What is the role of the Policing Authority?

Garda Commissioner Noirin O’Sullivan, Tánaiste & Minister for Justice & Equality Frances Fitzgerald and the chair of the Policing Authority Josephine Feehily pictured at the Launch of the Code of Ethics for the Garda Síochána 23/01/2017. Source: http: www.policingauthority.ie

EDITORIAL: The Garda Representative Association [GRA] advocated for an independent authority to separate policing from politics; not to deny our elected political leaders the opportunity to debate and the right to legislate on policing, but so that they were not seen to exert undue influence on appointments and operational matters. This is a delicate balance that is at the very heart of our democracy; there cannot be a police force controlled directly from the seat of power – that opens the door to totalitarianism and ‘political policing’. It remains a core policy of our collective ideal, that promotion opportunity and career development are on a level playing field for all – in short, a meritocracy based on individual competency and skills, rather than personal connection. Sadly, we have repeated our concerns that nepotism and ‘pull’ are alive and well, despite the buzzwords of ‘accountability’, ‘transparency’ and ‘independence’ that speckle every statement and paid lip service in every round of competition. It is a culture that is near impossible to pin down and provide evidence for – but equally, it is hard to refute. We still believe that an open, independent transparent process to establish and appoint the most capable candidates would signal a departure from the perceived cronyism of the past in the promotion system.

Since the very inception of the GRA, it was recognised that a buffer was required between our political masters and the running of the Garda organisation. Recent events only confirm this. Our members seek change; proper modernisation of the Garda organisation to reflect its modern, educated and inspirational workforce. Our members seek opportunities to improve themselves and the way that a policing service does its business. We also see a need to improve the image of the organisation; with transparency throughout the promotion system, accountability and responsibility taken by innovative and inspirational leaders built upon the origins of An Garda Síochána.

All members seek career development underpinned by clearly outlined and defined parameters, and to receive feedback on their aspirations and professional development that will prevent the kind of demoralisation that becomes dissatisfaction and the perception that the system is broken. To restore morale now is a priority.

The Policing Authority initially appeared to promise that garda management might finally be free of political expediency; free from political interference and constraint and that politicians would no longer wield influence based on personal connections. Primary amongst these principles is that of independence. In the context of the Policing Authority, this is independence from government. Governments change, as do their policies yet the requirement for effective policing is a constant. The proper operation of the Garda organisation is better served by not being dependent on government direction.

The terms ‘Garda whistleblower’ and ‘controversy’ are now intrinsically linked after a raft of mismanagement and failed or compromised investigations, which all indicate that the balance of authority between the state and gardaí is still fraught with difficulties. We fully expected the Policing Authority to do what they promised on the tin – to step in and manage the fallout.

It is a reasonable expectation that the Policing Authority would hold the central principles of independence and authority as being the fundamental starting point of all of its operations; and not to battle to establish itself by jockeying for position with the Ombudsman Commission or the Inspectorate.

Instead of promoting itself as another player in a series of oversight bodies to scrutinise the work of the frontline workers, it should get on with its core task of ensuring that Garda Management is functioning as it should be. Or should we ask the question whether the Policing Authority is turning into a cosy quango seeking Ministerial approval?

For full and in-depth coverage, see the current printed edition of Garda Review.

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