New procedures are being drawn up for the handling of complaints by the public about gardaí.
Justice Minister Frances Fitzgerald has been holding discussions on the issue with Garda Commissioner Nóirín O’Sullivan and the Garda Siochána Ombudsman Commission (GSOC).
Their aim is to establish procedures for dealing with minor complaints that do not warrant a full-scale GSOC inquiry and to set out protocols for responding to grievances which may prevent them becoming issues for GSOC.
Ms Fitzgerald said the arrangements with GSOC for dealing with complaints were very formal and not suitable for handling all of the issues members of the public wished to raise.
“There is very much an issue of how do you deal in a more informal way with some of the complaints that the public make,” she said.
“That’s not to say that people should not use GSOC but that there are complaints that are perhaps made in a more casual manner that can very quickly become matters for GSOC with huge implications for time and management when, with more proactive resolution, that could have been avoided.”
The lack of a more informal and faster way of dealing with complaints from the public has been raised by GSOC itself in the past.
In a 2012 report, GSOC said provisions in the Garda Siochána Act of 2005 for the resolution of less serious complaints without formal disciplinary measures were not being used.
“It has proven very difficult to get people to avail of the procedure,” it said. “On the one hand, a complainant may feel that his or her concern is too significant to be suitable for informal processing.”
“As against this, a garda may well believe he or she will be asked to offer an apology for an action he or she believes was justified.”
The report suggested removing the requirement that the complainant and the garda complained of both give their signed consent to participation in the informal process, so that GSOC could make the decision how best the issue be resolved.
“The commission believes that informal resolution can and should be a significant part of its procedures,” it said. It noted consent was not required for similar procedures in the North and England.
The commission raised the same concerns before the Oireachtas Justice Committee last year, pointing out only 1% of the complaints made to it were resolved informally.
It said no allegation of criminality would be referred to an informal process but rather issues such as Garda discourtesy, poor response times or administrative failings.
The minister did not give a timeline for any new procedures. “I’m in discussions with the commissioner and with GSOC and a number of initiatives are under discussion because it’s very important if complaints can be handled in a proactive way that we do that, but certainly not taking away any rights for people to make a complaint and have it formally investigated.”
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