The Authority believes that the Department of Justice may not have conceived that its role had changed in any way following the establishment of the new body two years ago.
Situations arose where the Authority ‘ought to have been briefed or consulted’. The report criticises current structures in the Department’s organisation as inefficient, confused and causing a blurring of accountability.
There is a lack of clarity around the realms of ‘security services’ and ‘policing services’ in the Department, according to the report. And the existing division between ‘crime’ and ‘policing’ serves to obscure responsibility.
It strongly recommends greater clarity in these matters and says the Freedom of Information Act should apply to the Garda Síochána. The force is currently subject to FIO only in the administrative areas of human resources, finance and public procurement.
A number of exemptions have been granted to An Garda Síochána under the Act on security grounds including records on the Emergency Response Unit, the Special Detective Unit, the Security and Intelligence Section and the Criminal Assets Bureau.
The Policing Authority considers that it has been a ‘positive disruptor’ in the justice and Garda realm, bringing transparency, independent challenge, a growing rigour and persistence to performance oversight.
That’s according to chairman Josephine Feehily’s (pictured above) report, written as a scrutiny of the effectiveness and adequacy of the eight-member body.
However the report acknowledges that it must deepen its assessment of Garda performance and the reform programme. It says there is considerable work to be done in broadening the range and quality of performance indicators that come from the force.
The report describes the Authority’s functions as ‘cumbersome, over-subscribed and inefficient’ and also inadequate to meet public expectations, partly as a result of its legislative scheme. It points out that uncertainty among stakeholders about its role and function has the potential to undermine public confidence in its effectiveness.
The nine members of the Authority are too few to carry out its functions, the report says.
“The Authority has not been able to be as effective as it would like in understanding and then challenging Garda Siochana deployment of resources; both people and money,” the report says.
The ‘mainstreaming’ of the Garda code of ethics will require more persistence, it says. Public meetings with the Garda Commissioner five times a year have proven ‘something of a challenge’ on both sides, according to the report.
The Authority also believes it is desirable to open ranks from superintendent upwards to direct entry. But it urgently recommends a probation period for all appointments.
The report notes that the Authority has had some difficulty in getting access to information and points out that stronger legal powers would compel performance.
However, the Authority ‘would prefer to work collaboratively because, in the final analysis, powers are ineffectual if we don’t know that something we should ask for exists’.
The report concludes that working openly ‘has been very effective from an oversight perspective’ and that this transparency is the reason many issues have been aired in the public domain during the last two year.