Sinn Féin - On Your Side

Policing for the People -Building Safe Communities - Rebuilding public confidence

9 January, 2004

Table of contents

Introduction 1

Human Rights Ethos 4

Service and Equal Partnership Ethos 5

A Garda Ombudsman 7

A Policing Board 10

Community Policing Partnerships 12

Other Recommendations for Reform 14


Every society needs a police service and every legitimate police service needs the support of the communities it serves. For that reason it is imperative that there is total transparency and trust between the police service and the communities.

The Garda Síochána has remained largely unreformed since its establishment 80 years ago. The Minister for Justice has rightly pointed out that his recently introduced proposals on Garda reform "represent the first major piece of legislative reform of the Garda Síochána since the foundation of the State." With the Government's acknowledgment that reform is necessary, we now have an opportunity to shape the policing of the future for the people of Ireland. It is critical that we get it right.

Sinn Féin wants to see an all-island police service established. In the interim, we want policing services North and South that can attract widespread support from, and that are seen as an integral part of, the host community as a whole. We want effective policing with local democratic accountability, shaped as a community service and imbued with that ethos.

In recent times public confidence in the Garda Síochána has eroded. Currently there are two ongoing tribunals investigating serious complaints about Garda misconduct in Co. Donegal and the shooting of John Carthy. The Gardaí also have major questions to answer regarding their conduct of the investigation of the Dublin-Monaghan bombings and other incidents of collusion in this state, including the murder of Sinn Féin Councillor Eddie Fullerton. The Irish Council for Civil Liberties has referred to "a culture of denial that has allowed impunity to spread" -- and indeed there is evidence and allegations of Garda and Special Branch misconduct both individual and systemic dating back to the 1970s; off-duty criminal involvement in a range of serious offences including sexual assault; findings of fraud in relation to Garda contracts; and findings that Gardaí have adduced false evidence in Court. Public perception of impunity for misconduct has been confirmed by the repeated failures of the Garda Complaints Board.

Working class communities know only too well that the Gardaí are not succeeding in making their communities safe. Many people in these communities are angry at the failure to respond effectively to growing localised crises, and misallocation of Garda resources.

The Good Friday Agreement promised for the Six Counties a new police service that would be "impartial, representative, free from partisan political control, efficient, infused with a human rights culture, decentralised, and democratically accountable at all levels." The resulting Patten Commission recommendations for the future of policing involve the creation of community-based civic policing with human rights at its core, held accountable through democratic institutions and representative of the community it serves. We believe that citizens of this state deserve nothing less. Just as we believe in the Good Friday Agreement's commitment to jurisdictional equivalence in equality and human rights protections, so too must police reform "harmonise upwards" using the Patten Recommendations as a template for reaching a minimum standard.

The Minister for Justice has dismissed Patten as irrelevant as a model because it was developed to deal with a specific conflict situation. But that is not persuasive. The Patten Recommendations are also now recognised internationally as representing best practice. As such Sinn Féin accepts that Patten represents an authoritative best practice template for policing in this jurisdiction.

A comprehensive Garda Reform package must support the Gardaí in their evolution towards a best practice service, one which can set the standard globally for efficient, effective and accountable policing with human rights at its core -- a policing service enjoying an unprecedented level of community confidence, support, and cooperation. That is our vision. That is the policing service Sinn Féin wants to help realise for the people of this state.

In keeping with this, Sinn Féin recommends the following key interlocking measures for a reform package:

  • The setting up of an independent Garda Ombudsman
  • The setting up of a civilian Policing Board
  • The setting up of Community Policing Partction of human rights should also be reflected in the proposed legislation as a core value, and given at least equal weight to others such as "efficiency and economy".

    The Minister's draft legislation should be revised to reflect this human rights ethos, particularly in the Heads on objectives for the regulations and functions of the Garda Síochána (3(3) and 6(1)), the functions of the Commissioner (10(3)), and the Garda Attestation (15), all of which should make specific reference to the duty to protect and promote human rights.

    Of course, getting the Garda complaints and accountability mechanisms exactly right is fundamental to ensuring that the culture of impunity becomes a thing of the past, replaced by a culture of full human rights compliance. The Sinn Féin proposals for an independent Garda Ombudsman (below) address this need.

    Service and Equal Partnership Ethos

    The Patten Commission rightly emphasised that the community is "the ultimate custodian" of policing services. In keeping with this, Patten recommended a governing concept of "policing WITH the community" that should be the core function of the policing service -- at the level of every police station and every serving member.

    Sinn Féin is recommending an equal partnership approach between police and community. This means that the police participate in the community and respond to the needs of that community, and the community participates in policing and supports the police. Together they can solve problems more effectively.

    It has been noted that since the 1970s the Garda Síochána has been moving steadily further away from the concept expressed in its title -- "Guardians of the Peace" -- and its emphasis on community service and towards an overemphasis on security. As a result, in many areas the community has grown correspondingly estranged from the Gardaí. Unfortunately, this outdated security-oriented approach is also reflected in the Minister's proposals. A community service and equal partnership re-orientation is needed if trust in the Gardaí is to be restored and enhanced. Such an approach also has the potential to contribute substantially to increased community cooperation, and consequently to Garda effectiveness.

    The Garda reform legislation should aid the evolution of 21st century policing as a service rather than a "force" - one which is fully accountable and guided by a service and community partnership ethos.

    The Minister's draft legislation should be revised to reflect this service and partnership ethos, particularly in the proposals on functions and distribution of Gardaí (Heads 6 and 7), functions of Commissioner (10), appointments of Commissioner, Deputy and Assistant Commissioners and Superintendents (9,13 and 14), setting of priorities by the Minister (18), Strategic Policing Plan (19), Annual Policing Plan (20), Provision of Information (28) and obtaining the views of the public (24), under Part 2 on Performance and Accountability of the Garda Síochána.

    The Minister's proposals in large part seek to clarify the relationship between the Minister and the Garda Commissioner, the Oireachtas and the Garda Commissioner, and the local authorities and local Gardaí. While this is welcome and necessary, the missing link is the need to elaborate the relationship and accountability between the Commissioner and the people, and local Garda command and the people they serve. Sinn Féin proposals to establish an independent civilian Policing Board and Community Policing Partnerships (below) seek to address this deficit.

    A Garda Ombudsman

    Sinn Féin recommends the establishment on a statutory basis of a fully independent Garda Ombudsman to investigate police misconduct. We welcome the growing consensus that only an Ombudsman can provide an effective complaints mechanism, and that nothing less than an Ombudsman can command full public confidence.

    In line with the recommendations of the Irish Human Rights Commission, Sinn Féin proposes that a Garda Ombudsman must be:

    • An open, merit-based appointment, selected on the basis of published criteria
    • Established separately from any body charged with a Garda management function, or with a mandate to review Garda efficiency and effectiveness
    • Adequately resourced and staffed full-time
    • Granted the necessary legal powers and resources to conduct independent investigations
    • Allowed a scope of investigations that includes the Special Detective Unit, unless and until it is disbanded
    • Authorised to question witnesses, compel document disclosure, and access locations as necessary
    • Granted the same legal powers as Gardaí to arrest and hold criminal suspects related to its own investigations
    • Empowered to determine breaches of the Garda Disciplinary Code (misconduct)
    • Empowered to refer evidence of criminality to the Department of Public Prosecutions
    • Empowered to resolve appropriate complaints informally, with the complainants' consent
    • Empowered to resolve complaints formally by assigning penalties and remedies, including a recommendation for disciplinary action, dismissal, changes in policy or procedure, or compensation to the complainant
    • Empowered to investigate systemic problems, including policies and practices, and make general recommendations to eliminate causes of classes of complaints; where determined necessary by the Ombudsman, this should include matters of national security
    • Empowered to conduct independent investigations on matters of public interest on his or her own volition, or on the request of the Minister, without the need for a complainant -- and that this would be compulsory in the case of certain violations involving loss of life, excessive force, ill-treatment in custody, discrimination, and political interference
    • Granted retrospective investigative powers
    • Required to produce an Annual Report for publication, including statistics, identified trends or patterns, analyses and recommendations
    • Provided with a mechanism for effective interaction, sharing of information, and collaborative investigation that enables the Garda Ombudsman and the Police Ombudsman for the Six Counties to work together

    Any information that becomes available to the Department of Public Prosecutions which indicates Garda misconduct should be automatically referred to the Garda Ombudsman.

    Gardaí under investigation should of course be afforded the full protection of due process rights. Both parties should be afforded equal treatment before the law, including full disclosure and access to legal aid in cases where there is need and an opinion of sufficient merit.

    The Irish Human Rights Commission has argued that this reform is not only necessary to respond adequately to the criticism of the existing complaints system and recommendations raised repeatedly by the UN Human Rights Committee and the European Committee for the Prevention of Torture over ten years, but is also required to conform with both European Court of Human Rights jurisprudence on standards of independence and impartiality in police conduct investigation and the Good Friday Agreement provisions on equivalent human rights protections between jurisdictions.

    Government commitments to establish an independent complaints procedure date back to 1973. This issue must be resolved and there can be no further delay.

    While we welcome the Government's recognition that the Garda Complaints Board has been totally inadequate and the decision to replace it, the Minister's proposals for a dual-purpose Inspectorate fall far short of the requirements. Sinn Féin urges the Minister to reconsider and revise his proposals in light of the emerging consensus about the need for a separate, fully independent Garda Ombudsman's Office with a sole investigative function.

    A Policing Board

    Sinn Féin recommends the establishment on a statutory basis of a fully independent civilian Policing Board, created as a separate entity from both the Garda Síochána and the Garda Ombudsman's Office. This purpose of this Board would be to hold the Gardaí fully to account.

    The Policing Board would act as the civilian body to which the Garda Commissioner is accountable. As such it would fulfil the other aspect of the remit of the Minister's proposed "Inspectorate" -- providing management oversight on issues of recruitment, qualifications, training standards, equipment, accommodation, organisation, methods, and best practice.

    Sinn Féin proposes that the Policing Board must be:

    • Independent of Garda Management
    • Representative: composed of 1/3 elected representatives (of a cross-party nature), 1/3 representatives of statutory bodies, and 1/3 representatives from the community/voluntary sector, including at least 50% women and taking the need for other forms of social and economic representativeness into account
    • Selected by a transparent, merit-based appointment process independent of the Gardaí, with the members and Chair to be selected and appointed on the same basis as the Ombudsman (elected representatives disqualified from holding the Chair)
    • Empowered to appoint senior Gardaí on the basis of a transparent process, to review their performance, and to hold them accountable
    • Required to meet monthly and in public with the Garda Commissioner and to receive his reports on operational management
    • Empowered to request and receive all kinds of information from the Garda Commissioner (if it is in the public interest that such information be kept confidential, it may hold in-camera sessions to deal with specific matters for this purpose)
    • Empowered to request a report from the Garda Commissioner on any matter pertaining to policing
    • Empowered to establish short-, medium- and long-term strategic priorities and objectives together with the Commissioner, as part of a process of agreeing a Strategic Policing Plan and Annual Policing Plan
    • Empowered to monitor performance as well as budget management against the agreed Strategic Plan, Annual Policing Plan, or any other indicators
    • Empowered to make recommendations on resource allocation or policy change to the Minister, who must take them into account
    • Empowered to refer matters as appropriate to the Garda Ombudsman or Comptroller and Auditor General
    • Empowered to establish an independent inquiry into any matter as it sees fit (provisions for such inquiries should be so as to emphasise the independence of the Board)
    • Required to publish an Annual Report

    We welcome the emerging consensus on the need for independent civilian oversight in order to establish police accountability.

    However, the Minister's proposals will not deliver independent civilian oversight, and should be revised to include provisions for an independent civilian Policing Board.

    Community Policing Partnerships

    Sinn Féin recommends the establishment on a statutory basis of Community Policing Partnerships at District level throughout the State to increase Garda transparency, to promote community trust and cooperation, and to hold the Gardaí fully to account.

    The relationship of accountability between District Superintendent and such Community Policing Partnerships would be analogous with the relationship between the Commissioner and Policing Board.

    In this way, the Community Policing Partnership would have a liaison role between the District Commander and the local community, and thereby become a mechanism for both community accountability and cooperation.

    Sinn Féin proposes that each local authority should establish Community Policing Partnerships, one per policing district, as committees of the council, on the following basis:

    • CPP membership must be elected by the local authority.
    • The nomination process should be transparent and based on published criteria.
    • As with the Policing Board, the final composition should be 1/3 elected representatives (of a cross-party nature), 1/3 representatives from local statutory agencies, and 1/3 from the local community and voluntary sector, with at least 50% women, and with a view to increasing diversity and representation to reflect as fully as possible the actual composition of the communities in the district.
    • There should be monthly public meetings between the CPP and District Superintendent, at which he or she should present reports and answer questions.
    • The CPP members in turn should have the opportunity and responsibility to reflect community concerns and priorities, and to make recommendations.
    • There should also be a mechanism for members of the public to address questions to the Superintendent at the public meetings, through the CPP Chair.
    • The Superintendent should be required to take CPP views into account when formulating or implementing policing plans and strategies for the district

    The CPPs should be based on the following Patten principles:

    • Equal partnership approach between police and community
    • Powers should not be unnecessarily limited
    • Appointments to the CPP must be open to all without discrimination
    • The CPP should be obliged by law to meet in public
    • The CPP should provide a forum for public consultation at district level on Annual Policing Plans
    • To improve transparency and public confidence, the Gardaí should make all requested information available for public scrutiny unless it is clearly in the public interest (not just police interest) to withhold such information
    • There should also be a requirement on Garda command to give after-the-fact explanations for their actions

    Each CPP should publish an Annual Report including recommendations, which the Garda Commissioner should be required to take into account in the operational management of the service. The Minister should also be required to take notice of CPP recommendations in the formulation of policy over which he or she has responsibility.

    While the Local Policing Fora that have been piloted in some areas of Dublin are a welcome step, they do not provide the right model for community accountability as they are not based on equal partnership. Existing Policing Fora should be converted into Community Policing Partnerships.

    The Minister's proposals on enhanced cooperation between local authorities and the Gardaí also represent an improvement on the present situation, but do not meet the same standards of transparency and community accountability as the proposed Community Policing Partnerships. Sinn Féin therefore urges the Minister to reconsider and revise his proposals for Local Policing Committees (at Head 23).

    Other Recommendations for Reform

    Sinn Féin recommends that the Minister consider and adopt the following additional measures which are necessary to comprehensive Garda reform, the vindication of human rights and justice, and the re-establishment of public confidence in the Gardaí.

    Additional Human Rights Protections

    • Mandatory videotaping at all Garda stations of suspect and witness interviews should be rolled out immediately (this issue has been outstanding since at least 1979).
    • The right of access to a lawyer at Garda stations must be brought into line with international best practice (as the Government has been "considering" since 1993).
    • The Garda Ombudsman must initiate an investigation into the longstanding allegations that confidential client-solicitor meetings at Garda stations were routinely taped.
    • The proposed compulsory human rights training for Gardaí must also include anti-discrimination training, and training on international standards.

    Organisational Review and Operational Innovation

    • Garda reform legislation should be accompanied by a comprehensive review of resource deployment, equipment, training and procedure (including the Disciplinary Code) to ensure effective best practice policing and to complete a process of modernisation; such a review should have a public consultation component to increase transparency and public confidence.
    • There must be a separate review of recruitment and promotion practices with a view to increasing representativeness of the service and promoting gender equality.
    • The Policing Board, Commissioner, and Minister should consider options for the civilianisation of appropriate Garda administrative posts.
    • Fully trained Gardaí should be relieved of some static duties and a dedicated traffic corps under Garda supervision should also be introduced. However the Government has neither presented nor proven its case for a Garda Reserve Force. Moreover, a reserve force should never be considered a substitute for meaningful local involvement in decision-making and accountability. The enabling provisions (Heads 32-33) should therefore be struck from the Government's proposals. The more appropriate and effective mechanism for community cooperation is the Policing Partnerships proposed by Sinn Féin.
    • On general principle, policing services should not be privatised or "outsourced" to private companies. It must be made explicit in law that neither the Commissioner nor the Minister has the authority to privatise policing services.
    • The Minister should publicly reconfirm that Gardaí will not, in the normal practice, not be equipped with firearms, as is the current case.
    • The Minister must publish the report of the Garda Review Group on alternatives to firearms that includes recommendations on the use of "less-than-lethal" weapons by the Gardaí.
    • Crime and complaint pattern analysis should be introduced to provide an information-led, problem-solving approach to policing that addresses causes as well as consequences.
    • Crime statistics should be collected, analysed and made publicly available at station and district level, not just at regional or divisional level.
    • Gardaí should not be despatched on international missions except as part of an International United Nations Force (a force established and led by the United Nations). Gardaí should not be sent on EU-led Police Missions. An Garda Síochána should also be explicitly barred from cooperating with other state police forces that commit systematic human rights abuses. This must be reflected in revisions to the Minister's draft provisions (Head 8).

    Righting Past Wrongs and Clearing the Slate

    • The Minister must publish the reports of prior Garda Complaints Board and other internal inquiries.
    • The Special Detective Unit (Special Branch) should be disbanded and its officers redeployed only following completion of intensive human rights upskilling. For decades this "force within a force" has dominated both the ethos and the management structure of the Gardaí. Using the draconian Offences Against the State Acts, it has violated civil rights and diverted much policing time and resources away from real service to the community. It should be disbanded as part of an overall reorganisation of Garda structures, taking into account, in particular, the need to tackle organised drug crime.
    • The performance of the Emergency Response Unit to date should be reviewed by the Garda Ombudsman, and any conclusions and recommendations made public.
    • Immigration processing should be decoupled from the Gardaí, as immigration and seeking asylum from persecution are not crimes. The Garda National Immigration Bureau should only deal with associated security clearance procedures and investigations of suspected violations of the law.
    • A clear human rights-proofing mechanism must be established under the Human Rights Commission, to scrutinise all existing and future legislation conferring powers on Gardaí and bring forward any recommendations for change.

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