Gov­ern­ment now has op­por­tu­nity to set about real re­form of Gar­daí

Drogheda Independent - - OPINION -

THERE can be lit­tle doubt that the public’s faith in how the Gar­daí are run has been se­verely dam­aged by the rev­e­la­tions of the past few years. Phan­tom breath tests; wrong­ful motoring con­vic­tions; the tap­ing of calls into and out of garda sta­tions; the fi­nan­cial ir­reg­u­lar­i­ties at the train­ing col­lege in Tem­ple­more and ap­par­ently mis­filed homi­cide fig­ures are among the var­i­ous re­cent scan­dals that have dogged the force.

They are, of course, all alarm­ing but they pale into in­signif­i­cance when com­pared with the shock­ing rev­e­la­tions about the treat­ment, and al­leged smear­ing, of Sergeant Mau­rice McCabe who blew the whis­tle on gar­daí quash­ing penalty points.

The fall­out from the penalty points scandal saw the res­ig­na­tion of for­mer Garda Com­mis­sioner Martin Cal­li­nan and since the day she took over his suc­ces­sor Nóirín O’Sul­li­van has spent most of her time deal­ing with the reper­cus­sions aris­ing out of th­ese as­sorted con­tro­ver­sies.

O’Sul­li­van – the first woman to lead the force – was a hugely ex­pe­ri­enced of­fi­cer and she was, by her own ac­count, de­ter­mined to im­ple­ment a “deep cul­tural and struc­tural re­form” of the Gar­daí that would cre­ate a “world class” po­lice force.

Un­for­tu­nately her han­dling of the var­i­ous garda scan­dals did not in­spire the con­fi­dence of the public.

By the time she an­nounced her re­tire­ment on Sun­day her even­tual de­par­ture from the Com­mis­sioner’s of­fice had, for some time, seemed in­evitable.

Hav­ing served as a Deputy Com­mis­sioner under her im­me­di­ate pre­de­ces­sor Martin Cal­li­nan many felt Nóirín O’Sul­li­van was too closely linked with the old Garda es­tab­lish­ment to be in a po­si­tion to en­act real and last­ing re­form.

Whether or not that was ac­tu­ally true we’ll never know but re­gard­less the Gov­ern­ment now has a golden op­por­tu­nity to re­store the public’s faith in how the Gar­daí are man­aged.

Last week the Gar­daí pub­lished the find­ing of their lat­est Public At­ti­tude Sur­vey and the re­sults should have pro­vided sober­ing read­ing for the Gov­ern­ment and se­nior Gar­daí.

Some­what sur­pris­ingly public faith in rank and file gar­daí hasn’t been dented by the scan­dals but the same can­not be said for the se­nior of­fi­cers who run the force.

While al­most 90 per cent said they had trust in the gar­daí just 37 per cent – slightly over a third – said the force was well man­aged and only 36 per cent said they thought the Garda Síochána pro­vide a “world class” po­lice ser­vice.

Clearly the re­form process started by Nóirín O’Sul­li­van has a long way to go if public at­ti­tudes are to be changed.

The first and most ob­vi­ous step that the State needs to take is to ap­point the new leader of the Gar­daí from out­side the force and per­haps from abroad.

As men­tioned ear­lier per­haps Nóirín O’Sul­li­van’s great­est weak­ness as Com­mis­sioner was the per­cep­tion that she was to0 close to the old or­der. Se­nior Gar­daí, in­clud­ing O’Sul­li­van, have ac­knowl­edged that the force needs to change. To do that an out­sider is what’s needed and it’s what the public wants.

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