Garda Ombudsman review unlikely before penalty points probe

A review of the Garda Ombudsman’s powers is unlikely to be completed before the watchdog begins its own investigation into the cancellation of penalty points by gardaí.

The Cabinet agreed yesterday that the 2005 legislation governing how the Garda Síochána Ombudsman Commission (GSOC) operates and works will be reviewed.

The Oireachtas Justice Committee will be given the job of assessing the powers of the ombudsman and will report back to the Government on any changes needed to enhance its work.

However, this review is likely to take a number of months and therefore will not be complete and brought back to the Government before GSOC begins its penalty points inquiry.

Sources close to GSOC said yesterday that it has begun its “scoping period” but has yet to make formal inquiries of the gardaí or other bodies on the penalty points inquiry.

GSOC itself stated: “We are actively looking at this [penalty points] investigation.”

David Stanton, chair of the Oireachtas justice committee, said it would take submissions and hold hearings into GSOC’s legislation and a report would be complete by the summer.

Mr Shatter announced a fortnight ago that he would be bringing to Cabinet a number of amendments to the Garda Síochána Act relating to GSOC.

He yesterday added: “It was agreed at Cabinet today that the Joint Oireachtas Committee on Justice, Defence and Equality would be asked to hold such hearings as it deems appropriate and necessary and to make any recommendations as to amendments it proposes be made to the 2005 Act. I look forward to receiving their recommendations.”

The agreed review comes after members of the Cabinet expressed disquiet at ongoing debate about the alleged bugging of GSOC.

A spokeswoman for the Labour party said that ministers wanted to “draw a line under it” after the “drip feeding” of revelations.

The review also comes after calls in recent days for more powers for the ombudsman. The North’s former police ombudsman Nuala O’Loan said on the weekend that the powers for GSOC needed to be strengthened “urgently”.

She suggested that the office needed to be able to investigate the force’s most senior officers, including the Garda commissioner.

Former GSOC member Conor Brady has also said in recent weeks that there were “very serious flaws” in the legislation governing GSOC’s supervision of gardaí.

He said the garda whistleblower controversy highlighted this. Speaking on RTÉ, he explained: “The structure [of supervision] is wrong, I don’t think the political will is there to enforce structures as they were envisaged at the time.”

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