The Garda Síochána Ombudsman Commission is requesting legal powers to go to the courts to compel the Garda commissioner to hand over information as part of a campaign to be given more “teeth”.
Addressing the Oireachtas justice committee, Judge Mary Ellen Ring, the head of GSOC, said she has serious concerns regarding its ability to investigate complaints from Garda whistleblowers.
Judge Ring said the watchdog needs greater powers over Garda disciplinary proceedings and the enforcement of GSOC recommendations on systemic issues in the force.
Judge Ring said while 2015 protocols had improved the speed of Garda replies to GSOC requests for information, there was “a lot of room for improvement”.
She said there were situations where Garda headquarters was conducting repeat perusal of documents before deciding to hand them over to GSOC.
“We should just get it, not read three times before,” said Judge Ring, adding that the Garda attitude towards GSOC is “we get it, when we get it”. She said there is no penalty if gardaí do not comply.
She said GSOC is calling for a new legislative provision that the Garda commissioner “shall” supply GSOC with information and documentation when requested.
Judge Ring said this means that failure to comply provides legal redress to the courts, which could “direct the commissioner” to comply.
She said the police ombudsman in Northern Ireland had this power. She said the attitude of the PSNI chief constable was that, if the ombudsman sought a document, there was a purpose and it is given.
“I’d like to see that sentiment and process here,” said Judge Ring. “It would at least give us teeth.”
TDs Mick Wallace and Clare Daly raised concerns regarding the operation of the protected disclosures system and the delays in investigating cases.
Judge Ring said it was “clearly an issue”, and that getting all the relevant information from An Garda Síochána can “take time”.
She confirmed GSOC was investigating four protected disclosure complaints.
“We would like to give more time to this area, no doubt,” said Judge Ring.
“It would clearly be of benefit if we had a team skilled, knowledgeable, and who work in this area. My ideal would be a protected disclosures section, but at the moment our staff are doing other investigations. We do not have the resources yet.”
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