The new Garda Ombudsman Commission will have the staffing and the budget to match the Police Ombudsman in Northern Ireland, it was claimed tonight.
The members of the new three-person body - Judge Kevin Haugh, former Irish Times editor Conor Brady and former Consumer Affairs Director Carmel Foley - were sworn in today by President Mary McAleese.
Justice Minister Michael McDowell said the Garda Ombudsman would help to achieve a radical overhaul of the force.
“It will be fully funded to the same extent as Nuala O’Loan’s (the Police Ombudsman of Northern Ireland),” he said.
The Garda Ombudsman Commission will have a budget of €10m, which is roughly equivalent to the £7m budget (€10.24m) of the Police Ombudsman of Northern Ireland. It will employ between 50 and 100 staff, some of which may be recruited from abroad, and will investigate complaints from the public about Garda wrongdoing.
Enterprise and Employment Minister Micheal Martin announced that Carmel Foley had resigned today from her position as Director of Consumer Affairs to take up her new position with the Garda Ombudsman Commission.
He said she had consistently argued the consumers’ case in a diverse range of areas and paid tribute to her work during the euro changeover in particular.
“I am sure that the director’s experience in serving the consumers’ and the public’s interest would be a tremendous asset to the Garda Ombudsman Commission in carrying out its important work.”
The Garda Siochana Act Implementation Review Group said in its report today that the Garda Ombudsman Commission was now likely to start operating in January next year.
Its headquarters will be in Dublin to ensure there is a highly visible presence to the greatest number of citizens, and there will also be two regional offices in Roscrea, Co Tipperary, and in Longford.
The review group’s chairman, Senator Maurice Hayes, said the Garda Ombudsman Commission had to make a crucial decision on whether to investigate all complaints itself, or delegate some of them to the Gardaí.
He pointed out that the Police Ombudsman in Northern Ireland had chosen to investigate every complaint directly but the Independent Police Complaints Commission in Britain had chosen a different approach.
“It’ll be up to them to decide how they address their task. All we have established is that whatever their decision, the resources should be provided,” he said.
The discredited Garda Complaints Board, which had itself complained about its lack of powers, will conclude its remaining investigations before being wound up.
Senator Hayes said the three strengths of an Garda Siochana were their people, their tradition of service and the respect they had gained from the community. But he warned that he had encountered a significant level of demoralisation in the force.
“I think the guards by and large feel undervalued in society. I think they feel undervalued by the public and by their organisation. They’re worried about changes and that demands are being made on them and the resources aren’t there.”