Adverts calling for invitations for expressions of interest in the role of Policing Authority chairperson has already raided a number of concerns, writes Cormac O’Keeffe.
IT WOULD be a shame if the flagstone for the new independent police authority cracks before it has time to set. But the process adopted by the Government to appoint the chairperson of the Policing Authority is attracting mounting concern.
One of the positive outcomes from the seemingly endless controversies and scandals that enveloped An Garda Síochána and policing in the first six months of this year were promises from the Government — and the new Justice Minister Frances Fitzgerald — of a “new era” of policing and oversight.
This included an advertised selection process to fill the top jobs in the Garda Síochána and in the Department of Justice, that would involve interviews and scrutiny by the Public Appointments Service (PAS), who would make recommendations to the minister.
It further involved the extension of powers to the Garda Síochána Ombudsman Commission and the Garda Inspectorate.
To top the hierarchy of oversight would be a newly created independent garda authority, which would oversee the workings of the force and remove direct control by the Department of Justice and its minister.
On Wednesday afternoon, an invitation was put online on the PAS website, publicjobs.ie, looking for “expressions of interest” for chairperson designate of the authority. The person would assist in the setting up of the authority and would be appointed its first chairperson.
A number of features jumped out: first, was the early deadline for expressions — Friday week, October 17.
Second, the PAS would literally be the means through which the applications would be channelled. PAS would not be creating a selection panel of experts, there would be no series of interviews and there would be no recommendations of candidates to the minister.
Furthermore, the briefing document attached to the ad said the Government was not obliged to consider the expressions of interest. In other words, they can consider appointing someone else.
The Department of Justice told the Irish Examiner: “The Government will carefully consider expressions of interest received by October 17 and will make its nomination of the chairperson designate of the policing authority shortly thereafter.”
In a follow-up query, double-checking whether or not PAS would conduct interviews, the department said: “PAS will assess applications received and forward for consideration by Government the names of those applicants who meet the criteria for the position set out in the notice of invitation.”
But this suggests that the PAS will merely check if the applicants meet the criteria set out in the ad based on their CV and cover letter.
The criteria set out are very broad and include that the person may have, or be able to demonstrate the capacity to quickly acquire knowledge or experience of one or all of the following: policing matters and relevant legislation; human rights and equality matters, public sector administration and board management. It was perhaps bad timing for the Government that the day they put the ad up the new chief commissioner of the Irish Human Rights and Equality Commission, Emily Logan, appeared before the Oireachtas Justice Committee. She described the process through which she got the job as “transparent and rigorous” and one run by the PAS. She said it included a series of two separate interviews by a group of international experts in human rights and equality.
The process is explicitly laid out in the Irish Human Rights and Equality Commission Act 2014. Under this, the PAS provides the Government with particulars on the experience, training and expertise of the person who it recommends. Not only that, but the act says: “Where the service makes a recommendation for the appointment of a person to the commission, the Government shall accept that recommendation.”
That means the Government must accept the recommendation, save in exceptional circumstances specified in the act.
Ms Logan told the Oireachtas that the transparent and independent process she went through was of “critical importance to establishing the credibility” of the IHREC, which merged the human rights commission and the equality authority.
She said it could service as a “model for public appointments and the independent operation of statutory agencies more generally”.
But this process does not seem to be applied for the authority chair — one of the most sensitive and important positions in the justice system in many years.
Yesterday, the day after the ad emerged, the Oireachtas Justice Committee published their report on reform of garda oversight bodies.
It clearly states the selection of nominees to the authority should be the responsibility of PAS.
“This would ensure that the people selected for this extremely important and vital role are properly scrutinised and suitable people are nominated,” it said.
It said the minister would have the final decision and could “veto” the appointment of the nominated candidate if there was a stated reason.
Asked at the report launch about the actual procedure being used by the department, committee chairman, David Stanton, said: “Membership of the authority should be the responsibility of the Public Appointments Service — that’s our recommendation.”
The Fine Gael TD said “something similar” to the process used to appoint Ms Logan should be applied and added: “We want to make sure no charge could be made against a member of the authority that you are a political appointee.”
It also emerged on Wednesday that the Government had made a decision to involve the new chairperson in the selection process of the new garda commissioner.
This, informed sources speculated, could explain the fast-track appointment and the Government’s desire to bypass PAS selection procedures and consider the applicants by itself.
The Irish Council for Civil Liberties yesterday welcomed the Government’s intention to involve the chairperson in the recruitment of the next commissioner. But it expressed concern about the procedure being used to appoint the chairperson.
“Greater clarity is required about the process through which the chairperson designate and members will be appointed,” said director Mark Kelly.
“Will applications to the Public Appointments Service (PAS) be assessed by an independent expert panel? Will there be interviews? Can people who have not expressed interest through the PAS process nonetheless be considered for appointment? Will the minister be obliged to accept the recommendations made by the Public Appointments Service, except for clearly stated reasons?”
He said the ICCL agreed with the recommendations of the justice committee and added: “The Policing Authority of Ireland must not only be, but be seen to be, entirely independent from the very inception and it would be helpful if the Minister for Justice and Equality could provide clarification about the safeguards that will embed its independence during the appointment of its chairperson designate and members”.
© Irish Examiner Ltd. All rights reserved