Garda controversies: limited civilianisation has not worked

More intrusive approach required from Government and Policing Authority

 

Problems besetting the Garda Síochána can be traced to their historic priority of protecting the State against subversives, rather than serving the community. This led to unhealthy relationships with successive governments, undue secrecy, internal indiscipline and an unwillingness to acknowledge and correct mistakes. The appointment of civilians as senior executives within the force was designed to inject cultural change into this closed system. On the basis of evidence given before the Dáil Public Accounts Committee this week, however, garda culture is – once again – eating strategy for breakfast.

Damaging evidence about improper accounting behaviour at Templemore training college and what Commissioner Nóirín O Sullivan did or did not know about it – and when she knew it – was given to the committee. It didn’t stop there. Civilian officials disagreed over the seriousness of the offences and whether they should be made public. In the face of damning audit findings and a threat to those in charge at all levels, a culture of denial and wagon-circling re-emerged.

All professional organisations tend to close ranks when confronted by external complaints and criticisms. But this response has become automatic within the Garda Síochána. A general unwillingness to cooperate with disciplinary investigations by the Garda Síochána Ombudsman Commission (GSOC) became a scandal, while shabby treatment of the Garda Inspectorate was designed to minimise its effectiveness.

A report on the future of policing will not be completed for at least 18 months, at a time when the commissioner and the force remain under intense scrutiny over not only improper financial activity at Templemore but abuses of the penalty points system, unwarranted prosecutions, a million phantom breath tests and the massaging of crime statistics. Public confidence is under threat and further official procrastination is not an option. On the basis of evidence given before the committee, limited civilianisation has not worked. A more intrusive approach is required from Government and the Policing Authority.

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