Garda chief admits that force has been gripped by massive crisis of confidence
Garda Commissioner Nóirín O'Sullivan has admitted that her force is at a cross-roads and is suffering from a crisis of confidence.
But she held out an olive branch to her internal critics yesterday, encouraging them to work with her to find a solution to that crisis.
Her remarks came after she came under fire from the Association of Sergeants and Inspectors (AGSI) for blaming the breath tests fiasco and the wrongful conviction of 14,700 people for road traffic offences on "at best, incompetence and, at worst, deception".
Association president Antoinette Cunningham told the commissioner at their annual conference in Killarney yesterday that her comments were unfair to the majority of decent, honourable and hard-working sergeants and inspectors who had served the organisation well for so many years.
"You did not show the due process that all members are entitled to, and your comments left a sense of everyone being damaged unfairly when so many may have had no involvement at all," Ms Cunningham said.
"Generalisations were dangerous in the absence of evidence and fair procedures should be applied to her members as much as for senior management," she added.
Ms Cunningham also complained that nobody seemed to have a long-term plan for what reform would look like. "Meanwhile, on the ground, morale sinks even lower, there is a stink of negativity in the air and members go about their daily duties trying to rebuild public trust".
The commissioner rejected suggestions that garda management had ignored recommendations from the Garda Inspectorate. She said that over the past decade the force had been given 43 reports, including 11 from the Inspectorate, and these contained over a thousand recommendations.
Garda management had studied the reports and recommendations, distilling them into a succinct plan for renewal. Ms O'Sullivan said this plan would be tangible and relevant to everybody in the force as well as to the community.
She told the mid-ranking gardaí: "I am here to tell you frankly, you must do better, much better by the men and women that you lead."
But she also acknowledged she and senior management had to do better by them.
"The status quo is a bygone era. We can no longer mark time and hope for the best. The change we need to make has begun."
Some of the problems now being addressed had been identified because whistleblowers had come forward and protected disclosures were made but more of the reforms had been identified and progressed of the Garda's own volition.
After a 47-minute address, which was applauded by delegates, the commissioner spoke to the delegates in closed session about the recent controversies.