Two members of the Policing Commission have publicly voiced their opposition to a key recommendation for an internal Garda body to take over many external oversight powers.
The commission’s report calls for the establishment of a powerful Garda Síochána Board. The board would provide internal governance over the commissioner and support him or her to carry out the job.
The board will be headed by a non-executive chair, appointed by, and reporting to, the Government with members of the board drawn from business and professional sectors, supported by a secretariat.
This recommendation is to accompany a significant expansion in the powers of the commissioner — to make him both a police chief and a chief executive (with control over finance, HR and the police estate).
The report calls for the commissioner to have the power to appoint his or her own “leadership team” — and that this responsibility should be removed from the Policing Authority.
It said the Policing Authority and the Garda Inspectorate should be merged into a new Policing and Community Safety Oversight Commission (PCSOC).
The board will also have a key role in devising policing priorities, annual plans and strategies, diluting the power of the authority.
The body also assumes overall responsibility for management of the police budget and resources.
In addition, the board will nominate people to the Government for the roles of Garda Commissioner and Deputy Commissioner (previously the authority’s job).
Commission chair Kathleen O’Toole said that as well as building up the capacity of the commissioner and the organisation, the proposal was designed to clarify and separate the functions of governance (Board), oversight (PCSOC) and accountability (Justice Minister).
The report states two of the commission’s 11 members (Vicky Conway and Eddie Molloy) disagreed with the board proposal.
Speaking on RTÉ yesterday, Mr Molloy, an independent management consultant, said he was concerned at the “disempowerment” of the Policing Authority and the “stripping away of its powers to an internal board”.
He took exception to a statement in the report which states that the “blame culture that has infected relationships [between oversight bodies and the police] should be swept away”.
He said he did not see the work of the authority of GSOC as “blaming” the gardaí. He said the antidote in the report was an internal board, reporting to the Department of Justice.
Mr Molloy said he did not accept there was a blame culture and that it was more to do with the “dysfunctionality” of the gardaí, saying the organisation’s attitude to external scrutiny was “extremely immature”.
Ms Conway, a DCU law lecturer, said she did not think the proposed changes clarified relationship at all and could not see why the functions of the board could not be provided by the commissioner’s management team or an advisory board.
But she said her “real concern” was the rollback on the independence of oversight achieved in recent years. She said the authority had made good ground and that what it needed was more power.
Ms Conway said while she signed the report and agreed ith the majority of it, she didn’t agree with this proposal, saying it was “wrong”.
Alyson Kilpatrick, author of a report on gardaí and human rights, said the proposal might need “more thought”, though she said she understood the rationale behind both perspectives.
She said her concerns regarding multiple oversight processes is that issues might slip between cracks or overlap across bodies. She said this could result in “tensions” between bodies and asked what would happen in cases of disagreements.
Ms Kilpatrick said the inclusion of the Garda Inspectorate in a merged PCSOC “might overcome concerns” regarding the board.