Dáil debate on Garda Oversight and Accountability
On Thursday 2 February the Dáil debated the Report on Garda Oversight and Accountability published by the Joint Committee (external PDF). The report followed consultations which the Committee had had with each of the Garda oversight bodies and with the Garda Commissioner. Each agency made a submission. GSOC’s submission highlighted priorities of the Ombudsman Commission, which are:
- To establish more efficient processes to deal with issues relating to service
- To enable wider use of informal resolution
- To ensure greater oversight and accountability in disciplinary investigations arising from complaints to the Garda Ombudsman
- To establish more efficient processes for GSOC to investigate non-criminal matters itself
- To improve timeliness.
The Joint Committee addressed many of these priorities in their report, highlighting actions that could help achieve them. In addition, many of the members of the Committee spoke during the debate highlighting points which were particularly important in their opinion and the reasons why.
Deputy Mick Wallace highlighted that, should Garda Superintendents continue to investigate disciplinary matters on behalf of GSOC, that the right of complainants to a review of these investigations under section 94(10) of the Garda Síochána Act 2005 should be rendered more meaningful. He also pointed out the need not only for new rules to be established with any legislative amendments, but for sanctions to be applied for failure to observe these rules.
Deputy Clare Daly stated that GSOC’s resources needed to be beefed up to reflect its new responsibility of dealing with protected disclosures; and that its ability to compel the Garda Síochána to hand over information and evidence in all investigations should be strengthened.
Deputy Louise O’Reilly said that there was merit in Garda line managers being responsible for resolving minor service-related complaints, but expressed concerns that, if senior Garda officers were conducting investigations, people must be able to have confidence in the oversight of that process, and there should not be delays and failure to properly explain outcomes. She also observed that the Discipline Regulations were almost ten years old and should also be reviewed.
The Tánaiste and Minister for Justice and Equality said that she believed that the report would “make a very valuable contribution to reforms in this area.” She said: “Reform must be our watchword; it can never stop and we must end bad practices wherever they occur.”
She went to on to state: “I intend to seek Government approval shortly to prepare Heads of a Bill to amend Part 4 of the Garda Síochána Act 2005, which concerns the Garda Síochána Ombudsman Commission, to improve its operation.”
The Tánaiste made reference to a meeting in January with GSOC’s Chairperson, where it had also been highlighted that such amendments were important to allow GSOC to function more effectively.
The Tánaiste made the point that GSOC has been operating for 10 years now, and it is time to examine fundamentally the legislative provisions relating to the manner in which complaints are made to and dealt with by GSOC.
While noting the need to consult with all relevant stakeholders during the preparations of the Heads, she said:
“I expect the forthcoming changes to mirror very closely the recommendations in the Committee’s Report.”
The Ombudsman Commission, who attended the debate, were encouraged by the support of the members of the Joint Oireachtas Committee for continuous improvement of the system of Garda oversight and accountability; and also by the Tánaiste’s assurances that she would be taking action on this shortly.