12 April 2019
Yesterday saw the publication of the Policing Authority’s final report into the modernisation of An Garda Síochána. There have been several processes of Garda reform since the Morris Tribunal report and while they have all led to some changes, they have all been ultimately unsuccessful. This latest report reaches a further negative assessment of the Changing Policing in Ireland process, finding “The majority of recommendations in Changing Policing in Ireland are still outstanding and remain relevant.”
Are there lessons here?
As the process of implementation of the Commission on the Future of Policing’s recommendations progresses, this report is timely and urgent. The key question in our minds at the Irish Council for Civil Liberties is: Are there lessons here which might help ensure that the Commission on the Future of Policing might finally succeed when these other processes have failed?
The first key issue the Policing Authority raises is the capacity of An Garda Síochána’s management structues to implement reform. They point to an ongoing pattern of accepting recommendations for change, but failing to deliver. This is not a political problem – it is a straightforward question of management efficiency and points to the core difficulty of an organisation which cannot translate decisions at the top to reality on the ground.
The Authority also points to the need for outside monitoring of change. In our submission to the Commission on the Future of Policing we identified the effectiveness of oversight as the key component to resolve the Garda’s problems. It is clear that the Policing Authority is playing a key role in this regard, but the Commission’s ambitious proposals for reform of all levels of oversight – including inspection and complaints – must be prioritised. The Government is due to bring forward proposals for legislation in this area by the summer and we are concerned that there have been no signs of progress in this area at this point.
A third area highlighted by the Authority relates to resources. Everyone accepts that the overall process of reform recommended by the Commission on the Future of Policing will require investment and there have been strong signs of Government commitment to making the necessary funds available. However, the Policing Authority is raising further serious questions about the ability of the Garda organisation to control and manage resources. Seen in this light, if budgetary systems are weak, we can have no expectation that they will be efficiently used.
So will the Commission on the Future of Policing be different? Will it succeed where, we now know, Changing Policing failed? The answer is probably that we don’t know yet, but we have been given fair warning as to why it might fail. We have faith in the vision of the Commission on the Future of Policing and the Implementation Plan – it is a comprehensive plan for change, but the risks are not about the “what” of reform; the risks lie in the nuts and bolts of implementation. If the Government and Implementation Group retain a focus on the structural elements of the process, it has a fair chance of finally resolving the chronic failings in Irish policing. However, if the dysfunctional management systems within the organisation, and the necessary strong oversight systems are not sorted out in the earliest phases of the process, this process will founder.
Liam Herrick is Executive Director of the Irish Council for Civil Liberties