Belfast Telegraph

Commission to examine ways of reforming scandal-hit gardai

The Irish government is planning a "Patten-like commission" to overhaul its scandal-ridden police force, Justice Minister Frances Fitzgerald has confirmed.

In the strongest indication to date that the Garda is facing unprecedented root-and-branch reforms amid scandal after scandal, Ms Fitzgerald evoked the commission that heralded the end of the RUC in Northern Ireland.

"Because of the range of issues that have emerged in relation to An Garda Siochana, we should establish an independent Patten-like commission to analyse precisely the future of An Garda Siochana," she said.

The Patten commission was an independent body set up under the Good Friday Agreement peace deal, chaired by former Conservative politician Chris Patten, which radically altered policing in Northern Ireland.

Sweeping reforms saw the Police Service of Northern Ireland replace the Royal Ulster Constabulary.

In the Republic, the Garda has been mired in countless controversies in recent years, despite the long-running Morris Tribunal into police corruption a decade ago promising a new beginning to policing, openness and accountability.

Calls have been made in the past by Opposition parties, including minority government party Fine Gael when it was out of power, for Patten-style reforms.

But Ms Fitzgerald is the first serving Justice Minister to openly signal in the Dail, the Irish parliament, an imminent overhaul on the scale of Northern Ireland's.

She is also facing questions about how long she knew about the latest controversies to beset the Garda, including the gross exaggeration of drink-driving statistics and thousands of drivers being wrongly prosecuted for motoring offences.

In response, Taoiseach Enda Kenny promised a "thorough, independent and comprehensive" review including a "root-and-branch" examination of the force.

In a statement, the Government said the recent revelations were so unacceptable and public concerns so profound it was opening talks with the Opposition on how it would carry out the review.

"I'm very unhappy about this situation," Mr Kenny said.

Last week an audit revealed almost one million fewer drink-driving breath tests were carried out from 2012 to 2016 than gardai had claimed.

The Garda also admitted 146,000 people were taken to court and 14,700 people were wrongly convicted of motoring offences because of issues with the fixed penalty system.

One of the force's official watchdogs, the Policing Authority, said the discrepancies raised widespread concern about how gardai go about their work.

It said it was not just a statistical matter but "an ethical one".

Embattled Garda Commissioner Noirin O'Sullivan, the country's police chief, is clinging on to her job despite the Government's avowed confidence in her.

Fianna Fail, the chief Opposition party which props up the minority government in a supply and confidence deal, as well as Sinn Fein have both announced they no longer have confidence in Ms O'Sullivan.

"We continue to see a list of unacceptable revelations about the operation of An Garda Siochana," Mr Kenny said.

"The Government believes that the level of public concern is now so profound that it's now time to conduct a thorough, comprehensive and independent, root-and-branch review of An Garda Siochana."

Exact details of the imminent shake-up of the force are to be decided by the Government next week.

In the meantime, an external inquiry is being set up into the erroneous garda statistics and prosecutions.

The Garda Commissioner has been called before a parliamentary committee on Thursday over the affair and she is also due to meet the chairwoman of the Policing Authority, one of the force's watchdogs, over her handling of the scandal before the end of the week.

Sinn Fein deputy leader Mary Lou McDonald said the bogus statistics showed there was a "rotten management culture" in the force.

"Anyone who thinks the dysfunctional culture in An Garda Siochana will change while the current commissioner remains is, frankly, living in cloud cuckoo land," she said.

"The game is up. This is an absolute mess."

In a statement, the Policing Authority vented its disappointment at not being told "in a timely manner" that an internal audit into the breath test debacle had been launched.

"Despite questioning over several months, the authority has not yet been provided with the full internal reports or indeed a clear sense of how these matters have been handled to date within the Garda Siochana or the status and content of the audits which have been undertaken," it said.

It has demanded a copy of all existing reports, including audits and current investigations.

"The importance of supplying this additional information in a timely manner was emphasised to the Garda Commissioner," the authority said.

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