Ombudsman: GSOC ‘left adrift in sea of legislative sludge’

The judge at the helm of the Garda Ombudsman has said GSOC has at times been “left adrift in a sea of legislative sludge without a paddle”, and looked forward to members of an Oireachtas committee “taking on the role of the O’Donovan brothers” and paddling the watchdog to clearer waters.

Ms Justice Mary Ellen Ring made the remarks as she welcomed the publication yesterday of a report by the Oireachtas justice committee which called for significant new powers for GSOC, including legislative capabilities to compel the Garda commissioner to cooperate with their inquiries.

The report, unanimously backed by the cross-party committee, also urged a major expansion in the powers of the Policing Authority to directly supervise the work of Garda bosses, including the commissioner, and have the power to remove them from office.

The report calls for GSOC to be given a “statutory means” of compelling the commissioner to comply with requests for documentation or evidence.

Committee chairman Caoimhghín Ó Caoláin said there was a “deleterious attitude at times” by An Garda Síochána regarding requests from GSOC.

Speaking at the report launch, Ms Justice Ring said: “There have been times over the last 10 years where GSOC has left adrift in a sea of legislative sludge and without a paddle.”

Citing the Cork Olympic rowing medalists, the judge added: “We look forward perhaps to members of your committee individually or through their parties taking on the role of the O’Donovan brothers and paddling us to a much clearer sea where we can more effectively operate into the future.”

The committee also recommends the authority be given the power to “supervise the functioning” of the commissioner’s office and to make all Garda bosses, including the commissioner “fully accountable” to the authority, which should also have the power to remove them from office.

These powers would mark a significant expansion on its powers as many of these powers are retained by the Government.

In addition, the committee recommends:

  • GSOC be given power to investigate gardaí who have retired in relation to breaches of discipline;
  • Complaints of abuse, rudeness, etc against gardaí be investigated by the service rather than GSOC — as they account for 20% of cases;
  • Garda Inspectorate be given legal powers to conduct unannounced visits at garda premises;
  • New sanctions — up to dismissal — be introduced against gardaí of any rank who interfere or obstruct with legitimate claims from whistleblowers.

Mr Ó Caoláin said the committee was “very concerned” at such claims.

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