Adequate resourcing and new policing models must come with Garda reforms
Different responses are required to address urban, rural and border crime
The Policing Authority Bill, at present before the Dáil, deals with the reform of structures within the Garda Síochána and redefines its relationship with the Government. An Independent authority will be empowered to oversee the quality of policing services in the community and the work practices employed. The historic priority of the force: to protect the State against subversives, will give way to a broader and more inclusive agenda of serving the community.
The changes are designed to bring greater oversight and transparency into normal policing matters while leaving security aspects to the Garda Commissioner and the Minister for Justice. The Bill has been criticised for not going far enough. But it represents incremental change that flows from a series of critical tribunal reports and the process is likely to continue.
It is a difficult time for the Garda Síochána. The number of full-time officers has fallen by more than 2,000 since 2009 while pay and conditions have deteriorated. Morale has been affected by a succession of controversies and internal resistance to accountability processes and new rostering arrangements continue.
Writing in The Irish Times last week, a former senior garda and national head of Interpol, John O’Brien, took the view that, while the force has the will, it does not have the organisational capacity to meet current and future demands. He called for the publication of annual costed service plans and the adoption of different policing models in response to urban, rural and border crime.
The murder of Garda Tony Golding in Co Louth brought home the dangers of policing; the need to introduce specific policing models and the importance of sharing information between the Garda and the PSNI. At the same time, concern over an increase in robberies in small towns and rural districts, involving highly mobile gangs, has grown.
And while 9000 people have been charged with burglary offences under ‘Operation Fiacla’ in recent years, robberies by mobile gangs continue to spread alarm. The recruitment of an additional 500 gardaí and funding for 250 police cars may spare the Government’s blushes in advance of an election. But garda representative bodies are not impressed, pointing out that, given natural wastage, the number of serving personnel and vehicles are likely to fall.
An unhealthy relationship between successive governments, the Department of Justice and the Garda Commissioner developed over decades. Administrative abuses were covered up and, in the words of former Labour Party minister Pat Rabbitte, they ‘hid behind one another’s skirts’.
Under this legislation, a Commissioner should be entitled to draw public attention to shortfalls in funding and personnel. There is no point in drafting annual service plans if the resources are not there to implement them. Reform should not only involve administrative structures and accountability, it should transform outdated relationships.