The Irish Times view on the Garda youth diversion programme

A litany of serious lapses

Further evidence of the dysfunctional nature of administrative practices within the Garda Síochána emerged yesterday when a report on its youth diversion programme was presented to the Policing Authority. Covering a period from 2010 to 2017, it found that thousands of crimes committed by young offenders had not been properly followed up and prosecutions had not taken place.

Two-thirds of the 158,000 cases referred to the youth diversion programme were processed. But 55,000 were rejected for various reasons and, from these, 33,000 children were either charged or summonsed. The final report found there had been a failure to “appropriately process” almost 8,000 offences. These included 55 serious crimes: one involving rape, another sexual assault, child neglect, a threat to kill and offences relating to firearms and homicide. This was because of insufficient evidence or because the child had declined to make a statement.

The lax and inefficient practices within the youth diversion programme changed dramatically when an investigation was proposed in 2014 and gardaí were required to enter details of cases in the Pulse computer system in 2016. The incidence of "no action" cases dropped from 7 per cent in 2010 to 0.5 per cent in 2017. Individual laziness and a lack of managerial oversight may have encouraged early, sloppy behaviour. Commissioner Drew Harris said such serious cases should have been processed elsewhere within the criminal justice system and this raised questions concerning Garda discipline. Victims, young people and the public in general had been let down. They had to ensure the newly established and resourced Bureau of Child Diversion worked properly.

Garda inefficiency, verging on misconduct, and delays in addressing administrative problems should not obscure the good work done by the diversion programme in helping many children avoid jail and a possible life of crime. Three-quarters of all the cases handled by the diversion programme involved public order offences. On the other hand, young offenders well known to gardaí received as many as 10 referrals to the programme. Some of those who refused to sign statements acknowledging guilt escaped any sanction.

When he appeared before the Policing Authority, Harris apologised to victims and undertook to provide a hotline to deal with any queries. That was an appropriate response although the commissioner could hardly do otherwise. While the policing failures did not occur on his watch – former commissioners Martin Callinan and Nóirín O'Sullivan had been in charge – he made it clear the matter was not closed. An examination of individual garda behaviour is being conducted to see if disciplinary action is required.