News Analysis

Monday 22 September 2014

Will to implement garda reforms hasn't been there

A civilian human resources director for the force was mooted in 2008 – we're still waiting

Published 30/03/2014 | 02:30

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PARKED UP: The Garda Inspectorate suggested a civilian HR chief should be appointed back in 2008, but nothing was done
PARKED UP: The Garda Inspectorate suggested a civilian HR chief should be appointed back in 2008, but nothing was done

THE introduction of changes to do away with the perception of politicisation of the Garda was one of the key recommendations of the Garda Inspectorate, set up in the wake of the Morris report on the scandalous activities of garda members in Donegal.

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One of the key recommendations in its report on senior management in 2008 was the appointment of a civilian human resources director.

While almost all of its other recommendations, such as senior civilian positions in technology, public relations and finance were implemented, this one – which would have taken the power of promotions out of the garda's hands – remains "deferred" six years on. No reason is given for its non-implementation.

It was clear from the Inspectorate's recommendation that there was a need to open promotions to a system that at least gave the impression of being fair and open.

If there was a will within the Government, Department of Justice and the Garda, a civilian personnel director could have been appointed. The will was clearly not there

Ireland retains a system for appointing all gardai from the rank of superintendent upwards that is basically a closed internal process and which goes to Cabinet for ratification.

There was widespread support last week for the introduction an independent promotions board and a civilian authority, which would remove the power of selection for senior officers. The garda representative bodies have been calling for an authority for decades and repeated their calls last week in the light of the current fiasco. There was also some support for the introduction of a civilian commissioner and even civilian deputy commissioners, people with backgrounds in business or in successful areas of the public sector.

The Garda had a civilian commissioner, Daniel Costigan, between 1952 and 1965, who was seconded from the then Department of Labour.

He introduced reforms that took the force from the state it had been in since 1922 into the modern era with the introduction of structural reforms and greatly increased training.

Costigan began sending senior officers to courses in Britain to learn from advances in policing there.

Another option, which was rejected, was the appointment of a senior officer from an outside force. Several names from British forces and the PSNI were being bandied about last week.

One officer pointed out last week that one of the recent major problems in management is that since the economic crisis there has been a reversal of the type of reform and innovation that Costigan began. Cutbacks have meant that training courses in Templemore Garda College have been severely curtailed and officers are not receiving necessary training on promotion.

It is said this has had a severe impact, as promoted officers no longer had the experience of being mentored by seniors who would impart valuable knowledge on running divisions and districts.

This situation at senior level is, they said, expected to deteriorate as at least a dozen chief superintendents out of 42 were expected to take early retirement this summer before the August deadline for the introduction of senior civil service pension cuts.

Another source said that one of the major problems in the past two decades stemmed from the unplanned introduction of regional assistant commissioners whose role had never been defined. Since this was introduced the number of assistant commissioners almost doubled to 12 – along with two deputy commissioners. By contrast Greater Manchester Police, which serves a population of 2.5 million and has 6,900 police has only one chief constable and one deputy chief constable. Some gardai refer to this expansion at the upper echelons in recent decades as 'Mexicanization' – a reference to the proliferation of generalissimos at the top of the old Mexican army. Despite the swingeing cuts in overtime, not one commissioner position has been cut – something that has compounded anger and cynicism among lower ranks, sources say.

The Troubles also had an impact on the shape of the Garda that has yet to be resolved, one retired senior officer said.

The overthrow of the government of the Republic was one of the main objects of the IRA and the State responded by directing major police resources against the terrorists. This was one of the main reasons that calls for an independent policing authority – as is the case in most advanced countries – was repeatedly rejected as government felt it needed direct control of the force.

With the end of the IRA campaign and entry into constitutional politics by Sinn Fein, combined with the Garda's and PSNI's successes against the tiny dissident republican terror groups, this threat no longer exists and garda sources say there is no reason why there shouldn't be an independent civilian oversight. "Policing the peace", as one source put it, has never been properly achieved in the area of training, development and research.

One source pointed out last week that the controversy over the taping of calls on the systems introduced 20 years ago was partly to guard against infiltration of the force by the IRA and to ensure that terrorist-related matters could be monitored. But the protocols to oversee this official eavesdropping were never introduced as the terrorism threat receded. Over the years the Garda also showed a quite striking inability to introduce and manage new technology.

The Pulse computerised information system, much in the news recently, ran a multiple of times over cost and took nearly a decade to properly perform. The initial estimated cost of €29m overran to over a hundred million within a few years and a major part of the overrun was taken up in vast consultancy fees.

Similarly, it took a full decade and extra cash to introduce the encrypted Tetra digital radio system to replace the old analogue devices which had been open to eavesdropping by anyone with a VHF receiver.

A lack of inspirational leadership resulted in poor follow -up with the victims of crimes and a corresponding increase in complaints

Meanwhile, the Garda Ombudsman is unable to cope with the overwhelming amount of work for and is passing investigations back to the garda – another major drain on policing resources.

The large numbers of Ombudsman investigations is also having a detrimental effect among operational garda.

"Far too many young gardai worth his or her salt are facing a GSOC investigation," one mid-ranking officer last week.

He said this was causing a reticence among some gardai to actually carry out their duty if they felt there was a chance it could end up with an Ombudsman investigation and the accompanying blocking of their careers, even when they are entirely innocent.

Sunday Independent

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