Timeline for next Garda chief up in the air, says authority chairwoman

The timeline for the selection of the new Garda commissioner is “up in the air”, the head of the Policing Authority has said.

Chairwoman Josephine Feehily told the Oireachtas justice committee that if the matter was put on hold until the Policing Commission reported in September 2018, the process could be pushed back 16 to 18 months.

The Policing Commission dramatically intervened on Monday, telling Justice Minister Charlie Flanagan it would be a “serious mistake” to select a new commissioner before the commission had completed its report. In a letter, commission chair, Kathleen O’Toole, said the process “should begin only” after it had reported and said it would be unrealistic to expect “credible candidates” to apply in the absence of clarity as to what the job entailed.

The Commission on the Future of Policing is examining the entirety of national policing structures and will make recommendations.

Ms O’Toole said these would, “without doubt, significantly affect the future role and responsibilities of the commissioner and the management structure of the organisation”.

She said it would “not be possible” to draw up the job specifications for the commissioner post until the report had been completed.

The letter appears to have scuppered plans to launch the competition in the coming months, with a view to selecting the commissioner by spring 2018.

Mr Flanagan has said he will “carefully consider” the letter.

Ms Feehily said the authority would consider the letter today, at a scheduled meeting, and would bring its view to the minister.

“My personal reaction is she [Ms O’Toole] makes very useful, significant points and are clearly well-considered,” said Ms Feehily.

She told Fianna Fáil’s justice spokesman, Jim O’Callaghan, that, like the minister, the authority was “weighing up the impact of a lacuna”.

She said the idea of a lacuna, and its impact on the pace of reform, “troubled” her, but added: “If I was a candidate, I might want to know what the job laid out before me, in the future, was, before applying”.

She said she could see “both sides” of the issue.

Asked by Sinn Fein TD Donnchadh Ó Laoghaire about the potential timeline, she said the authority was in a “research phase”, in terms of mapping out the process, checking the market, and examining issues like remuneration.

This would then be followed by drawing up the job specification. She said that process would take a “number of months” and that they would then task the Public Appointments Service with running the competition, which would take another six months.

She said the “imponderable” was when the authority would be in a position to task the PAS. She said this was now “up in the air”, given the O’Toole letter.

Independents 4 Change TD Mick Wallace put it to Ms Feehily that the authority was “on the sideline” in terms of the selection process, and that the minister and the PAS would be the players. Ms Feehily said the authority had a responsibility, in terms of deciding the job specifications, but that, under the law, the authority hands over the competition to the PAS.

However, she expects the authority to be “strongly represented” on the interview panel. She said it was likely the authority will be making submissions to both the commission and the minister, highlighting the “confusion” around the recruitment processes for different ranks of the force, as well as issues to do with the powers of the authority.

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