Garda 'missed opportunity to reform following watchdog advice'
One of the country's policing watchdogs has warned that some of its advice has been a missed opportunity to reform the Garda and avoid controversies.
Mark Toland, chief inspector with the Garda Inspectorate, said the office has published 11 reports in nine years with 574 recommendations - more than 200 in a damning audit of the handling of crime and investigations in 2014.
"We found that we are repeating some recommendations in reports," he said.
"That's frustrating for us.
"We believe that had they been implemented, then some of the inquiries and tribunals that have taken place may not have happened or could have been minimised.
"We think there was a lost opportunity. They haven't realised the full benefits."
Mr Toland said the crime and investigations report - which found serious failures in the recording, classification and reclassification of crime and inconsistent claims on detections - referred back to other audits it carried out and begged the question as to why changes were not made in 2007 and 2009.
The Garda Inspectorate told the Oireachtas Justice Committee that it was not possible to state publicly what current Garda culture is like compared to its previous findings that the "culture inhibits change".
But Mr Toland said the approach of senior management to its recommendation is changing and he pointed to "a real difference in terms of engagement" with the watchdog.
"An obvious gap has been the implementation," he said.
"We have introduced a process where we meet with them, we check on the status, but we have no power to force them to make those recommendations or to implement them.
"It's fair to say the majority of our recommendations have been accepted, but not always implemented."
The Garda Inspectorate was the first to identify the poor classification of crime by officers.
The latest official figures estimated about one fifth of all crime is not properly recorded on the Garda's Pulse computer database.
Mr Toland revealed Garda Commissioner Noirin O'Sullivan has given a commitment to reform how officers record crime.
The Garda Information Services Centre in Castlebar, a call centre staffed by civilians, is to be given the power to determine how crimes are classified on the system.
Officers will be required to phone in from a scene, with call takers deciding how the information should be recorded.
Mr Toland said: "That will stop 96 district superintendents making different decisions. T his will make this call centre the decision maker."
The Garda Inspectorate also told the parliamentary hearing that it believed the Policing Authority is the final piece in the jigsaw of oversight of the Garda.
Mr Toland raised concerns over the lack of professional training of qualified gardai over seven years from 2009.
He said the Commissioner has also committed to setting up new divisional units to deal with serious sex assault cases, domestic violence and reports of child sex abuse.
Three are to be established soon, he said, including one in Cork.
Mr Toland said it would ensure that when a victim reports a crime, a specially trained officer takes on the investigation rather than a Garda who is manning a front desk.
The Inspectorate also said a national unit should be set up to deal with the most serious crime anywhere in the country, including murders.
The committee was also told that the Inspectorate is seeking power to carry out unannounced inspections during live investigations.
It also repeated calls for the Garda to be equipped with a computer aided dispatch system for 999 calls.
On the recording of crime, Mr Toland said he is confident the reports next year from the Central Statistics Office on the classification of crime will be more positive.
Mr Toland said the Inspectorate does not have a remit for dealing with whistleblowers in the force but he warned there is a fear among senior officers about raising concerns over poor policing.
"We found that some of those senior officers, even at superintendent and chief superintendent level, have a fear factor about raising their hand to challenge perhaps an approach that the organisation is taking or to say why don't we do it differently," he said.
"Sometimes, when they do say something, it's not always well-received.
"So you have senior managers sometimes afraid to challenge the direction of their own organisation."
Mr Toland said there is an absence of engagement at all levels to allow staff to give feedback on how to improve the service.