Former garda watchdog warns of 'serious flaws' in ombudsman laws

Monday 27 January 2014 12.30
Conor Brady has criticised the structure of Garda Ombudsman investigations
Conor Brady has criticised the structure of Garda Ombudsman investigations

A former garda watchdog has said the garda whistleblower controversy highlights "very serious flaws" in the legislation governing supervision of gardaí.

Conor Brady also called for one of the whistleblowers, Sergeant Maurice McCabe, to be listened to "very seriously".

Speaking to RTÉ's This Week programme, Mr Brady said: "The structure (of supervision) is wrong, I don't think the political will is there to enforce structures as they were envisaged at the time."

Mr Brady, who served on the Garda Ombudsman Commission (GSOC) between 2005 and 2011 was critical of how the confidential recipient system deals with the concerns of whistleblowers.

"The whistleblowing legislation is flawed because the first thing the confidential recipient has to do is go to the Garda Commissioner and say I have a complaint from a named garda. There is no confidentiality or protection of the individual."

The exemption of the Garda Commissioner from GSOC supervision is also a matter of concern, according to Mr Brady.

"The other flaw that I see in the 2005 Act, and I think this should be looked at very seriously, is that the Garda Commissioner is beyond its remit."

He said: "We were told at the time that the Garda Ombudsman would have broadly the same power as the Police Ombudsman in Northern Ireland, but the Police Ombudsman in Northern Ireland has authority over the Chief Constable. The Garda Ombudsman does not have authority over the Garda Commissioner."

He also called for GSOC investigators to be allowed direct access to the Garda PULSE database.

Ombudsman staff currently rely on seconded garda superintendents.

"Anybody in GSOC who wants to check a complaint about a guard ... Was he on duty at the time? Was he away on holidays? That can be checked very easily on PULSE, but GSOC can't do that because they are not allowed to. So they have to wait for the superintendent to come in.

"A very simple administrative act could remedy that," he said.

Referring to Sergeant McCabe, the whistleblower who is still a serving garda, the former GSOC member said: "I can say that in my estimation Maurice is a fine guard, a fine officer, a man of integrity and I certainly would be influenced, to say the least by what he would have to say.

"I would listen to him very seriously," he added.

Fianna Fáil wants expansion of GSOC powers

Fianna Fáil leader Micheál Martin said the Government should consider expanding the powers of the garda watchdog in light of the ongoing penalty points saga.

Mr Martin said that GSOC could be empowered to deal with aspects of the concerns raised by two garda whistleblowers, who have alleged that tens of thousands of penalty points were wrongly cancelled by other members of the force.

A potential stand-off between Commissioner Callanan and the Oireachtas Public Accounts Committee emerged last week over plans by the PAC to call one or both whistleblowers before the committee to give evidence.

"Who guards the guards is as old as the society itself. It would seem to me we should look at expanding the role of the Garda Síochána Ombudsman Commission, with a view to ensuring that whistleblowers within the gardaí get due regard and consideration," he said.

Mr Martin said the question of whether the State lost out on revenue due to the termination of thousands of penalty points by members of the force was a "legitimate angle" for the Public Accounts Committee.

However, he said that there were also other issues in relation to the claims of improper conduct within the force, which have been made by the two whistleblowers.