The Garda Síochána Ombudsman Commission (Gsoc) is fighting back, attempting to maintain a pivotal place for itself in dealing with new oversight and disciplinary structures proposed by the Commission on the Future of Policing in Ireland. It is seeking consultations between the Department of Justice and all three independent bodies – the Garda Inspectorate, the Policing Authority and Gsoc – in the preparation of legislation. It warns that failure to do so will cause future difficulties.
Gsoc chair Ms Justice Mary Ellen Ring and her two commissioner colleagues told an Oireachtas committee this week that criminal misconduct cases were being investigated by the Garda Síochána, without telling Gsoc. In such circumstances it was not possible for them to do their job. There may be no statutory obligation on the Garda to consult with Gsoc on such investigations at present. But Gsoc wants that to change.
Having been starved of resources for years, it was only when a restructuring of its functions was proposed by the Commission on the Future of Policing, last September, that the Government loosened the purse strings. In future, the organisation will become known as the Independent Office of the Police Ombudsman. It will be expected to investigate incidents, rather than individual gardaí, and “find fault where appropriate”.
Relations between the Garda and Gsoc have been difficult since it was established in 2007. Its activities as an external, punitive body were deeply resented at all levels within the force. This manifested itself through a general lack of co-operation. Garda files went missing during investigations and long delays developed.
Measures dealing with public discourtesy and communication failures are being introduced. But supervision within the force remains poor. A draft protocol on information sharing between the two organisations has been submitted to Commissioner Drew Harris for his approval. His response is awaited but he has said communications must improve. Reform is likely to be a lengthy and difficult process.