Policing watchdog calls for certainty with role

Minister for Justice, Charlie Flanagan.

The effectiveness of the Policing Authority has been constrained by uncertainty of the respective oversight roles between it and the Minister for Justice, according to the head of the Garda watchdog body.

The chairwoman of the Policing authority, Josephine Feehily, said such ambiguity had created a “crowded, confused, and inefficient oversight regime” and had “impacted the authority’s effectiveness”.

In a new report that assesses its own performance since its establishment in 2016, the Policing Authority expressed concern that such uncertainty among stakeholders about its role and functions could undermine public confidence in its effectiveness.

“It has also impacted on the manner in which some stakeholders and groups, including the Garda Síochána and the Department of Justice and Equality, engage withthe authority,” said Ms Feehily. “This is largely as a result of a cumbersome legislative scheme.”

She claimed a challenge posed by the current oversight architecture was the ambiguity between the Policing Authority and the minister for justice in responsibility for oversight of the force.

“Linked to this has been the challenge of overseeing the performance of the Garda Síochána as an organisation while the head of that organisation, the Garda commissioner, is accountable to the minister,” she said.Ms Feehily said.

While the simple solution would be to make the Garda commissioner accountable to the Policing Authority, Ms Feehily said it could not be taken in isolation from a range of key policy and legal issues including the exclusion of the authority of oversight of security matters.

Overall the Policing Authority said it was convinced that oversight of gardaí was “very necessary” and believed it had added valuable, transparent oversight which had been missing up to its establishment.Ms Feehily said they might need stronger powers as the Policing Authority had experienced some difficulty in getting access to information from gardaí.

She also said a key urgent change was needed — the introduction of a probation period for all new appointments to senior Garda ranks.

The Policing authority said it believed it had been “a positive disrupter” and had made a difference particularly in bringing transparency, independent challenge, a growing rigour and persistence to performance oversight.

Ms Feehily said that, that within a short timeframe, they had established a framework to provide oversee how An Garda Síochána functioned and had ensured that such oversight was subject to public scrutiny.

Among the measures introduced by the Policing Authority were a code of ethics forgardaí, a system for appointing senior Garda members and civilians, while a number of reports for the minister or justice had also been compiled.

However, she said there was still “quite a way to go”.

“The authority will not be in a position to assess itself as truly effective until such times as it can deepen its assessment of Garda performance and see evidence of substantial progress by the Garda Síochána in implementing its reform programme,” said Ms Feehily.

She admitted the authority had not been able to be as effective as it would have liked in understanding and challenging how the force deployed gardaí and financial resources.

Ms Feehily said the Policing authority did not believe nine members were enough to carry out proper oversight.

She also called for greater clarity over the respective roles of the Policing Authority, the Garda Inspectorate, and the Garda Síochána Ombudsman Commission and “which body is expected to do what”.Ms Feehily said duplication of effort was wasteful and frustrating for the various bodies, gardaí and the public. She described the functions of the authority as “broadly adequate” but also “frequently cumbersome, over circumscribed and inefficient”.


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