Report underlines the scale of reform needed in the Garda Síochána

What is being proposed is revolutionary in terms of ending traditional structures and and overhauling management

 

Top-heavy, inefficient, defensive, bureaucratic, resistant to change … the latest pronouncements on the quality of our policing service by the Garda Síochána Inspectorate could hardly be more damning. On past experience, however, it would be unwise to expect early action, particularly as key reforms will require a shake-up of senior management and administrative structures.

It is said that culture eats strategy for breakfast. That certainly applies within the Garda Síochána where reports on necessary reforms are formally accepted to then vanish into a black hole. It operates at the most basic level. Ten years ago, legislation passed by the Dáil required the establishment of a Garda code of ethics. The code remains in draft form.

Some years later, the Garda Inspectorate made 11 recommendations on operational supervision. Two were implemented. Now 81 changes are proposed; many at little or no cost. But, with senior managers and embedded inefficiencies in the firing line, resistance is inevitable.

The inspectorate’s report is due to be brought to Government by Minister for Justice Frances Fitzgerald this week. With an election due within months, however, little is likely to happen other than expressions of concern and formal acceptance.

For Garda Commissioner Nóirín O’Sullivan, however, the report’s implementation may provide her with a Rubicon moment although forceful, unpopular action is more likely to become the responsibility of the next government.

The situation is serious and alarming. Ongoing need for reform exists in any large organisation where feather-bedding is a fact of life, structures emerge and overlap, and management insulates itself against change. The inspectorate found that, when resources fell short in recent years, front-line policing was neglected.

In response, it recommends that three of the six Garda divisions, which have existed since the foundation of the State, should be abolished because of bureaucracy and inefficiency.

Slimmed-down structures, with small, specialised units, would reduce duplication and provide savings in terms of management and back office costs. It would also free-up 1,000 gardaí for front-line services.

What is being proposed is revolutionary in terms of traditional structures and management. The reforms are designed to make policing more visible, effective and localised and should complement changes envisaged by the Policing Authority Bill, now before the Oireachtas, which provides for the independent oversight of policing services by community representatives.

Gardaí enjoy a very positive relationship with the public and are among the most trusted of public servants. In recent years, however, as policing visibility and front-line activity declined, their profile within rural and urban communities has been curtailed. Closing that gap would be a major achievement.

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