Independence of Garda Oversight Bodies must be strengthened, Commission says

The powers used by Government when issuing directives to policing oversight bodies must be clearly defined and accompanied with appropriate safeguards, in order to minimise political interference, the Irish Human Rights and Equality Commission (“The Commission”) has recommended in our Submission on the Policing, Security and Community Safety Bill.

The Bill aims to provide a new framework for policing, security and community safety in Ireland, in part through the creation of four new bodies. These are; the Policing and Community Safety Authority (which merges the functions of the Policing Authority and the inspectorate functions of the Garda Síochána Inspectorate); the Office of the Police Ombudsman (renamed from the Garda Siochána Ombudsman Commission); a new non-executive Board of An Garda Siochána; and the Independent Examiner of Security Legislation.

In our submission, we put forward that current parts of the Bill do not provide for sufficient independence from Executive control for these bodies. For instance, under the proposed legislation, the Minister for Justice may issue the Garda Commissioner with a written directive concerning ‘any matter’. We recommend that this should be changed to clarify that the directive cannot relate to a matter on which the Garda Commissioner must have absolute independence.

We also made recommendations on transparency for how appointments to these bodies are made and terminated. As proposed, no open competition is required for reappointment to the Board of An Garda Siochána, the Garda Commissioner and Deputy Garda Commissioner, for membership of the Policing and Community Safety Authority and for the Police Ombudsman and Deputy Ombudsman. We recommend a revision of the legislation to create a more inclusive and transparent reappointment process for all these positions and that the appointment processes for the Independent Examiner of Security Legislation is transparent and sufficiently independent of Executive control.

On this same point of interference from the Executive, we submitted that relevant sections should be revised to give the Policing and Community Safety Authority, the Police Ombudsman and the Independent Examiner of Security Legislation the power to lay their reports directly before the Houses of the Oireachtas rather than to revert to the Minister.

In other recommendations, we advise that:

  • The legislation should provide for the collection and publication of disaggregated equality data by An Garda Siochána and should create a role for the Policing and Community Safety Authority in influencing the quality, integrity and accessibility of that data.
  • The Bill should be amended to ensure that the Garda Commissioner must give the Public Sector Equality and Human Rights Duty due regard. This is in response to language used in the Bill diluting the Garda’s Commissioner’s obligation to that Duty.
  • The legislation should be revised to provide for an independent human rights advisor to be appointed by the Policing and Community Safety Authority to ensure oversight of the implementation of human rights and equality standards in policing.
  • The power for the Policing and Community Safety Authority to conduct unannounced inspection visits should be explicitly stated. In light of our proposed role as the co-ordinating body for National Preventive Mechanisms (NPMs), under the Inspection of Places of Detention Bill, the legislation should explicitly state that the Policing and Community Safety Authority and a National Preventive Mechanism can carry out a joint inspection visit.
  • The investigatory powers of the Police Ombudsman should be clarified and strengthened and that the Bill should explicitly instruct that investigations by the Police Ombudsman should be conducted in line with the same principles and protections as criminal investigations.
  • The requirement for the Office of Police Ombudsman to consult with the Garda Commissioner before applying to the District Court for a search warrant to search Garda premises should be removed.
  • The Office of the Police Ombudsman should be sufficiently resourced so that it can fulfil its mandate, and rely on its own staff or engage external experts to conduct prompt independent and impartial investigations.
  • The eligibility criteria for the role of the Independent Examiner of Security Legislation should be expanded to include non-judicial candidates who have significant expertise and experience such as lawyers or legal academics who may be able to demonstrate the necessary experience, qualifications, training and expertise for the role.

Chief Commissioner Sinéad Gibney said:

“Every public body providing oversight function can only do its job effectively when it has the confidence of the public. They must be, and be seen to be, independent of government.

Central to building this confidence is the integrity of operation, transparency in recruitment and the appropriate power and resources to actually fulfil the duty they were set up to achieve.”

For further information, please contact:
Sarah Clarkin, IHREC Communications Manager,
01 852 9641 / 087 468 7760
Follow us on twitter @_IHREC

Editor’s Note

The link to our Submission is here:

Irish Human Rights and Equality Commission

The Irish Human Rights and Equality Commission is an independent public body, appointed by the President and directly accountable to the Oireachtas. The Commission has a statutory remit set out under the Irish Human Rights and Equality Commission Act (2014) to protect and promote human rights and equality in Ireland, and build a culture of respect for human rights, equality and intercultural understanding in the State.

The Irish Human Rights and Equality Commission is Ireland’s national human rights institution and is recognised as such by the United Nations. The Commission is also Ireland’s national equality body for the purpose of a range of EU anti-discrimination measures.