More than 550 criminal investigations into garda conduct, says watchdog

Gsoc also made 60 findings of a breach of discipline last year by members of An Garda Síochána.
More than 550 criminal investigations into garda conduct, says watchdog

The watchdog’s annual report for 2021 highlighted that one Garda member was found to have failed to properly investigate allegations of childhood sexual abuse.

Criminal investigations into conduct by gardaí rose to 557 last year, according to the latest report from the Garda Síochána Ombudsman Commission.

That compared to just 422 in 2017

The report also shows that referrals from gardaí to Gsoc of matters where the conduct of a serving garda may have resulted in death or serious harm more than doubled — from 24 in 2017 to 59 last year.

Complaints against gardaí are also at their highest level for five years, according to Gsoc.

Although between 32% and 39% of all complaints are deemed inadmissible and were not investigated, the number of admissible complaints has risen from 1,158 in 2019 to 1,335 in 2021.

Gsoc also made 60 findings of a breach of discipline last year by members of An Garda Síochána, resulting in the imposition of sanctions by the Garda Commissioner.

Some five criminal cases were decided in court in 2021, involving charges of sexual assault, assault, and theft.

The year also saw the Director of Public Prosecutions direct the prosecution of 13 charges arising from Gsoc investigations, involving sexual offences, assault, breaches of the Road Traffic Acts, and the provision of false information.

The report, published on Thursday morning, shows that while there were 4,459 allegations contained in all complaints in 2017, the number fell to 3,760 last year.

Examples of complaints against gardaí included one where a Garda member was found to have failed to properly investigate allegations of childhood sexual abuse.

This was despite gardaí having been given a comprehensive report on the abuse allegations by another police force.

The delay in dealing with the abuse allegations had the effect of leaving the alleged abuser to, according to Gsoc, “remain a risk to children”.

Another example of a complaint involved a member of the public who alleged that following an altercation about facemasks in a supermarket, a Garda member approached him 20 minutes later and arrested him without explanation, slamming him up against his patrol car “aggressively” before handcuffing him.

However, after viewing CCTV of the incident, footage “showed no misbehaviour by the garda member in carrying out the arrest” and “there was no evidence to support the allegations”.

Growing caseload

Gsoc chairman, Judge Rory MacCabe, said that while proposed legislative reform to create a new and more powerful watchdog is to be welcomed, it will need to be adequately resourced.

He warned that whoever sets up the successor to Gsoc will need to “lock in adequate resourcing and staffing to ensure an expanded oversight remit can be met in practice”.

In general terms, on the report, he said: “The year 2021 saw Gsoc deliver on our statutory mandate, which, in the context of the growing caseload, significant staff changes, and ongoing challenges posed by the Covid-19 pandemic, shines a positive light on the energy and commitment of the staff at all levels.

The changes proposed in the Policing, Security and Community Safety Bill, if implemented, create a new Garda Ombudsman with significantly enhanced functions and independence.

“These proposals are a positive platform from which a clearly defined and long-signalled gap in Ireland’s policing accountability infrastructure will be addressed.

“If reform is to achieve its aims, it is crucial that adequate resources, staffing, expertise, and co-operation are guaranteed.” 

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