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Saturday 10 December 2016

Comment: Whichever way you spin it, California trip before garda strikes looks bad for O'Sullivan

Published 21/10/2016 | 02:30

Garda Commissioner Noirin O’Sullivan Picture: Collins Dublin
Garda Commissioner Noirin O’Sullivan Picture: Collins Dublin

Many of us would make the sacrifices necessary - in the national interest - to attend a conference on the Pacific coast of southern California as another Irish winter signals its arrival.

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That is another way of saying that any way you try to spin this one - it looks pretty awful for the Garda Commissioner Nóirín O'Sullivan. Ms O'Sullivan was due back in Ireland yesterday after a four-day stay in San Diego attending an international policing conference.

Let's cut the cant here before we go any further. Over the years this writer got to visit a few nice places in the course of his work.

And once the work was done, it would have been nonsense not to avail of some of the local delights. Equally, it does happen that the work scheduling can cut this recreational stuff to almost nothing.

Of course people who get to go somewhere nice for work are more usually going to get stick. And the best riposte is to offer Brendan Behan's advice about the 'begrudgers'.

The reality is that important work is often done at meetings in nice places. Timing is the key issue here.

The more immediate reality is that the opening shots are fired today in the biggest industrial dispute to hit this country for decades. The Association of Garda Sergeants and Inspectors (AGSI) will today refuse to log on to the garda data base, Pulse.

More significantly, AGSI members will join their rank-and-file colleagues in the Garda Representative Association (GRA) in 'withdrawing their labour' on four Fridays next month. This puts the 1998 'blue flu' in the halfpenny place as that time just 4,000 gardaí participated in the mass exercise of calling in sick.

It is time for operational plans to be formulated to improvise alternative policing arrangements such as they are. Commissioner O'Sullivan's absence this week sends the entirely wrong signal here.

She has been heavily criticised by two rather unlikely 'garda bashers', the Fine Gael TDs Michael D'Arcy and Pat Deering. Their main point is that it is a crisis for An Garda Síochána and strong leadership is required.

Symbolism and sending out the right signal to gardaí is an indispensable component of leadership. Commissioner O'Sullivan is responsible for operational policing. What is coming up over the coming month raises myriad operational issues.

The point has been made that Ms O'Sullivan is supported by eight assistant commissioners, one of whom is designated as her deputy during her absence. It is added that she has been constantly available to her designated deputy.

The obverse of those two points is far more potent. Surely one of the eight assistant commissioners could have gone to San Diego? The time difference between Ireland and West Coast USA compounds the problems of conveying complex and nuanced information in good order.

It was important An Garda Síochána had a presence at this International Association of Chiefs of Police conference. But not Commissioner O'Sullivan, for whom this looks bad.

Irish Independent

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