Expert warns of ‘vested interests’ in policing plan

The content and style of the Government’s implementation plan for Garda reform “do not inspire confidence” that past failures to enforce policing reforms will not be repeated, a leading expert has said.

Professor Dermot Walsh said the structures that have been set up to implement the recommendations of the Policing Commission were more “government orientated” than necessary and could be there to “protect vested interests”.

He said there was a real risk that the commission’s blueprint will meet a similar fate to previous policing reform recommendations which, he said, have either not been implemented or only in part.

Prof Walsh, co-director of research at Kent Law School, did commend the Government for moving “quickly” on implementation planning for the commission’s report, which was published last September.

He noted that in December, the Government produced its implementation plan covering a four-year period, signalling a break with tradition in relation to previous reform reports.

“Unfortunately, the implementation plan is a dense document,” he said, adding it was not easily accessible.

Prof Walsh, author of books on criminal justice, policing and accountability in Ireland, said this could serve to “obscure and dilute” substantive implementation.

He said the plan uses “complex tables” regarding each action, which would need to be read alongside the commission’s report, making it “tedious and disruptive reading”.

He said that while the considerable detail provided was welcome “the overall effect is to render the material more complex and inhibiting”.

Prof Walsh said the “tick box” style of the plan might well serve management needs, but would do little for “wider interests of transparency, community engagement and public awareness”.

“There is also a concern that the implementation structures are more complex and government-dominated than they need to be,” he said.

The legal expert said the implementation machinery comprised an implementation group (made up of department and agency officials), assisted by an implementation office, above which sits a high level steering board (consisting of department secretary generals).

He said this latter group was supposed to act as a “clearing house for issues that cannot be resolved”.

But Prof Walsh said: “An alternative interpretation is that it is there to protect vested political and institutional interests in the sensitive police reform process.”

He said there has been “no shortage” of previous reform reports, including from the Morris Tribunal.

He said “vested interests” in the Garda and government “have managed quietly” to ensure they are not implemented or only partly.

“There remains the risk that the commission’s recommendations will meet a similar fate to many of the recommendations that have preceded them,” he said.

“At the very least, they are at risk of being cherrypicked in a manner that will further tighten the control of vested interests at the expense of transparency and human rights in policing.

“The content and style of the implementation plan do not inspire confidence that these risks will not materialise.”

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