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GSOC chair: 'We need more teeth to be able to investigate gardaí'

Judge Mary Ellen Ring spoke frankly to TDs and senators today.
Sep 21st 2016, 12:04 PM 10,252 32

THE CHAIRPERSON OF GSOC has said that her organisation lacks the teeth to investigate complaints against members of An Garda Síochána.

Judge Mary Ellen Ring appeared before the Joint Committee on Justice and Equality calling for more powers to be given to the ombudsman to obtain information from gardaí.

She told the committee of TDs and senators that the complaint process was too long.

“If we can reduce it and make it more effective, some of these issues can be resolved,” she said in relation to problems that arise with pay, retirements, promotions and other internal issues as GSOC investigates members.

Ring looked to the committee in her appeal for new legislation that would help GSOC function more effectively.

The judge – who took over the role last year – wants to be able to apply through the courts for an order to compel gardaí to hand over information when required.

Replying to questions from Clare Daly, she noted that there are particular issues around protective disclosures. Later, she confirmed that there are four ongoing investigations in relation to garda whistleblowers.

She conceded that as the force were new to the system, there would be mistakes made on boths sides.

In her contribution, Daly claimed that today’s hearing highlighted “some really serious points”.

She said that while the system for whistleblowers and complainants had improved, it has not been enough to ensure an effective process.

“GSOC cannot do its job as it’s not getting the information,” she said in relation to protection disclosures.

Cases have been there for two years… loyal members are off the payroll and their cases aren’t being investigated. It’s very serious.

Ring conceded that there are people still dissatisfied with GSOC’s work but noted that sometimes the delays in investigations were out of its control.

“There may be valid delays – I’m not saying it’s all the garda fault. Some of our investigators are dealing with other matters. We’ve made improvements in areas we can control. I know the frustration as people write to me as well.”

Ring also wants her organisation freed up to handle serious matters, rather than service-line complaints which she says could be handled internally.

They make up about 20% of the complaints that pass over their desks.

“I would like to see a reduction in our work because people don’t have cause [to complain]…” she said.

“That would give us more time for whistleblowers and serious issues. We could engage as we would have less pressure.”

However, she did warn that culture within police forces is difficult to change and it will not happen overnight.

More: “Serious failure” in investigation of child rape case – but no gardaí found to have breached discipline

Read: Failure by gardaí to show understanding of ‘near-endless anguish’ of grieving families

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Sinead O'Carroll

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