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13 March 2017 Edition

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Making An Garda Síochána free from partisan control and serving the public

• An independent Policing Authority is an integral part of reform of policing

Sinn Féin wants effective civic policing by police services that are accountable, free from partisan political control, representative of the community they serve, routinely unarmed, imbued with a human rights ethos, and trained and held to the highest professional standards

POLICING in the 26 Counties has been plagued by scandal or crisis after crisis over many years due to to a failure of political leadership as well as operational command.

The most recent outworking of this is the organised victimisation of Garda whistleblowers, including Sergeant Maurice McCabe, among others, by fellow officers, commanders and sections of the media indebted to certain Garda chiefs for access and stories.

Ahead of launching an updated Sinn Féin proposal for the reform of policing at the Dáil, Justice spokesperson Jonathan O’Brien said:

“Despite promises from Fine Gael and Labour that there would be a sea change in policing following a series of whistleblower controversies, the public were faced with a chronic failure by the Government to address the matter. 

“Everyone is entitled to policing that serves the people. Adequate safeguards must be introduced in order to prevent a repeat of past injustice, and to prevent ongoing and future injustice. Civilian oversight of policing and justice must be democratic, fully inclusive and robust.

“Everyone is entitled to policing that serves the people by enhancing community safety. 

“Sinn Féin wants to achieve effective civic policing by police services that are accountable, free from partisan political control, representative of the community they serve, routinely unarmed, imbued with a human rights ethos, and trained and held to the highest professional standards.”

These are some of the main proposals set out in Sinn Féin’s vision for policing in Ireland. 

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Sinn Féin Justice spokesperson Jonathan O’Brien

Ready for Reform – Key Principles

The key principles that must inform change to An Garda Síochána include:-

  • Freedom from partisan control or influence; 
  • Operational independence;
  • Policing with the community to develop maximum confidence in the policing service and to maximise co-operation between citizens and An Garda Síochána;
  • Effective oversight with adequate safeguards and consequences for wrongdoing.

Sinn Féin believes that governance and accountability are at the core of what needs to be improved within An Garda Síochána. 

Sinn Féin wants to achieve effective civic policing by police services that are accountable, free from partisan political control, representative of the community they serve, routinely unarmed, imbued with a human rights ethos, and trained and held to the highest professional standards. 

“Policing in Ireland must conform to the highest standards of human rights, accountability, impartiality, transparency, and effectiveness,” Sinn Féin spokesperson Jonathan O’Brien says. “Notwithstanding the good work carried out by rank and file members of An Garda Síochána on a daily basis, the public will only have confidence in policing structures where there is sufficient civilian oversight, adequate safeguards, and cultural change. When the Policing Authority was established, we stated that it should be completely independent in its operation.”

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• Taoiseach Enda Kenny and Justice Minister Frances Fitzgerald

Sinn Féin also proposes that the Crime and Security Branch of An Garda Síochána and the Defence Forces Directorate of Military Intelligence (G2) come under the scrutiny of the appropriate Oireachtas Committee with the necessary safeguards in place and based on international standards.   

Sinn Féin proposed the introduction of a new independent Garda Authority in 2014. Following this, the Policing Authority was established with the Garda Síochána (Policing Authority and Miscellaneous Provisions) Act 2015, however many important provisions in this legislation have still to appear.

Specifically, the sections that would allow the Policing Authority to recommend to the Government the removal of the Garda Commissioner, Deputy Garda Commissioners, Assistant Garda Commissioners and members of other ranks have not yet been brought in. 

When the legislation was being introduced, Sinn Féin raised a number of issues concerning the independence of the Policing Authority which were rejected by the Justice Minister. An independent Policing Authority is an integral part of reform of policing. Sinn Féin has concerns that even when the Act is fully commenced, the Authority will still be constrained in their powers to appoint and remove senior officers of An Garda Síochána. There are a number of areas in which the Policing Authority cannot act without the consent of the Minister which limits the independence of the Authority and undermines its purpose. 

“To this end,” Sinn Féin says, “we have made a number of proposals to enhance the powers of the Policing Authority to make it fit for purpose. We believe that the practice of the Scottish Policing Authority and the Policing Authority in the North should be examined with a view to improving the Policing Authority.”

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Whistleblower: Garda Sgt Maurice McCabe

Sinn Féin proposals for the enhancing of functions and responsibilities include that the Authority should:-

  • Have responsibility for determining the priorities of An Garda Síochána and should work in conjunction with the Garda Commissioner in the preparation of annual policing plans;
  • Consult with local communities and obtain their views and experience of policing and JPCs; 
  • Be empowered to conduct its functions without needing the consent of the Justice Minister;
  • Hold the Garda Commissioner to account and the Commissioner should keep the Authority fully briefed on relevant matters; 
  • Have full independent capacity regarding the appointments of the Garda Commissioner, the Deputy Commissioner and the Assistant Garda Commissioner following open competition by the Public Appointments Service based on best practice in recruitment and have the independent power to remove these senior officers;
  • Be empowered to deal with complaints against and the discipline of senior officers (Garda Commissioner, Deputy Commissioner and Assistant Garda Commissioner);
  • Monitor and address human rights and equality compliance by An Garda Síochána at every level of its operations and ensure issues identified by the Garda Síochána Ombudsman Commission are dealt with.

The Authority membership should be increased to 21, Sinn Féin says, be diverse in its membership and should include political representation decided using the d’Hondt method. Independent members should be recruited through fair and open competition.

There should be a statutory requirement that the membership of the Authority be representative of society, Sinn Féin reaffirms. 

The Authority should be supported in its work by a number of advisory groups (e.g. on equality, human rights and youth affairs). 

The Authority should be empowered to conduct unannounced visits in Garda stations and inspect any documentation relevant to their investigation.

There is an urgent need for reform in how GSOC operates, Sinn Féin says, echoing points made by representatives from GSOC themselves in the Oireachtas Justice Committee that they believed that parts of the legislation governing its functions needed to be reviewed and overhauled. 

The powers of GSOC need to be enhanced to ensure that the Garda Commissioner comes within the remit of GSOC. If the Police Authority does not have the role of investigating senior Garda members. GSOC’s powers to secure co-operation from gardaí must be clarified and bolsterered as serious blockages in GSOC investigations have been an issue. 

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The Garda Síochána Ombudsman Commission needs to be fully empowered and independent in order to fulfill its oversight obligation.

Due to the potential for overlap in the roles of the Garda Inspectorate and GSOC, the previous Oireachtas Justice Committee recommended the abolition of the Garda Inspectorate and the merging of its functions with GSOC.

The current Oireachtas Committee on Justice and Equality Report on Garda Oversight and Accountability recommended that consideration be given to the establishment of a Criminal Justice Inspectorate to oversee and supervise the administration of all aspects of the criminal justice system. It pointed to the Criminal Justice Inspectorate in the North as a possible model. “Sinn Féin have called for this for a number of years,” Jonathan O’Brien says. 

Ultimately, Sinn Féin would support the establishment of an All-Ireland Criminal Justice Inspectorate.

In the interim, Sinn Féin proposes the establishment of a Criminal Justice Inspectorate in the South that would replace the Garda Inspectorate and cover all state policing and justice-related agencies 

Sinn Féin would make the Criminal Justice Inspectorate responsible for inspecting the criminal justice organisations, including An Garda Síochána, the Director of Public Prosecutions, the Probation Service, the Courts Service, and the Irish Youth Justice Service.

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