Thursday 23 October 2014

New Garda oversight powers planned

Published 13/05/2014 | 16:42

Newly appointed Justice Minister Frances Fitzgerald speaking to the media at Government Buildings, Dublin

The Garda watchdog is to be given stronger powers and an oversight body is to review how detectives run serious crime investigations as part of efforts to restore integrity in the justice system.

In the wake of the damning Guerin review, which revealed a whistleblower sergeant was ignored for years, the Government has agreed a series of reforms on top of a statutory commission of inquiry into the scandal.

New laws to toughen the Garda Siochana Ombudsman Commission will be introduced while the Garda Inspectorate will carry out a comprehensive review into serious crime investigation, management, operational and procedural issues in the force.

Newly appointed Justice Minister Frances Fitzgerald revealed the commitments after warnings of corruption and malpractice from Sergeant Maurice McCabe went unheeded for years.

"This spectrum of issues is complex and deep-rooted ranging from high-level issues such as oversight, change management and the role of whistle-blowers; to local administration and internal communication; to matters of basic policing, performance and human resources," she said.

"It requires comprehensive and sustained corrective action. And that's what will happen."

Taoiseach Enda Kenny was urged by Sinn Fein president Gerry Adams to apologise to Sgt McCabe over his treatment by Garda and government officials.

Mr Kenny said he has already spoken of the right for people to bring issues to public notice.

"In that regard I've no problem apologising to Sgt McCabe for the issues that he raised and for the fact that his raising these matters was not dealt with more speedily in the first instance," the Taoiseach said.

Other Government initiatives on Garda reform include the selection of a new Garda Commissioner, a role currently being filled on an interim basis by Noirin O'Sullivan.

There will also be an independent expert review of performance, management and administration of the Department of Justice before the Dail summer recess.

Civil servants were castigated on the back of the Guerin review which found no evidence of any serious examination of Sgt McCabe's disturbing allegations and virtually no records could be found of any decisions or advice taken.

Secretary general of the department Brian Purcell is to face a grilling at the Oireachtas Justice Committee over the handling of complaints.

The independent Garda Authority is also in the frame to be up and running by the end of the year as part of the wider reforms.

The Guerin review did not determine the veracity of Sgt McCabe's allegations of malpractice and rogue policing in several investigations at the Bailieboro station where he was posted.

But it vindicated his claim that there were concerns over how they were handled including complaints inadequately acted on into an attempted rape, child abduction, false imprisonment of a girl and child pornography.

An eight week review of the claims found that no official body was prepared to accept the word of the highly regarded officer.

In a statement after the Cabinet discussed the hard-hitting report, Ms Fitzgerald said many of the grave issues examined were the subject of previous reports, particularly the Morris tribunal into bad policing in Co Donegal in the 1990s.

Its shocking assessment of the quality of policing and culture of the force were intended to be addressed with the formation of the Garda Ombudsman and calls for whistleblower legislation.

Ms Fitzgerald said the terms of reference for the statutory inquiry into the McCabe affair have yet to be finalised.

"The Guerin report raises many serious concerns in relation to professional standards, training, supervision of probationary Gardai, local management of the force and many more issues," the minister said.

"It is absolutely essential that we need to act on the findings of the Guerin report in relation to basic policing and day-to-day management of the force at district level.

"With all the focus on high level matters, we must not lose sight of the need to address these basic policing matters."

A special Cabinet committee, chaired by the Taoiseach and focusing on reform of the justice system, will meet next week to progress the Government proposals.

Press Association

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