The gardaí are not in the grip of a flawed culture, despite a string of high-profile “sleazy” controversies, Justice Minister Frances Fitzgerald has insisted.
Defending the pace of her reforms inAn Garda Síochána , Ms Fitzgerald said a “big bang” shake-up would not work, but that changes had to be made over time in “slices”.
Speaking at the MacGill summer school, Ms Fitzgerald said a raft of reforms would make the gardaí more accountable than ever.
Ms Fitzgerald said that a series of “sleazy” scandals should not be allowed to undermine the reputation of the force or the self-confidence of its officers.
She said that successful changes had included opening-up recruitment to international competition for the posts of Garda commissioner and deputy Garda commissioner, expanding the powers and remit of the Garda Síochána Ombudsman Commission, and bringing in legal protections for whistleblowers.
Ms Fitzgerald insisted the new Policing Authority would not be “submissive or subservient” to the force or Government.
She warned that damaging public assumptions regarding the force needed to be tackled.
“One of the most important of those assumptions, in relation to An Garda Síochána, is that the organisation has a deeply-embedded, deeply-flawed culture,” she said.
“When we elevate bad behaviour — even several instances of bad behaviour — into an all-pervasive culture, it can be oddly disempowering.
“If a garda or more than one garda operates in a shoddy or sleazy way, the task is to nail the behaviour, retrain the individual — or take disciplinary action if that is necessary— and make it crystal clear this will not be tolerated in this instance or any instance. It is not what we stand for.
“And, let me make it very clear, that is not to say that An Garda Síochána’s culture should not — like every other area of the Irish public service — be subject to constant reform. It should be. It must be.”
Ms Fitzgerald admitted that there was an “arrogance and corner-cutting attitude” displayed by some officers, though this attitude was not widespread.
She said hate crime on social media was increasing. She cited threats against Labour senator Lorraine Higgins, and said free speech could not be abused to cover criminality.
“I think this is one of the very big issues of our time, in fact. It is complex in terms of the balance between privacy and an open society,” said Ms Fitzgerald.
“We are also discussing it at the EU Justice and Home Affairs Ministers’ meetings, when you are looking at terrorism and online radicalisation and how best you protect people.
“There is quite a long way we can do without legislation. I do believe that governments and indeed the European Union have to build a very proactive engagement with the internet service providers.
“There are complex issues contained within it that we do have to respect people’s right to information and openness, I don’t want to err too much on the side of restricting that but, equally, there are very real concerns that are emerging in relation to some of the material on the internet.
“We see this in the whole child sex abuse area, in particular.”
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