Tuesday 24 October 2017

Poll shows 57% have lost some confidence in gardai

Following recent Garda crises, the public would support major reform within the force, writes Maeve Sheehan

Sunday Independent/Millward Brown poll results
Sunday Independent/Millward Brown poll results
Maeve Sheehan

Maeve Sheehan

PUBLIC confidence in An Garda Siochana has been seriously shaken by the wave of controversies and scandals engulfing the force.

The latest Sunday Independent/Millward Brown poll suggests that a majority of Irish people have changed their view of An Garda Siochana and it shows overwhelming support for change.

The findings reflect the reputational damage to the force caused by a succession of policing scandals, from abuses of the penalty points system, to malpractice in the force and, more recently, the shocking disclosure that telephone conversations were secretly recorded at garda stations across the country.

Fifty-seven per cent of people polled said their confidence in the gardai has been damaged by the recent controversies. Eight in 10 believe there should be a separate Commission of Inquiry to examine all aspects of garda operations.

The poll also suggests some public concern over the relationship between the Minister for Justice and the garda commissioner.

The roles of the minister and the commissioner came under scrutiny in the government-initiated Guerin Report.

Today's poll shows that seven in 10 people believe responsibility for all senior appointments and promotions in the force, including that of commissioner, should be removed from the Department of Justice.

An overwhelming 87 per cent believe garda management should be independent of politics.

Eight in 10 also believe garda whistleblowers should be given more protection. The Protected Disclosures Bill currently before the houses of the Oireachtas promises to offer more protection to garda whistleblowers.

In what could also be seen as a reflection of waning public confidence in the force, 58 per cent believe the offices of the Garda Siochana Ombudsman Commission (GSOC) were bugged, and only 18 per cent believe they weren't.

The GSOC bugging scandal was the first in a wave of controversies to hit the force when the story broke earlier this year. It emerged the GSOC suspected gardai of bugging its offices; a subsequent expert inquiry found anomalies but no hard evidence.

The scandal led to increased scrutiny of gardai, and propelled the concerns raised by the two whistle-blowers, Sgt Maurice McCabe and John Wilson, centre stage.

Their complaints that gardai were abusing the penalty points system were vindicated, and Sgt McCabe's separate complaints of malpractice were also vindicated in a highly critical report by Sean Guerin SC that triggered the resignation of Alan Shatter.

Garda management are bracing themselves for more revelations, in particular relating to the Sophie Toscan du Plantier murder case, which has been increasingly discredited. The Taoiseach was told two months ago about the discovery of secret tape recordings of gardai discussing the case with each other and with journalists.

The contents of the tapes have been described as explosive and it emerged that the practice of secretly recording calls was widespread in other divisional headquarters.

Martin Callinan, the garda commissioner, retired after a late-night visit from the secretary general of the Department of Justice, dispatched to his home by the Taoiseach.

The secret tape recordings will now be examined by a Commission of Inquiry established by Mr Kenny. A separate Commission of Inquiry will be held into cases highlighted by Sgt McCabe. Meanwhile, the High Court judge, John Cooke, is expected to report on his investigation of the GSOC bugging scandal imminently.

Today's poll finding comes at a time when morale in the force is at an all-time low, and coincides with a ruling from the European Committee of Social Rights handed down on Friday that clears the way for gardai to strike and organise as a trade union.

The Association of Garda Sergeants and Inspectors took the case to the European committee, to overturn the rule that bans gardai from joining a trade union and going on strike.

Sunday Independent

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