Sunday 11 December 2016

Thinning blue line a farce as top posts stay vacant

No one is in operational charge of state security - not that anybody in authority seems bothered

Published 20/11/2016 | 02:30

Garda Commissioner Noirin O'Sullivan. Photo: Gareth Chaney / Collins
Garda Commissioner Noirin O'Sullivan. Photo: Gareth Chaney / Collins

Brexit has security as well as financial implications for this country. So do other geopolitical developments affecting the rest of the Western world.

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And we also have 'domestic' terrorist groups like the IRA who are consorting with major international terrorist and criminal organisations bent on murdering people and subverting this and other states.

There are significant numbers of Sunni Muslims here who support Islamic State and al-Qa'ida and maniacs who may want to launch attacks in Ireland.

Which is why last week's 'garda controversy', this time over the failure to fill 'critical' vacancies at senior level in the force, is almost beyond farce.

The problem, from what can be ascertained, seems to centre on whether or not Justice Minister Frances Fitzgerald, or the head of the Policing Authority, Josephine Feehily, or Commissioner Noirin O'Sullivan, inset, has the power and responsibility to make appointments at senior level in the Garda.

The Government created the Policing Authority and abrogated the responsibility for senior garda appointments in the wake of 'whistleblower' affair and the 'retirement' of former Commissioner Martin Callinan and Justice Minister Alan Shatter's stepping down. The authority came into being on January 1, it was presumed, with power to appoint or dismiss senior officers. It then emerged this power had not actually been delegated.

In June, Commissioner O'Sullivan insisted on the filling of 196 'critical' vacancies at senior level, the largest single tranche of senior promotions in the history of the force. She was given the go-ahead by Cabinet to fill less than half this number without recourse to the Policing Authority.

The Government's 'plan' for improving policing was firstly to pass responsibility to the newly formed Policing Authority - so if there is another catastrophe at least there won't have to be another embarrassing loss of a Justice Minister.

The Policing Authority's 'power' to appoint or fire senior gardai was to begin on July 1, after the Government gave the nod for Commissioner O'Sullivan's raft of appointments. But that deadline seems to have been put back to December 31.

One vacancy at senior level in the Garda that can be described as most critical is that of chief superintendent in the Special Detective Unit, our intelligence and spy agency.

This position is traditionally filled from within the SDU owing to the secretive and sensitive nature of the work of protecting the State against internal and external threats.

The Special Detective Unit has been without a chief superintendent with the retirement of chief supt John McMahon.

Two superintendents who served most of their careers in the SDU have both since been promoted and transferred out, one to investigate 'ordinary' crime and the other to a division with one of the lowest crime rates in the country.

If Britain didn't have a head of its domestic and foreign spy agencies, MI5 and MI6, because of a mess like we have, the home and foreign secretaries would be sacked.

This latest Garda 'crisis' could be construed as a turf war between the Department of Justice, the Garda and the Policing Authority. Or, more likely, it is simply a breakdown in communications, possibly prompted by some or other real or perceived slight.

The solution is very, very simple. The minister can, as the democratically elected and chosen public representative with the critical responsibility for state security, pick up the phone to the commissioner and head of the Policing Authority and tell them to sort it out immediately.

And, if they can't then it is equally incumbent on the minister to find someone who can.

Sunday Independent

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