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Scrap 3-person GSOC, set-up whistleblower 'hotline': Here's what needs to change, Minister told

Gardaí should be banned from serving on GSOC, and a Northern Ireland-style Criminal Justice Inspectorate should be set up, according to a report handed to Frances Fitzgerald…

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THE JUSTICE MINISTER has been handed a 12-point report on how garda oversight could be strengthened.

The Oireachtas Justice Committee — made up of TDs and senators from Government and opposition parties — published their interim report today.

Amongst the panel’s main recommendations:

Make the Garda Commissioner accountable to GSOC

According to the committee:

This would expand the remit of GSOC to more effectively investigate complaints against members of the Garda Síochána by members of the public, by having the powers to question senior members of the Force…

Bring in a one person Ombudsman model (in place of the current three-person system).

“There are a variety of ways this may be structured, for example, one Ombudsman assisted by two assistants,” the committee says.

Why?

The appointment of a single Ombudsman would ensure a greater degree of accountability and ensure that there is no possibility of dissenting opinions or divergence in the Ombudsman’s findings.

Ban gardaí and former gardaí from serving on GSOC. 

According to the committee:

This is of fundamental importance to ensuring an oversight body that is fully independent and free from political or Garda interference. Furthermore, this would reinforce a practice whereby an Garda Síochána is accountable to the citizens it serves to protect.

Dealing with whistleblower complaints… 

The Committee says GSOC should introduce new structures to allow whistleblowers to raise issues of concern, safe in the knowledge that their complaints will be treated with sensitivity and confidence.

It’s also recommended that a ‘helpline’ be set up to offer advice, and a separate ‘hotline’ to allow complainants to report an incident.

The new Garda Authority…

The proposed new Garda Authority should be run as a “shadow organisation” before it’s officially established.

“This is to ensure that the right administrative structure is in place before the Authority assumes any real investigative and administrative powers,” the committee recommends.

It also says there should be a “gradual process of transferring powers” to the new body.

Furthermore:

  • Ministers should have no role in appointing the authority. It should be the responsibility of the Public Appointments Service.
  • The new Authority should take over the appointment of senior garda officers. 
  • The new body should be required to present an annual report to both House of the Oireachtas. 

Longer-term goals…

As part of its longer term objectives, the authority should work towards establishing a Northern Ireland-style Criminal Justice Inspectorate, the committee says:

Such bodies under its remit may include an Garda Síochána, the Courts Service, the Director of Public Prosecutions, the Legal Aid Board, the Probation Service and the Ombudsman Commission. Other organisations such as the State Pathologist and Prison Governors may also fall within the remit of an expanded authority.

The full report, sent to Justice Minister Frances Fitzgerald last week, can be viewed here.

The document published today is an interim response only. A full review of the Garda Síochána Act 2005 is ongoing — and is expected to be published in the autumn.

In full: Alan Shatter’s statement to the Dáil on the garda whistleblower claims

Read: GSOC welcomes Cooke report, Gardaí say they’re reviewing it

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