The police process
: accountability and external civilian oversight of policing reform in Northern Ireland

  • Ciaran Kearney

Student thesis: Doctoral Thesis


This study investigates accountability and external civilian oversight of policing reform in Northern Ireland, envisioned under the Patten Commission‟s programme of reforms in 1999. Emerging from the Patten Commission‟s report was a new architecture of accountability built around three institutions: the Police Service of Northern Ireland (PSNI); the Northern Ireland Policing Board (NIPB); and the Police Ombudsman for Northern Ireland (PONI). Almost twenty years after the Patten Report was published, it is an opportune time to examine how these accountability arrangements may effect policing reform and whether there are clearly identifiable factors which enable or inhibit the efficacy of external civilian oversight. It is also timely to reflect upon the values, attitudes and beliefs held by those involved in external civilian oversight, and whether these attitudes can be differentiated across the actors and agencies involved in external civilian oversight in Northern Ireland. Employing both Q methodology and semi-structured interviews with elite actors (n=62) across the three institutions, this study has developed a re-conceptualisation of policing accountability from an ecological systems perspective. Through this a new framework of „triadic accountability‟ is proposed, comprising of three distinct and interdependent dimensions of situational (s); relational (r); and transformational accountability. Using this new framework, the study derives from findings what it calls the „Nine I‟s‟ of triadic accountability which include idiosyncrasies (s), independence (s), intelligence (s), information-sharing (r), individuals (r), incidents-handling (r), improvements (t), iterative nature (t), and internalisation(t). Furthermore, the values, attitudes and beliefs of elite actors were found to diverge into two distinct perspectives. Together with the „Nine I‟s‟ of triadic accountability, this illustrates how external civilian oversight of policing reform in Northern Ireland has been found to have a duality or mixed effect - the “agathakakological” effect suggesting that it is now time for Patten to be revisited.
Date of AwardMay 2018
Original languageEnglish
SponsorsDepartment of Employment and Learning
SupervisorJonny Byrne (Supervisor), Brandon Hamber (Supervisor) & Cathy Gormley-Heenan (Supervisor)


  • Patten
  • Security Sector Reform
  • Triadic accountability
  • Nine I's
  • Police culture

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