Saturday 23 September 2017

Pace of reforms must accelerate for Garda to retain public trust

Taoiseach Enda Kenny (centre) shaking hands for the first time with Garda whistleblower Sgt Maurice McCabe (left) in Mullingar, Co Westmeath, in 2014
Taoiseach Enda Kenny (centre) shaking hands for the first time with Garda whistleblower Sgt Maurice McCabe (left) in Mullingar, Co Westmeath, in 2014
Dan O'Brien

Dan O'Brien

A state's first duty is to protect its people. In order to do this, citizens in democratic countries, and most others besides, grant to their states a monopoly on the use of legitimate force and many other powers besides. Such extensive powers, along with the often (and necessarily) secretive way policing is done, means that no country is entirely free of malpractice and corruption among law enforcers.

However, in order to keep to a minimum the number of bad apples in police forces, and to discourage bad apples ganging together to form corrupt cliques, the best possible structures and practices must be in place. If they are not, abuses will inevitably happen. If abuses happen frequently, and if those abuses are not tackled effectively, a police force can quickly lose legitimacy.

That is exactly what happened in Northern Ireland from the late 1960s. As the following decades showed, rebuilding cross-community trust and legitimacy in the police in the North, once it has been lost, was a long and slow process. In the 1990s, when a political settlement in the North was being negotiated, policing was one of the central issues. A great deal of work went into looking at best practice in policing around the world. Successive Irish governments strongly advocated that those best practices be implemented in Northern Ireland.

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