The Garda Síochána Ombudsman Commission has changed its practices following the judicial inquiry into its investigation which found it was a mistake to subject a garda sergeant to a criminal investigation.

Sergeant Michael Galvin subsequently took his own life. 

The father-of-three was not aware that he had been cleared of any wrongdoing.

Judge Mary Ellen Ring told the Oireachtas justice committee today that the judicial inquiry into GSOC arose out of a most serious and tragic case and was the first of its kind.

She said while the bona fides of the officers were not challenged, GSOC is now looking at how it can better deal with such cases and make sure what is done is proportionate and fair.

The chairperson also said the Ombudsman is improving its communication with gardaí and preparing a set of information leaflets for gardaí on how such investigations will progress.

On the issue of garda whistleblowers, the judge said the Ombudsman is currently investigating complaints from four garda whistleblowers.

She said that GSOC and gardaí were "new to the protected disclosures business" and that both would make mistakes.

Deputy Clare Daly reiterated that some of these gardaí have been waiting two years to have their complaints investigated and one was continually being bullied in his station.

She also said that the protocols between gardaí and GSOC were not being adhered to and that GSOC was not getting information - particularly in relation to whistleblowers.

These cases, she said, were not being investigated because of GSOC's lack of legislative power and resources.

GSOC has said the law does not allow it to handle effectively complaints about members of the Garda and has called for more powers to seek information from gardaí.

Judge Ring said the system is cumbersome and overly bureaucratic and needs to be revised.

Of the cases that GSOC deals with, 20% relate to minor service issues that could be resolved by existing line managers in the Garda rather than through a formal disciplinary process involving the Garda Ombudsman, she said.

GSOC told the Justice and Equality Committee that legislative changes would enable it to function more effectively and fairly.

Judge Ring also said there is no uniformity of response from Garda management when GSOC recommends disciplinary action against members of the force.

She also told the committee that GSOC can request information but cannot act if it is slow in coming or does not come at all. Disclosure, she said, is an issue.

GSOC is seeking legislation allowing it to apply to the courts for an order directing gardaí to provide information to the Ombudsman when required.

Judge Ring also said discipline is a matter for Commissioner Nóirín O'Sullivan who can ignore GSOC recommendations.

Judge Ring said she would like to set up a special section to handle whistleblower complaints but GSOC does not have the resources to do that.

She said designated officers also work on other cases as well as whistleblowers.

The GSOC chairperson described such cases under the protected disclosures act as complex, with practical difficulties which required sourcing records and information from the Garda.

Co-operation could be "expanded" in that regard, she said.

On the issue of gardaí retiring while under investigation, the judge said that while retirement would mean the end of a disciplinary inquiry, it would not protect any garda from a criminal investigation.