Saturday 17 March 2018

Garda still not overhauled seven years after Morris Tribunal warns Ombudsman

Garda still in need of an overhaul warns the Garda Ombudsman
Garda still in need of an overhaul warns the Garda Ombudsman

Brian Hutton

Garda chiefs have still not overhauled the force as demanded by the Morris Tribunal seven years ago, State investigators have warned.

The Garda Ombudsman, which was set up as a result of the long-running corruption inquiry, said shortcomings flagged up by the probe into rogue officers had yet to be fixed.

In the latest broadside between the force and its watchdog, the Ombudsman also claimed the Garda was suffering a huge shock to the system from being asked to account for itself.

Carmel Foley, one of the three Garda Ombudsman commissioners, said the force had to undergo a culture change.

"We are conscious that the Garda have been here since the foundation of the State, and that a culture change is needed," she said.

"There is no doubt that oversight by a body (the Ombudsman) which is seven years in operation is a huge shock to the system."

Ms Foley said until the Ombudsman was handed oversight powers in the wake of the Morris Tribunal, no other State body could carry out activities similar to the Garda.

"The first time we entered a Garda station with a search warrant there was some shock to system," she said.

"The first time we arrested a garda there was shock."

Speaking before a parliamentary committee, Ms Foley said officers were routinely unwilling to take part in even informal attempts to resolve complaints made against them.

Instead they "come in with their lawyers and say 'no comment, no comment, no comment'," she said, adding that it was often for minor issues like discourtesy or bad manners.

Simon O'Brien, chairman of the Garda Ombudsman, also hit out at the Garda for delaying its investigations and questioning the motives of the watchdog when asking for records or information.

"That one State body investigating another should be asked for the relevance of a request, before materials pertinent to an investigation are released, is a matter of considerable concern," he said.

"I doubt the Garda Siochana would readily accept such demands from parties under investigation by them."

The Garda Ombudsman was asked to appear before the Oireachtas Public Service Oversight and Petitions Committee after it openly attacked the force in May for not co-operating with them.

Mr O'Brien revealed planned talks between Garda Commissioner Martin Callinan and the Ombudsman to resolve the row - to be chaired by Justice Minister Alan Shatter - had still not taken place.

The planned meeting was announced two months ago as the Ombudsman launched its annual report, which was scathing about the "unacceptable'' delays and the refusal of officers to hand over documents crucial to their inquiries.

That the Garda Ombudsman was in the Oireachtas making their remarks public again, reflected "the serious place we are at, at this time", he said.

Mr O'Brien said problems with co-operation were not always related to major issues concerning State security, but often to do with everyday matters.

The watchdog chief said he was very keen for the meeting with the Garda Commissioner to take place, adding that maybe someone in Phoenix Park Garda headquarters needed more time to ingest their report.

Kieran Fitzgerald, another of the three commissioners that headed up the Garda Ombudsman, said serious deficiencies remained in the force's management of procedures on the use of informants.

These included poor records and non-adherence to procedures, flagged up in a report to Mr Shatter.

Mr Fitzgerald said not all of the deficiencies uncovered by the Morris Tribunal had been remedied.

"Our concerns are not historical, they relate to the present day," he said.

A culture where informant handling systems can by bypassed or ignored meant there may be no way of ever knowing if officers were running informants "off the book", he said.

Mr Fitzgerald said the whole area was difficult to examine but a few cases they looked at had given cause for concern about the Garda, culturally and across the board.

Speaking after the meeting, committee chairman Padraig Mac Lochlainn said the Garda Commissioner would have to appear before it to answer "serious questions" about the force's co-operation with the watchdog as well as its use of informants.

"The public need answers and immediate reassurance that these concerns will be addressed," he said.

Press Association

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