Sunday 25 June 2017

No sparks, just steely smiles - in public at least

Garda Commissioner Norin O'Sullivan leaving the meeting of the Policing Authority. Photo: Tony Gavin
Garda Commissioner Norin O'Sullivan leaving the meeting of the Policing Authority. Photo: Tony Gavin
Nicola Anderson

Nicola Anderson

Josephine Feehily's brow knitted and she took a long, weary drink of water. Nóirín O'Sullivan was speaking of the "can- do attitude" of An Garda Síochána and its "esprit de corps".

A bright expression was fixed determinedly on her face as she answered a question posed by former RTE director general Bob Collins - now on the board of the Policing Authority - who had asked how she would characterise the culture that predominates in the force at the moment.

Garda Commissioner Norin O'Sullivan with authority chairperson Josephine Feehily. Photo: Tony Gavin
Garda Commissioner Norin O'Sullivan with authority chairperson Josephine Feehily. Photo: Tony Gavin

The Garda Commissioner spoke of a need for a culture of "listening, caring, openness to our critical friends and our constructive friends".

The culture can only be changed "one counter at a time", she pointed out. But change doesn't start from the bottom up - it is set "by the tone from the top down".

In admirably fluent California-speak, she talked of being "on a journey".

The more she waxed lyrical, the more Collins looked sceptical.

"She's not answering the question," hissed a woman in great agitation from the public seating.

But not loudly, because no interruption would be countenanced.

Collins tried again.

He knew the point she was making about how she would like culture to change, he said, but pointed out patiently that "the starting point is an important part of reaching the destination".

"Where are the problem areas?" he asked.

This, surely, was on the tip of O'Sullivan's tongue. She could have rattled them off in a heartbeat. The sum of the crisis. The reason everybody had gathered at the dining hall of King's Inns for this excruciatingly polite but utterly pointless public show of appearances.

But she spurned the opportunity for a frank admission and launched afresh into 'the journey'.

It was pure PR speak - a pity. And undoubtedly an error on her part if the whole point of these public 'grillings' is to build trust, brick by brick.

It was the first time the Commissioner had publicly come face to face with the chairperson of the Policing Authority since last month's blindsiding of O'Sullivan by Feehily, who had expressed "deep unease" about the organisation and its workings.

But yesterday, there were no fireworks and the two women posed for photographs together with matching steely smiles.

If there were rows going to happen, they would not be conducted in front of us or streamed live on the internet. Regrettably.

The atmosphere we sampled was one of a very brittle tea party, with the two groups making suspicious eyes across the expanse of creaking floorboards.

A lot of guarded small talk but no real confidences exchanged.

Clare Daly, in a baseball cap, made a show of dramatically shaking her head at talk of changes in procedure in dealing with victims.

The TD, who had previously called on the Commissioner to resign, clearly did not agree.

However, she declined to comment afterwards on how she thought it went.

It was frankly a relief when it broke at 4.30pm because everybody wanted to watch the match.

The Commissioner finished by proffering an olive branch, saying service to victims, speaking up and culture change are "works in progress".

"For victims of crime, for Garda staff and members and for community confidence, it is important that progress takes place," she said.

Nevertheless, she repeated her concerns that the work of everyday gardaí could be "diminished by issues that remain unresolved".

Irish Independent

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