Give GSOC the power to deal with garda chief, expert says
THE former police ombudsman in Northern Ireland wants new powers handed to the Garda Siochana Ombudsman Commission (GSOC) to deal with officers up to and including the rank of commissioner.
The controversial recommendation was put forward by Nuala O'Loan, who said GSOC should be properly empowered if it is to be successful in its role of investigating the Garda.
Ms O'Loan also called for GSOC to be given a right of access to garda premises for investigations, without notice or garda or ministerial consent.
She made her remarks at a consultation seminar on justice reform at Farmleigh in the Phoenix Park, Dublin, yesterday.
More than 100 participants, representing groups ranging from garda agencies to non-governmental organisations, were invited to the seminar by Justice Minister Frances Fitzgerald, who said later she welcomed the feedback as the Government prepared a programme of reform.
Ms O'Loan said GSOC must be properly funded and managed with adequate time for people to bring a complaint and she did not think the current time frame of six months was sufficient.
She also rejected the possibility of criminal sanction where a complaint was not funded.
"It is not easy to complain against those in authority, especially the police, and the current penalties are very high and would deter people, who have a genuine complaint but fear that it may not be founded," she said.
Her comments clash with the views of the garda representative groups, who are concerned over vexatious complaints being made to GSOC by criminals or others with a grievance.
Ms O'Loan also said GSOC must be aware of the risk of infiltration by organised criminals and terrorists and would need good security policies.
"It will have to carry out regular security sweeps, about which it will tell no one. This is normal, good housekeeping when you are in this business", she said.-
Dr Vicky Conway, a senior law lecturer at Kent Law School, told the seminar that the last decade had been more damaging to the morale of the garda force than the politically turbulent times of the Blueshirts or the Troubles.
She said that only in the past 10 years had the previously unswerving support of the public seemingly waned and that sense of unity within the community felt deflated.
Dr Conway said a full understanding of the weaknesses of policing in Ireland could be achieved through a Patten style commission.