Garda oversight body ‘defining moment for force’ - O’Sullivan
Commissioner tells Oireachtas the independent authority brings chance to rebuild trust
Speaking before the Oireachtas Justice Committee, interim Garda Commissioner Noirin O’Sullivan said the introduction of the authority could represent a ’defining moment for the force’.
The establishment of an independent Garda oversight authority provides the force with a unique opportunity to reform and renew itself and build public trust and confidence, interim Garda commissioner Noirín O’Sullivan has said.
Speaking before the Oireachtas Justice Committee, which was discussing the new oversight body, Ms O’Sullivan said the introduction of the authority could represent a “defining moment for the force” that could allow it to demonstrate accountability and professionalism are at its core.
The authority was mooted by the Government after a string of recent scandals related to the force emerged.
An Garda Síochána, Ms O’Sullivan said, was already subject to significant oversight from institutions such as the Oireachtas Justice Committee, judiciary and Garda Inspectorate.
She said this was welcome as An Garda Síochána needed to be accountable and the new authority could further enhance confidence in the force. She said the new authority should be guided by what is good for the community and policing.
Ms O’Sullivan said An Garda Síochána was committed to engaging constructively with the Garda Síochána Ombudsman Commission (GSOC) to reach the objectives of the force, adding that she believed gardaí should not investigate other gardaí as independent objectivity was important.
She said the force must be open to internal and external criticism and that “dissent was not disloyalty”.
The expectations society has for An Garda Síochána have changed since the 2005 act was introduced, she said.
Gardaí hold a privileged position and serve with energy, dedication and pride, she added.
Former Northern Ireland police ombudsman Baroness Nuala O’Loan said GSOC had done some very good work since its introduction but there was now an opportunity to enhance it and make it more effective and independent.
Independence and impartiality are key factors for a successful police watchdog, she said, but the act underpinning GSOC does not mention these matters.
She said GSOC should be responding to every individual complaint and should have the power to investigate policy and practice matters.
Baroness O’Loan said it was not sustainable that GSOC could not investigate complaints against the Garda commissioner as it gave the impression accountability was OK for junior members of the force but not their seniors.
She said there needed to be a separation between GSOC and the State and that she could not think of any experience serving officers could bring to the table that retired officers could not.
A provision in the Garda Síochána Act act stating that people who made false or misleading complaints face penalties should be removed as it could deter people from coming forward as they might.
Ronan Brady, journalism lecturer at Griffith College, said the Freedom of Information Act should be extended to An Garda Síochána and that Ireland was unique in the fact it did not cover the police force, which had brought a greater openness in other jurisdictions.
He said it was convenient to believe FOI could inhibit intelligence gathering but this was not the case.