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

Irish Daily Mail - - Front Page - By Se­nan Molony Po­lit­i­cal Editor

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

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