Law set to compel commissioner to give papers to Gsoc

Gsoc chairwoman Judge Mary Ellen Ring: Sought powers.

The Garda Síochána Ombudsman Commission (Gsoc) looks set to secure powers to compel the Garda Commissioner to hand over documentation in new laws being drafted by Tánaiste Frances Fitzgerald.

Gsoc chairwoman Judge Mary Ellen Ring publicly sought such powers, including the ability to seek a court order directing the commissioner to provide documentation, when she appeared before the Oireachtas justice committee last September.

In a report on Garda oversight, published in December, the committee called for a “statutory means of redress” when the gardaí failed to comply with Gsoc requests for documentation.

The committee also said current legislation, Part 4 of the Garda Siochána Act 2005, did not provide for a penalty to be imposed on the gardaí for failing to give reports to Gsoc within agreed time-frames. Ms Fitzgerald yesterday said the Cabinet had given approval to her to prepare draft amendments to the act, primarily in relation to Part 4.

“I am committed to ensuring that we have the most effective possible mechanism for the investigation of complaints,” she said. “I met the chairperson of Gsoc in early January in the context of considering what changes might be desirable. I have also examined the recent joint Oireachtas committee on justice and equality’s report on Garda governance and oversight.”

The justice minister also said she would consult others, which would likely include Garda Commissioner Nóirín O’Sullivan.

The Department of Justice was not in a position yesterday to provide specifics on the Tánaiste’s proposals, but it did refer to Ms Fitzgerald’s contribution last month in the Dáil debate on the justice committee’s report.

In the debate, the minister said: “I expect the forthcoming changes to mirror very closely the recommendations in the joint committee’s report.”

Judge Ring told the committee in September that Gsoc sought a new legislative provision: That the Garda commissioner “shall” (must, in legal terms) supply Gsoc with information and documentation when requested.

She said if there was a failure to comply, Gsoc could then seek legal redress in the courts which could “direct the commissioner” to comply.

She said that while protocols drawn up in 2015 had improved the speed of Garda replies, there was “a lot of room for improvement”. She said there were situations where Garda headquarters conducted repeat perusals of documents before deciding to hand them over.

“We should just get it, not read three times before,” said Judge Ring, adding that the Garda attitude towards Gsoc was “we get it when we get it”. She said there was no penalty if the gardaí did not comply.

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