Garda Commissioner Nóirín O'Sullivan sparks RTÉ rift by pulling out of 'CrimeCall'
A serious rift has emerged between RTÉ and An Garda Síochána after Garda Commissioner Nóirín O'Sullivan unexpectedly pulled out of a scheduled appearance on the flagship programme 'CrimeCall'.
It is a long-standing tradition for the commissioner of the day to address the nation by appearing on the final 'CrimeCall' programme of the year, which aired on Monday night.
However, Commissioner O'Sullivan withdrew from the programme abruptly after being informed that RTÉ broadcaster Evelyn O'Rourke intended to ask her about a series of controversies that have engulfed her position and the force throughout 2016.
Following discussions between Garda management and senior RTÉ bosses last week, a decision was taken for the Commissioner to withdraw from the programme entirely.
The move has set a precedent in recent times for the Commissioner not to address the public via the 'CrimeCall' platform.
In a significant statement released to the Irish Independent last night, a spokesman for the Commissioner accused RTÉ of trying to use 'CrimeCall' to focus on political issues.
It's understood that Garda management took the decision to pull the interview because it was felt the programme was veering towards a 'Prime Time' style programme, rather than 'CrimeCall'.
But RTÉ bosses stood their ground, insisting in correspondence with Garda management that the broadcaster was obliged to ask the Commissioner about a series of controversies that have dogged the force in recent months.
The row is believed to have been brought to the attention of the new RTÉ director general Dee Forbes.
But after discussions at senior level, it was decided that the programme producers were correct in their view that the Commissioner should be pursued over issues other than operational matters.
These included allegations by Garda whistleblowers of a smear campaign, as well as claims that morale in the force has suffered significantly in recent months.
The recent threat of strike action by members of the Garda Representative Association (GRA) and Association of Garda Sergeants and Inspectors (AGSI) was also likely to be raised during the programme.
It is usually presented by Keelin Shanley.
RTÉ last night released a short statement which confirmed that Commissioner O'Sullivan was asked to appear on Monday's 'CrimeCall' programme.
"An invitation was issued to the Garda Commissioner to appear on last night's CrimeCall," the statement read.
An Garda Síochána, meanwhile, released a much lengthier statement which expressed disappointment over the issue.
"It is with disappointment, that following a decision by RTÉ management to implement a unilateral change to the programme that is not in keeping with the ethos of CrimeCall, that the Commissioner did not speak to the viewers of the December edition of CrimeCall as is tradition," the statement said.
"An Garda Síochána highly values the important role that 'CrimeCall' has played in helping An Garda Síochána to prevent and detect crimes."
The traditional end-of-year interview has always been an opportunity for the commissioner to thank members of the public for their support, recognise the great work done by Garda members in conjunction with communities around the country during the year and provide seasonal safety advice.
"CrimeCall should be focused solely on assisting An Garda Síochána in tackling crime and enhancing public safety for the good of the community.
"It is not designed to address topical/political issues.
"We don't believe that is what the 'CrimeCall' audience tune in for in such large numbers every month.
"The Commissioner will be providing a thank you message to communities and Garda personnel through the Garda website, our social media channels and internal intranet later this week."
Separately yesterday, the Cabinet approved legislation to provide the Garda Representative Association (GRA) and Association of Garda Sergeants and Inspectors (AGSI) with access to the State's industrial relations institutions.
Justice Minister Frances Fitzgerald, in conjunction with Jobs Minister Mary Mitchell O'Connor, produced the heads of a bill which will allow the bodies to formally engage with the Workplace Relations Commission and the Labour Court.
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It follows the recent resolution of the threatened strike by gardaí, which was resolved after the ad-hoc involvement of the Labour Court.
Ms Fitzgerald told the Cabinet that it is "imperative" that the Government finds new and better ways of managing industrial relations with An Garda Síochána in order to minimise the rise of a recurrence of "what was a very serious threat to the security of the State and the safety of our citizens".
A memo delivered by Ms Fitzgerald noted that other "very significant issues" still require consideration, including the status of the Garda representative bodies and whether they should be permitted to become trade unions.