Minister rejects criticism of plan to ‘re-centralise’ Garda powers

Giving Garda Commissioner powers over promotions will have ‘chilling effect’, Rise TD claims

Minister for Justice Helen McEntee  arriving at the Convention Centre Dublin, where the Dáil is sitting, on Thursday morning. Photograph Nick Bradshaw/The Irish Times

Minister for Justice Helen McEntee arriving at the Convention Centre Dublin, where the Dáil is sitting, on Thursday morning. Photograph Nick Bradshaw/The Irish Times

 

Government proposals to return power to the Garda Commissioner to hire and promote senior officers in the force will have a “chilling effect”, it was claimed in the Dáil.

Rise TD Paul Murphy questioned the plan and asked if the Government was “seriously planning” to take that power back from the Policing Authority “in light of all the scandals” in recent years.

Referring to an Irish Times report revealing the proposed changes agreed by the Coalition and based on the recommendations of the Commission on the Future of Policing in Ireland, Mr Murphy called on Minister for Justice Helen McEntee to confirm this was the Government’s intention.

The Minister said it would be a matter for the Government but she told the Dublin South-West TD the Coalition was committed to “rapidly implementing the commission’s report” and introducing legislation.

She said “we are not talking about giving power to one person alone. There is a very clear oversight structure here. The role of the board will be to better support and manage An Garda Síochána. In addition to providing support, it will also be able to constructively challenge the Garda Commissioner who will be accountable for his performance and that of his team”.

She added that “the commission was established for a reason. We needed to restructure” and they were “trying to put in place a structure and system where there is very clear oversight and where we have absolute confidence in An Garda Síochána. There will be oversight at every step of the way.”

Mr Murphy pointed to criticisms in the Smithwick tribunal on alleged Garda collusion in the murder of two RUC officers that An Garda Síochána “prized loyalty over honesty”.

He said it was an “explosive and outrageous decision” by the Government. Rather than just implementing recommendations, the Coalition was “re-centralising powers in the hands of the Garda Commissioner which will have very negative effects for whistleblowers in the future”, he claimed.

He said “the power was taken out of the hands of the Garda Commissioner and given to the Policing Authority for a very good reason.

“We all saw the disgraceful treatment of Maurice McCabe and others. It is an astounding counter-reform to re-centralise power in the hands of the Garda Commissioner given the chilling effect that can have within the ranks.”

Ms McEntee stressed, however, that under 2014 legislation “workers can raise concerns over potential wrongdoings in the workplace that come to their attention” while availing of “significant employment and other protections if they are penalised by their employer or suffer any detriment from making such disclosures”. She said “this will not change with the potential changes to the structures within An Garda Síochána”.

Reforms in 2017 in the wake of two decades of Garda scandals included giving the Policing Authority power to make appointments above the role of Sergeant and Inspector. The authority is understood to be deeply opposed to the latest changes.

There are currently three oversight agencies including the Garda Síochána Inspectorate and the Policing Authority which it is proposed to merge with the Garda Síochána Ombudsman Commission (GSOC).