Cabinet approves plan to strengthen Garda Síochána Ombudsman Commission's powers

Tuesday 01 July 2014 23.34
GSOC will be able to intercept communications as part of its investigations under the new bill
GSOC will be able to intercept communications as part of its investigations under the new bill

The Cabinet has approved the heads of a bill aimed at strengthening the powers of the Garda Síochána Ombudsman Commission.

As part of the proposals the Garda Commissioner will come under the remit of GSOC, making it directly accountable to the authority for the first time.

The bill will also broaden its investigative powers, allowing it to intercept communications as part of an investigation into gardaí and by providing a statutory obligation for the sharing of information between An Garda Síochána and GSOC.

GSOC would also be able to undertake investigations on its own initiative, while the time limit for complaints to the authority would be doubled to 12 months.

In addition to its support for the new bill, the Cabinet also approved the establishment of a body which will consider any allegations received by Government relating to An Garda Síochána.

The Independent Review Mechanism will be made up of a panel of legal experts, who will examine allegations received and make recommendations to Minister for Justice Frances Fitzgerald.

Many of the proposals approved today follow the publication of the Cooke Report, which looked into the alleged surveillance of GSOC.

Ms Fitzgerald said they represented a step forward for the Government's justice reform plans.

"I hope these changes will greatly assist in our task of restoring confidence in the performance, administration and oversight of policing in Ireland," she said. 

Chair of the Oireachtas Justice Committee David Stanton said the proposal to allow GSOC to carry out investigations on its own initiative was very important.

Speaking on RTÉ's News at One, Mr Stanton said the committee had also sent an interim report to Ms Fitzgerald yesterday which fed in to this area.

He said these heads of bill focused initially on GSOC and on the Garda Inspectorate, and did not address the proposal to establish a new garda authority.

In relation to the proposed authority, Mr Stanton said the committee's recommendations to the minister included the suggestions relating to the powers and role of the authority.

He said the committee had recommended there be no ministerial role in the appointment of members of the authority, and that should be the responsibility of the Public Appointments Service.

He said the committee had also recommended that all senior garda officers, from Chief Superintendent up, would be appointed by the new authority.

Mr Stanton said the establishment of an authority had not been addressed yet but he was sure that it would be "next on the minister's list".