Garda ethics: new guidelines relating to the behaviour and responsibility of members at all levels is long overdue
The GRA’s resistance to external oversight serves to undermine public confidence in its members
Professional bodies are happy to adopt codes of ethics that inform their members on what is regarded as appropriate behaviour. Such a code has existed within An Garda Síochána nut new guidelines relating to the behaviour and responsibility of members at all levels has drawn Garda Representative Association criticism. *
GRA general secretary Pat Ennis described it as a flawed process that introduced “another layer of disciplinary rules and specific prohibitions” and was “just another way to impose orders”. It was a short-sighted response from an increasingly combative organisation.
In recent years, the GRA has sought to project an image of itself as a normal trade union, representing ordinary workers. That image does not, however, reflect a complex reality where gardaí are provided with special powers to monitor the behaviour of citizens and to uphold the law.
Neither does it take account of a compensatory need to supervise Garda behaviour and ensure high standards of ethical practice. The GRA’s resistance to external oversight, through the Garda Ombudsman Commission, the Garda Inspectorate and now the Policing Authority, serves to undermine public confidence in its members.
The Policing Authority was asked to draw up a code of ethics that would apply to all members of the force. It involved basic ground rules, cautioning against illegal or improper behaviour and conflicts of interest while promoting high standards of conduct and practice at all levels. In view of the findings by various tribunals and commissions of inquiry, however, it specifically addressed cultural behaviour and the closing of ranks and encouraged the reporting of wrongdoing.
Article 10 of the code, which requires members to “challenge, oppose and expose illegal, unprofessional or unethical behaviour in our profession” may have upset the GRA. The association shouldn’t be so thin-skinned. Anyone who thinks unacceptable behaviour is limited to ordinary gardaí should read remarks by Mr Justice Kevin O’Higgins on the response to whistleblowers. He identified “a corporate closing of ranks”.
* This article was edited on February 1st, 2017