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Findings and Recommendations

(i)   Garda Síochána (Promotion) Regulations 2006

The Garda Síochána (Promotion) Regulations 2006 set out the current framework for the conduct of promotion processes to the rank of Sergeant and Inspector.

The Regulations provide for the establishment of a Promotion Advisory Council which oversees promotion competitions and advises the Commissioner thereon.  Other aspects of the promotion process covered by the Regulations include membership of the interview boards and eligibility of Gardai and Sergeants for promotion.

The Commission is concerned that these Regulations serve to hinder efforts to reform the system of appointments and believes they should be revised.

Recommendation 1

The Commissionrecognises that its observations on the internal selection processes conflict with the provisions of the governing Regulations and it recommends that An Garda Síochána engage with the Department of Justice and the Department of Public Expenditure and Reform with a view to achieving a resolution that facilitates the implementation of the recommendations in this Report.

(ii) Scale and cost of the Selection Processes

Garda Regulations provide that all eligible candidates are entitled to attend for interview for promotion to Sergeant and Inspector.  The promotion processes account for a vast amount of the organisation’s time with approximately 320 days of Senior Garda (Chief Superintendent and Assistant Commissioner level) tied up interviewing candidates for the posts of Sergeant and Inspector.

The process also involves significant costs in terms of hiring external Interview Board Members. 

Each candidate is permitted a day off to attend for interview and, in all likelihood, many spend a considerable amount of time preparing their application forms and preparing for their interview.

The Garda to Sergeant and Sergeant to Inspector competitions involve Preliminary Interviews organised on a Regional basis followed by second stage interviews for those who make it through the first stage.  The numbers of selection boards involved in the first stage along with the Regional structure gives rise to concern about the consistency in approach between boards.  Given the Interview Boards’ comments in relation to the high calibre of most of those candidates presenting for interview and the marginal nature of the decisions made in determining which candidate make it through to the final interview stage, the Commission has concerns about the suitability of large scale Preliminary Interviews as the vehicle for fairly and objectively differentiating between such a large volume of candidates and picking the best candidates to send forward for final interviews.

At the end of the selection process, a set number of candidates are placed on a panel and promoted.  However, no provision is made for vacancies that may arise later in the year.

In relation to the scale of the process, the Commission wishes to commend the efforts of the Garda Competitions Unit and those on the Interview Boards for the huge work involved in administering this process.  It notes that there is very limited case management system support for the staff in the recruitment team or those on the Interview Boards.

Recommendation 2

The Commission believes that An Garda Síochána should explore the promotion methodologies employed in other police forces for ideas on alternative means for screening candidates other than the very costly and unwieldy Preliminary Interviews.

Recommendation 3 

The Commission considers that An Garda Síochána must replace the Preliminary Interviews with a suite of competency based selection tests that can evaluate candidate’s suitability for promotion in an impartial, objective and cost efficient manner.

Recommendation 4

The Commission considers that An Garda Síochána should bring a larger number of candidates forward to the final stage of the selection process and place more candidates on the final panel so that future vacancies can be filled.

Where a recruiting organisation is using a number of different stages to evaluate and select candidates, it is considered best recruitment practice to apply a range of different techniques so that different facets of the candidates’ experience, knowledge, skills and behaviours are examined.  The selection process for posts at Sergeant and Inspector level involve two competency based interviews which both examine broadly the same sets of competencies. 

The Commission recognises that An Garda Síochána will need to invest time and resources in the development of this suite of tests. 

Before commencing this developmental work, the Commission believes that An Garda Síochána should review the competencies for the Sergeant and Inspector roles so that it has up to date and reliable information on which it can base its tests.  The Commission understands that the existing competency frameworks underpinning the present promotion systems are around 10-12 years old.  It is likely that they no longer accurately reflect the current demands of the role and should not be relied upon for the design of the new tests.  An Garda Síochána will need to develop competency based selection tests that can be used to evaluate the suitability of the candidates’ cognitive abilities and behavioural traits.  These tests may include a combination of job simulation exercise/situational judgement test, on-line video interview/presentation and/or group exercises.

In making this observation, the Commission is conscious that it will require a change to the Garda Promotion Regulations which provides that all eligible candidates are entitled to attend for interview.

The Commission believes that An Garda Síochána should initiate work on this process as soon as possible and set a time frame for completion and delivery of the new suite of tests, eg 12 to 18 months.

Recommendation 5

The Commission recommends that, in advance of developing a suite of bespoke screening tests, An Garda Síochána needs to review the existing competency framework for the Sergeant and Inspector roles to ensure that they reflect the current demands of the role.

Recommendation 6

The Commission believes that An Garda Síochána needs to immediately introduce additional safeguards to promote confidence in the current system of appointments pending the availability of the selection tests referred to in Recommendation 3.

These additional safeguards include:- 

a.    Garda HR satisfies itself that all of its external Interview Board Members have testimonials that confirm their interviewing experience and training prior to their participation in these appointment processes (see Recommendation 13 below)

b.   Additional assessors are engaged and tasked with monitoring and controlling the effectiveness of the different Preliminary Interview Boards and to ensure consistency in the approach of the different Boards 

The additional costs involved in implementing the steps above could conceivably be offset by reducing the frequency of these competitions from annual to biannual.

Recommendation 7

Lower the rank of those serving on the Preliminary Interview Boards to increase the available pool of board members and make the process more cost effective

The Commission considers that as Inspectors and Superintendents have a closer working relationship with those at the rank of Sergeant and Inspector respectively, they are better placed to determine which candidates demonstrate the qualities required for the role.  The Commission also considers that this will provide invaluable development opportunity for those selected for these boards. 

This measure will greatly increase the pool of available board members and lower the cost to the organisation of involving so many senior Gardaí for weeks at a time.  It will also bring the processes more in line with public service norms where Interview Boards comprise staff at one level above the post being filled.

(iii) Canvassing and Probity

Some of the Interview Board Members who met with the Audit Team advised that they believe there are occasional incidences of canvassing carried out by and on behalf of candidates in the course of the promotion competitions.  However they also believe that any attempts to influence the outcome of the appointment process are not a factor in the evaluation of candidates.  The Civilian Board Members advised that they have not detected overt efforts by Garda Board Members to use undue influence to affect the outcome of the process.  All reported that they are happy to stand over the manner in which candidates are evaluated.

However, responses to the survey of a sample of candidates indicate that there is a low level of confidence in the probity of the system of appointments.  It also highlights a belief that patronage is quite prevalent in the organisation and that candidates think they need to have a mentor at a senior level pushing their case for promotion.

The Commission notes the view of the Board Members that their evaluation of candidates is based on the evidence presented by the candidates in the course of the appointment process.  It also notes the Board Members’ comments that it can be very difficult to decide which of the many strong candidates who attend for Preliminary Interview ought to be sent forward to the final stage of the process.  The Commission is very concerned that so many candidates have such little confidence in the integrity of the promotion processes.

Recommendation 8

The Commission recommends that all future HQ Directives for appointment processes clearly set out that any efforts to interfere with the selection process constitutes an offence and that canvassing will lead to the disqualification of the candidate concerned.

In addition all Interview Board Members must be advised of their responsibility to protect the integrity of the selection process and that (i) under the provision of the Public Service Management (Recruitment and Appointments) Act 2004 it is an offence to interfere with the selection process, (ii) that those chosen to sit on Interview Boards have a duty to report any suspected efforts to canvass on behalf of a candidate or otherwise interfere in an appointment process to the Executive Director of HR for investigation and (iii) those found guilty of  an offence are liable for disciplinary action, a fine and imprisonment. 

Recommendation 9

The Commission recommends that Garda HR informs all Interview Board Members of the correct protocols for managing possible conflicts of interest and connections between candidates and Board Members.  It also recommends that Board Members are required to declare which candidates they know and on what basis, and that these declared connections are recorded and retained on the competition file.

(iv)  Calibre of candidates and the provision of feedback

Members of the Preliminary Boards in particular advised that the level of performance of more than 50% of the candidates is very high and is improving year on year.  They reported that most candidates are extremely well prepared and, based on their performance at interview, appear well capable of performing higher duties.  There were differing views on whether this reflected the ability of the candidates, the candidates’ investment in interview preparation and training or their experience in interviews from previous applications. 

The Board Members reported that they are faced with a real challenge in terms of differentiating between the top 50% of candidates presenting for interview and selecting those it wishes to send forward to the Final Board.

At the end of the interviews, the members of the Interview Board agree a summary comment that explains the decision reached in relation to the candidate’s interview performance. 

The Commission considers that specific and meaningful feedback is very useful in instilling confidence in the system of appointments. 

However, the Commission considers that the present construct of the process (more than 100 candidates interviewed by each of the Preliminary Interview Boards over a six week period) means it is simply not possible to provide constructive career development advice to candidates. The summary comment available to candidates is generally non-specific and of limited value.  Members of the Interview Boards commented that it is often very difficult to differentiate between the top candidates, that some marginal calls are made, and as such it can be difficult to offer specific and meaningful feedback to explain why a candidate just missed out.

Recommendation 10

It is recommended that, in acknowledging receipt of applications or when inviting candidates to the initial stage of the selection process, the Executive Director of HR reminds candidates that they must be realistic about their prospects.  It is worth restating that fewer than one in five candidates are likely to be successful in their applications.  The Commission considers that the candidates must be reminded that the calibre of those presenting for interview is generally very high and that the Interview Board Members frequently comment that more than 50% of those who present for interview show, in the course of their interviews, that they have the abilities to perform very well in the higher role.

Recommendation 11

The Commission recommends that candidates are provided with their marks, the average marks awarded by their selection board and the cut off point (the mark needed to qualify) as it assists candidates in their understanding of their performance relative to other candidates.

 (v) Selection of Board Members

Under Garda Regulations, the external members of the Interview Boards must be nominated by PAS and approved by the Minister for Justice.  Many of these board members have acted on the Garda Interview Boards on numerous occasions.   However it appears that the Regulations do not put any requirement on PAS  to proactively engage in systematically reviewing the skills levels of and offering training to the board members on the list.  Also by virtue of the manner in which it is required to select its external Board Members An Garda Síochána cannot properly evaluate the calibre of these external Interview Board Members. 

Competitions Unit is sometimes compelled to select these Board Members on the basis that they are willing and available to commit six or more weeks to this process.  This has resulted in many of the same people sitting on the Interview Boards year after year.  While not in any way wishing to disparage the individuals who have participated on these Interview Boards, who are generally extremely competent and of unquestionable integrity, the presence of the same people on the Interview Boards on an ongoing basis can and does lead to a perception that they may not be sufficiently willing and/or able to exercise their independence in the manner expected of them.

An Garda Síochána is working on the basis that the civilians included on the list of names provided by PAS are fully trained and competent interviewers.  However the Commission does not consider that this is sufficient and would expect that An Garda Síochána provide bespoke interviewer training, including mock interviews, for all of its Board Members so that they are properly prepared for the arduous task of questioning and evaluating candidates, many of whom will be presenting with broadly similar experience.

Recommendation 12

As part of the planning stage for the next promotion competitions and in advance of the significant revamp of the competitions that ought to dispense with the need for Preliminary Interviews, it is recommended that An Garda Síochána, Department of Justice and Equality and PAS work to establish a deeper panel of Board Members so that those who sit on the next set of Interview Boards have no association with previous interviews and are bringing a fresh perspective to the process.                           

While the Commission does not intend to be overly prescriptive about how the panel of Interview Board Members might be refreshed, it suggests that the parties involved seek Expressions of Interest from people with validated/recognised interview training and experience and who are available to work for the period of time required at an agreed rate so that they may be evaluated on their calibre and suitability for these roles.

Furthermore the Commission believes that every effort needs to be made to minimise the possibility that Internal Board Members sit on interview panels in consecutive competitions and certainly not permit them to sit on the same regional panels for consecutive competitions.

(vi) Training of Board Members

The Board Members have reported that the training provided could be improved.  In the course of the meetings with the external Interview Board Members, it did not appear that they understood or had been given explicit instructions in relation to their role as custodians of the probity, merit, fairness and equity of the process.  Training provided by An Garda Síochána is more about a familiarisation with the vagaries of its own selection process and less about understanding the specific competencies, questioning technique, performance indicators or even the different roles of the individual Interview Board Members.  In light of the difficult tasks the boards have in differentiating between the stronger candidates, it is imperative that the Board Members are given every opportunity to develop their questioning skills and their capacity to evaluate candidates in an objective and transparent fashion.  

Recommendation 13

The Commission recommends that all Board Members, including the Garda members selected for the Interview Boards, undergo tailored training to support them in honing their interviewing skills for each competition.

It is also recommended that, through appropriate interview training and bespoke briefing, the Interview Board Members are given specific guidance in relation to their respective roles and responsibilities.

(vii)  Role of AssessmentsandPerformance Appraisal

All applications are supported by highly detailed Line Management Assessments and these assessments are made available to the selection boards. The assessments include a written evaluation and numeric rating of the candidates’ competencies. However the boards are, in effect, instructed not to take account of these in making their decisions on the candidate.  Most candidates are given a rating of 4 or 5 (very strong or exceptional) across the board.  While the written assessments can give some insight to the boards, the numeric ratings offer little value.  Also, as so many candidates achieve very high ratings from their line managers, it is arguable that ratings serve to undermine the credibility of the process.  In the event that the score awarded to the candidate by the Interview Board is at odds with the rating included by the line manager on the assessment form, candidates may be inclined to accept the strong rating awarded by their line manager. Conversely, in the event that the rating awarded by the line manager is unfavourable, the candidate may attribute a disproportionate significance on how this impacts upon their candidature.  Also it is possible, if not likely, that some line managers are as concerned about the impact of their assessment and ratings on their continuing working relationship with the candidate as they are about supporting the effectiveness of the selection process. 

The Commission questions the applicability of the Line Management Ratings and Assessments.  Other than validating or verifying the accuracy of the information provided by candidates, the narrative on the Line Management Assessments appear to add limited value to the appointment process. 

While line managers are required to commit enormous time and effort to completing assessments and ratings for each candidate and the Board Members are required to note these assessments and ratings, each Interview Board is instructed to evaluate the candidates based on their interview performance and to disregard the assessment and rating provided.

Garda HR has acknowledged that there are shortcomings in the manner in which performance is formally managed and appraised and in how competencies necessary for promotion to the rank of Sergeant and Inspector may be acquired.  This has an impact on the credibility of the promotion processes as candidates often cannot comprehend how others, who they consider are less effective in their day to day duties, fare better in the promotion processes.

The Commission noted that the selection boards are provided with details on the candidates’ sick leave and disciplinary record.  While it acknowledges that these may have an impact on the candidates’ eligibility and suitability for promotion, the Commission considered that candidates and Board Members alike should have greater clarity about how this information should be applied during the candidate assessment process.

The Commission also noted that all of those who were successful at the end of the Final Interviews were promoted on a permanent basis without recourse to a probationary period. The Commission considers that best practice recruitment and selection processes help to reduce the risk of making a bad appointment.  They do not eliminate the risk entirely.  The Commission believes that, as a further safeguard, the promotion process needs to be supported by a robustly managed probationary period.  In these and any other similar recruitment process involving large numbers of appointments, it is likely that some selection errors will be made resulting in the appointment of unsuitable candidates.  An Garda Síochána must have the capacity to revert those candidates who are successful in the appointment process but not successful in the role.

Recommendation 14 

The Commission recommends that the Line Managers rating of candidate’s competence is discontinued and, in view of the length of time taken to complete the assessments, that the Line Management assessment element of the application forms is substantially simplified with Line Managers completing an overall assessment rather than providing a detailed narrative on each individual competency.

Recommendation 15

In the interest of engendering greater transparency, the Commission recommends that Garda HR reviews the manner in which details on the candidates’ sick leave and disciplinary records are considered in the course of the selection process and that more explicit guidance is provided to candidates and the Interview Board Members alike.

Recommendation 16

The Commission recommends that An Garda Síochána support its promotion processes with a robustly managed probationary period.

(viii)   Career Planning

It is broadly recognised that those who have worked in different roles tend to obtain a greater range of experience and broader skills and can have an advantage over others at interview.  The Interview Board Members have advised that some specialist posts, by their nature, appear to offer candidates who have worked in these areas with greater scope to display their competencies and as such they can become a “gateway” to promotion.  

It is not clear if there is a transparent staff mobility system in place that provides opportunities for members of An Garda Síochána to work in these “gateway” positions. 

Recommendation 17

The Commission recommends that An Garda Síochána considers how it can establish a robust and transparent system for making lateral reassignments which provides those who have demonstrated a commitment to career progression with an opportunity to broaden their experience base.  While not wishing to be overly prescriptive in how such a system might operate, the Commission believes there may be merit in seeking expressions of interest in these lateral assignments.

(ix)   Eligibility for promotion to Sergeant and Inspector

All those at Garda Rank who pass the “Sergeant Professional Examination” and all those at Sergeant Rank who pass the “Inspector Professional Examination” are entitled to apply for promotion.  There is no requirement for candidates to re-sit these tests or to otherwise demonstrate that they have remained up to date on the subject matter examined in these tests.

Recommendation 18

The Commission recommends that An Garda Síochána reviews the role and current relevance of the Sergeant and Inspector Professional Examinations in establishing eligibility for these positions.  The suite of selection tests referred to in Recommendation 3 above may also incorporate an examination of the procedural matters that a candidate will require on taking up the higher duty roles.

(x) Proportion of Candidates putting themselves forward for promotion

The Commission notes that approximately 10% of those serving at the rank of Garda put themselves forward for promotion while approximately 20% of those at Sergeant rank applied for promotion to Inspector.

The Commission considers that An Garda Síochána should seek to increase the proportion of candidates applying for promotion so that the overall calibre of those presenting is as high as possible.

The Commission notes that many of those surveyed indicated that the perceived likelihood of having to move location on promotion acts as a disincentive to apply.

Recommendation 19

It is recommended that An Garda Síochána reviews the manner in which successful candidates are assigned to the Sergeant and Inspector positions and that it considers the feasibility of allowing candidates to indicate which divisions or regions they wish to be considered for.