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Garda watchdog to begin operations today

Carl O'Brien
The new Garda Ombudsman Commission will begin investigating complaints from members of the public against gardaí from today.
The new independent body will provide civilian oversight of policing in the State for the first time, replacing the Garda Complaints Board, which used members of the force to investigate complaints against other members.
The commission expects in the region of 4,000-5,000 complaints per year, a significant increase over the 1,350 which the Garda Complaints Board received per annum.
Among the first complaints to be lodged this morning will be from campaigners concerned about the Garda's treatment of protesters opposed to the construction of a Shell refinery plant in Co Mayo.
Other matters that are likely to be investigated by the commission include the death of Clondalkin man Derek O'Toole (24), who was fatally struck by a car driven by an off-duty garda earlier this year.
Minister for Justice Michael McDowell, who officially opened its headquarters in Dublin yesterday, said the findings of the Morris tribunal into Garda corruption in Co Donegal had raised serious concerns, but the new commission would act as the "watchful eyes of the people".
Commission investigators will have all the powers available to gardaí when investigating complaints.
These include powers to enter Garda stations, to question, search, arrest, detain, take bodily samples and seize evidence.
The 46 investigative staff already hired by the commission include those who have worked in police forces in the UK, South Africa, Malta, Australia and New Zealand. The three commissioners appointed to the body include its chairman, Mr Justice Kevin Haugh of the High Court, Conor Brady, former editor of The Irish Times and Carmel Foley, former director of consumer affairs.
Mr Justice Haugh said he hoped many complaints could be resolved using mediation, while the commission would deal with more difficult cases. It will have the capacity to investigate about 200 cases a year, he added.
The Irish Council for Civil Liberties welcomed the establishment of the new body, but said the State was still playing "catch up" with policing accountability arrangements in Northern Ireland.
Council director Mark Kelly said: "We have no effective equivalent to the independent Northern Ireland Policing Board, and no human rights monitoring framework for An Garda Síochána. Until these measures have been put in place, we cannot be confident that policing throughout the island of Ireland will be accountable and human rights-compliant."
© 2007 The Irish Times

Posted Date: 
9 May 2007 - 8:10pm