How can any one per­son hope to ful­fil the role of re­form­ing An Garda Síochána?

Irish Daily Mail - - News - Der­mot Ah­ern

WHILE some will say that the ‘writ­ing was on the wall’ a long time ago for Nóirín O’Sul­li­van, I be­lieve it only be­came in­evitable once Gov­ern­ment spokesper­sons be­gan to drop the word ‘to­tal’ when ex­press­ing con­fi­dence in the now­former com­mis­sioner.

It was ob­vi­ous over the last num­ber of months that the Gov­ern­ment wished Ms O’Sul­li­van would de­part the scene, but given that they had al­ready ar­ranged the ex­it­ing of her pre­de­ces­sor, they could not be seen to push.

Some­one who clearly did not have the best in­ter­ests of O’Sul­li­van at heart leaked a story that she had ap­plied for a top job with Europol. No doubt mem­bers of the Gov­ern­ment spent the sum­mer hop­ing that she had ap­plied and would be suc­cess­ful. This would have solved a big prob­lem for them. In her res­ig­na­tion state­ment, O’Sul­li­van made it clear that, while she did con­sider the move, she did not, in the end, ap­ply for it.

Another straw in the wind re­gard­ing her pos­si­ble de­par­ture was the fact that she took an­nual leave of five weeks, some­thing pretty un­prece­dented for some­one in such a high-pro­file po­si­tion. No doubt she used those weeks to mull over her op­tions, along with her fam­ily.

When she re­turned from va­ca­tion, she learned that the Min­is­ter for Jus­tice, Char­lie Flana­gan, was de­mand­ing the im­me­di­ate pub­li­ca­tion of two re­ports into the ex­ag­ger­a­tion of breath test fig­ures. She and col­leagues in the force’s se­nior man­age­ment would have wished to wait un­til another re­port into the is­sue, com­mis­sioned by the Po­lice Author­ity, was com­pleted be­fore pub­lish­ing all three to­gether.

IHAVE no doubt that she saw this move by the Jus­tice Min­is­ter as yet another shot across her bows, and that the Gov­ern­ment’s pa­tience with her was run­ning out.

While the Gov­ern­ment must have let out a col­lec­tive sigh of re­lief on learn­ing of her res­ig­na­tion, clearly she did not in­tend to make it easy for them. By an­nounc­ing that she was leav­ing the very next day, she was lay­ing down a marker.

Nor­mally, some­one in her po­si­tion, if they were on good terms with the Gov­ern­ment, would not leave them in the lurch.

Given the new pro­ce­dure for ap­point­ing a re­place­ment com­mis­sioner, I have no doubt that it will take many months for a new per­son to take the reins. It will not be an easy task. It is no sur­prise to me that Act­ing Garda Com­mis­sioner Dó­nall Ó Cualáin has said that he is not in­ter­ested in the top job. This re­minded me of a con­ver­sa­tion I had with a se­nior civil ser­vant a num­ber of years ago. I as­sumed that this per­son was go­ing to ap­ply for the va­cancy for the top job in their par­tic­u­lar department. I wished the per­son well in their ap­pli­ca­tion only to be told that they had not ap­plied. They said it would not be worth the has­sle in­volved. In­deed, in a num­ber of sub­se­quent con­ver­sa­tions I had with this per­son we talked about how lucky they were not to have ap­plied, given the litany of high-pro­file revelations that have arisen in the mean­time.

It seems to be the col­lec­tive wis­dom that the new per­son must come from out­side the force, and even the coun­try. There are pros and cons for such a move.

A per­son from out­side would have a fresh out­look as to how to man­age re­form. On the other hand, whether or not an out­sider would gain the re­spect of the mem­bers of the force re­mains to be seen. For me, it would take some­one of im­mense courage and stand­ing to bring the over­all force with them. I doubt if one per­son alone would be ca­pa­ble of do­ing this, par­tic­u­larly in the timescale that the politi­cians and the Gov­ern­ment de­mand.

It would be in the in­ter­ests of any po­ten­tial can­di­date to in­sist that they could bring in a team of peo­ple with them in or­der to drive change. How­ever, how the ex­ist­ing se­nior man­age­ment would re­act to this would de­ter­mine how suc­cess­ful, or oth­er­wise, this new com­mis­sioner would be.

Of course, given all the re­cent his­tory and fo­cus on the Garda Síochána, it might be ex­tremely dif­fi­cult to get the best peo­ple to ap­ply. The treat­ment of the last two com­mis­sion­ers, and for­mer jus­tice min­is­ter Alan Shat­ter, may very well put off many suit­able can­di­dates. Equally so, the ob­vi­ous frus­tra­tion of O’Sul­li­van in hav­ing to ap­pear be­fore so many pub­lic fo­rums while hav­ing to run a po­lice force may weigh heav­ily on the mind of some­one think­ing of ap­ply­ing. It will be in­ter­est­ing to see the terms of ref­er­ence for the pro­posed job from the Polic­ing Author­ity. Will they in­sist that any suc­cess­ful ap­pli­cant must make them­selves avail­able to the num­ber of dif­fer­ent com­mit­tees Nóirín O’Sul­li­van was re­quired to at­tend?

Pre­vi­ously, given my ex­pe­ri­ence as min­is­ter for jus­tice, I have been of the view that hav­ing one com­mis­sioner with over­all re­spon­si­bil­ity for State se­cu­rity, coun­tert­er­ror­ism and or­di­nary day-to-day polic­ing, is a dis­tinct ad­van­tage. In many other Euro­pean coun­tries, there are a plethora of dif­fer­ent po­lice forces.

THIS can lead to a silo men­tal­ity as dif­fer­ent forces en­gage in em­pire build­ing to the detri­ment of over­all pub­lic safety. For in­stance, the re­sponse of the po­lice to some of the first ji­hadist atroc­i­ties on the con­ti­nent was mired in con­fu­sion as to which force had re­spon­si­bil­ity as first re­spon­ders.

In Ire­land, be­cause of the decades of para­mil­i­tary threat, it made sense to have one over­all force deal­ing with is­sues rang­ing from coun­tert­er­ror­ism to or­di­nary day-to-day polic­ing. Nowa­days, some are sug­gest­ing that this is no longer rel­e­vant. But, in my view, you can­not beat the cop on the street with lo­cal knowl­edge, es­pe­cially in a so­ci­ety as small as ours.

I fear that if we be­gin sep­a­rat­ing re­spon­si­bil­i­ties, we will lose a lot of the ‘on the ground’ in­tel­li­gence which might not be shared with another branch of the polic­ing fra­ter­nity.

But, given the in­tense scru­tiny, nowa­days, sur­round­ing is­sues such as mo­tor­ing of­fences and penalty points, it may be time to con­sider sep­a­rat­ing ‘or­di­nary day-to-day polic­ing’ from other forms of polic­ing such as in­ter­na­tional co­op­er­a­tion and coun­tert­er­ror­ism.

As I said ear­lier, given my ex­pe­ri­ence, I would not be in favour of this, but it is un­doubt­edly the case that a size­able pro­por­tion of Garda Síochána time must be taken up with re­spond­ing to his­tor­i­cal mal­prac­tice, to the detri­ment of deal­ing with other se­ri­ous as­pects of polic­ing in this State.

Step­ping down: For­mer Garda chief Nóirín O’Sul­li­van

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