The Irish Times view on Garda reform: starting all over again

Priority is being given to enhancing the powers and administrative reach of Garda Commissioner Drew Harris

The slow and methodical nature of anticipated change in An Garda Síochána is reflected in a four-year plan, where priority has been given to enhancing the powers and administrative reach of Garda Commissioner Drew Harris (right). Photograph:  Don Moloney / Press 22

The slow and methodical nature of anticipated change in An Garda Síochána is reflected in a four-year plan, where priority has been given to enhancing the powers and administrative reach of Garda Commissioner Drew Harris (right). Photograph: Don Moloney / Press 22

 

Concessions to discontented elements within An Garda Síochána, balanced by the creation of new managerial structures and the development of rights-based, community policing, have been adopted by Government as a framework for reform, following recommendations by the Commission on the Future of Policing in Ireland. The slow and methodical nature of anticipated change is reflected in a four-year plan, where priority has been given to enhancing the powers and administrative reach of Garda Commissioner Drew Harris.

The new Commissioner will be largely independent of the Department of Justice in managing the force and, as chief executive, will take charge of promotions, redundancies and freeing up desk-bound officers for front line duties. Not only that: he will manage finances and industrial relations. Advised by an executive board, he will direct negotiations with the Garda Representative Body and the Association for Garda Sergeants and Inspectors on pay and conditions

Given the failure of previous reform efforts, special funding will be made available for a redundancy programme aimed at obstructive officers.

There is an element of starting again in the Commission’s proposals, along with an implicit acknowledgement that existing oversight bodies had failed to win Garda acceptance. The Policing Authority and the Garda Inspectorate are to be absorbed into a new Policing and Community Safety Oversight Commission, while the structures and processes of the Garda Síochána Ombudsman Commission (GSoc) in handling complaints will be transformed. The idea that future GSoc investigations should concentrate on “understanding the context”, rather than “blaming the individual”, may not, however, satisfy complainants.

Change within the force has been excruciatingly slow. Because of persistent and unacceptable Garda behaviour, however, it must be accelerated. An investigation by the Charleton tribunal into the treatment of whistleblower Maurice McCabe by fellow officers confirmed the need for dramatic changes to procedures and practices. Future recruitment campaigns, aimed at peopleof different ethnic origins, while attracting graduates and IT specialists, should contribute to community policing within a multi-ethnic society and based on a human rights strategy.

Responsibility for day-to-day Garda and administrative actions will fall to Commissioner Harris in the future. Government authority will manifest itself by coordinating national security and in monitoring strategic threats. Rather than establish a direct line of responsibility for security matters to the taoiseach however – as the Commission recommended – the buck will stop with a senior official. These arrangements reflect the symbiotic nature of old-style politics.

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