Whistleblowers whose concerns are ignored within their own organisation cannot be criticised for taking their complaints elsewhere, according to a former Garda commissioner.
Pat Byrne said while he believes most issues of complaint “can be dealt with comprehensively within the structure of an organisation”, there were exceptions.
“There are perfectly genuine people who suspect that wrongdoing has not been addressed by an organisation. If concerns are not properly addressed, one cannot complain if the whistleblower then takes it further,” Mr Byrne said.
However, there were also people who made complaints “for vexatious reasons, potentially resulting in innocent people being put under investigation”. These complaints could seriously damage an organisation or business, Mr Byrne said.
An Garda Síochána has been dogged by a whistleblowing controversy since March 2012, when two members of the force alleged abuse of the Garda ‘Pulse’ database system that records traffic violations.
In relation to complaints against gardaí, Mr Byrne said while An Garda Síochána has “an excellent track record” of dealing with complaints against its members, it was “always good” when investigations are seen to be independent.
He said if one looked at the number of complaints made against gardaí to the Garda Síochána Ombudsman Commission, which received over 2,000 in 2012, it would be “easy to assume this is an accurate reflection of garda wrongdoing”.
However he said this was not the case, that most professional criminals, when caught, made a complaint against the arresting garda to slow up the justice process.
“Because of this, the most active policemen and women... tend to have the most complaints made against them,” Mr Byrne said.
While internal discipline should be a matter for the Garda authorities, garda oversight was best served “by a properly established external body”, he said.
Mr Byrne, whose opinions are recounted in a new book by journalist Rita de Brún entitled Life Lessons, also commented on the recording of phone conversations in garda stations.
He said while calls to command and control centres in rural divisions were recorded as the centres receive 999 calls, the recording or monitoring of phone conversations to or from Garda stations “was never intended, nor was it policy”.
Catherine McGuinness, a former Supreme Court judge, raised other concerns in Ms de Brún’s book. She said the concept of the right to assisted death “worries” her and while she personally would like to have the option to avail of it, “I would have considerable concerns about playing a part in making it generally available”.
“Having lived through the Hitler period, where so many people were slaughtered for falsely propounded ‘eugenic’ reasons, it would take a long time to persuade me that there ought to be a law to give people that right,” she said.
Ms McGuinness also said judicial appointments should be made by an independent body. “Since the recent referendum, judges’ salaries are, in reality, controlled by the government, and other changes have to some extent reduced the true independence of the judiciary as provided for in the Constitution. We should no longer rely on a judicial appointment system that is in fact political.”
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