Saturday 19 August 2017

Commissioner's management style has done her no favours

Garda Commissioner Nóirín O’Sullivan. Photo: Gerry Mooney
Garda Commissioner Nóirín O’Sullivan. Photo: Gerry Mooney
Tom Brady

Tom Brady

Since she became Garda Commissioner, Nóirín O'Sullivan has done herself few favours with her style of management.

She comes across to many in the senior ranks, both Garda and civilian, as being authoritarian in her approach. She is viewed, rightly or wrongly, as being reluctant to share vital information or her innermost thoughts with those deemed to be outside her chosen circle.

This perception is key to many of the problems that are currently bedevilling her role at the head of the organisation.

She took over the top job in very troubled times with the sudden departure of her predecessor, Martin Callinan, the retirement of some of the most experienced personnel in the senior ranks and an organisation that was already suffering badly from falling numbers, a recruitment ban and lack of resources.

She was handed a "to do" list that was unprecedented in its complexity and length.

Internal divisions quickly emerged as Ms O'Sullivan tried to put in place a new management team that she believed she could trust while reforming and re-organising crucial areas such as the specialist units.

Read More: Majority of public calling for O'Sullivan to quit job

Many of the changes were taken and implemented quickly with little consultation or thought for those who were pushed out into the cold, despite performing very creditably in their roles. Soon, the O'Sullivan team was trying to cope against the odds with more than 40 reports telling it how the organisation should be overhauled while also carrying out its day jobs.

Despite the inner turmoil, the force faced up to the tasks it faced on the streets, tackling the savage Hutch-Kinahan gangland feud.

At the same time, it turned the tide against the wave of burglaries that was wreaking havoc in both rural and urban communities.

But dissent grew among the senior ranks and Ms O'Sullivan's desire to keep everything tight and under her direct control meant others were not being properly consulted, or else not consulted at all.

It was always going to be difficult for civilian managers to make their mark in an inward-looking organisation like the Garda, and a culture that did not welcome outsiders.

Some of the civilians sat alongside Ms O'Sullivan at meetings with the Policing Authority or Dáil committees.

But when a fresh crisis struck, Ms O'Sullivan usually turned to her inner circle of officers to take action and find a solution.

The flaws in that policy are now emerging into the public domain with the disclosures of complaints being made by three of the top civilians.

Some of those difficulties, however, are again being exaggerated as those who might have claimed credit for the heads of Mr Callinan and Alan Shatter now sought the further scalps of Ms O'Sullivan and Tánaiste Frances Fitzgerald.

A difference of opinion between the civilian head of human resources in the Garda, John Barrett, and Ms O'Sullivan over the length of a meeting between the two at the Garda College in Templemore in July 2015 was blown up into a major issue.

There has also been confusion as to whether Ms O'Sullivan should have moved more quickly to inform Ms Fitzgerald of the governance problems.

However, many of the poor practices in controlling the flow of funds and the management of bank accounts related to the college date back a couple of decades.

Money collected by the Garda College for renting out land, owned by the Office of Public Works, was paid over regularly to the OPW but none of this seemed to be questioned by any government department.

The civilian head of the Garda analysis service, Gurchand Singh, complained that he had not been briefed on the outcome of a Garda review of the homicide figures and, as a result, could not stand over the statistics.

This has been blamed on a misunderstanding among senior Garda officers over who should have notified Mr Singh.

The third complaint was lodged by the head of the Garda internal unit, Niall Kelly, whose unit was not included in a review of the one million false breath tests and he also insisted that the process should not be described as an audit.

All of those problems might, perhaps, have been avoided by better consultation at the top.

Irish Independent

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