Belfast Telegraph

Call for single intelligence unit

Several intelligence units within elite Garda squads should be pulled together into one national intelligence agency, one of the force's official watchdogs has urged.

The Garda Inspectorate said specialist units were met with a "culture shock" when its inspectors turned up to carry out a review of their work, which led to last year's scathing report into the force.

The top squads had never before been inspected or audited by anyone, Robert K Olson, chief inspector with the watchdog, told TDs and senators.

However, he said they fully co-operated and on the back of their review into how terrorism and national security is investigated, recommendations have now been made to Justice Minister Frances Fitzgerald.

"We did make some confidential recommendations to the Minister relative to that, that should not be made public at all," Mr Olson told the Oireachtas Joint Committee on Justice, which was hearing evidence about last November's report.

The Garda Inspectorate was asked about any improvements which could be made to State security in Ireland, in the wake of the Charlie Hebdo massacre in Paris last week.

Mark Toland, the watchdog's deputy chief inspector, said he couldn't say too much on the issue for fear it could "compromise tactics".

But he said there were a number of separate intelligence units operating within national and specialist units of the Garda, sometimes even within the same building.

Mr Toland said he believed intelligence could be better served if there was more efficiency and economies of scale.

"There's a better way I think to manage intelligence within national support services, to have one single intelligence unit," he told the parliamentary committee.

The former chief superintendent with London's Metropolitan Police said one national intelligence agency would cut the risk of different units carrying out the same surveillance or covering the same target.

Elite national units include the Garda National Drugs Unit, the Garda Bureau of Fraud Investigation, the National Bureau of Criminal Investigation, Garda National Surveillance Unit, the Special Detective Unit and the Organised Crime Unit.

The watchdog also called for the force's official record system Pulse to be scrapped.

Last year's report found nearly a third (30%) of all incidents on the system were not correctly classified.

Mr Olson said it is a 1990s' technology for recording information and was not an analytical or deployment tool, nor could it track people on bail.

The watchdog also said there were an "astronomical" number of people signing on at Garda stations under bail conditions, and a better system was needed to make the best use of resources.

In other countries curfews are imposed and those on bail can be checked on at certain times, while high risk offenders could be tracked more regularly, the committee was told.

Mr Toland said more time needed to be dedicated to community policing by freeing up officers tied to administrative roles, particularly in rural areas which are feeling the brunt of cutbacks to frontline policing.

"Community policing is the heart of policing," he said.

"It's really important to gave a physical presence, don't take them (gardai) away to do other things and I think in Ireland at the moment they are being taken away to do other things and taken away from their community role."

The deputy chief inspector said one size didn't fit all in Ireland and a flexible policing model was needed to allow different approaches in the likes of Donegal, Mayo and and Kildare to Dublin, Cork and Limerick.

Mr Toland also called for better feedback on how a crime is investigated.

Some UK forces used an online system to allow victims to track the progress of their complaint, he said, adding that information should be available to communities to see what and where crimes are happening in any given area.

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