LEO LETS RIP
Critical of GRA: ‘If I was a garda, I’d be very disappointed’ Has a pop at FG’s Kate O’Connell over ‘choirboy’ remarks Takes aim at Brian Cowen over drinking and hon. doctorate
LEO Varadkar has launched an astonishingly blunt series of attacks on a number of targets including the gardaí, Government critics and even rivals within his own party.
In his broadsides – some tonguein-cheek, others deadly serious – the Taoiseach yesterday ripped into those who accuse him of being obsessed with spin, reprimanded the UK for its stance in the Brexit talks, and scoffed at suggestions that the decision to involve Nama in house building was off the cuff. However, his strongest criticism was reserved for the Garda Representative
Association, which prompted incredulity this week when it insisted rank-and-file gardaí bore no responsibility for the 1.5 million fake breath-test claims.
In a colourful interview on RTÉ on Thursday, GRA spokesman John O’Keeffe insisted that all the blame must rest with Garda management for pushing unrealistic targets on lower grades.
And yesterday, the Taoiseach said he was ‘disappointed’ with the GRA’s hardline stance. He said: ‘If I was a rank-and-file member of the force trying to do my job every day... I wouldn’t be happy with what my representatives were saying about this.
‘It indicates [the GRA] doesn’t accept the report. I am disappointed by that stance. It reflects the change of attitude and culture that is required. You can’t change what you do until you start accepting that some things you did in the past are wrong,’ he said.
He added: ‘I do believe there should be individual accountability for anyone who was involved in falsifying breath tests, and not just at the level of individual rank-and -file gardaí. Of course, that must
‘I’m now totally stone cold sober’
also apply if there were people at management level who were demanding this of people who report to them.’ Justice Minister Charlie Flanagan told RTÉ earlier that he was surprised at the attitude of the GRA.
A number of gardaí privately acknowledged yesterday that Mr O’Keeffe could have handled the RTÉ News interview better, but insisted the general message that GRA members weren’t to blame for the scandal was correct.
‘Basically, he delivered his message wrongly. We agree management is mainly to blame for the falsified breath tests, not gardaí on the beat,’ said one rankand-file officer.
‘We agree with what he was trying to say but it wasn’t expressed very well. All the ingredients were there but it left a bad taste for everyone,’ said a second Garda member.
The Taoiseach also rounded on the British government once more, saying that they will not have made enough progress in the Brexit talks by next month to move onto the next round of talks. ‘I’m not optimistic that it will be possible to come to the view in October that we are able to move onto the next phase in talks,’ he said.
‘The guidelines that we set out, as European heads of government, was that we want to see special progress, not just on issues relating to Ireland, where there has been quite a lot of progress actually, but also on the financial settlement and citizens’ rights.
‘As of now, enough progress hasn’t been made for us to go on to the next phase of talks. But that can change, there are a number of weeks to go yet,’ he said. He also dismissed suggestions that plans for Nama to build affordable housing were made on the hoof.
‘It is something that has been under consideration for quite some time, a couple of months,’ he insisted. ‘The first person to suggest it to me was actually Michael Noonan, the former Finance Minister. I then spoke to Housing Minister Eoghan Murphy and Finance Minister Paschal Donohoe about it. They have both now been engaging with Nama for the past number of months.’
Mr Varadkar’s comments came after he delivered a swipe at critics of his leadership style at an informal speech at Fine Gael’s Clonmel think-in on Thursday night.
Referencing criticism of the new Strategic Communications Unit being set up by the Department of the Taoiseach to better communicate the Government’s work, he said it would probably get the blame for him attending a number of festivals over the summer.
‘It’s only a matter of time before a newspaper, mostly likely a weekend newspaper, decides that I’m really not gay at all, and it was probably just something that the Strategic Communications Unit came up with,’ he joked. He added that his recent high-profile attendance at a gay pride festivals in Canada, saw him receive invites to a number of other events overseas.’
He said Christian Kern, ‘who, as you know, is Chancellor of Austria’ sent him ‘a wonderful invitation to go over there on New Year’s Eve and attend with him a performance by the Vienna Philharmonic Orchestra, along with the Vienna Boys’ Choir’. He added: ‘I don’t think I am available, but I know a few choirboys, who perhaps I could send, led of course by expert conductor, Deputy Kate O’Connell.’
The comment was a jibe at the Dublin Bay South TD, who lambasted Mr Varadkar’s supporters as ‘choirboys’ during the leadership campaign, when she backed Simon Coveney.
He also poked fun at former Fianna Fáil taoiseach Brian Cowen, who infamously sang songs into the small hours at Fianna Fáil’s 2010 think-in before giving a subpar interview on Morning Ireland the next day. ‘I am now totally stone cold sober, so thank you very much, Dr Brian Cowen,’ he said.
IT is disappointing, to say the least, that many members of the Garda Representative Association have endorsed the sentiments expressed by their spokesman John O’Keeffe in an extraordinary interview on RTÉ on Thursday.
Speaking about the exaggerated breath test figures – inflated by 1.5million tests, remember – Mr O’Keeffe said the membership ‘did not falsify that breathalyser data statistics, they did not falsify any of those. The falsification came from middle and senior management, who put them under pressure to elevate those figures, that’s where the falsification came.’
So, they didn’t but they did. No and Yes. That simply is not good enough.
Over the past months, the general public has been broadly supportive of rank-andfile gardaí, and accepting of the fact that they operate under an outmoded system upheld by senior management out of touch with how a modern police force should be run. By holding their hands up and forcibly saying ‘Yes, we did this, but here’s why’, they might have restored at least a modicum of public confidence.
Instead, through their spokesman, they sent a very different message, one that dismissed widespread public disquiet by shutting down any attempt to see accountability fall in all the places it is due. Whether they like it or not, gardaí are answerable to us, and in batting to touch legitimate questions about their actions, they are no better than the recently departed commissioner Nóirín O’Sullivan, who also viewed every legitimate question about policing as some sort of personal attack.
As the Taoiseach said yesterday, we must get to the bottom of the breath test scandal, and everyone who was involved must face some censure. If ordinary members felt under duress, there should be a forum for them to have that allegation sympathetically heard, but heard it must be.
The public has, up to now, been on the side of ordinary gardaí. They would be very foolish indeed to squander that goodwill.
Letting loose: Leo Varadkar doesn’t hold back