The Good Stuff:The GSOC was set up in 2008 to replace the much-criticised Garda Complaints Board after shocking revelations of Garda corruption emerged, as well as a parallel perception by the public that the G C B was ‘not fit for purpose’. If the new GSOC was to function as promised; that is, as an independent civilian oversight that protects the public from rogue police activities (such as framing innocent citizens for murder etc), then the €10 million-a-year price tag is a real bargain for citizens.
Likewise, if the three (very-well-paid) Commissioners who head up the GSOC are indeed actively and independently pursuing the declared aims and goals of the GSOC as stated in the GSOC mission statement, and are directing their 90 office staff to do likewise, then we should all be thankful to ex-Taoiseach Bertie Ahern for nominating three associates to take on this challenging enterprise - knowing of course that each would courageously and enthusiastically apply themselves to the task - without any hint of fear or favour, because clearly, after the debacle of blatant Garda corruption and criminality in Donegal and the findings of the Morris tribunal, it was clear that there was an immediate need for an independent statutory oversight body such as a well-functioning Garda Ombudsman that could deal robustly and effectively with systemic Garda corruption, and assuage the angst and anger of the public.
The Not-So-Good Stuff: Various I-I members report that it is a painfully exasperating and difficult process trying to lodge a complaint with the GSOC: They report serial difficulties in lodging their complaints, incredibly long delays, and a general perception that staff at the GSOC are either unbelievably incompetent and disorganised, or, are being deliberately obstructive, unhelpful and evasive. According to their own published records, over 11,000 complaints of various levels of seriousness were received by the GSOC in the first 4 years, as well as a further 5,300 ‘enquiries’. Most were automatically ‘deemed inadmissible’ (often without proper explanation) and only a handful of Gardai (of the lowest rank) were ever sanctioned. As I-I members tried to approach higher-ranking GSOC staff members, they report increased levels of hubris and superciliousness which they found to be very disconcerting, and not-at-all suited to the facilitation of often very serious complaints. Most complaints submitted by I-I members were eventually ‘deemed inadmissible, dismissed without due explanation, or ‘run out-of-time’. In most cases, there is nothing to suggest that the hard evidence was ever even properly looked at, and several citizens report being treated like a criminal - rather than as a legitimate complainant.
The Really Bad and Depressing Stuff: Despite several verbal and written requests over a period of two years, we cannot secure the name of even one single qualified ‘civilian investigator’ from GSOC staff. We also cannot find any I-I member who has had dealings with the GSOC who ever met any of these enigmatic ‘civilian investigators’ - who appear to exist only in the imagination of the person who wrote the GSOC brochure. The evidence suggests that all GSOC investigators are in fact currently-serving Gardai - appointed by the Garda Commissioner, and answerable only to him!
The CEO of the previous Garda Complaints Board effectively runs the GSOC today as the head of administration. The three Commissioners (we have it in writing) “..are not involved in the day-to-day processing of complaints”. The current Chairperson of the GSOC is also an ex-policeman, whose previous job was Head of the Garda Inspectorate. So what, we might ask, has changed since the bad old days of the discredited Garda Complaints Board?
Once a Garda investigator has been appointed by the Garda Commissioner, he reports back to the GSOC, who in turn reports back to the Garda Commissioner. The Garda Commissioner can then make a unilateral decision on what’s to be done, and he is, literally, answerable to no-one. Not the GSOC, not the complainant, not even to the Minister of Justice who claims (in writing) not to have any direct jurisdiction.
And, if a Garda is eventually sanctioned, then those sanctions are depressingly inadequate. The worst of five possible sanctions under s.43 for example is, “a maximum of up to two weeks reduction in pay, not to exceed 10% of salary”. In other words, a maximum fine of a couple of hundred Euros for appalling abuses of their position of privilege and responsibility - that has probably caused an innocent citizen hell! And whilst there are other sanctions that can be applied, it would appear from members’ experiences that there is a desperate resistance from staff at the GSOC into taking real action against criminal Gardai - especially if they are high-ranking, or otherwise ‘well connected’. Clearly, the trusting public has been sold a story here that costs us over €10 million a year for what is in essence, just a smoke-and-mirrors operation designed once again, to secure ‘jobs for the boys’ and protect the gilded elite from further public embarrassment over the shocking levels of corruption and wrongdoing in Irish institutions.