Saturday 20 December 2014

No more room for eejits in police force

Political powers avert their eyes instead of dealing with this ongoing scandal, writes Gene Kerrigan

Published 01/06/2014 | 02:30

No more room for eejits in police force
No more room for eejits in police force
Illustration by Jim Cogan

Obviously, the politicians have a duty to protect a man who put his career on the line in defence of the police force. And we wish Sergeant Maurice McCabe well. But this continuing garda scandal is about a lot more than Sergeant McCabe's welfare.

Consider for a moment the gravity of what has just happened. Sean Guerin, the lawyer appointed to examine the garda scandal, could have minced his words.

He could have padded his report with the usual bland escape clauses – "inadvertent breakdown of communication", "systems failure not attributable to any individual", you know the drill. This would have left enough room for the politicians to wriggle their way back to their default position of advanced lethargy.

Don't bother us with that law and order stuff, we've got backsides to kiss in Frankfurt.

Instead, Guerin looked at the evidence, reached conclusions and stated those conclusions plainly, with no undue effort to provide comfort for those who treated McCabe as a "disgusting" troublemaker.

The game was up.

My own assumption, on reading Guerin's report, was that Sergeant McCabe's ordeal was over.

He had been vindicated. Job done, serious inquiries and reforms on the way – now, back to the daily grind.

At national level, those in positions of responsibility when McCabe's allegations fell on deaf ears paid a price. The Commissioner was gone. The Minister for Justice was gone.

It was no longer a defence to simply point to a garda tragedy, or an example of heroism, and heap praise on the force. Doing so carried the bizarre implication that gardai put their lives on the line in order to protect the right of some among them to do blatant wrongs.

Politicians realised it was no longer safe to pretend there was nothing wrong inside the force. Having refused to stand with McCabe when it mattered, they now rushed to declare him an example to us all, a veritable national treasure.

At local level, McCabe was given access again to Pulse. His work and life could settle back into normality.

Now, given all that – consider what certain eejits within the force just did – as reported to the Dail by Mick Wallace, and on Prime Time.

Knowing the game was up. Knowing McCabe had been publicly vindicated. Knowing that political tolerance for eejitry is out of fashion – they kept up the old games.

McCabe was accused by senior gardai of "destroying the force". His colleagues were questioned to see if he'd said or done anything that could be used to suggest he wasn't doing his job properly.

There were the standard "whistleblower" taunts. Information was withheld from him in relation to a case he was dealing with.

Now, again, this nonsense seems to have had an impact on McCabe's wellbeing. But leaving all that aside for a moment – here's a question.

Having been shown so definitively that the game is up, just how thick would you have to be to continue such antics as these eejits appear to be enjoying? Would you not let some time pass? Would you not at least pretend to have moved on?

Yes, the State needs to protect Sergeant McCabe from such carry-on. But, beyond that, does the police force have room for anyone as thick as these eejits appear to be?

Leave aside their sinister intent – just consider the sheer stupidity of their behaviour. If someone is acting criminally, I want a competent police force to protect me. I want intelligent coppers on the job. The level of intelligence involved in the baiting of Sergeant McCabe is – again, leaving aside the morality of all this – dog standard.

It gets worse.

Acting Commissioner Noirin O'Sullivan went before the Oireachtas Justice Committee and claimed that senior gardai were doing their jobs, in ensuring there was no more eejit carry-on. "Senior garda management are very supportive of Sergeant Maurice McCabe", she said.

"And certainly are in contact with him on a daily basis." Watching this on TV, knowing that something else entirely was happening, McCabe rang O'Sullivan's office.

Approached by O'Sullivan after the Oireachtas hearing, Garda John Wilson is reported to have suggested she ring McCabe directly. She did so and sources close to Sergeant McCabe reportedly found the conversation "constructive". O'Sullivan also provided "clarification" of her evidence to the Joint Oireachtas Committee on Justice and Defence.

The implication is serious – that the force's most senior officer cannot rely on information provided through the management structure.

Not even when she's answering Oireachtas queries.

Now, even if the failings alleged by Maurice McCabe and John Wilson were minor, the response of Garda management never came close to an acceptable standard.

These failings, however, include questionable behaviour (to put it conservatively) that was followed by the murder of a woman. Serious cases of assault were treated as misdemeanours.

There's irrefutable evidence of penalty points being wiped out by senior officers in questionable circumstances (and that sentence is so conservative it could almost qualify for the Labour Party front bench).

All of this is bad enough: extremely serious failings in competency, putting the public at risk; an unreliable chain of command; senior officers compromised by doing favours; suspected surveillance of GSOC; bullying of whistleblowers; the continued presence in the force of eejits of demonstrably limited intelligence.

Throw in Judge Smithwick's remark that the force prizes loyalty above truth – the immature policing of urban estates; feeding children and innocent citizens into the Pulse system; the dangerous and sometimes highly political policing of protests. And this is before we come to such festering scandals as the Kieran Boylan and Du Plantier cases.

My own experience of the Garda over the years – and, I suspect, that of most people – is that there are mature, intelligent and capable people doing good work without fuss; and there are some obvious eejits; and sometimes there is incompetent, questionable or even sinister behaviour.

If the stupid and the sinister behave as they have with an experienced garda sergeant – with all the publicity surrounding this matter – imagine how these same people behave when they've got a nervous member of the public in a room. Imagine them in a back street, ordering an innocent teenager to turn out his pockets.

The political response to all this has been the usual – solidarity among the elites. To that end, the Taoiseach – in attacking GSOC, when it needed defending – misled the public and the Dail. His attitude has been one of surly reluctance.

The new Minister for Justice, Frances Fitzgerald, talks of reform. But she was part of the solidarity of the elites – when Enda Kenny demonstrated that the proper attitude was to avert your eyes from reality.

There's no evidence that Fitzgerald has the stomach for what needs to be done. Most Fine Gael and Labour TDs will avert their eyes as instructed.

Sinn Fein's Padraig MacLochlainn, FG's Leo Varadkar and FF's Michael Martin behaved appropriately.

The independents – and chiefly Mick Wallace – appreciated the seriousness of what was going on and persisted with these issues.

Wallace has been admirable. His analysis of what was happening was clear, knowledgeable and balanced.

Any suggestion he's out to "get" anyone is risible. His legislation on the garda force was sneered at last year and is now accepted for discussion within the Oireachtas.

The political class has been woeful, so far.

But this scandal is not nearly over – and it's centre of gravity has moved from the garda station to the Oireachtas.

Sunday Independent

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