Transparency in policing: Culture of insularity persists

The reconsideration of the Kerry Babies’ scandal brought many long-ago questions back into public view. A great number are as perplexing today as they were all those years ago when the affair showed how puritanical, sanctimonious, hypocritical, male-dominated and, tragically, dishonest the administration of what was/is called justice could be when the dominant culture is challenged or ignored.

The details of the affair were/are so incomprehensible, so grating that even discussing them in one of those universities where students’ sensibilities are regarded as important as truth-telling would provoke one of those anti-academic, cowardly “trigger warnings” so petals might not be bruised. Had the gardaí who secured “confessions” from the Hayes family been half as easily cowed, maybe the whole affair might not have assumed such force and held a mirror to our cruelty.

The resurrection of this half-forgotten scandal filled galleys of newspapers. Many assessments wondered if the Kerry Babies’ Tribunal had focussed on its remit and challenged garda culture might we have been spared some scandals of intervening decades. There is a sense that it was an opportunity squandered. That we are, almost 40 years later mired in root-and-branch appraisals of how the force works supports this view. There can hardly be a layer of public life that has got such attention to such little effect. And it continues.

The Irish Council for Civil Liberties yesterday called for human rights officers to cover all areas of policing to address what it describes as “persistent problems”. Dealing with the issues at the heart of the Kerry scandal, the council wants the “urgent” establishment of an anti-torture inspection system and a review of the laws on procedures on detention and interviewing of suspects. The ICCL said “major steps” had been taken by successive governments to improve the accountability and effectiveness of An Garda Síochána but that these efforts had not “penetrated” across the organisation.

The ICCL was not the only organisation to criticise the gardaí yesterday. The Policing Authority announced it would question An Garda Síochána about its ongoing failure to publish a review into homicide figures at a public meeting next month. The authority had anticipated that the review would be available in June but it is yet to be published.

In September the Central Statistics Office declined, for the second time, to publish crime figures until a Garda review into homicide cases was completed. This review began after it was suspected that a number of cases of murder, manslaughter and violent deaths may have been classified inaccurately. The Department of Justice said the CSO has indicated that it expects to recommence publication of crime statistics between April and June this year.

The Kerry Babies’ scandal was revisited because gardaí finally accepted they were wrong and owed Joanne Hayes and her family an apology. As a first step along the road to reconnecting with the community they serve and a community that wants our police to be an admired and respected force it was a good first step but no more. Much, much needs to be done — as everyone involved knows only too well.


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