The implementation of reforms recommended by the Policing Commission should be considered a “first order national priority”, the chair of the body has said.
Kathleen O’Toole told the Oireachtas Justice Committee that there were “critical systemic problems” in the Garda Síochána relating to culture, structures, accountability and management.
Ms O’Toole said implementation of its 50 recommendations can be done and “must be done” in the interests of the gardaí and the “people they serve”.
The 100-page report of the Commission on the Future of Policing in Ireland was published in September.
In what she said was her last function as chair of the expert body, the former US police chief strongly rejected criticisms that some recommendations diluted oversight and were “regressive”.
While all members welcomed the bulk of the report, many expressed concern, and questioned Ms O’Toole at length, about the changes to the oversight bodies, in particular the Policing Authority and the creation of a new internal Garda Board.
Ms O’Toole said that a new Garda Board would strengthen internal governance and hold the commissioner to account as well as support them with business, HR and IT expertise.
“It is not a substitute for oversight of policing in Ireland as some commentators have claimed,” she said.
“The commission’s report does not recommend the abolition of the Policing Authority or its functions. It does not recommend the abolition of GSOC. It does not recommend or imply any dilution of oversight or scrutiny of policing.”
She said the report recommended combining the Authority and the Inspectorate into a Policing and Community Safety Oversight Commission. She said they recommended removing the power of the authority to appoint senior officers and giving it to the commissioner and the board as it was “not appropriate” for an oversight agency to have responsibility for appointments.
“It is not a regressive step,” Ms O’Toole said.
Sinn Féin justice spokesman Donnchadh Ó Laoghaire TD said he was concerned about the loyalty of the Garda Board, which he thought would be with the Garda Síochána, and the lack of powers of Policing and Community Safety Oversight Commission.
Independents 4 Change TD Mick Wallace said that the changes appeared to be a “watering down” of the powers of oversight bodies, instead of boosting them.
Independents 4 Change TD Clare Daly said gardaí would be “firstly accountable to this board”. She said it represented “more control internally” as it had powers to make “appointments and decisions”. She said the board was being “used as a justification to take powers away from the Policing and Community Safety Oversight Commission” and give it to the commissioner and the board.
Commission member Donncha O’Connell said the commissioner had to be enabled and resourced to implement the change and that a board would assist that.