Replacement system must allow gardaí to report concerns

The confidential garda recipient was a key institution set up to help address the chronic failures identified by the Morris Tribunal into endemic corruption in the Donegal division.

But now the justice minister has decided it is no longer fit for purpose and is not doing the job it was set up for. A new system will be put in place. And, after he relieved Oliver Connolly of his duties, it will be under a new head.

The office was established by regulations on reporting garda corruption and malpractice drafted under Justice Minister Michael McDowell. The first appointment was made by Brian Lenihan who installed former secretary general at the president’s office, Brian McCarthy, to the post.

In theory the role allowed for a forum where gardaí could privately raise concerns about corruption to an independent and respected party without risking a backlash in their careers.

The appointee was to be selected after consultation with the Garda authorities, the Garda ombudsman and the trade unions.

It provided a system where confidential allegations could be made to a trained legal professional and these would be passed on in confidence to the Garda Commissioner.

If the latter was the subject of a complaint the confidential recipient could direct the issue directly to the minister for justice. The identity of whistleblowers was only to be circulated if the commissioner or minister deemed it essential.

The key problem is that in a force of 13,000 gardaí any member who suspects corruption does not feel they have a safe and legal way to report this.

This is despite longstanding and continuing issues such as those probed by the Morris Tribunal, the Smithwick Tribunal, the Ian Bailey investigation and the ombudsman’s report into the handling of the drug trafficker turned undocumented informant Kieran Boylan.

Under the current law serving members cannot make a complaint to the Garda Ombudsman and the only other avenues are through internal complaints, contact with the confidential recipient or directly to a member of the Oireachtas.

The confidential recipient was supposed to rectify the gaps exposed in the Garda Complaints Board system established in 1986.

The Morris Tribunal did not fault the Garda Complaints Board for failing to get to the bottom of the issue in Donegal.

The tribunal also said the practice of appointing senior gardaí to investigate the actions of other members of the force was particularly limited.

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