MICHAEL CLIFFORD: We need a change of culture for An Garda Síochána, not a new code

The Policing Authority’s efforts to establish a code of ethics for An Garda Síochána are a waste of resources when more serious issues need to be addressed, writes Michael Clifford

Into the breach once more. Another process, another code, another forest of trees to be felled in the name of procedure. Above all, another journey into the dark heart of gobbledegook.

The Policing Authority has sent a call out to the general public for input into a new code of ethics for An Garda Síochána. This process began last April with the invitation for “preliminary views” on a code.

There followed a period of “research and consideration of the submissions received” which led to the development of a draft code.

Now the time has come to reach out and touch the public once more to finalise the code. Thus the journey to publication of a code of ethics will be completed by December 31, in time for the new year. Was it for this the Policing Authority was set up?

There is much within An Garda Síochána which requires addressing, but a code of ethics is most certainly not on that list. A lack of resources continues to dog the force. Efforts are afoot to address this, but there’s a lot of catching up to do.

The plight of new recruits has still not been fully addressed. Why should new gardaí be subjected to inferior pay levels than their colleagues, and deprived of the allowances that ensure they can for the first decade or so of service actually afford to maintain a basic standard of living?

There continues to be problems with organisation, particularly in the area of applying responsibility. A decade on from recommendations in the Morris Tribunal that superintendents “should physically review files of inspectors, sergeants and gardaí to show an interest in cases”, there is grave doubt as to whether this is being fully implemented.

Above all, the outcome of the revelations from the O’Higgins Commission and its report suggests that the negative aspects of garda culture continue to fester.

Some of these matters are beyond the remit of the Policing Authority, but there is still plenty to be going on with instead of engaging in a redundant exercise to establish a new code of ethics.

Not many people know this, but An Garda Síochána already has a code of ethics. It was brought in around 15 years ago when Pat Byrne was commissioner. The code was contained in a little booklet, which included on its second page a declaration of personal commitment, which left a slot for each officer to sign their names declaring that, “I do hereby adopt, accept and commit myself to this Garda Declaration of Professional Values and Ethical Standards.”

At the time there was a row with the Garda Representative Association over whether officers should be compelled to sign up, but that got sorted. The old code is full of the sort of basic common sense statements that apply not just to policing but nearly every walk of life.

For instance, under the heading “moral duty”, it is stated that: “Emphasising that in the performance of our public duties, every staff member of An Garda Síochána is obligated to adhere to and be guided by the ethical, legal and professional principles which are applicable to public policing.”

One would have thought that such a statement would be drilled into every new recruit on day one in Templemore, but there’s no harm in putting it down on paper.

Now turn to the new draft code, in this bright new era of policing. “I will be honest and always act with intergrity; I will pursue the whole truth in establishing and reporting facts in an honest and objective way; I will not commit any act of corruption and will have the courage to oppose and report all such acts.”

Essentially, the code is looking for a commitment not to break the law, which is fine and dandy, but is it really necessary?

Was this the kind of stuff that took six months to formulate before handing it over to the public to have their say on this journey to an ethical force?

In general, garda officers are as honest and harbour as much personal integrity as the average plumber, accountant, carpenter or journalist. Some within the force have higher standards, acutely conscious of the power that has been vested in them since their first day in the job.

A new code of ethics is going to do nothing to change that scenario one way or the other.

The problems within the force are cultural, and will only be addressed through a robust and enforced code of practice in which buck passing and the cover-up of incompetence or laziness is not tolerated.

In order to fulfil its obligation to draft a new code the authority would be much better served in simply replicating the old one with a few bells and whistles attached.

The code will make little difference to policing or the application of ethics and wasting time going through such a torturous process does little to enhance confidence in either the force of the authority.

The authority might be better served examining the detail of policing that does matter.

Following the publication of O’Higgins, the authority had what sounded like a robust meeting with the commissioner, Nóirín O’Sullivan, behind closed doors.

The tenor of the press statement following the meeting suggested that the authority was going to get properly stuck into its brief.

At the next public meeting, all had changed. The commissioner outlined the “journey” the force was on while her team introduced a series of process documents and various bits and bobs that was supposed to illustrate that the whole job was just oxo.

The priority for the authority should be to get past that gobbledegook and identify the real issues that need to be addressed.

A good starting point would be a series of excellent reports from the Garda Inspectorate. Get cracking on that and ethics will take care of itself.


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