Monday 11 December 2017

We will not resign, insists O'Brien

Garda Siochana Ombudsman chairman Simon O'Brien brushed aside calls for the commissioners to resign
Garda Siochana Ombudsman chairman Simon O'Brien brushed aside calls for the commissioners to resign

A defiant Garda watchdog chief has insisted he will remain in his role to drive reforms in how the force is policed.

Simon O'Brien, chairman of the Garda Siochana Ombudsman Commission (Gsoc), swept aside calls from some rank and file Garda officers for the oversight body's three commissioners to resign.

The demand was made in the wake of the Government-ordered Cooke report, which found no evidence to back fears within the watchdog that its headquarters in central Dublin was under hi-tech surveillance with the finger of suspicion being pointed at the force.

But Mr O'Brien said it was time to move on from the inquiry, and look forward to planned new powers being handed down to the oversight body as part of a sweeping overhaul of how the force is managed and held to account.

"We have got no intention of resigning," he said.

"We are discharging an important public function... we look forward to whatever legislative changes may strengthen our powers and we are looking forward to a future."

Launching Gosc's latest annual report, Mr O'Brien repeatedly refused to be drawn on the findings of the Cooke report last month or the resignations of the Justice Minister Alan Shatter and former Garda Commissioner Martin Callinan amid a wave of controversies.

The watchdog boss also remained tight-lipped on reported remarks by his former deputy director of investigations, Ray Leonard, who resigned at the weekend.

Mr Leonard stood down just weeks after telling an Oireachtas committee in a submission that Gsoc lacks independence and can not effectively carry out investigations because it is so poorly designed.

"All I would say is that people have got views on this, this is an ongoing debate," Mr O'Brien responded.

"Where we've been in the last seven years will probably be different to where were go in the next seven years."

The annual report revealed 2,027 complaints were made by members of the public against the Garda last year.

The complaints involved 5,299 separate allegations.

More than a third (34%) alleged an abuse of authority, more than quarter (27%) neglect of duty while 13% of the cases involved alleged non-fatal offences and just over one in ten (11%) claimed discourtesy.

The report also revealed a sharp drop in the number of cases the Garda Commissioner handed over to Gsoc for investigation - down from 72 the previous year to 41.

The law states that Garda chief must refer any case to Gsoc if there's a suspicion that the behaviour of a member of the force may have resulted in the death of, or serious harm to, a person.

Kieran FitzGerald, one of three Gsoc commissioners, said there was no evidence that the steep dip in referrals was related to unprecedented tensions between the watchdog and the force over the past year.

"We are not reading anything sinister into it," he said.

"We have absolutely no evidence to say it is linked to anything like distrust or our ongoing relationship. The number has fluctuated over the seven years that Gsoc has been in business."

Mr FitzGerald said one possible reason was a decrease in the road traffic incidents involving members of the force - which traditionally make up around half of all such cases.

Mr O'Brien added that there were "encouraging signs" about relations between the force and its official watchdog in terms of the handing over of information requested for investigations.

"We are now at a place where we have renegotiated and re-signed protocols," he said.

"Where we had significant problems with the exchange of information - where perhaps only three out of ten requests would have come in on time - we are now getting to a point this year where more than eight in ten are coming in on time."

But he added: "There is still some work to be done."

Press Association

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