The Garda Síochána Ombudsman Commission (GSOC) has been unable to bring a single protected disclosure investigation to a satisfactory conclusion because of chronic understaffing, according to its chair, Ms Justice Mary Ellen Ring.
Even though GSOC wrote to the Government 14 months ago seeking 12 extra staff in order to meet its responsibilities under the 2014 Protected Disclosures Act, no extra staff have yet been put in situ.
Instead a crew of just three looks into protected disclosures, albeit on a part-time basis, as they also have other duties within GSOC. It meant GSOC had “failed” people who had come to it to make protected disclosures, she said.
In addition to seeking extra staff, Ms Justice Ring said they wanted full independence from the Department of Justice, rather than being in the “unusual” position of an oversight body reporting to the ministry responsible for An Garda Síochána, the organisation GSOC oversees.
“I think it’s time after 10 years that GSOC is taken out of the Department of Justice and allowed to operate subject to controls, on its own,” she said.
Ms Justice Ring told RTÉ’s This Week programme that the proposal had been presented to both current Justice Minister Charlie Flanagan and previous minister Frances Fitzgerald, but that GSOC “haven’t seen anything yet”.
To date, less than half the staff sought by GSOC in 2016 have been sanctioned.
Ms Justice Ring said GSOC would not be able to meet its central objectives as laid down in law, namely to ensure that all investigations are conducted effectively, efficiently and fairly and secondly, that the PDU promote public confidence in the process for resolving complaints.
She said the number of protected disclosures made to GSOC continued to grow, with as many made in the first three months of 2017 as were made for the whole of 2016.
Ms Justice Ring said there were currently “roughly 20” protected disclosures on their books and did they did not have enough people to investigate.
The resources GSOC sought from the Government would cost less than €1m.
“It seems to me that less than €1m to deal with something that is particularly serious within an Garda Síochána, that reflects the lack of confidence both in terms of the members of the garda and the public in the Garda Síochána, it’s small enough money,” said Ms Justice Ring.
A spokesman for the Department of Justice said yesterday that the department “examined the GSOC request, sought sanction for a number of posts to get the new unit established and informed GSOC that it could revisit the issue when the unit had been operating for a time and in light of the workload”.
“So far, GSOC have not provided any update on the operation of the unit,” the spokesman said.
He added that Mr Flanagan had met with GSOC in September “and the issue of resources was discussed”.
“GSOC undertook to provide briefing to the department on what it estimates are its overall staffing requirements to meet all contingencies. This will be considered once it is received,” the spokesman said.
GSOC is the body under which members of the force, or people working alongside An Garda Síochána, can make complaints or allegations in the form of a protected disclosure.
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