Monday 26 September 2016

The public and frontline gardaí deserve so much better

Paul Williams

Published 17/05/2016 | 02:30

Sergeant Maurice McCabe Photo: Tom Burke
Sergeant Maurice McCabe Photo: Tom Burke

Somewhere along the line, the victims of crime have become forgotten in the furore that led to the O'Higgins Report - and now too in its aftermath. An Garda Síochána, which was once held in such high esteem by those it served, has become the flashpoint for political posturing, internal wrangling and dirty linen being washed very publicly.

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What is lost, however, is that victims of crime are probably as unlikely to get the service they desire after O'Higgins has reported as they were before.

The Government has promised that some garda stations will re-open, but is there really the appetite to provide a police service that the citizens crave?

We shall see how the Garda Authority operates but it has a tall order in bringing governance to the force in the short term.

The statement by the Garda Commissioner, issued last night, is an attempt to draw a line under the latest controversy.

Last week, it was claimed that the Commissioner's legal counsel told the initial stages of the sworn inquiry into allegations of wrongdoing in the Cavan/Monaghan division that evidence would be presented, showing that Sergeant McCabe had been motivated by malice.

According to what has been leaked so far - and which was not included in the final Commission report - it was claimed that McCabe made the admission at a meeting with two senior officers who had taken a note of the confession.

However, the sergeant then produced a secret recording of the meeting which Mr Justice Kevin O'Higgins said corroborated with his assertion that he had made no such admission.

In her statement, O'Sullivan said she was precluded from discussing the details of the proceedings under section 11 of the Commissions of Investigation Act 2004, which provides that it is "a criminal offence to disclose or publish any evidence given or the contents of any document produced by a witness".

Notably, she points out that witnesses like her gave their evidence on "the expectation (that) their evidence, except as may be included in the final report, would remain private".

She then states: "I have consistently and without exception, within An Garda Síochána and in public, stated clearly that dissent is not disloyalty, that we must listen to our people at every level... and that we stand to gain, rather than lose, when members bring to our attention practices they believe to be unacceptable… I want to make it clear that I do not and have never regarded Sergeant McCabe as malicious."

Her attempt to put out this latest flash fire will probably come as cold comfort to McCabe. The emollient language is hardly likely to soften the frustration felt by the men and women under her command who "do great work to protect and support communities".

Today, the Association of Garda Sergeants and Inspectors (AGSI) plans to march on the Dáil in a demonstration that will make the placatory words ring hollow. Yesterday, an unpublished survey, which the Commissioner had conducted shortly after her arrival in the job, showed that morale is at a historical low. The fact that it took a Freedom of Information application to obtain the results is indicative of a secretive culture still at the highest levels.

The public are sick of garda controversies.

Law-abiding citizens want an effective, speedy and proportionate police service - free of political interference but also held to the highest scrutiny. Is that too much to ask?

Irish Independent

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