Saturday 23 September 2017

'She took the decision because she thought it was the right thing to do' - Justice Minister reacts to Noirin O'Sullivan's stepping down

  • Noirín O'Sullivan's six-hours notice surprises some ministers
  • Taoiseach Leo Varadkar only discovered news through his officials
  • Ms O'Sullivan will receive €90k-a-year pension and lump sum of approx €300k
  • Minister Flanagan said he was 'not surprised' and was informed at 5pm on Sunday
  • Government will pursue continued reform
Noirin O'Sullivan. Inset: Charlie Flanagan
Noirin O'Sullivan. Inset: Charlie Flanagan
Justice Minister Charlie Flanagan Photo: Gareth Chaney/Collins
Retiring Garda Commissioner Nóirín O'Sullivan. Photo: Gerry Mooney
Garda Commissioner Noirin O'Sullivan Picture: Damien Eagers
Garda Commissioner Noirin O'Sullivan Photo: Gareth Chaney Collins
Independent.ie Newsdesk

Independent.ie Newsdesk

Charlie Flanagan has said that the Garda Commissioner Noirin O'Sullivan's resignation didn't come as a surprise and that the Policing Authority have commenced the process of selecting a new Commissioner.

Speaking on RTÉ's Morning Ireland, the Minister for Justice and Equality sent his gratitude and appreciation to Noirin O'Sullivan for her 36 years of service in An Garda Siochana.

Justice Minister Charlie Flanagan Photo: Gareth Chaney/Collins
Justice Minister Charlie Flanagan Photo: Gareth Chaney/Collins

"I wasn't surprised by the news ... It was indicated to me at approximately 5pm yesterday evening."

It emerged today that Ms O'Sullivan took some government ministers by surprise when she gave just six hours' notice of her intention to retire.

The Government is now left searching for its third Garda commissioner since 2014, having also lost Ms O'Sullivan's predecessor Martin Callinan in controversial circumstances.

Ms O'Sullivan announced her decision to "retire from An Garda Síochána" just days after a damning report on inflated breath test numbers.

"I understand that there were some discussions having regard that the Commissioner had said that she devoted much of her summer break to consider whether or not she would continue as Garda Commissioner and whether continuing would be the right thing for her to do," Charlie Flanagan told Morning Ireland.

Mr Flanagan added that he didn't speak to the Garda Commissioner since before she took her summer break in July.

Garda Commissioner Noirin O'Sullivan Picture: Damien Eagers
Garda Commissioner Noirin O'Sullivan Picture: Damien Eagers

"The Garda Commissioner took the decision because she thought it was the right thing to do. I accepted that. This morning, I will be making contact with the Policing Authority to set in place the process of finding her replacement. In the meantime, I'm very pleased that Deputy Commissioner Dónall O Cualáin will step in as police commissioner.

"It has been a very, very difficult time for An Garda Siochana. There are a number of inquiries, there is the tribunal and I'm under no illusion here. From what I see from garda management and the front-line gardai on a daily basis is that there is an appetite to see change. It's up to leaders to ensure this change.

"I will ensure that we will co-ordinate a programme of reform. It is important that the reform campaign gathers momentum."

When asked how he will accelerate a programme of reform he said:

"We have the report from 2015, 'Changing Police in Ireland', recommendations in relation to structure in An Garda Siochana, the manner in which officers are deployed and the Garda Siochana human resources, financial management, all garda practices."

He added that he was looking into next year's budget "to assure the acceleration of recruitment for An Garda Siochana".

"Time is of the essence but this isn't something that is going to happen overnight.

"It will take a number of months. I will make early contact with the Policy Authority, who will for the first time now have a statutory function in advising the Government and making recommendations as to the new Commisioner. This process commences this morning."

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Justice Minister Charlie Flanagan Photo: Gareth Chaney/Collins

In regards to Ms O'Sullivan's pension package, Mr Flanagan said that is it "entirely in line with guidelines and rules with the Department of Expenditure" and that her pension will reflect the number of years she spent in An Garda Siochana.

According to the Irish Independent, it is understood she will receive a €90,000-a-year pension and a lump sum of approximately €300,000.

Antoinette Cunningham, President of the AGSI, told Morning Ireland that the garda force are again the ones left without a commissioner.

"This will be the second time in three years that a Garda Commissioner has resigned, both were under intense scrutiny. Once again the membership are the ones who are left without a commissioner.

"I think the force is undergoing a programme of reform and AGSI is trying to play its part in that process. The reform will have to continue despite the Commissioner retiring.

"I think it's a matter for Government and the Policing Authority who the successor to the Garda Commissioner will be. No matter who the Commissioner is, the workforce will accept and respect their role and work."

It was late yesterday afternoon when Ms O'Sullivan informed the Department of Justice secretary general Noel Waters of her decision to retire from midnight last night. The statement confirming her departure was released shortly before 6pm.

The Irish Independent reports she did not consult with Justice Minister Charlie Flanagan who was in England on business. It is understood Taoiseach Leo Varadkar only became aware of the news from his officials.

The announcement came as a surprise despite mounting pressure on the Commissioner to retire amid the recent garda scandals, including falsified alcohol breath tests, wrongful motoring convictions, financial irregularities at the Garda Training College, and the ill treatment of garda whistleblowers.

In a statement released yesterday, Ms O'Sullivan said she was stepping down because the "unending cycle" of investigations and inquiries has made it difficult to "implement the deep cultural and structural reform necessary to modernise" An Garda Síochana.

Ms O'Sullivan said: "It has become clear, over the last year, that the core of my job is now about responding to an unending cycle of requests, questions, instructions and public hearings involving various agencies including the Public Accounts Committee, the Justice and Equality Committee, the Policing Authority, and various other inquiries, and dealing with inaccurate commentary surrounding all of these matters.

"They are all part of a new – and necessary – system of public accountability. But when a Commissioner is trying – as I’ve been trying – to implement the deep cultural and structural reform that is necessary to modernise and reform an organisation of 16,000 people and rectify the failures and mistakes of the past but the difficulty is that the vast majority of her time goes, not to implementing the necessary reforms and meeting the obvious policing and security challenges, but to dealing with this unending cycle.”

The Commissioner confirmed that she is not retiring in order to take up another job, despite saying that international colleagues had encouraged her to apply for the top job in Europol this summer. Ms O'Sullivan said that her focus is now on her family.

Ms O'Sullivan said that being "being a Guard is the best job in the world".

"You’re encountering people at the lowest points in their lives. You can make a difference. As long as you avoid cynicism, you can make a profound difference – for the better – in other people’s lives," she said.

Ms O'Sullivan, the first female commissioner in the history of the garda, said after 36 years of "privileged, enjoyable and proud service", saying she notified Taoiseach Leo Varadkar and Justice Minister Charlie Flanagan of her intention to retire on Sunday afternoon.

The Commissioner thanked them for their "continued support" but stressed that retiring is the "right thing to do" after deliberating for much of the summer break.

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Garda Commissioner Noirin O'Sullivan Picture: Damien Eagers

Speaking about Ms O'Sullivan's announcement, Mr Flanagan said: "Since the establishment of An Garda Siochana, the role of commissioner has been a hugely demanding one but I want to acknowledge that, during Commissioner O'Sullivan's tenure, she was faced with particularly significant difficulties, many of which had built up over several decades.

"Commissioner O'Sullivan showed enormous resilience, determination and integrity in addressing those challenges and, in particular, in instituting a radical reform programme to modernise our policing service with the aim of providing the people of Ireland with world-class policing."

Mr Flanagan said he will continue with the necessary reform programme.

"I have no doubt that the men and women of An Garda Siochana who serve Ireland in the front line of policing have the appetite to embrace and drive that change."

The sudden retirement will at one level ease some political pressure on Mr Flanagan, and Mr 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.

Ms O’Sullivan's decision to step down 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.

Mr 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 the garda controversies.

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

Meanwhile, an opposition TD has questioned whether the shock retirement of Norin O'Sullivan is a signal of more garda controversies to come.

Noirin O'Sullivan announced her intention to step down late on Sunday, despite having a strong backing at Government level.

The announcement came following months of mounting pressure for her to step down amid the recent garda scandals, including falsified alcohol breath tests, wrongful motoring convictions, financial irregularities at the Garda Training College, and the ill treatment of garda whistleblowers.

Also speaking on RTÉ's Morning Ireland Solidarity TD Paul Murphy said:

"I'm surprised she's held on as long as she has and she hasn't been pushed out at an earlier stage.

"An Garda Siochana was involved in scandal after scandal from Whistlebowlers to Templemore, to Jobstown. It was one thing after another.

Mr Murphy said that Noirin O'Sullivan's departure was "inevitable" but added that the timing was "surprising".

"You have to question what is coming down the road that she is getting out of the way for," he said.

Ms O'Sullivan cited an "unending cycle of inquiries" which has become the core of her job as the reason for her stepping down.

There is no evidence that she was personally involved in any wrongdoing in her capacity as a garda and she has repeatedly denied any knowledge of or part in an alleged smear campaign against whistleblowers.

Speaking this morning Mr Murphy took a strong line against the former commissioner stating:

"Noirin O'Sullivan was a rotten apple at the top of An Garda Siochanna. The allegations are not legacy issues."

In a statement to members of the force last night, the Commissioner said that despite the unprecedented challenges, controversies and criticisms of the last few years, she looks back on her 36 years in the service with enormous pride.

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