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Who will police the police?

After prolonged deliberation, the interim recommendations from the Oireachtas Justice Committee on Garda oversight are outrageous and absurd.

They suggest, inter alia, that the Garda Commissioner should be accountable to the Garda Síochána Ombudsman Commission; that appointments to, and membership of, the proposed Garda Síochána Authority be the exclusive responsibility of the Public Appointments Service, without government or ministerial involvement, and that all senior roles in An Garda Siochána should be the responsibility of the authority. They further suggest that this authority could be publicly accountable via an annual report to the Houses of the Oireachtas.

The Latin expression ‘quis custodiet ipsos custodes’ means ‘who guards the guards themselves’. This ought to mean that citizens are safeguarded against abuse from those in positions of power or trust. The moral authority and integrity of a Garda Ombudsman reside in independence. How could integrity and independence be sustained if the Garda Commissioner were to report to the Garda Síochána Ombudsman, without the charge being loudly made that the guards are investigating complaints against themselves? The suggestion that the Public Appointments Service be responsible for recruiting and appointing the membership of the Garda Authority is nonsense — and tantamount to the back-office personnel of a major organisation appointing a chief executive without the board of directors’ or shareholders’ sanction, and the proposed authority becoming a pimple in the armpit of the civil service, without a trace of transparency or democratic oversight.

If the Oireachtas Justice Committee considers that public accountability for this new quango could be achieved via an annual report, delivered months after the year-end to the Houses of the Oireachtas, what will they propose next? An account of Ladies’ Day at the Galway Races delivered the following Easter? A Justice Minister can be promptly removed from office far more easily than from the membership of the Houses of the Oireachtas, for oversight failure, incompetence or delinquency.

The Garda Commissioner should be appointed by the President, accountable to the public and to report to the Justice Minister. The mandate of a police authority typically includes decisions on budgets, expenditure, major contracts, policing standards and policy, public communication and corporate governance procedures — but not gerrymandering promotional opportunities.

Finally, if it is the intention of Justice Minister Frances Fitzgerald to advertise the position of Garda Commissioner internationally, would she consider it appropriate to invite applications only from Irish citizens, for the sake of recognising that this is a sovereign independent nation that has unique security considerations and not a minor backwater of some mightier jurisdiction?

Myles Duffy

Bellevue Avenue

Glenageary

Co Dublin


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