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The Garda Ombudsman: Creating the illusion of democracy in its absence…


Spreading responsibility (but not the power to hold accountable) out into bodies that are essentially still tied to the centre, to governmental and political control. Creating new bodies that aren’t tainted by association with corruption (O Cuiv uses them as a fig leaf for inaction), due to the simple fact that they’re new…

Let’s have a look at the Garda Ombudsman: It was set up because of the Morris Tribunal, because the Gardai stitched up the McBreartys in Donegal, because it wasn’t possible to sweep under the carpet with the usual ‘bad apples’ excuses, because it was too big, because the Gardai demonstrably need someone looking over their shoulders to keep them honest. The obvious assumption is that the Garda Ombudsman would have a reasonably high level of convictions – but that wouldn’t appear to be the case. Instead we have craven professions that the Gardai are not intrinsically corrupt (well, if you say it, that’s alright then), whereas the Garda Ombudsman was created under a very different assumption, one backed up by years of painstaking investigation. On the other hand, the Ombudsman based this premature opinion on such things as having to get the Garda Representative Association off their back. On passing files to the DPP which were immediately shot down and never prosecuted, passing over a huge proportion of their complaints on to the Gardai themselves -to the Gardai themselves – for investigation of alleged Garda misdemeanors. There’s transparency for you.

Mind you, they did ask the Minister to be allowed to investigate the policing of the protests up in Mayo – that kind of idea was swiftly knocked on its head. Before they even do anything they’re hamstrung by the fact that they have no actual powers of sanction (only of investigation) – powers of sanction lie only with the DPP (who almost invariably refuse to take cases – they’ve turned down all of the files that they were sent in relation to cases in Mayo) and with the Garda Commissioner himself. They can only make recommendations to these bodies – that’s why it’s such a big deal that they’ve gone and publicly asked for Supt. Joe Gannon to be disciplined in relation to the Pullathomas Pier incident in 2007. They’ll probably still be turned down by the Garda Commissioner for this disciplining too, but it’s a good thing that they’re looking for it all the same. It disturbs the comfy image that the Gardai like to give of being impartial and objective, and hopefully makes people question their actions and their credibility. Hopefully.

And to top it all off, they’re political appointees too – the current head worked with Dermot Ahern in Foreign Affairs, and was appointed “without an open and transparent recruitment process”, according to the ICCL.

The Garda Ombudsman seem to have grown some kind of backbone with making it publicly known that they want Supt. Gannon punished, but is this just trying to reclaim their lost credibility, or is it a genuine attempt to right a wrong?

Maybe the real question is, given their lack of teeth and their real function of giving an illusion of democracy, does it matter?

Some interesting related stories
Apparently they’re ‘one of the most secretive police forces in the world‘ too.
Two gardai were yesterday convicted of assault after a case brought by the Ombudsman