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Saturday 23 August 2014

Radical plan to take politics out of policing

Tom Brady

Published 01/07/2014 | 02:30

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Minister for Justice, Equality and Defence Frances Fitzgerald
Minister for Justice, Equality and Defence Frances Fitzgerald

RADICAL reforms to take politics out of policing are being considered by Justice Minister Frances Fitzgerald in the wake of the GSOC and whistleblower scandals.

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The ground-breaking proposals by an influential Oireachtas committee would remove the power of the Cabinet to appoint senior gardai.

It recommends that a new organisation be set up to oversee the Courts Service, the Director of Public Prosecutions, the Legal Aid Board, the Probation Service and the Garda Ombudsman Commission.

And the committee also wants a single Garda Ombudsman appointed, as opposed to the existing system where there are three ombudsman comissioners.

The Joint Committee on Justice, Defence and Equality was tasked with reviewing legislation governing An Garda Siochana in the wake of a series of crises within the force.

Its interim report goes further than many would have expected by calling for a Criminal Justice Inspectorate to oversee and supervise the administration of all aspects of the system.

The committee suggests that other figures such as the state pathologist and prison governors could come in under the umbrella of an expanded authority.

It urges ending political control over the garda force and says the proposed new garda authority should have responsibility for appointments to fill vacancies from the rank of chief superintendent and upwards.

The committee of nine Dail deputies and six senators says placing senior appointments under the remit of an independent body would minimise the scope for political interference and ensure an effective scrutiny of applicants for top positions within the force.

It recommends no ministerial or government involvement in the appointment of the garda authority and argues that this should become the responsibility of the Public Appointments Service.

"This would ensure that the people selected for this extremely important and vital role are properly scrutinised as part of a competitive application process, thus ensuring that the most qualified and suitable people are overseeing garda services.

"Consideration could also be given to allow the garda authority to have further control over budgets and strategic planning," the report says.

The committee believes the authority should initially operate as a "shadow organisation" to allow for the right administrative structures to be put in place before the authority assumes any real investigative and administrative powers.

It submits there should be a gradual process of transferring powers and responsibilities to the authority and points out that fundamental issues con- cerning the culture within the organisations concerned, including the Garda Siochana, required to be addressed, further underlining the need for a gradual process.

Oversight

But there would be some oversight over the work of the authority and the committee recommends that it present an annual report to both houses of the Oireachtas, detailing all aspects of its work.

It is also proposed that the relevant Oireachtas committee should examine the annual reports to ensure greater accountability and enhance public confidence in the justice sector.

This interim report to Justice Minister Frances Fitzgerald arises from its review of the Garda Siochana Act, 2005, which led to the creation of the Garda Ombudsman Commission (GSOC).

Last night Mrs Fitzgerald said the interim report would form part of ongoing discussions in relation to the proposed bill to reform and strengthen the workings of GSOC.

The committee recommends that the Garda commissioner be accountable to GSOC, expanding its remit to more effectively investigate complaints against members of the garda force from the public, with the power to question senior gardai and receive assurances that the legislative requirements are being followed in investigations.

Irish Independent

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