The justice bodies trying to police the police

There is a complicated justice architecture in Ireland.

POLICING AUTHORITY

While it used to be the prerogative of the Government, the authority now leads the recruitment process for the new commissioner after consulting with the Government.

An independent competition run by the Public Appointments Service is likely to be overseen by a high-level panel.

The authority will nominate its selection to the Government, which, according to the Policing Authority Act 2015, “shall” accept.

In exceptional circumstances, the Government can refuse to accept and ask the authority to nominate another.

Justice Minister Charlie Flanagan clearly expressed a wish for the competition to be opened out to international candidates, though stressing this is a decision for the authority.

Given the precedent last time around with the appointment of Nóirín O’Sullivan, when it was opened to international candidates, this is likely to happen.

The matter of the powers of the authority is still a live issue.

Initially, the commissioner was supposed to be “accountable” to the authority, but when the legislation was brought in, she would merely “report” to it.

The Government at the time said this was for constitutional reasons, but the legal advice was never made known and this issue could be revisited by the Government.

The authority can recommend the removal of the commissioner, but the decision rests with the Government.

In relation to the authority’s powers, Josephine Feehily likened it to a “glass half full”. Now might be the time to top that up.

GARDA INSPECTORATE

This unit, which sits within the Department of Justice, has produced detailed research — most notably the Crime Investigation report of October 2014 and the Changing Policing in Ireland report of November 2015 — which laid out the blueprint of Garda reform.

The inspectorate has been a bit neglected in recent times. Chairman Bob Olson retired in the summer and his replacement is imminent, as is the replacement for deputy inspector Mark Toland, who went to GSOC.

It has a number of major reports due for publication and others in progress.

GARDA OMBUDSMAN

GSOC has had a difficult, and sometimes tempestuous, relationship with Garda bosses and associations.

It has had persistent
problems in getting access to documents in sensitive cases quickly or at all.

GSOC has published a raft of policy or inspection reports and is overdue in publishing the Ian Bailey
report. It is also investigating issues arising out of the O’Higgins inquiry as well as Templemore.

Last September, GSOC chairwoman Judge Mary Ellen Ring called for legal powers to seek court order to compel the Garda commissioner to hand over
information — because of continuing problems in accessing documentation.

It was part of a call for more “teeth” — a campaign backed by the Oireachtas justice committee and signalled in draft legislation published by former justice minister Frances Fitzgerald.

GSOC also had to fight for resources to investigate whistleblower cases.

OIREACHTAS COMMITTEES

The public accounts committee, chaired by Seán Fleming, played a pivotal role in various crises, previously in the McCabe/
Callinan crisis and this year in the Templemore scandal, which also damaged Ms O’Sullivan.

There have been concerns at the way many PAC members used their powers in the O’Sullivan hearings — but overall the hearings exposed dysfunctionality at senior levels in the force and the financial problems at Templemore — now subject of EU and GSOC probes.

The justice committee hearings with the oversight bodies a year ago performed a valuable role in highlighting the need for extra powers.

POLICING COMMISSION

The root-and-branch review is due to report in around 16 months, though Mr Flanagan mentioned a timetable of 12 months yesterday, with the possibility of interim reports. It is not clear if the highly complicated issue of separating security from the force will form one such report.

The review is taking
public submissions and is setting up separate
sub-committees to examine the massive range of issues with which it has been tasked.

It is headed by US police chief Kathleen O’Toole.


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