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Garda boss Drew Harris fears policing reforms could weaken his role

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Garda Commissioner Drew Harris. Picture: Gareth Chaney/Collins

Garda Commissioner Drew Harris. Picture: Gareth Chaney/Collins

Garda Commissioner Drew Harris. Picture: Gareth Chaney/Collins

Garda Commissioner Drew Harris says proposed legislation to overhaul oversight of An Garda Sióchána would leave him spending more time reporting to oversight bodies than overseeing policing and leadership of the service.

Appearing before the Dail’s Joint Committee on Justice last night, he said the the Policing, Security and Community Safety Bill 2021 as it currently stood would lead to ”dysfunctional” micromanagement.

He also strongly criticised sections of the bill that would grant powers to the proposed new Garda Ombudsman which, he said, would be “disproportionate, unconstitutional and will not withstand an expensive and time-consuming test in the courts”. 

The bill, which was approved by Cabinet last April, is the most ambitious Garda reform bill to come before the Dáil in years and would lead to the complete overhaul of the garda oversight structure.

It would replace the Garda Sióchana Act 2005, which established the garda watchdog – the Garda Sióchana Ombubsman Commission (GSOC) and the Garda Inspectorate.

The Act also established the Policing Authority in 2015 that was set up to hold the commissioner of the day to account as well as determine senior garda appointments.

Under the proposed bill the Policing Authority and Garda Inspectorate would merge into the Policing and Community Safety Authority, which would also have the power to conducted unannounced inspections of garda stations and conduct reviews of garda performance.

Mr Harris said he had no objections to unannounced inspections and the force “fully supports accountability, oversight and the independent investigation of public complaints”.

But he said the bill in its current form “will see the introduction of a wide range of oversight structures and bodies with clashing and conflicting remits that will see the Commissioner of the day spending more time reporting and accounting to those bodies than actually overseeing policing, security matters, and the leadership and direction of An Garda Síochána.”

“The truth is, I’m unclear about who I’m accountable to,” he told the committee.

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“I have concerns about the amount of time I’ll spend with accountability bodies which makes it dysfunctional.”

He said he was also concerned that the bill would strip his office of crucial powers.

“The Bill as proposed will effectively outsource many of those levels of control in key areas such as budget, discipline, standards, and policing operations from the Commissioner to different oversight bodies,” he said.

"In effect, the micromanagement and erosion of operational independence that the Commission strongly warned against.” 

He had previously submitted a 75-page statement to the committee and met Justice Minister Helen McEntee and other department officials to outline his concerns.

These included worries that the new Garda Ombudsman would have more legal powers to conduct investigations into all Garda personnel – including Garda staff – than gardaí investigating crime currently have.

Mr Harris also said such investigations “could run for years” without any obligation to inform the person of the nature of the investigation.


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