News Comment

Sunday 21 September 2014

Our challenge is to make the Garda a police service fit for the 21st Century

Frances Fitzgerald

Published 21/07/2014 | 02:30

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A garda graduation ceremony at the force’s training college in Templemore. Arthur Ellis/Press 22
A garda graduation ceremony at the force’s training college in Templemore. Arthur Ellis/Press 22
Justice Minister Frances Fitzgerald

THIS is a reforming Government. That's what we promised we would be. Reform is what is being delivered, right across the board.

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In some cases, like the reform of local government, the system required reform simply because it had been designed for another time. That applies, too, to the updating of our water infrastructure: Victorian pipes cannot be expected to cope with 21st-century demands.

In my own portfolio, I did not encounter a police service untouched down the years.

Many developments had happened, including the 2005 Act, which might be regarded as a major reform of An Garda Siochana. Yet, less than 10 years later, a series of systemic failings had caused massive controversy and generated mistrust in our police service.

One after another, areas of concern on penalty points, crime investigation and whistleblowers emerged. These tainted the perception of An Garda Siochana and established an urgent imperative – the need for reform, internal and external, operational and in terms of oversight.

In looking at the reform of An Garda Siochana, I have moved swiftly to address the issue of oversight. Shortly, I will be bringing forward proposals to establish an Independent Garda Authority and commence an open competition to recruit a new Garda Commissioner.

I will be publishing this week new legislation to reform, strengthen and clarify the remit and operation of the Garda Síochána Ombudsman Commission, so as to ensure that the men and women of An Garda Síochána, as well as the wider public, can have the fullest confidence in its workings.

Reform in this area requires, in addition to these major changes, more comprehensive and sustained corrective action. Because the changes we really need are all-pervasive and at all levels.

The major items include oversight, change management and training. All of them are being addressed.

But the more subtle changes, the ones affecting all systems and the behaviour of every individual, include everything from local administration to internal communications, from performance standards to crime prevention and from culture to human resource management. These are the bread and butter issues, which come into play, everyday, in every Garda district and every Garda unit.

While I will be the first to welcome the many innovations implemented by Gardai in recent years, I cannot be blind to the reality that – in some areas – the structure and culture has changed little.

Now, the growing diversity of the newer recruits will change the culture naturally, over time. However, the challenge is immediate and the changes needed run right through all of the practices and structures within the force in order to foster a culture which supports the effective working of all Gardai and enable the crafting of a policing service for the 21st Century in Ireland.

In response to that challenge, we must lay down the non-negotiables – the standards, the directions, the absolute requirements to ensure we have a police service fit for our communities.

We must ask questions about the configuration and performance of our police service, what unit of delivery of services works best. Is the collection, analysis and presentation of crime statistics robust and reliable? Is there a need for a new standards-based approach to inspection of policing?

Underneath every one of those questions is the broader question of how to ensure that policing is a proud and respected profession in 21st-century Ireland – how to make it a life-long career, while at the same time preventing the accretion of unexamined habits.

Because it is the accretion of unexamined habits that inhibit progress, corrupt a culture, and leave even the proudest of organisations in need of reform.

Frances Fitzgerald TD is Minister for Justice

Irish Independent

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