Monday 21 August 2017

Authority of Commissioner still enormously wounded

Garda Commissioner Noirin O’Sullivan pictured at Garda headquarters on Harcourt street, Dublin yesterday. Photo: Arthur Carron
Garda Commissioner Noirin O’Sullivan pictured at Garda headquarters on Harcourt street, Dublin yesterday. Photo: Arthur Carron
Niall O'Connor

Niall O'Connor

This day a fortnight ago, Garda Commissioner Nóirín O'Sullivan was in San Diego, California, at an international policing conference.

She travelled over as part of a delegation that included her husband Jim McGowan, who was recently appointed a Chief Superintendent.

At the same time, the two main garda unions were threatening not just a full-blown strike, but also the most unprecedented course of industrial action this State has ever seen.

The officials within the Garda Representative Association (GRA) and the Association of Garda Sergeants and Inspectors (AGSI) were putting the final touches to what was nothing short of a bombshell in terms of industrial relations.

They threatened to bring this country to a standstill, potentially causing chaos.

Commissioner O'Sullivan's own officers made it crystal clear to her that they were willing to take a move that could, regrettably, allow criminals to be given carte blanche to inflict sheer havoc on our communities.

But she continued her trip to sunny San Diego, returning a few days later.

Today, Commissioner O'Sullivan is sitting in her office fortunate to not be the first Garda chief in the history of the State to face such a serious revolt from members of the force.

If such a scenario happened in any other organisation, the captain of the ship - ie Commissioner O'Sullivan - would immediately step down.

Regardless of the strike being deferred, quite simply, the Commissioner's authority has been fatally wounded.

She no longer commands the support required to lift the organisation, one that is suffering from a deeply low morale. This crisis of confidence in the Commissioner is likely to continue even if this deep-rooted industrial dispute is resolved completely.

This day a fortnight ago, Tánaiste and Justice Minister Frances Fitzgerald was in France for a trade mission. Unlike Commissioner O'Sullivan, her mission was a short one.

Ms Fitzgerald is a diligent and hard-working minister. But many of her own Fine Gael TDs don't believe she has the ability to weather this serious storm in the gardaí, let alone the other controversies that have dogged both the Department of Justice and the force.

Given what has gone before us - most notably the departure of Ms Fitzgerald's predecessor Alan Shatter - the picture painted here is a deeply serious one indeed.

Today, Ms Fitzgerald is sitting in her office relieved to not be the first justice minister in the history of the State to have faced such a serious revolt from members of the force.

She and Ms O'Sullivan have an awful lot in common. They have many things to talk about.

This is Ireland 2016: The centenary of the Rising, the year we honour the brothers and sisters who fought for us. But it's also an Ireland when our own protectors threatened to go on strike.

Irish Independent

Editor's Choice

Also in Irish News