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GSOC: 'Gardaí are damned if they do, damned if they don't'

Judge Mary Ellen Ring said they are taking up the slack for other agencies.

Image: PA Wire/Press Association Images

THE CHAIR OF GSOC has said that it is unfair that gardaí are dumped with extra work because of the deficiencies in other state agencies.

Speaking to an Oireachtas committee yesterday, Judge Mary Ellen Ring said that gardaí are often in a difficult position as the only State agency in place to deal with certain problems during unsociable hours.

She told the committee that if there is an issue with a child or a person with alcohol dependency or mental health problems at 3am, there are no appropriate agencies available.

Tusla isn’t there for the child, there is nobody in the community for the person in difficulty and we don’t have drunk tanks where people can dry out, she said.

“Gardaí are the only agency available at that time. Public order laws don’t give them the right to detain [these people]. They are damned if they do, damned if they don’t,” she added.

If they let that person back onto the streets, and they cause violent injury to someone or fall into the river – it’ll be the gardaí’s fault.

“But if they detain them, they are in trouble as they don’t have the correct powers.”

She said the legislation in the area is “clearly defective” and it is “unfair” that gardaí are left to deal with deficiencies in other services.

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During the hearing with the Justice and Equality Committee, Ring said her organisation had to remember that the public’s experience with gardaí is not always a negative one.

“In fairness, gardaí interact with the public every day and people have no complaint and we shouldn’t lose sight of that,” she said.

She said she believes the training has improved in Templemore and in stations. Gone are the days when sergeants would tell new recruits to forget everything they had learned in the college, she told members of the Dáil and Seanad.

But the reduction in resources has brought new pressures, she added.

If you’re standing behind the counter, the phone is ringing, there are people outside… it takes a lot to say, ‘How can I help you?’

She said proper resourcing should allow for proper responses and that if the public aren’t being dealt with in an appropriate way, a sergeant could deal with it internally with training instead of making it a formal disciplinary issue.

More teeth

Ring also called for more powers for GSOC to investigate complaints against members of the force, saying she lacked ‘teeth’ while dealing with protective disclosures.

She said new legislation was needed to make the ombudsman an effective body. She wants to be able to apply to the courts for an order directing An Garda Síochána to provide information when required.

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

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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