Expert calls to strip justice minister of police powers

The justice minister should be stripped of a massive range of police powers extending far beyond oversight to include recruitment, training, equipment, pay and pensions, according to a leading expert.

Professor Dermot Walsh: The Garda Authority should have the power to examine the exercise of powers from stop, through arrest, detention, entry, search and surveillance. Pic: Brian Gavin

Dermot Walsh said that the new Garda Authority should also be part of a wider and deeper examination of policing in Ireland and should involve a Northern Ireland-style Patten Commission.

Prof Walsh, an author of several books on gardaí and policing, said the authority should have the power to investigate operational policing — including stop-and-search powers, arrest, detention, entry to homes, and the shadowy world of surveillance.

The academic and barrister said the authority should hold quarterly meetings with the public at different locations across the country as well as an annual public meeting.

He has made a detailed submission to the Department of Justice, which is conducting a public consultation on the Garda Authority, which the new minister has said will be up and running by the end of the year.

Prof Walsh, the head of the law school at Kent University and formerly of University of Limerick, is proposing a wholescale removal of powers and functions from the embattled Department of Justice to the police authority.

He said the authority would “subsume most of the policing functions” currently held by the Department of Justice.

He said this would include “recruitment, appointments, education and training, pay, pensions, conditions of service, discipline, complaints, ethics, promotion, and uniform”.

It addition, the authority would provide and maintain buildings and equipment for the force, including vehicles, weapons and surveillance.

Prof Walsh also envisages the authority would determine budgets in consultation with the minister and would determine annual and strategic garda plans in consultation with the commissioner.

He said the body could require a report “at any time on any matter” from the gardaí.

He said the authority would have the power to examine the “exercise of Garda powers from stop, through arrest, detention, entry, search, surveillance, etc” and this data should be publicly available.

Prof Walsh said the publication of crime data needed to be “radically revamped” to make it much more comprehensive and meaningful.

He said the body should receive “regular reports” from the Garda Ombudsman and have the power to request the Garda Inspectorate to conduct an inquiry.

Separate to the authority, Prof Walsh said that there needed to be a “comprehensive, considered, evidence-based and forward-looking inquiry” into all aspects of policing, along the lines of the Patten Commission in the North.

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