Sunday 24 September 2017

John Downing: Noirin O'Sullivan's snap retirement comes at a political price for Fine Gael

Charlie Flanagan and Leo Varadkar
Charlie Flanagan and Leo Varadkar
John Downing

John Downing

Garda Commissioner Noirin O'Sullivan announced today that she is retiring from An Garda Siochana but her departure comes at a political price for Fine Gael.

The sudden retirement will at one level ease some political pressure on Justice Minister, Charlie Flanagan, and Taoiseach, Leo Varadkar.

But it also comes at a political price because Fine Gael, traditionally the party of law and order, has been mired in problems about policing for the past four years, and has been damaged by the loss a number of key personnel.

The O’Sullivan retirement means the loss of a second consecutive Garda Commissioner, following the enforced early retirement of Martin Callinan in March 2014.

The most senior official in the Justice Department, secretary general Brian Purcell, stood down weeks after Commissioner Callinan stood down. The Justice Minister and Fine Gael TD, Alan Shatter, was then forced to resign in May 2014.

All of the Government had invested a great deal of their political credibility in Nóirín O'Sullivan continuing as Garda Commissioner. This was despite the large volume of controversy which engulfed her, and loud calls across all opposition parties for her to be removed from office.

Justice Minister, Charlie Flanagan, has said steps will be taken to appoint a successor as quickly as is possible.  But her departure now means he must face the brunt of fallout from controversies on falsified garda breath tests, wrongful motoring convictions, financial irregularities at the Garda Training College, and the ill treatment of garda whistleblowers.

Ms O’Sullivan’s snap retirement does not banish any of those critical policing problems.

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