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GSOC will be allowed to investigate the Garda Commissioner under new reforms

The government has announced a series of reforms to strengthen the Garda Ombudsman.

Interim Garda Commissioner Noirin O'Sullivan
Interim Garda Commissioner Noirin O'Sullivan
Image: Laura Hutton/Photocall Ireland

Updated 6.30pm 

THE GOVERNMENT HAS announced a series of reforms to the justice system which including allowing the Garda Ombudsman (GSOC) to investigate the Garda Commissioner for the first time.

Cabinet today agreed proposals brought forward by Justice Minister Frances Fitzgerald to amend the Garda Siochána Bill and give more powers to GSOC.

It follows months of controversies related to the gardaí which have seen the resignations of ex-commissioner Martin Callinan and former justice minister Alan Shatter.

Principal among the reforms announced today are that the justice minister of the day will now be able to refer criminal matters or allegations of serious misconduct on the part of the Garda Commissioner to GSOC for investigation.

The garda watchdog will also be able to initiate its own investigations into the Commissioner giving it powers to scrutinise the top police officer in the State for the first time.

However these investigations will not include the exercise of the “general direction and control functions” of the Commissioner which will instead fall within the remit of the proposed new Garda Authority.

Other changes include GSOC being allowed to initiate its own examination of practice policy and procedure in the gardaí and to have access to the PULSE system that gardaí use on a daily basis.

Other reforms

Other changes include extending the time limit for making a complaint to the Ombudsman from six months to a year in line with similar arrangements in the North.

GSOC will also be able to tap phones and electronic devices to carry out electronic surveillance during criminal investigations concerning members of the gardáí.

GSOC will also be able to carry out investigations where the identity of a specific garda is not initially known or where a non-garda could be involved in line with a recommendation in the recent Cooke report.

The bill will also give powers to the Garda Inspectorate to conduct its own investigations and inquiries.

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In another change announced today, the government is setting up an Independent Review Mechanism consisting of two senior and five junior counsel that will review 221 allegations of garda misconduct.

The allegations were forwarded to the Department of the Taoiseach by various TDs and the Justice4All campaign group.

The group of barristers will now spend between eight and ten weeks examining the cases, some of which have already been the subject of gardaí and GSOC investigations, to establish if they merit any further investigation.

This comes on foot of the government being forced to deal with a series of allegations of garda malpractice in recent months leading to the formation of a number of Commissions of Inquiries.

Speaking today Frances Fitzgerald said: “These measures, together with the planned establishment of an independent Garda Authority and the opening-up of recruitment process for Garda Commissioner, marks the start of the sea-change I promised on coming to office as Minister for Justice.”

First published 2.07pm 

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About the author:

Hugh O'Connell

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