Justice must be ‘proactive’ on gardaí

The Policing Authority has told the boss of the Department of Justice that she needs to be “proactive” and “visible” in backing cultural change among garda management.

Oonagh McPhillips.

The authority also told Oonagh McPhillips, the acting secretary general, that experienced civil servants should be seconded to Garda HQ to address the lack of skilled talent there.

Ms McPhillips visited the oversight body and met its members, where she praised their work and commitment and assured the authority of the department’s “continuing support”. The authority said it took the opportunity to raise a number of “critical issues”.

It told her there was a need for “proactive visible support” by the secretary general of action to “bring about cultural change at the highest levels” in the Garda Síochána.

It also told her the organisation was disadvantaged by a lack of sufficiently high-level management skills and the “urgent need” to build capacity quickly using a range of sources of expertise.

It said experienced civil and public servants should be seconded on a temporary basis to support the acting Garda Commissioner Dónall Ó Cualáin.

“The secretary-general expressed some concerns regarding the feasibility of this, but agreed to consider it,” said the authority in the notes of its January 25 and 26 private meetings, which have now been made public.

The authority also told Ms McPhillips:

  • That speedy action needed to be taken to improve the authority’s functions and called for the “urgent introduction of a probation period for newly promoted gardaí”.
  • Of their difficulty in examining issues within the Garda Síochána and the need for continuing probing “which is time and resource intensive”, citing the ongoing examination of garda homicide statistics
  • Of their disappointment, if recent industrial relations issues within the force impacted the rollout of the Code of Ethics and the need for training to proceed at a pace.

Referring to its meeting with Commissioner Ó Cualáin, the authority said it highlighted the need to progress competitions for sergeants and inspectors “as a priority” and reassign supervising sergeants to frontline duties in order to improve the level of supervision of rank and file gardaí.

The commissioner said he was reassigning existing sergeants and inspectors back to the frontline “to address his concerns about the quality of supervision”.

At the meeting, the authority also told the commissioner that it needed officers of sufficient authority to make commitments at the body’s various committees.

The minutes also record that the Garda Síochána said that their report into the Jobstown public order incident in November 2014 would be done “in the next week”, meaning by February 2.

But the authority did not receive the report until 6.30pm on February 21, the evening before a public meeting between Garda bosses and the authority at which the report was due to be discussed.

The body noted that Garda HQ had so far failed to conduct a review of its Protected Disclosures Policy, which it was supposed to do in 2017 — and said there was a need “for urgent action” in this regard.

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