Tuesday 26 September 2017

Tom Brady: Finding an outsider willing to lead gardaí might not be easy

Commissioner Nóirín O’Sullivan. Photo: Gerry Mooney
Commissioner Nóirín O’Sullivan. Photo: Gerry Mooney
Tom Brady

Tom Brady

The Government is already circling the wagons and sending out signals that it is prepared to ditch Nóirín O'Sullivan.

Ministers know from past experience that such a drastic move is fraught with danger, given the botched handling of the early "retirement" of Ms O'Sullivan's predecessor, Martin Callinan.

The fallout from that fiasco resulted in two other leading players in the justice system, minister Alan Shatter and department secretary general Brian Purcell, also becoming casualties. A repeat of that performance would, inevitably, create even greater collateral damage.

But desperate times need desperate measures and ministers are anxious to be seen to be ready to take radical steps to distance themselves from the latest scandals.

Thus, the disclosure by Education Minister Richard Bruton, pictured right, while taking leaders questions in the Dáil on Thursday, that An Garda Síochána may be split up, with the force no longer taking responsibility for security and intelligence as well as policing.

Mr Bruton said a division of the two roles was now on the table as part of the Government's plans to order a root and branch external review of the organisation.

At first, this seems simply to be hiving off some of the many responsibilities held at the moment by the Garda.

But the hidden agenda in such a move is that by removing security from the Garda portfolio, it would pave the way for somebody from outside the State to become the next commissioner of policing.

Until now, the main argument against bringing in an outsider is that a foreigner could not be placed in charge of the country's security and intelligence gathering. Hiving off security into another agency would solve that problem. But it's not that easy.

For many decades, Ireland has been the envy of other countries with its single police force taking charge of all of the duties related to the investigation and prevention of crime and security.

It has stood the country well during the Troubles in Northern Ireland and the consequent impact of 30 years of terrorism on this side of the Border.

Read more: Commissioner 'digs deeper hole' at hearing 

Political and policing leaders from other countries regularly voiced their views to their Irish counterparts, and sometimes to journalists, about how fortunate Ireland was to be in that position.

It meant that if the head of intelligence received confidential information that required an immediate response from the law and order authorities, action could be taken immediately.

In contrast, the British security service, MI5, must liaise with the police and go through channels before launching a major operation.

For politicians, far-off fields are often greener and it might seem tempting to look outside this jurisdiction for a successor to Ms O'Sullivan.

But how many suitable candidates might be found from outside Ireland to take on the task of heading up an organisation that has been plunged in so much internal and external turmoil?

An answer to that question might be found in the interest shown overseas in the Policing Authority's advertisements to fill vacancies at the rank of assistant Garda commissioner.

A total of 31 candidates applied, of which 19 were Garda chief superintendents and the remainder from other Garda ranks. Nobody applied from the PSNI or any other police force.

If nobody with a background in policing is interested, it is not likely that too many suitable civilian candidates from outside Ireland will be found, particularly with a salary set at €180,000.

Ms O'Sullivan's position looks safe in the short term, as a sitting commissioner is needed to answer questions before the Charleton tribunal, rather than two former commissioners.

By the time Charleton has been completed, the current management team, most of whom have been promoted to a top rank within the last two years, will have gained wider experience and knowledge of the problems involved in running an organisation that will include 15,000 gardaí as well as 4,000 civilians and 2,000 reserve gardaí by 2021.

The outcome of the tribunal will then give the Government a fuller picture of how the organisation has been run over the past few years and influence a decision of who should be at the helm in the future.

Irish Independent

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