Belfast Telegraph

Garda watchdog chief to quit

The chief of the Garda watchdog is quitting for another job only months after vowing to remain in his role and drive policing reforms.

Simon O'Brien, chairman of the Garda Siochana Ombudsman Commission, said he will take up a new position as chief executive of the UK's Pensions Ombudsman next month.

"This is a significant opportunity and I am looking forward to the new challenge," he said. "The new post will bring me back home to be with my wife and young family in London."

Mr O'Brien, who has been in Ireland for five years and who also served as deputy chief inspector of the Garda Inspectorate, has notified the Justice Minister Frances Fitzgerald that he will formally resign at the end of this month.

Last July, he defiantly swept aside calls from some rank and file Garda officers for his resignation after the Government-ordered Cooke report found no evidence to back fears within the watchdog that its headquarters was under high-tech surveillance.

At the time, Mr O'Brien said he was looking forward to planned new powers being handed down to the oversight body as part of a sweeping overhaul of how the force is managed and held to account.

Amid a wave of controversies that surrounded the Garda in recent years which culminated in the resignations of former Garda Commissioner Martin Callinan and Justice Minister Alan Shatter, Mr O'Brien openly accused force chiefs of frustrating the watchdog's inquiries.

In recent months he said there were encouraging signs about relations between the force and its official oversight body in terms of the handing over of information requested for investigations.

However, he added there was still work to be done.

Niall Collins, Fianna Fail's justice spokesman, called for an open, transparent and speedy process to appoint Mr O'Brien's successor.

"Unfortunately I still believe the Government undermined Gsoc in the past year, particularly under former Justice Minister Alan Shatter, and public confidence in its role and authority needs to be restored," he said.

Padraig Mac Lochlainn, Sinn Fein's justice spokesman, said the current three-person commission should be replaced with one ombudsman.

"Of course, it is now standard practice in Ireland and across Europe for just one Ombudsman to lead the oversight of policing or other public services," he said.

"This allows for a clear and authoritative decision making process with better accountability. Of course the Ombudsman will rely on the advice and guidance of his or her team but the buck stops with them."

Mr O'Brien, a former commander with the Met Police in London, was appointed chairman of the Garda Ombudsman in December 2011.

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