During the course of a wave of scandals that has dogged An Garda Síochána (the Irish Police service) since February 2014, the Irish Council for Civil Liberties (ICCL) has been a prominent voice in highlighting the myriad gaps in Ireland’s police accountability structures. Recent scandals have included the alleged bugging of the independent police watchdog the Garda Síochána Ombudsman Commission (GSOC); systematic mistreatment and marginalization of police whistleblowers by senior members of the police and government; and the alleged recording of privileged conversations between detainees in police custody and their legal representatives.
The ICCL has insisted that such recent scandals have merely been symptoms of systematic problems within Ireland’s police accountability structures, which have not been fit for purpose.
The ICCL has consistently urged for the establishment of a fully empowered independent investigation into these issues, under the aegis of the 2004 Commissions of Investigation Act. As of this writing, a range of inquiries of varying levels of independence and competencies are looking into the recent GSOC bugging affair, the Garda whistleblowers controversy and the matter of telephone recordings in Garda stations. Only the latter inquiry has powers under the 2004 Legislation, the former two instead being a less formal review of papers and an investigation with limited terms of reference. Despite the limited nature of some of these measures, the ICCL hopes that they help to highlight some of the deficiencies in the current police oversight and accountability mechanisms, which have long been highlighted by the ICCL.
As part of its response to the crisis, the government has committed to the establishment of an independent Garda Authority – a positive move for which the ICCL has long campaigned. The Oireachtas (Parliamentary) Joint Committee on Justice, Defense and Equality has been tasked with reviewing the effectiveness of legislation on Garda oversight, namely the Garda Síochána Act 2005, and with providing recommendations on the reform of this legislation, including recommendations on the structure of the proposed Garda Authority.
The ICCL was asked to provide a submission to the Committee to aid in its review. The submission was sent to the Committee on 16 April 2014, and the ICCL appeared before the Committee on 14 May 2014. The ICCL Submission recommends, inter alia:
·Explicit provisions and appropriate resourcing to ensure that all complaints against members of An Garda Síochána are independently investigated by GSOC
·Provisions empowering GSOC to commence reviews of Garda policies, practices and procedures on its own initiative, free of any requirement for Ministerial approval
·The inclusion of the Garda Commissioner within GSOC’s investigative mandate
·Necessary legislative amendments for the overhaul of the institutional and legal relationship between the Garda Commissioner and the Minister for Justice, through the formal establishment of an independent Garda Authority
·The abolition of the Garda Inspectorate, with its functions to be subsumed into the respective functions of GSOC, the new Garda Authority and the Garda Professional Standards Unit
·Ratification of OPCAT and the establishment of a National Preventative Mechanism for the independent inspection of places of detention, including Garda stations.