Ireland promises culture change in policing after 'grave' report

DUBLIN Fri May 9, 2014 12:28pm EDT

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DUBLIN (Reuters) - Ireland promised comprehensive reform and a cultural change in policing on Friday, after the release of a report on deficiencies among officers that had forced the justice minister to resign.

Ireland has been hit by a string of scandals in policing that culminated in the resignation of Alan Shatter on Wednesday. Shatter had been criticized in the report over how whistleblower Maurice McCabe, a former sergeant on the force, was treated when he complained of wrongdoing.

The 300-page independent report - which detailed concern over the handling of cases including possible sexual assault and false imprisonment - called for a review of how the police and justice minister managed complaints and disciplined officers.

The controversies have hurt Prime Minister Enda Kenny's coalition government before local and European elections later this month. The lead that his party, Fine Gael, held in opinion polls has been cut, and gains it made after Ireland exited its international bailout have been wiped out.

The author of the report, barrister Sean Guerin, said it identified deficiencies that would be a challenge to public confidence in the criminal justice system if they were widely replicated.

"The findings of the report reaffirms that we must now enter a new era of policing in this country and that organizational reform and cultural change is essential," new Irish justice minister Frances Fitzgerald said in a statement.

"The report further raises fundamental questions about the treatment and response to victims of crime which must be addressed as a matter of priority. The content and the findings are extremely grave."

The government said a commission of investigation - a method of probing matters of urgent public concern - would be set up to address the complaints and a new independent police authority would also be established to oversee the police force.

Several more investigations into police conduct are pending, including into the police practice of making recordings of phone calls which was discontinued last year.

(Reporting by Padraic Halpin; Editing by Larry King)

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