Editorial: Public confidence in garda watchdog Gsoc is absolutely vital
The philosophical question posed by Roman poet Juvenal from his Satires is quite pertinent in modern society. Who watches the watchers? Across many sectors of society, safeguards have been put in place to ensure fairness, equality and the law are applied by those in charge of enforcing the rules. From the planning regulator to the Standards in Public Office Commission, a layer of accountability is in place to ensure past lapses in standards are not repeated.
An Garda Síochána was no exception. Unquestionably, there was bad policing in previous times as well as bad apples. Some of this still reverberates through the system and has ensured perpetrators were never brought to justice. The reform of policing in Northern Ireland saw a new level of independent scrutiny attached.
The model was copied south of the Border with the advent of the Policing Authority and the Garda Síochána Ombudsman Commission (Gsoc). The principle behind Gsoc was that gardaí should not investigate themselves, so an outside watchdog would take control of such investigations.
In a macabre twist, the watchdog has now been found to be associating with criminals. The acquittal of Gerry ‘The Monk’ Hutch was undoubtedly a disappointment to gardaí who investigated the Regency Hotel murder. Nonetheless, there are now four convictions in relation to the murder plot and the investigation is continuing.
The ruling in the Special Criminal Court clearly stated the Hutch criminal organisation was behind the murder of Kinahan gang member David Byrne, which escalated a vicious gangland feud.
But it is a real kick in the teeth to learn that an investigator with Gsoc was attending a party that celebrated The Monk’s acquittal. The investigation of this matter had to be handed over to An Garda Síochána. Now it turns out the same former investigator with the garda watchdog is suspected of passing on confidential information to the Hutch gang.
Given the access to confidential material, the extent of these alleged interactions with Hutch family members are of grave concern. Gardaí believe the man, who is in his 60s, had a relationship with associates of The Monk going back a “long period of time”.
Surreal and all as it may sound, the garda investigation into its own watchdog must continue.
However, the development raises fundamental questions about the operation of Gsoc, its vetting procedures and how it watches its watchers. While the garda investigation continues, Gsoc must act swiftly to reassure the public it is fit for purpose.
The Garda Ombudsman has developed an unwelcome reputation for being slow to deliver results and has a poor record of communicating with the public. Time and clarity are now of the essence.
The public must be confident that the garda watchdog is above reproach.