Controversial Government plans to grant the Garda Síochána Ombudsman Commission power to search a Garda station without a court warrant have been backed by the Irish Council for Civil Liberties.
The ICCL is also calling for stronger inspection powers to be given to a sister oversight body — the new Policing and Community Safety Authority (PCSA) — to enable it to carry out “unannounced visits” of garda stations, unconnected to any planned inspection.
The intervention follows recent public statements from both Garda Commissioner Drew Harris and the Association of Garda Superintendents (AGS), expressing concerns at proposals in the Government’s draft Policing, Security and Community Safety Bill.
The AGS criticised the “sweeping, unfettered powers” in the bill, while Commissioner Harris said gardaí and civilian staff had legal rights and that, as their employer, he has an “obligation” to ensure they are respected.
He said he would detail his concerns before the Oireachtas Justice Committee tomorrow [WEDNESDAY], which the ICCL is also addressing.
The general scheme of the bill, published last April, forms a key part of the Government’s implementation of the 2018 Commission on the Future of Policing report.
In its submission, the ICCL said it supported provisions granting an officer of GSoc the power to search a garda premises on the authorisation of the Ombudsman rather than from the courts.
It said under the bill, the Ombudsman must not be involved in the actual investigation, and must have reasonable grounds that evidence of a garda committing an offence can be found at the garda premises.
The ICCL said the same constitutional protections that apply to the family home do not apply to a place of work, and added that “warrantless searches are commonplace” in other contexts such as regulatory regimes.
“ICCL is confident, based on our legal analysis, that there is no valid cause for concern about this provision,” it said.
It said that, furthermore, “another important safeguard” in the legislation is that the Garda Commissioner’s prior consent to any search “must be sought”.
If the commissioner objects, on grounds of security of the State, he can refer it to the proposed Independent Examiner of Security Legislation, who will make a recommendation to the Minister for Justice.
“The bill does not provide for random, baseless searches of garda premises,” the ICCL said.
Separately, the ICCL wants the new PCSA to have the power to conduct unannounced visits "unconnected" to planned inspections, in addition to the power in the bill to conduct them in relation to planned inspections.