Confidence in Gardai must be restored
AFTER enduring a torrid time over the past weeks and months, made worse by Government malhandling, the forces of law and order in the State are so punch drunk that it is a wonder they can continue to function. And the wave of unwelcome controversies is only part of the problem faced by a force that has been depleted of staff and denied facilities be a relentless programme of cutbacks.
Over the past year the Gardai have been under a cloud of suspicion over the quashing of penalty points for friends, family and the well connected. Despite denials and an internal inquiry that found ‘no problem here' the issue stubbornly refused to go away and ulitmately led to the ‘jump or be pushed' early retirement of Commissioner Martin Callinan over his unkind remarks about whistleblowers.
Political ineptitude had seen the Callinan affair develop into a full blown crisis by the time of his resignation last Tuesday but even that was soon eclipsed by the relevations about phone taping in Garda stations.
Phone calls in and out of some Garda stations have been recorded for over 30 years but Garda management only became aware the practice was widepsread, and not confined to emergency calls, last October. Bizzarely Justice Minister Alan Shatter only learned of the recordings last Tuesday, he told the Dail.
The taping of Garda station phone calls could lead to a raft of appeals against criminal convictions and carries very significant implications for the entire justice system. It's an issue that will run for some considerable time yet and, with this cloud hanging over them we can only wonder at the feelings of Gardai who worked hard to secure convictions and put criminals behind bars to now find that their work could be undone.
Meanwhile, lurking in the background, are the Garda Ombudsman Commission bugging allegations the findings that will emerge from the inquiry that is looking into that dark affair.
It is with all this hanging over them that Gardai put on their uniforms these mornings and go to work. They patrol our streets and countryside in clapped out squad cars, driving past closed down Garda stations with ' for sale' signs nailed to the front door. One can only imagine that their morale is in the gutter.
For their sake and ours, urgent action must be taken to address this unfortunate situation. It's no longer a case of restoring public confidence in the Gardai, it's about restoring Garda confidence in the Gardai.
Instead of holding a series of separate enquiries it is now necessary to conduct a comprehensive review of Garda structures and operations and where they are found wanting they must be remedied quickly.
However, in light of recent events, there is cause for serious doubt about whether Minister Alan Shatter is the right person to lead and implement such reforms. The Taoiseach needs to look at who can most effectively do this vital job because, for the sake of the Gardai and the public, this bungling has to stop.