Opportunity for radical reform of An Garda Síochána

However welcome are the two reports on the reform of An Garda Síochána – that of the new Garda Inspectorate and that of the new Advisory Board – there is a sense of dismay that both bodies repeat recommendations made over previous decades.


For at least 30 years there have been repeated calls for the civilianisation of various functions with An Garda Síochána and the engagement of civilians for administrative functions to free Gardaí for purely police work. This has not happened because of opposition within the force to any civilianisation and opposition even to the engagement of clerical staff for purely clerical and administrative functions – there are some civilians employed but nothing like the numbers that could be employed.

But it is obvious that there is now a momentum within the force of reform which can hardly be thwarted. And certainly if one of the central recommendations of the Advisory Group report is accepted by government – that the senior posts about to become vacant, including those of the Garda Commissioner, a deputy commissioner and four assistant commissioners are advertised internationally – the hint is clearly that police officers from another police force should be appointed to the senior positions. This is a sina-qua-non to the reform of the Garda culture that is at the heart of the problems besetting the force.

We have been critical of Michael McDowell for failing to respond sufficiently swiftly to the damning insights into the force presented by successive reports of the Morris tribunal. And certainly his failure over at least two years to confront the problem of discipline was serious. But he has overseen the reform of the force, primarily through the establishment of the Ombudsman Commission (it is disappointing this is not yet up and running), the Inspectorate and the Advisory Group. The latter two bodies give a push to reform that will be politically difficulty to resist, although the lethargy of the political system and of the force itself should not be underestimated.

The civilianisation of senior positions is a very significant recommendation. Not just because it would bring into the force a level of expertise in management, technology, administration, legal and other specialties, but because it would infuse the force with a different ethos right at the top. It represents a dilution of the old culture, a culture which urgently needs dilution.

There is an implied criticism in the Advisory Group report to do with the appointment of a deputy-commissioner post "to drive and manage changes required by the 2005 [Garda] act" and which was recommended in the Implementation Group report of a year ago. No such appointment has yet been made. The Advisory Group says this is "long overdue" and that it be "filled as a mater of urgency". Why has this not been done? Is this an indication of obduracy on the part of the force to change?

Because of the imminent retirements of the commissioner and a deputy commissioner, there is an opportunity to influence the direction of the force in a radical way. There must be some confidence that Michael McDowell by now has acquired the resolution to make such changes but is it certain that someone new to the post, say a Fianna Fáil or a Fine Gael minister, would have a similar determination? The way in which ministers for justice become co-opted almost immediately by the Department of Justice is a concern. The overseeing role of the Department of Justice over An Garda Síochána has been one of the problems over the decades. Is it not well past the time for a Garda Authority to be appointed, independent of the Department of Justice, as applies in Northern Ireland and in many other jurisdictions? All the more so since there is a person of obvious capacity, independence and experience to be chairman of such a body – Maurice Hayes, former member of the Paten Commission, which revolutionised policing in Northern Ireland, and current chairman of the Advisory Board on Garda Management and Leadership Development.

Vincent Browne