The Irish Times view on Garda reform: a time for radical steps

We are now two years into a five-year modernisation and renewal programme that the Policing Authority says is unfit for purpose

The recent appointment of Garda Commissioner Drew Harris from outside of the force will not, in itself, improve management abilities or transform Garda culture.

The recent appointment of Garda Commissioner Drew Harris from outside of the force will not, in itself, improve management abilities or transform Garda culture.

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Reports from the Policing Authority this week have identified failures in management, imagination and appetite for change within the Garda Síochána and exposed “fundamental flaws” in its modernisation and renewal programme (MRP).

While stopping short of alleging deliberate obstruction to necessary reforms, the Policing Authority illustrated a Catch-22 situation whereby most MRP components involve a training dimension but no plan exists to deliver on that training. A lack of training was then cited as the reason change had not taken place. The authority has advised Minister for Justice Charlie Flanagan that while such barriers persist, the benefits of Government investment and enhanced recruitment may be lost. Urgent attention should be given, it suggested, to developing human resources, accommodation, training and information technology within the force.

Frustration over a lack of progress in implementing aspects of the annual Policing Plan bubbled through these reports. Inadequate driver-training for new recruits; fewer roadside checkpoints; a falling detection rate for most offences and a lost opportunity to promote recruitment diversity and greater civilianisation of the force were emphasised. The Garda Commissioner sets these targets. But the Policing Authority believes they are not being treated with sufficient seriousness within the organisation. For that to happen, it said, aspects of the plan would have to be costed and the necessary resources allocated.

The reports were particularly critical of a lack of strategic planning within the Garda Síochána. It found there was no settled view within the force on its approach to community policing and it noted a lack of diversity in recruitment. A worrying absence of management information in relation to rostering, structures, training and overtime – “essential levers of change” – also existed, along with a failure to identify savings that might be used to fund the cost of change.

The recent appointment of Garda Commissioner Drew Harris from outside of the force will not, in itself, improve management abilities or transform Garda culture. But it should mark a shift in political determination to force through change. Successive governments have wrestled with issues of accountability and modernisation since the Morris Tribunal investigated corruption and scandal within the Donegal district 10 years ago.

The Garda Ombudsman Commission was established with inadequate powers. The Garda Inspectorate followed. So did a succession of scandals. Two Garda Commissioners have stepped down under pressure. We are now two years into a five-year modernisation and renewal programme that the Policing Authority says is unfit for purpose. Senior officers resisting change should be retired. It is time for radical action.

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