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An Garda Síochána has 'never fully embraced human rights standards'

A report by the Irish Council for Civil Liberties has criticised some Garda policies and practices.

File photo
File photo
Image: RollingNews.ie

THERE IS A “serious gap” in human rights compliance in a number of areas in An Garda Síochána’a policy and practice, the Irish Council for Civil Liberties (ICCL) has said.

A report launched today criticises a number of areas including the policing of protests, investigation of hate crime, stop-and-search practices, State security, and the treatment of people in Garda detention.

The report was conducted by Alyson Kilpatrick, a former human rights advisor to the Policing Board of Northern Ireland.

Speaking about the research, Liam Herrick, Director of the ICCL, said An Garda Síochána has “never fully embraced human rights standards and values”.

“This was evidenced, yet again, by serious concerns arising from the Garda operation on Tuesday night at an eviction on Frederick St (in Dublin city).”

Gardaí were criticised for covering their faces at the eviction, a move Garda Commissioner Drew Harris said was “not correct”.

Garda reform 

Herrick said the report “makes the compelling argument that taking human rights seriously at all levels of Irish policing will have profound benefits for gardaí and for the communities they serve”.

He noted that “a comprehensive Garda reform process” will arise from the imminent publication of the report of the Commission on the Future of Policing in Ireland.

He said the ICCL report “provides a blueprint for how to deliver radical overhaul of Irish policing around human rights principles, drawing on the experience of the transformation of policing culture and practice in Northern Ireland”.

While of course the gardaí do not have all of the problems that have historically beset policing in Northern Ireland, there are many practical lessons we can learn from the experience there.

In the report, Kilpatrick highlights particular problems with the oversight and accountability mechanisms of State security, recommending that An Garda Síochána should develop and publish written policy on all covert activity.

Where they cannot be published for security reasons, Kilpatrick recommends that these policies be made accessible to a human rights legal expert in the Policing Authority.

Use of force

The report also details problems with Garda use of force. It notes that gardaí are likely to use pepper spray at a higher rate than the Metropolitan Police or the PSNI, but that this is difficult to tell given the lack of statistics available.

Kilpatrick recommends recording all circumstances of deployments of weapons or use of force, together with an explanation of the circumstances, location of use, outcome and the identity of the garda(í) involved. She further recommends sharing this information with the Policing Authority and publishing all related statistics.

If implemented correctly, a rights-based approach will not only protect the people that the gardaí come into contact with, but it will protect gardaí themselves by positively transforming policy, practice and philosophy.

“It also provides a roadmap for An Garda Síochána to fulfill their legal obligations, and their own mission statement, and become a rights-compliant police force which keeps the best interests of all the people it comes into contact with, including gardaí themselves, at heart,” Kilpatrick said.

Code of Ethics 

John Twomey, Deputy Commissioner of Policing and Security, said An Garda Síochána “will study the recommendations from the ICCL”, adding: “Any ideas on how An Garda Síochána can strengthen its delivery of a human rights-based policing and security service are always welcome.

Respecting and protecting the human rights of all individuals we interact with is one of the three key policing principles that guide how we deliver our service to the public.

Twomey said that since his recent appointment as Garda Commissioner, Harris publicly stated the importance of An Garda Síochána “delivering an ethical policing and security service with a focus on protecting the vulnerable”.

“For example, in his recent address to Garda recruits, Commissioner Harris said that maintaining and building trust in An Garda Síochána was dependent on Garda members, Garda staff and Garda reserves treating everyone they meet with respect, dignity and empathy.”

Twomey added that all Garda members and staff are in the process of being trained in the Code of Ethics. More than 10,000 personnel have been trained to date.

A Strategic Human Rights Advisory Committee is also being re-established, with the membership proposed to expand to include external experts in this area.

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Órla Ryan

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