stood for and that it would not be tolerated.

Insisting that she had delivered “clear, measurable, provable” reform, the Minister said new practices recently introduced were in line with best practice and underpinned a much more robust approach to its management and to oversight of justice agencies.

“What is particularly significant is that all of this was achieved as part of one of the most productive years the department has ever experienced,” she said.

“We have made massive changes to the operation and governance of An Garda Síochána, and we have made massive strides in equality.”

Ms Fitzgerald said that comprehensive reforms relating to the Garda were “a quantum leap ahead of where we were this time last year”.

List of reforms

The posts of Garda Commissioner and Deputy Commissioner had been opened to international competition, the powers and remit of the Garda Ombudsman Commission had been expanded, and new whistleblower protection had been signed into law, the Minister said.

In addition, the new Policing Authority was on its way and the chief executives position had been publicly advertised.

On questioning the “assumptions that run beneath public discourse”, Ms Fitzgerald said one of the most important of those, in relation to the Garda, was that the organisation had a “deeply embedded, deeply flawed culture”.

“I have to question that,” she said. “In my dealings with An Garda Síochána at many levels, I have not found the service demonstrating an arrogant or a corner-cutting culture.”

This did not mean arrogance and corner-cutting did not happen in the force, the Minister emphasised.

“But what I want to suggest is this: When we elevate bad behaviour – even several instances of bad behaviour – into an all-pervasive culture, it can be oddly disempowering.”

Ms Fitzgerald said addressing a bad behaviour or an action was the right and responsibility of any employer, and it was what she expected and demanded of the Garda.

Flawed culture

Specific behaviours and actions should be addressed and they should not be rolled up endlessly into “a big shapeless accusation of ‘flawed culture’”.

Former Garda Ombudsman commissioner Conor Brady told the session that the Irish police system was a product of a “highly centralised state” that was incapable of devolving authority.

He said management in An Garda Síochána also only understood one thing – namely, “clear, unambiguous legal imperative”.

On his own time as a commissioner with Gsoc, he said: “I can only say that at every point where the leadership of the Garda Síochána found they could sidestep our authority or they could ignore us, they did so.”

Dr Vicky Conway, lecturer in law at Dublin City University, said a combination of factors meant the Government continued to have a lot of control over policing.

“Ministers have repeatedly declined to accept responsibility for decisions of the [Garda] Commissioner, as policies and practices are for the Commissioner to decide,” Dr Conway said.

“The Minister’s role is to hold the Commissioner to account for doing these jobs, not to have a hand in how they do them.”