Watchdog needs more powers ‘urgently’

The office of the Garda Ombudsman should be given more powers “as a matter of urgency”, including to investigate the commissioner of the force, according to the North’s first police ombudsman, Nuala O’Loan.

Watchdog needs more powers ‘urgently’

As the controversy over suspected surveillance at the Garda Síochána Ombudsman Commission continues, Ms O’Loan said its “powers really need to be enhanced so that the country does not find itself dealing with this situation again”.

She said it was important that the focus remains on the difficulties that office has in doing its work, adding that she had a number of “concerns” about their “totally inadequate” powers.

“The last time I was there, there were serving Garda officers in the office of the Ombudsman, whose function was a liaison function between the Garda Ombudsman and the police. Now, that’s a process I wouldn’t have,” she said.

“And I certainly wouldn’t be an ombudsman if I had no power to investigate the chief officer. You really are working in a way that is impossible, Because any officer could say to you ‘the chief told me to do this’ and if there is something wrong, you can’t investigate the chief.”

Ms O’Loan said ombudsman offices have to keep an “open mind” about any possible surveillance attacks and “must not be put off by an expressions of outrage by the guards”.

She would not say how often her office carried out sweeps during her time as police ombudsman in the North from 1999 to 2007, other than to say they would have been done at intervals.

“We would always have been risk-assessing the possibility that someone might have had an even greater interest in what we were doing at a particular time in a particular investigation and we would therefore have been keeping an eye on any necessary counter-intrusion techniques that we needed to sue. I’m not going to be more specific than that, but it is good housekeeping.”

Ms O’Loan said she would not have told anybody the results because “in so doing, you are telling them how your systems work and things like that.”

She told RTÉ Radio’s This Week: “The reality is that anybody who is doing investigations in the way that the Garda Ombudsman is, and indeed as I did, needs to bear in mind that there are people who might want to infiltrate you. It is just good housekeeping to carry out security sweeps. We did it. We never told anyone we were doing it. We never told anyone the results but we did it. You have to do it.”

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