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'Is it non-compliance, or just lack of capacity?' - Policing Authority unsure of competence of Garda management

Chairperson of the Policing Authority Josephine Feehily was in front of the Oireachtas Justice Committee this morning.

jf1 Josephine Feehily Source: Oireachtas.ie

THE CHAIR OF the Policing Authority says the body is as yet unsure if delays in Garda compliance regarding probes into recent controversies are down to simple non-compliance or a lack of ability at management level to respond appropriately.

Appearing in front of the Oireachtas Justice Committee, Authority head Josephine Feehily clarified that the role of the authority, which has previously faced accusations of toothlessness, is to “enhance policing performance”.

“It’s not a game of gotcha,” she said.

Today’s meeting was expected to deal with a number of recent controversies, including the breath test scandal, issues surrounding Garda homicide statistics, and the standard of Garda child protection procedures, not to mention the recent retirement of Commissioner Nóirín O’Sullivan and the need to appoint her replacement.

From the start, Feehily made it clear that dealing with the ongoing financial issues surrounding the Garda College in Templemore is not covered by the Policing Authority’s remit.

The Authority itself was first established to act as an independent overseer to An Garda Síochána in January 2016.

Today’s meeting was held in the light of a letter being sent by chairperson of the Commission on the Future of Policing in Ireland Kathleen O’Toole to Minister for Justice Charlie Flanagan recommending that no Commissioner be appointed until that Commission has completed its work as ‘no credible candidate’ would be willing to apply at present.

Feehily said, when questioned on that letter, that the Authority would be replying as to its implications in the coming days.

Speaking regarding project management within An Garda Síochána, Feehily said that there is no such management per se, but rather the force operates under a system of milestones:

When a milestone is reached the milestone is completed – there is no particular strategy.

Regarding the breath test scandal, which saw nearly 1.5 million reports of completed breath tests being falsely recorded by the gardaí, Feehily said that the Authority will have its own report “in a couple of weeks”.

“We had hoped to have it sooner but we first had to assess Assistant Commissioner O’Sullivan’s report, which itself was delayed,” she said.

There doesn’t seem to be any understanding of the importance of data to policy making.

“Mandatory breath testing was introduced as a policy. Keeping statistics isn’t about breath tests, it’s about monitoring the rate of compliance, and with tests inflated to such an extent it completely distorts that rate of compliance.”

The data here is not about crime statistics, it’s about informing public policy and giving the community the sense that they can actually be stopped.

mw1 Mick Wallace Source: Oireachtas.ie

When questioned by TD Mick Wallace regarding the fact that only nine of 50 recommended reforms contained in the November 2015 Changing Policing in Ireland Report have thus far been implemented, Feehily responded that the Authority’s three reports to date have increased in levels of ‘shrillness’ as a reflection of its frustration at the delays being seen both in terms of reform and in terms of compliance with the Authority itself.

Wallace queried why the Authority has not gone to the Minister for Justice seeking an order compelling the gardaí to comply with its requests.

“Well, regarding the homicide statistics, we have received that data in the last couple of days and I’ll be raising it at our meeting tomorrow,” Feehily replied.

She said she was ‘struck’ by Kathleen O’Toole’s assertion in her letter that the problem of compliance within An Garda Síochána may be more an issue of capacity.

“We are really still not sure of whether it is an issue of non-compliance at management level, or simply a lack of capacity among management,” she said.

We can’t go to the minister until we ascertain that for certain.

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