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Garda Ombudsman

Proposal to block Gsoc searches of Garda stations 'seriously undermines' oversight, agency says

The Policing, Security and Community Safety Bill is expected to become law this year.

THE GARDA OMBUDSMAN has warned about draft policing legislation which would allow the Garda Commissioner to “block or overrule” operations by the Ombudsman. 

These include making the search of a Garda station as part of any investigation into gardaí a decision lying solely with the Commissioner. 

This would “significantly undermine” the powers held by the body at present, the Ombudsman, or Gsoc, said in its summation of the Policing, Security and Community Safety Bill 2023.

The legislation proposes significant expansion and restructuring of its investigatory powers while seeking to amendments to bolster institutional independence and Garda cooperation.

Garda superintendents have previously warned that the government has been granting excessive powers to oversight bodies managing gardaí.  

While it overall welcomed the legislation as “a significant step forward” in addressing issues around oversight of policing in Ireland, the Ombudsman raised a number of issues.

“We restate our concern that the draft legislation does not require An Garda Síochána to cooperate fully and promptly with the Police Ombudsman,” it said in its detailed list of observations.

It also warned that without proper resourcing for staff, the Ombudsman will effectively be “compromised” in how it handles investigations.

“Failure to resource the new body properly in effect sets it up to fail,” Gsoc chairperson Judge Rory MacCabe said. 

He added that there has been a “long-signalled gap in Ireland’s policing accountability infrastructure” which new measures needed to address. 

It added that certain provisions within the draft Bill “hand powers to the Garda Commissioner to block or overrule the operations and decision-making of the Police Ombudsman”, with the proposal requiring the say-so for a Garda station search from the Commissioner “of particular concern” to the agency.

“This provision represents a significant regression from the powers enjoyed by GSOC under the current Act.

“In addition to presenting unworkable practical difficulties, these provisions seriously undermine the principle of independent civilian oversight of policing.”

Speaking about the draft legislation, Judge MacCabe said: 

“This Bill is a significant step forward in addressing a clearly-defined and long-signalled gap in Ireland’s policing accountability infrastructure.

“GSOC is, however, concerned that if the fundamental issues of institutional independence we have raised are not addressed, the Bill will fall short of the vision of independent civilian oversight which is core to the policing reform process currently underway. 

“GSOC will continue to work with stakeholders in the Justice sector as the Bill makes its way through the Oireachtas”.

The Bill is expected to become law this year and looks to place in statute key findings from the Commission on the Future of Policing in Ireland (CoFPI) report, published in 2018.

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