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'Over-promising and under delivering': Policing Authority critical of garda approach to implementing change

The Policing Authority said that some gardaí have expressed “cynicism and scepticism” to proposed changes.

Image: Eamonn Farrell/Rollingnews.ie

THE POLICING AUTHORITY has said frontline gardaí “feel disconnected” from proposed reforms being brought into the force, and some believe recommendations for change within An Garda Síochána have not provided “tangible outcomes”. 

Furthermore, the absence of a “strategic vision” for An Garda Síochána in key areas “has bedeviled the implementation of change”. 

When third-party recommendations are accepted by An Garda Síochána, there is little assessment as to how feasible it will be to implement these changes. “This has led to the Garda Síochána repeatedly over-promising and under delivering,” the Policing Authority said.

This is the seventh and final report from the Policing Authority on how An Garda Síochána is implementing changes recommended in the 2015 report “Changing Policing in Ireland”. 

The vehicle for making those changes was the gardaí’s modernisation and renewal programme, and the Policing Authority was tasked by the government with providing summaries for how these matters were progressing.

Authority Chairperson, Josephine Feehily said: “The Authority strongly believes that there are important lessons that can be taken from this series of reports that can usefully inform the approach to the new government Policing Reform Programme.

Critical to the Garda Síochána change effort will be a renewed, persistent and strategic focus on the key enablers of change – HR, ICT, accommodation, training and finance. These matters have been and will continue to be at the forefront of the Authority’s assessment of policing performance.

The Policing Authority said governance, for example, has been “siloed with no single coherent view available to the commissioner” of the work being undertaken and the progress being made.

“There has been insufficient focus on outcomes, with outputs and milestones being regarded as ends in themselves,” it said.

Lessons learned

The Policing Authority also said in its latest report that the majority of recommendations from Changing Policing in Ireland “are still outstanding”. 

One of the issues here is that various reports have recommended change in An Garda Síochána, and many are “considered without reference to one another, potentially allowing for recommendations to overrule or even conflict with prior recommendations”. 

It also said that recommendations are accepted without an assessment of the scope, scale, cost and feasibility of implementing them.

Other lessons learned highlighted by the Policing Authority include the need for a strategic vision and related strategies, the need for integrated planning, putting a cost on the change required, and focus on governance and culture.

On culture, the Policing Authority said: “The Authority found little evidence to suggest that the modernisation and renewal programme as an organisational change effort had landed with the bulk of the organisation or created that trust.

Certainly within stations gardaí expressed cynicism and scepticism as to whether the modernisation and renewal programme would deliver any change that might impact on their day-to-day work. Key concerns, they believe, have been repeatedly expressed around fleet, accommodation, equipment and uniforms that have gone unheeded.

Conclusion

Although the modernisation and renewal programme has been superseded by the government’s new “A Policing Service for the Future” plan unveiled last year, the Policing Authority said that the learnings from how these previous proposals for change remain valid.

Its oversight identified “weaknesses in the execution of the reform programme, which inhibited progress”. Going forward, these observations remain “relevant and urgent”, it said.

Minister for Justice Charlie Flanagan said these reports from the Policing Authority have provided a valuable assessment of progress on garda reform.

“This series of reports, and the learnings made as a result, will provide a very significant resource to everyone involved in the implementation of the recommendations of the report of the Commission on the Future of Policing in Ireland,” he said.

It is essential that this learning is taken into the implementation of the Commission’s report in order to drive the reform process and ensure the vision of the Commission is realised. 

Flanagan added that the implementation plans for the new planned reforms in An Garda Síochána are “ambitious but realistic”. 

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Sean Murray

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