Friday 21 October 2016

Public expects some serious change in our police force

Unease with An Garda Siochana will deepen unless the problems are dealt with, writes Gene Kerrigan

Published 18/05/2014 | 17:00

Sophie Toscan du Plantier
Sophie Toscan du Plantier

The public, according to the latest Sunday Independent/ Millward Brown poll, seems to pretty much expect serious change in the Garda Siochana. Which isn't too surprising – given the GSOC scandal; and the Garda Gossip Squad peddling titbits about those politicians who assisted the whistleblowers; and the recording of telephone calls in garda stations.

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Not to mention the resignation of the Confidential Recipient; the resignation of the Garda Commissioner; the failure of the Department of Justice to deliver a letter to the minister and the resignation of Alan Shatter – whose fingernails left deep scratches across his desk, as Enda Kenny pulled him kicking and screaming towards the shredder marked Political Careers.

And that's before we get to the Guerin Report, and the six years during which the political and Garda establishment stood solidly against the efforts of Sergeant Maurice McCabe to stop the rot and push the force to hold to professional standards.

It's not surprising that 57 per cent of those asked have had their confidence in the Garda Siochana damaged by the revelations. What's perhaps surprising is that 42 per cent have the same level of confidence after all this that they always had. With these people, one might speculate, their confidence would remain high unless they saw members of the force coming to set their houses alight with flaming torches, in full garda uniform and cackling fiendishly.

Another way of looking at that statistic is that a significant percentage of the citizens haven't changed their view of the guards, and that that view wasn't too complimentary to begin with.

We're aware that gardai take physical risks daily, and most of us appreciate that and don't jump to conclusions. But the persistent evidence – from Donegal, and the Frank Shortt case, to Cork and the Toscan du Plantier case – is too glaring to ignore. And the culture that produces such scandals can be reflected in how certain areas, classes and types of young people are policed.

And not in a good way. At times like these, people – while still aware of the strain of a garda's job – remember the time someone they know was treated like a criminal. We think again of the response to Shell to Sea, and to student protests, and we wonder why a section of the force treats sections of the public as the enemy.

The poll asked if people agreed with a commission of inquiry and no less than 85 per cent strongly or somewhat agreed. The next three questions evoked a similar response: that responsibility for all senior appointments and promotions should be removed from the Department of Justice (73 per cent); that there should be more protection given to whistleblowers, and that the management of An Garda Siochana should be independent of politics (both 87 per cent).

Impressive as that figure may be, it's worth reflecting on why up to 13 per cent are against change, or don't know or care. Why would anyone at all think it a good idea to have the Department of Justice pick a Garda Commissioner with whom the top civil servants feel comfortable, and to whom the Commissioner might feel obligated?

It passeth understanding why a significant minority think whistleblowers don't deserve more protection than Sergeant Maurice McCabe and Garda John Wilson got. And why that minority think it's a topping idea to have political interference in the force.

The alleged bugging of GSOC was deemed by the establishment to be a "ball of smoke", and alleged evidence of this was leaked. Despite the media manipulation, the poll shows that 58 per cent believe the garda watchdog was indeed bugged. The various odd events that led GSOC to suspect that might be happening have been dismissed by that same establishment as not "definitive" evidence. But those events happened, and that evidence has not been explained away with any credibility at all.

If GSOC was bugged, there exists somewhere in this State an unidentified, sophisticated criminal enterprise with the means and the inclination to subvert institutions of the State. Isn't that something that should cause a bit of a fuss among those of us who believe in law and order?

Yet, from the beginning, with no evidence whatever, the establishment has sought to brush away the suspicion, and denigrate the indications that there was something wrong going on. Now that Mr Shatter has been vanished, it's as though such things were a dream – and a recent suggestion of further surveillance in the vicinity of GSOC was greeted with mirth by the Taoiseach.

The poll, overall, reflects a sense of unease, which is probably the most appropriate response. What's sure is that if the problems aren't dealt with this time, there will be more scandals – and if there are more scandals that unease may become something deeper.

Sunday Independent

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