Garda among 'most secretive' police forces

A leading crime and policing academic today clamed An Garda Siochána is one of the most secretive police forces in the liberal western world.

Professor Dermot Walsh told senior gardaí and justice experts there was still a lack of transparency despite dramatic reforms over the last few years.

At a conference in the University of Limerick the criminal law expert said the Gardaí had retained an institutional approach to secrecy.

“The Gardaí have made significant progress in the last few years in terms of reform but some of these are in danger of being nothing more than paper reforms,” Prof Walsh said.

“The Gardaí are reluctant to publish details of operational processes and operational aspects of the force.”

Professor Walsh, who organised the Police Governance and Accountability: Challenges and Outlook, said he had issues with the confidential Garda Code, how individual garda use their discretion and Freedom of Information which does not apply to the force.

Pointing to the Code, the Professor said: “This is a major tome, a book covering all aspects of the garda’s official duties.

“It’s effectively the bible for the Gardaí and it is confidential and there’s no reason for it to be confidential.”

Professor Walsh, director of the Centre for Criminal Justice at UL, said Judge Frederick Morris, who oversaw the tribunal into garda corruption in Donegal, warned of a similar secrecy with rules on informers.

“That was a highly secretive document,” he said.

“There was no reason why most of it should be confidential. It’s of benefit to no-one.

“A lack of transparency is not in the interests of gardaí and certainly not in the interests of broader society who should be unable to discuss and critique all aspects of policing openly.”

Since Judge Morris documented the corruption and negligence among some officers in Donegal a raft of reforms including a Garda Inspectorate and Ombudsman have been set up.

But Prof Walsh highlighted a human rights audit from 2002 by Ionann Management Consultants which called for the Garda Code to be published.

“One of the recommendations was greater transparency in public. They said the code should be published. The Gardaí have not done that and continue to maintain the traditional secrecy,” he said.

“There is a secrecy in respect of some matters that should be known.”

The Garda Code contains hundreds of pages of detail on rules and regulations, operations and intelligence and information gathering.

“Most other police forces in western, liberal democracies are much more open than the Gardaí,” Prof Walsh said.

He pointed to English constabularies, forces in New Zealand and some states in Canada as the benchmark.

“We all depend on policing for our freedom. How that is delivered is has a critical bearing on us, if we don’t know how that is done, we are not in a position to critique it,” Prof Walsh said.

“Information is vital to the function of democracy.”

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