‘Splintered Garda governance means buck stops nowhere’, expert report warns

The “splintered” governance of An Garda Síochána means the “buck stops nowhere”, an expert report on the Department of Justice has said.

The situation can result in ministers, department secretaries general, and Garda commissioners departing “even for issues not of their own making”, because accountability cannot be found elsewhere.

The report  of the Effectiveness and Renewal Group said the close relationship between senior department of justice officials and senior gardaí means there is a sense of them being “in the trenches together”.

Moreover, it said an “interdependent relationship” between the justice minister and the political system generally and the Garda Síochána has evolved.

Publishing the report, Justice Minister Charlie Flanagan announced he would implement its key recommendations: the internal separation of the department into two divisions — justice and home affairs — and a complete reorganisation of work areas.

Home affairs will be responsible for policing, crime, national security, criminal law reform, prisons and probation, immigration and international policy, while justice will cover the justice sector, civil law reform, courts, asylum and integration and equality.

Both will have their own deputy secretary general, with the department led by a single secretary general.

The report also says the creation of the Irish Naturalisation and Immigration Service and the Irish Prison Service into separate agencies should be examined.

Launching the report, Mr Flanagan also announced that a career civil servant and current head of the Department of Agriculture Aidan O’Driscoll as the new secretary general.

The report said criticism of the Garda commissioner was often used as a criticism of the justice minister, a phenomenon that had become “particularly pronounced” in recent years.

It said that as a result, perceptions of the performance and the roles of the minister and the commissioner have become “closely entwined” in the public mind.

“Ministers for Justice over many governments have been reluctant to criticise the Garda commissioner or the gardaí, as to do so may impact the public’s perception of its own safety and imply that the Government may be failing in its fundamental responsibility of keeping people safe.

“This convention equally works reciprocally, with the Garda leadership rarely, if ever, critical of the minister of the day or of public policy.”

The report added: “From these origins, an interdependent relationship between the political system and the gardaí has evolved.”

It said the focus of the department was dominated by the maintenance of current confidence in policing and security and immediate issues, creating a sense of being ‘in it together’ with the gardai when it came to responding to crises or public criticism.

It said the same senior officials deal with the same senior gardaí across all the many areas and that this led to a “mutual dependence and blurring of roles” and added: “People end up in the trenches together.”

It said a complicated network of governance, including the minister, the department, the Garda Inspectorate, the Policing Authority, GSOC, the Department of Public Expenditure, and the Oireachtas had evolved.

“It is as if the system has naturally evolved to ensure that the buck stops nowhere,” it said.

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