A continuing failure to keep some victims of crime informed about their investigations was described as “quite disconcerting” at yesterday’s Policing Authority meeting with the Garda Commissioner writes Cormac O’Keeffe.
Authority member Vicky Conway said this failure was despite the establishment across the country of Garda Victims Services Offices — a central and much-publicised part of the commissioner’s response to various critical reports.
Commissioner Nóirín O’Sullivan’s judgement was also questioned regarding her appointment of a senior garda, rather than an external expert, to the new role of protected disclosure manager, akin to an internal whistleblowers’ protector.
The commissioner revealed at the meeting that the number of current complaints from whistleblowers was in “single figures”.
The authority yesterday held its first of two public meetings to discuss the findings of the O’Higgins inquiry, which documented a litany of flawed investigations and poor treatment of victims within the Cavan Monaghan division in 2007 and 2008.
The meeting followed a stinging statement from the authority after a private session with Ms O’Sullivan on May 26, in which it expressed its “serious concern” at the impact on victims at the “systemic performance and management failures”.
That statement also expressed its “dismay” at the familiarity of the failures and its “deep unease” at the organisation and management culture.
Dr Conway said figures from the Garda Public Attitudes Survey were “quite disconcerting” in that, since the Victims Services Offices were established a year ago, a number of victims said they were not receiving information about the progress of their investigations or not enough information.
Dr Conway, a law lecturer at Dublin City University, told the commissioner it was “essential” that this was acted on quickly, as it would have a great impact on public confidence.
She asked both deputy commissioner John Twomey and Ms O’Sullivan if specific action had been taken regarding the treatment of victims in Cavan-Monaghan, but was provided with information about the broader efforts to deal with the issue.
Ms O’Sullivan and a number of her senior managers said that a range of measures had been taken which would greatly limit the chances of the poor investigations and supervision highlighted by O’Higgins happening again.
Assistant Commissioner Jack Nolan said the way in which investigations were handled now was “significantly different”.
He said 28 victims offices had been set up and that changes had been made to the Garda Pulse computer system that identified both an investigating garda and an assigned supervisor.
The system was able to track all investigation notes, a process that could be reviewed. He said the chances of cases “falling through the cracks were significantly reduced”.
Ms O’Sullivan added that there were now “safeguards” in place to ensure issues were identified early and interventions made.
The garda team also pointed out that training for garda recruits had changed.
Civilian head of the Garda Analysis Service Gurchand Singh said they were commencing a full evaluation of the victims’ offices.
Authority member Judith Gillespie, former deputy chief constable of the PSNI, asked the commissioner whether her decision not to appoint an outside expert as the new protected disclosure manager was a “missed penalty kick”.
Ms O’Sullivan said she did not consider it a missed opportunity and explained that the garda manager could access external assistance.
Referring to Sergeant Maurice McCabe, authority member Bob Collins asked the commissioner what did it say about the organisation and its culture that a whistleblower secretly recorded conversations.
Ms O’Sullivan declined to comment on any individual, but said she was determined to build an environment that people could trust.
This article first appeared in the Irish Examiner.