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Garda watchdog sees marked increase in complaints in 2021 - but 39% ruled inadmissible

The Garda Síochána Ombudsman Commission annual report showed that last year the body dealt with 2,189 complaints in 2021.

Image: Sam Boal/Photocall Ireland

THE GARDA WATCHDOG has recorded a marked increase in complaint investigations from the general public. 

The Garda Síochána Ombudsman Commission (GSOC) annual report showed that last year the body dealt with 2,189 complaints in 2021, containing 3,760 allegations – that represents a 12% increase compared to 2020. Of those complaints 61% were ruled admissible.

There has also been an increase of 40% in referrals made to it by An Garda Síochána following incidents involving death or serious harm.

GSOC received 59 referrals under this category in 2021, compared with 43 in 2020, and 40 in 2019. Thirty-four of the referrals received in 2021 related to fatalities.

Investigators also recorded an increase of 21% in the amounts of cases they were able to close in 2021 compare to previous years – by year end they still had 852 cases still open. 

Disciplinary breaches included: failure to investigate allegations of abuse; discreditable conduct; failures in securing evidence; abuse of authority.

In 2021, GSOC made 60 findings of a breach of discipline by members of An Garda Síochána, resulting in the imposition of sanctions by the Garda Commissioner.

Five criminal cases were decided in court in 2021, involving charges of sexual assault, assault and theft. The DPP directed no prosecution in 11 cases.

The year also saw the Director of Public Prosecutions direct the prosecution of 13 charges arising from GSOC investigations, involving sexual offences, assault, breaches of the Road Traffic Acts and the provision of false information.

Screenshot (176) A slide outlining the circumstances of Section 102 Garda Síochána Act referrals in regard to serious injury or death. Source: GSOC

GSOC Chair, Mr Justice Rory MacCabe, complimented his staff for their work in addressing an increased workload and the challenges of Covid-19.

The Judge said that the upcoming Policing, Security and Community Safety Bill would mean a huge shift for GSOC in the service it delivers to the public. It has not been without its critics with the garda representative bodies and the Garda Commissioner Drew Harris attacking the planned legislation

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“The Report also looks to GSOC’s future. The sweeping changes proposed in the Policing, Security and Community Safety Bill, if implemented, create a new Garda Ombudsman with significantly enhanced functions and independence.

“These proposals are a positive platform from which a clearly defined and long-signalled gap in Ireland’s policing accountability infrastructure will be addressed. If reform is to achieve its aims, it is crucial that adequate resources, staffing, expertise and cooperation are guaranteed,” he said.  

In other statistics 13 public interest investigations opened which are investigations undertaken in the absence of a complaint or referral from the Garda Commissioner.

There were also 20 protected disclosures received.

GSOC also issued to the Garda Commissioner systemic recommendations on Garda policy and practice, including in relation to: recordkeeping on vehicle use; health and safety in custody areas; assisting members of the public seeking shelter in Garda stations; and assisting persons at risk of suicide.

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