Since the foundation of the State in 1922 thirty Tribunals of Inquiry have been established by the legislature. Six of those directly concerned allegations against members of An Garda Siochána. Only politicians have been the subject of more Tribunals of Inquiries, heading the medals’ table with seven Tribunals of Inquiry into their behaviour.
The fact that the legislature establishes a Tribunal of Inquiry does not necessarily mean there is wrongdoing but it does mean there are issues of urgent public concern giving rise to recognition on the part of the legislature that there should be an immediate Inquiry. In recent times Tribunals of Inquiry have been replaced by Commissions of Investigation and this relatively new statutory inquisitorial regime has been used also to enquire into Garda conduct.
One of the negative consequences of these Inquiries and Reports into allegations of Garda misconduct is that debates in the aftermath of those Reports, although intended to seek a path for general improvement of the force, are always confined by the specific issues and findings highlighted in those Reports. In short, policy makers, the Gardaí and the public find themselves lurching from one negative Report to another, and on each occasion trying to provide solutions to the most recent official criticism.
At a time when there is a large number of statutory bodies involved in advising, improving and investigating An Garda Siochána, it is perhaps now apposite to consider and review the basic functioning of An Garda Siochána and how policy makers can seek to have it improved.
One Report about An Garda Siochána that has faded into the past is the Report on Remuneration and Conditions of Service of An Garda Siochána that was established by the Minister for Justice, Micheál Ó Móráin TD, in September 1968. That Commission, chaired by Judge John Conroy, was required to examine, report and make recommendations to the Minister on the remuneration and conditions of service of the Garda Siochána. Although it was primarily a Report into Garda pay, it contained some very insightful comments on the unique role played by An Garda Siochána. For instance, the Report provided a succinct explanation of the function of a member of An Garda Siochána:
“The primary function of a policeman is to maintain law and order and to protect the persons and property of the general public. This is done by preventing crime, by detecting any crime that has been committed and securing that the offenders are brought to justice, and in the less serious cases by deciding whether a prosecution should be instituted and by carrying out these prosecutions in many cases. Apart from these basic functions, the policeman provides a public service by befriending any person who needs help, and assisting in any emergency which may arise.”
It also correctly identified that a member of An Garda Siochána has a unique job when compared to others who occupy a more traditional hierarchical form of employment:
“The occupation of a police man is unique. He is a subordinate in a disciplined Force who must obey the orders and directions of his superiors. At the same time his main functions as a police officer are vested in him virtute officii and not by virtue of the directions of his superiors. Even when carrying out the orders of his superiors he frequently has to exercise his personal discretion. In an emergency he will have to act on his own responsibility with common sense and authority. His powers and duties are with him whether he is in or out of uniform, and whether he is on or off duty. He is responsible for any error of judgment in exercising these powers and he is answerable for any such error.”
The Report also described what the authors regarded as the qualities required by a member of An Garda Siochána:
“In order to be a good policeman a man must be courageous, mentally alert, honest and fair in his dealings with everyone, tactful and courteous. He must be a dedicated person with a great sense of personal responsibility and be capable of acting decisively and with authority. By his training and background a police man should play an active and effective part in community activities…Not only must a policeman be fair and impartial but he must appear to be so. To preserve this fairness and impartiality he must retain a certain detachment. He must take care not to get too intimately connected with any section of the community.”
The Commission also emphasised the importance of maintaining high morale within An Garda Siochána:
“The maintenance of high morale in a police force is of prime importance. Once morale, or public confidence, is impaired it is very difficult to restore. Moreover, if the damage be extensive restoration becomes virtually impossible. While all branches of the public service are necessary in a greater or lesser degree, a reliable police force is essential in a democracy. If the police force breaks down, law can be enforced and crime prevented only by the army.”
Unfortunately, public confidence in An Garda Siochána in recent times has been impaired. Damage to An Garda Siochána has been significant but it is important to note that if the correct measures are taken it is possible that that damage can be rectified. Since An Garda Siochána plays such an important role in our democratic structure it is imperative that such measures be taken.
The Kenny Report of 1970 noted how changes in society at that time had increased the duties of members of An Garda Siochána and, consequently, that more extensive training was required. Three particular changes in society were identified: the enormous growth of road traffic, the improvements in transport and communications, and the practice of protests on the streets. The changes identified in 1970 are nothing in comparison to the changes in society over the past twenty years which have not only increased the duties of Gardaí but have imposed upon them challenges and demands for which they are underprepared. It is worth examining three such changes:
The complexity of some white collar crime is such that it is difficult to see how the training provided to An Garda Siochána could adequately prepare it in the pursuit of such investigations. It is a notable achievement that convictions have been secured in this area in recent times notwithstanding the inadequacy of the training that we as a State provide to An Garda Siochána in order to investigate such offences. White collar crime, in certain instances, has become so sophisticated that Gardaí need significant expertise in forensic accounting and company law. Although the Garda College provides ongoing training for members of the Force, it would be unfair to expect it, as it is currently resourced, to provide the appropriate level of training required for such investigations.
The internet has transformed many aspects of our lives for the better. However, it has also been able to provide vast prairie-like access to those who wish to commit sexual offences against children. Again, members of An Garda Siochána valiantly and competently, with the assistance of other police forces, seek to trace those who use the internet for such criminal activity. A high degree of computer and information technology expertise is required to track down the perpetrators of these crimes. Again, it is unfair to expect the ongoing training provided by the Garda College to provide Gardaí with the level of expertise required in order to investigate and bring to justice perpetrators of these crimes.
One of the changes that has occurred during the past twenty years which has not arisen as a result of improvements in technology is the incidence of historic complaints being made by persons who were subjected to sexual and physical assault many years previously. The skills required of a Garda seeking to investigate such complaints are very particular. Any such Garda must be sensitive yet objective, and have a knowledgeable appreciation of psychology and the reasons why many complainants legitimately delay in making such complaints. Simultaneously, the Garda must be realistic when appraising evidence relating to events that took place many decades previously. Although the Garda college library provides academic support to all members of the Garda Siochána, this is an area of investigation that again requires a very particular expertise.
These are but three examples (and there are many more) illustrating the specialisation, expertise and professionalism required to be a member of An Garda Siochána in the 21st century. Aside from all of this, a member of An Garda Siochána is supposed to be knowledgeable about complex criminal offences that are included in most of the statutes enacted by the Oireachtas.
The Garda College provides education and training programmes. It is also an accredited third level training and educational centre within the national qualification framework and has partnerships with other third level institutions. It does provide very good foundation, operational and firearms training. We need however to improve knowledge and expertise within An Garda Siochána. It is now a very sophisticated profession which requires very specialised expertise. Consideration should be given to three changes that may achieve this objective.
There is a need to expand the professional development of An Garda Siochána and encourage more members to seek more specialised third level training and qualifications. Every profession and every worker improves in their job when they learn more. We need to encourage members of An Garda Siochána to avail of third level courses that will provide them with greater expertise in forensic accounting, information technology, psychology and domestic abuse. We also need to provide greater leadership and management training to Gardaí progressing through the Force. It is essential that we have real determined leadership at the top of An Garda Siochána. Managing divisions or managing the force requires a very high level of management skills. It is a daunting and challenging task to be asked to manage any organisation comprised of 12,500 persons. That task, which cannot rest on the shoulders of one person, will inevitably be eased through greater academic training.
A second method of improving collective knowledge and expertise in the force would be through allowing graduate recruitment into An Garda Siochána. There are very many highly qualified people who have gone through third level education having qualified in forensic accounting or information technology or psychology or who have expertise in dealing with children and adults who are victims of domestic and sexual abuse. Some of these graduates want employment in An Garda Siochána and would improve the expertise of An Garda Siochána. They are deterred, however, when they become aware that the degree they have earned are of no real advantage when it comes to their recruitment and prospective promotion through the force.
There is no process for the Garda Siochána to recruit fully trained police officers from other parts of the world. The Garda Inspectorate in its recent report on Changing Policing in Ireland acknowledged that this type of recruitment would bring high skill levels and fully trained officers into the force. It also noted that it would add diversity to police services in Ireland. The Inspectorate’s report also noted that a significant number of Irish citizens and some ex-Gardaí have emigrated and joined police services overseas. It recommended that those officers should be able to transfer directly into An Garda Siochána, without the need for full training or entry as a probationer Garda, if they apply to return. The Inspectorate’s report also noted that there was no recruitment process which takes account of experience as a member of the Garda reserve or as a member of Garda staff. There is no reason why Garda reserves or Garda staff should not be given some advantage in applying for membership of the main Garda force, particularly if they have relevant educational qualifications. Such persons have already been tested and trained in many of the powers and skills that are required to be an effective member of An Garda Siochána.
In Britain in December 2012 the College of Policing was launched as a professional body to develop the knowledge, standards of conduct, leadership and professionalism required by police officers and police staff in England and Wales. In recent times the College of Policing has published, for instance, guidelines on undercover policing which sets out how the tactics should be used to gather evidence and intelligence. It also reviewed and published guidance on child sexual exploitation to take into account changes to the law and lessons learned from recent high profile cases. The College of Policing has also compiled a code of ethics which is a written guide to the principles that every member of the police force is expected to uphold and standards of behaviour they are expected to meet. In its three year review of the College of Policing, the House of Commons Home Affairs Committee stated:
“The Code of Ethics should be viewed by serving Officers as having the equivalent status of the Hippocratic Oath. They should be required to acknowledge the code formally by signing a copy of it at the end of their training.”
One of the more controversial recommendations made by the College of Policing (and one which is relevant to the issues raised in this paper) is that the majority of all future officers would have to have a degree level qualification before they join the police force and a masters level qualification for promotion or direct entry eligibility at superintending rank. The Police Federation in Britain has widely criticised this proposal, arguing that setting a new entry requirement would prevent good candidates entering the service and that it would also make it less representative. In evidence given to the Home Affairs Committee Steve White, Chairperson of the Police Federation, stated:
“The majority of members I represent, even those that have a degree, are supportive of the view that you do not need a degree to be a police officer.”
This assessment is correct and the last thing any police force should become is an academic group that becomes expert in the theory of policing and ineffective in its practice. Nonetheless, policy makers need to recognise that improvement in the collective knowledge and expertise of An Garda Siochana can only be achieved through higher-level learning by a significant percentage of the force.
In Britain there are opportunities to join the police at graduate level. In fact, graduates there can go from police constable to inspector in three years through an accelerated promotion and development scheme that gives graduates with a 2:1 or above the chance to secure fast promotion having entered in at constable level. The scheme is open to both graduates and serving officers, and offers classroom learning as well as operational training and development in a local force.
In the Metropolitan police in London other options are also available. As well as the fast-track programme, graduates can seek to join the two year Police Now graduate leadership development programme. There are further opportunities for graduates who can be recruited by police forces in non-policing roles such as communications, human resources, crime scene investigation and accounting. The Australian Federal Police (AFP) also offers a graduate programme which gives university graduates the opportunity to work with the AFP. Although graduates recruited to the AFP are not involved in sworn policing roles, they work within the AFP in targeting criminality.
There was no Garda recruitment between 2009 and late 2013. When a recruitment campaign began on 12 December 2013 there were over 20,000 applications for between 250-300 positions. Clearly there are a lot of people in Ireland who wish to pursue a career within An Garda Siochána. At present, that career must be pursued through one route of entry. No opportunity or advantage is given to graduates who have qualified with degrees in forensic accounting, information technology and/or psychology who are anxious to pursue careers in An Garda Siochána.
Any programme of graduate recruitment would need to be compatible with and not offensive to the traditional form of recruitment. Consequently, new recruits should be encouraged to pursue further studies whilst in An Garda Siochána. Furthermore, graduates being recruited from outside the Force should also have to start at the same level as all other non-graduate entrants but the degree they possess would, if they satisfactorily completed the training at the Garda college, enable them, as in Britain, to secure fast-track promotion into those areas of the Garda Siochána which would benefit from their academic and practical expertise.
Such a change in Garda recruitment would encourage a wider selection of people to apply for employment in An Garda Siochána. The recruitment of more qualified persons and the promotion of further study within the Force will improve its expertise. The recruitment practices of An Garda Siochána was commented upon by the Garda Inspectorate in its November 2015 report on changing policing in Ireland. The report made the following comments in respect of recruitment practices:
“The Garda Siochána has engaged with the public appointments service (PAS) to conduct its recruitment process for new members. Due to the period of time that passes between testing and joining the organisation, many candidates have either lost interest or have taken up other employment opportunities. This process can take months and in the case of the current applicants, almost two years. It is a highly inefficient recruitment process as the vast majority of applications will not result in recruitment to the Garda Siochána. There is no analysis of the applicant pool and recruits to the Garda Siochána to inform recruitment and training strategies.”
The Inspectorate also noted that currently there is no direct entry at senior police officer ranks in the Garda Siochána for those without police experience. It remains the case that the vast majority of people recruited to An Garda Siochána are at clerical officer grade although there has been some targeted recruitment of people with specialist skills in recent times. Broadening the method of recruitment to An Garda Siochána will assist in transforming and improving the force. Central to this transformation is the placing of greater emphasis on training and expertise.
There is a clear public benefit in the Garda Siochána seeking to attain excellence through greater professionalism and education. This can be achieved through one of the three methods identified in this paper. The Garda College is central to this process and should remain the central place for basic Garda training. It should also seek to build up further alliances and arrangements with other universities and third level institutions such as our Institute of Technologies. The Garda College and indeed the Garda Siochána should have close links with recognised criminology sections and/or forensic accounting sections and/or psychology units within the relevant departments of our third level institutions. This will improve the collective knowledge of the force and will encourage the pursuit of expertise by its members.
Obviously these proposals cannot be advanced without government commitment to fund such ventures. Failure to do so, however, will reduce the chances of transforming and improving An Garda Siochána into a modern and efficient force. This country has benefited from and been modernised as a result of our excellent record in education. As the profession of policing becomes more demanding and sophisticated, the State is doing a disservice to the Gardaí and the people they serve if we fail to invest further in training and education to ensure we secure excellence in this vital public service.