Tuesday 27 September 2016

Authority pulls no punches, leaving O'Sullivan on ropes

Published 27/05/2016 | 02:30

Garda Commissioner Nóirín O’Sullivan arrives at the Policing Authority offices on Dublin’s North King Street yesterday. Photo: Frank McGrath
Garda Commissioner Nóirín O’Sullivan arrives at the Policing Authority offices on Dublin’s North King Street yesterday. Photo: Frank McGrath

Garda Commissioner Nóirín O'Sullivan could be forgiven if she was shocked by the reception she received from the new Policing Authority.

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She would not have expected a soft ride, given the criticisms contained in the O'Higgins Report of the failures of some members of the force in the Cavan-Monaghan division and the poor policing performance provided for crime victims there.

But after the convivial atmosphere that surrounded her first public discussion with the authority last month when authority members failed to lay a glove on either Ms O'Sullivan or any of her senior officers present, this was a different body she faced across the table yesterday.

After a four-hour cross-examination of the commissioner, the authority came out last evening with all guns blazing, highlighting its dismay at the familiarity of performance failures, its serious concerns at the impact on victims and its deep unease at the organisation and management culture within the force.

The gardaí, of course, have heard it all before and have been subjected over the past couple of decades to more inquiries and scrutiny than any other national organisation of similar size.

But that was the thrust of the argument put forward by the authority for issuing its litany of criticisms yesterday evening.

Josephine Feehily
Josephine Feehily

Authority chairwoman Josephine Feehily summed up its views: "The recurring deficiencies in policing performance, evidenced in the O'Higgins report, are deeply troubling".

The authority issued a no-holds-barred statement, which indicates its members intend to carve out its position as the main oversight body for the Garda, and sends out a strong signal to the commissioner that holding discussions in private does not guarantee that its views remain behind closed doors.

It should be pointed out that many of the deficiencies and poor policing performances in the Cavan-Monaghan division had already been identified internally by the force, prior to the O'Higgins Commission beginning its work, and as a result of that investigation, appropriate disciplinary action taken against those deemed responsible for those failures.

But the response to that investigation provided little comfort to the victims, who felt, and still do feel, they were let down by the gardaí.

In a changing culture, not only in the force but also in society, the victim has rightly become the central focus of garda operations. Reforms have been under way in a minor way for the past decade but more comprehensively now to ensure that the victim is never again forgotten.

In the meantime, the vast majority of gardaí, who perform their daily duties without fear or favour and often at great personal risk, must wonder what the future holds for them.

Feeling like you are under siege at every turn can be a huge burden and creates a worry, however subconsciously, that you are better off when you leave your house in the morning to adopt a low profile rather than displaying the initiative and bravery that have been the hallmark of policing in this country since the force's foundation.

The reform programme must be pursued relentlessly and the wrongs of the past, as identified in those tribunals and inquiries, must be put right. But at the same time the Garda must be reassured that for them there is light at the end of the tunnel and the almost daily "disclosure" of allegations of wrongdoing, many of which have already been fully investigated, will become realistic.

Whistleblowers are vital for the proper development of any organisation and must be protected. But there must also be rules to ensure that there is evidence that a foul has been committed when a whistle is blown.

In a bruising assessment of An Garda Síochána, the Policing Authority expressed...

  • Serious concern at the impact on victims and at the systemic performance and management failures
  • Dismay at the familiarity of performance failures through various inquiries and reports
  • Deep unease at the organisation and management culture including the environment for speaking out as evident in the report
  • A need for an urgent response by the Garda Síochána to the findings and recommendations
  • Concern that good work being done by gardaí every day can be set to nought while doubts remain about these issues

Irish Independent

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