Some Garda Ombudsman investigations running for ‘up to 15 years’

Oireachtas committee hears median time to examine a criminal complaint stands at 366 days

Some investigations by the Garda Síochána Ombudsman Commission (Gsoc) have been open for up to 15 years, the Oireachtas public petitions committee has heard.

Members of the commission appeared before the committee on Thursday and said the organisation needs to double its staff numbers to properly carry out its duties.

While most investigative files are less than three years old, some have been open for “up to 15 years”, said Gsoc’s director of operations and investigations Peter Whelan.

Some investigations awaiting completion include the inquiry into the killing of George Nkencho, who was fatally shot by gardaí in 2020.


Lack of co-operation

There are various reasons for delays in completing case files, the committee heard. These include a lack of co-operation by gardaí being investigated or by the people who originally made the complaint.

The longest delays have been caused by factors outside Gsoc’s control, the committee heard. These can be caused by a pending inquest or court case or delays in the establishment of a board of inquiry by the Garda, Mr Whelan said.

In some cases, he said, delays arise because “we haven’t the resources to progress them in timely manner”. The need to gather CCTV and digital forensic evidence can also cause problems, he said.

The median time for Gsoc to investigate a criminal complaint is 366 days, but it can be much longer, the committee heard.

Gsoc, which is soon to become known as the Police Ombudsman, is concerned about legislation requiring it to get permission from the Garda Commissioner to carry out a search at a Garda station, the committee heard.

Searches of garda stations are governed by a “triple lock”, requiring sign-off from a judge, the Gsoc and the Garda Commissioner.

“And it’s that last piece that we have concerns about,” Gsoc commissioner Hugh Hume said.

Gsoc officials refused to discuss the case of a garda who is facing criminal prosecution for their involvement in a car chase which ended in the deaths of three members of a burglary gang in 2021.

“I hope you don’t think I’m disrespectful of you in any way, but I’m really not prepared to discuss it at this stage because I’m precluded from doing so,” Gsoc chairman Mr Justice Rory McCabe said in response to questions from Fianna Fáil Senator Eugene Murphy.


In his opening statement to the committee, Mr Justice McCabe said the Police Ombudsman will need twice as many staff if it is to succeed, particularly more investigators. “We are not talking about a Rolls-Royce, but a vehicle that can carry all the complement needed to investigate all the complaints that we receive ... fairly, rigorously, and in a timely fashion,” he said.

The commission has about 170 staff and a budget of more than €16 million.

“Unfortunately, this remains some way off the minimum necessary to meet our present needs and does not come close to meeting the requirements that the expanded statutory functions proposed in the new legislation will require,” he said.

Recruiting and training such a large increase in staff would be a “significant challenge” for the new Ombudsman body, the committee heard. Failure to set up the new oversight body with enough resources “will be preparation for failure.”

Conor Gallagher

Conor Gallagher

Conor Gallagher is Crime and Security Correspondent of The Irish Times

Jack Power

Jack Power

Jack Power is a reporter with The Irish Times