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Gardaí among most secretive

THE Garda will continue to be one of the most secretive police forces in the world, as there is no access to basic information, a conference on policing and accountability was told yesterday.

Prof Dermot Walsh, director of the centre for criminal justice at the University of Limerick, said: "It is still the case that standing orders covering all aspects of Garda management and practices are not publicly accessible. The same applies to the existence and contents of Garda policies.

"For as long as such basic information is kept secret, transparent governance and accountability will remain elusive and the Garda will continue to be one of the most secretive police forces in the western world.

"We all depend on policing for our freedom. How that is delivered 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.

Former journalist and UL academic Dr Michael Mulqueen said recent legislation equated serious organised crime with terrorism and other threats to the security of the state.

He said: "Immigration control has also, since 2001, been treated in Ireland as a national security issue. The creeping securitisation, however justified by available intelligence, puts at risk fundamental human rights."

The conference heard the involvement of gardaí in minor investigations carried out by the Garda Ombudsman Commission is helping inculcate a greater culture of accountability in the force.

Kieran Fitzgerald, a member of the Ombudsman Commission said, while the commission uses its own officers to investigate all serious matters, fully and independently, the Act under which the commission was set up provides for involvement of gardaí in investigations of minor potential breaches of discipline.

If any member of the public is unhappy at a probe carried out by the gardaí on behalf of the ombudsman they can appeal and the Ombudsman Commission will review such cases.

Former Boston police commissioner Kathleen O’Toole, chief inspector of the Garda inspectorate, said people can be very proud of having an unarmed police force. "I have huge respect for police officers here who perform their duty in a routinely unarmed manner. I wish we could do that in Boston. It is my hope that this tradition of routinely unarmed police service will remain in place for ever."