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Description of the Selection Processes

The manner in which candidates applied to and were evaluated for the promotion from Garda to Sergeant and from Sergeant to Inspector followed very similar processes.

Much of the format and structure of the promotions processes are prescribed in statute. 

The system is based upon a competency based approach and success is determined by performance at interview. Competencies for the roles were drawn up with the assistance of professional external expertise some 10-12 years ago.

Any serving Garda who had successfully completed the Sergeant Professional Examination is eligible to apply for promotion to Sergeant and any Sergeant who had completed the Inspector Professional Examination is eligible to apply for promotion to Inspector.  There is no requirement for candidates to re-sit these examinations or to otherwise demonstrate that they have remained up to date on the subject matter examined in these examinations.

Stage 1 Application Form - Candidates were invited to complete a detailed structured application form.  In the first part of the application form, candidates were asked to outline their academic and professional qualifications, their career history detailing positions they had held and the length of time they had spent in the role.  In the next part of the form, they were required to set out how they had displayed the range of competencies required for the higher role.  Their line manager was asked to include an assessment comment and provide a rating on the candidate’s performance against each of these competencies.  The line managers were asked to rate the candidates between a low of “One” and a high of “Five”.  A second line manager was asked whether they agreed with the comment and rating provided.  In the Garda to Sergeant process, the completed forms and assessments were submitted for final sign off by the Chief Superintendent. 

Commission staff observed that most candidates attending interview received very positive ratings across all of the competencies. 

Stage 2 Preliminary Interview - All eligible candidates were afforded a Preliminary Interview.  These Preliminary Interviews were arranged on a Regional basis with candidates from a region interviewed by one Interview Board.  There were 10 Preliminary Interview Boards for the Sergeant competition and 4 Preliminary Interview Boards for the Inspector competition. 

Each Interview Board comprised two Civilians and one Senior Garda. One of the Civilian Board Members acts as Chairperson. Chief Superintendents sat on the Interview Boards for the Sergeant competitions and Assistant Commissioners sat on the Interview Boards for the Inspector Competitions. The Civilian Interview Board Members were selected from a list provided by the Public Appointments Service (PAS) and approved by the Minister for Justice and Equality.  The members of An Garda Síochána chosen to sit on the Preliminary Interview Boards do not work in the same region as the candidates s/he is interviewing.

The Interview Board Members were required to attend a briefing session in advance of the interviews.  They were provided with detailed guidance on the selection process including information on the competencies, the scoring key and note taking.

They were advised to read the assessments/ratings but not to take account of same in their consideration of candidates’ performance.

The numbers invited to attend for the final interview stage was determined by Human Resources based on the existing number of vacancies to be filled.

Stage 3 Final Interview Board - The structure and approach adopted at the final interviews was largely the same as that used by the Preliminary Interview Boards and only marginally differs in the range of competencies examined.  Again the Interview Boards comprised two civilians picked from the list provided by PAS and approved by the Minister for Justice and Equality.  One of the Civilians chaired the final interviews. 

The Final Interview Boards were presented with the same application material provided to the Preliminary Interview Boards. 

All of those placed on the panels by the Final Interview Boards were appointed at the end of the process and no candidates were placed on a reserve list in the event that future vacancies arose.

As can be seen from the table below, the scale of the competitions is large and very resource intensive.

 Garda to SergeantSergeant to Inspector
Number of Candidates attending Preliminary Interview984381
Number of Candidates invited to Final Interview252128
Number of Candidates placed on the panel18543
Total Number of Interview Days22893

That said approximately only 10% of Gardaí applied for promotion to Sergeant in the competitions reviewed and 20% of Sergeants applied for promotion to Inspector.

Selection of Interview Board Members –

As stated earlier, An Garda Síochána select its external interview board members from a list compiled by PAS and approved by the Minister for Justice.

The majority of Civilian Interview Board Members who met with the Audit Team had been involved with Garda Interviewing for some years.

They displayed a high level of interviewing experience as well as a commitment to the selection of candidates on merit.  They recognised the need to ensure that each interviewee had the best opportunity to present evidence at interview on each of the competencies.  They all expressed the view that the selection system in which they had participated was fair and objective and that selection was only based upon performance at interview.

However, they all spoke of the cost and unwieldy nature of the process, and the difficulty and challenge of interviewing so many candidates.

All spoke of the desirability of training for candidates with regard to the selection process, refresher training for Interview Board Members and the need for systems support in the processing/managing of the interview process.

All recognised the importance of good development feedback to candidates on their performance but also commented on the very restricted time they have for the provision of this comment.  They also highlighted the difficulty in providing meaningful and specific summary comment to each candidate particularly as so many present very well at interview and the board are challenged to differentiate between such a high calibre candidate pool.

There was a clear appetite for the introduction of a comprehensive and suitable system to assess candidates to go forward to final interview in replacement of the existing method.

All agreed that the calibre and commitment of candidates presenting for interview was very high.  They advised that it can be very difficult to differentiate between many of the candidates and commented that many very good candidates had to be disappointed given the ratio of applicants to vacancies.

The Civilian Members on the Interview Boards advised that they were not aware of any criterion or system used by An Garda Síochána in deciding who participates on these selection boards.

An Garda Síochána is reliant upon others for the compilation of the list of external Board Members it is required to use.  As such it does not have the authority to refresh/renew the existing panel of Board Members. An Garda Síochána advised that it strives to include experienced HR Professionals as well as a recently retired Senior Public Servant (eg County Manager or Secretary General level) as its external board members.  The Commission  understands that in some situations the selection of Civilian Board Members may ultimately be determined by the individual’s availability and willingness to participate in these lengthy Interview Boards.

Conduct of Interviews - The records of the interviews generally captured the time afforded to each candidate for their interview along with the questioning areas covered by the board members and a summary of the candidates’ responses. 

Candidates were asked a broadly similar range of appropriate questions related to the competencies, and afforded broadly equal time with their Interview Board.

Details of the scores awarded to each candidate under each competency were also captured facilitating the compilation of an order of merit.  A summary comment was also recorded for each candidate with a view to permitting feedback on their interview performance.

The Interview Boards transcribed the agreed marks awarded to candidates onto an aggregated list. One discrepancy was noted in the course of the Audit Team’s examination of the individual marking sheets against the aggregated list. This arose from a transcription error.  However it had no effect on rankings and had been picked up at an early stage in the course of the Competition Unit’s own internal checking system and resolved with the Interview Board concerned.

There was no discrepancy between the list of those sent forward for promotion and the record of the interviews signed by the Interview Board Members.

In meetings with Interview Board Members, Commission staff discussed in detail the commonly held view that there is widespread interference in these appointment processes.  In particular they asked whether the outcome of the processes were influenced by inappropriate communications with board members. 

Although not universally experienced, some of the Interview Board Members advised that they were conscious that a level of canvassing was taking place by or on behalf of applicants. However each of the Board Members attested to impartiality of the process, the rigorous examination of candidates at interview and the fair, impartial and consistent evaluation of candidates following the interview.  Commission staff did not find evidence to suggest that any such canvassing had a bearing or effect on the selection process.  It must be noted however that any such canvassing has the potential to have a profound effect on the general perception of fairness in the process.