Friday 30 September 2016

Policing Authority goes where political leaders fear to tread

Published 28/05/2016 | 02:30

FF justice spokesman Jim O'Callaghan: need for Garda reform is being obscured Photo: Tom Burke
FF justice spokesman Jim O'Callaghan: need for Garda reform is being obscured Photo: Tom Burke

It is all political business as usual. The Taoiseach and Justice Minister see no problem at all with Garda Commissioner Nóirín O'Sullivan and have 100pc confidence in her continued leadership of An Garda Síochána.

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The searing and outspoken assessment by the new Policing Authority published on Thursday is about as critical as it could be.

It is deeply unhelpful that the fallout from the O'Higgins Commission report is playing out against a backdrop of murderous criminal mayhem in Dublin's north inner city.

But Mr Kenny and Ms Fitzgerald see the scathing Police Authority assessment as "a work in progress" - another step on the lengthy road of changing our police force.

For some of the Independents supporting this minority Government it is not all that clear cut. Some of the Government backbenchers do not share their leaders' confidence that all will be well in the fullness of time.

The Policing Authority assessment and public statement breaks new ground in the history of hitherto rather half-hearted policing supervision in this jurisdiction. Ordinary gardaí may well in time thank it for its candour - and the Irish people may well finish up doing likewise.

There is no doubt that our civilian police force is among the more popular with the people they police when compared across the western world. But it is equally clear that there is a reform job to be done. The latest report speaks of "deep unease at the organisation and management culture" within the force.

For Justice Minister Frances Fitzgerald, Ms O'Sullivan will explain all in the fullness of time. For both herself and the Taoiseach, Garda reforms will happen now with the new policing watchdog and the force's senior management working in tandem.

The Government's decision to appoint four assistant commissioners to An Garda Síochána, just before that function goes to the Policing Authority, also smacks of cynicism.

A raft of some 20 senior appointments are expected to follow soon.

Government officials say these were already in the pipeline and delayed by problems in government formation. The reality is that it looks like "old politics" feeding into the Garda force's old problems.

Fianna Fáil's strange position in all of this must also not pass un-noticed. Its leader, Micheál Martin, played a leading role in the process in 2014 and 2015 which led to major inquiries into the gardaí. Mr Martin continued to be vocal earlier this month. But it soon became evident that Fianna Fáil was rather "two-toned".

Its then-justice spokesman, Niall Collins, took the earliest possible opportunity to say the party was standing by the commissioner.

Fianna Fáil's new justice spokesman, Jim O'Callaghan, said the personalities involved were being overly emphasised and the main point - the need for serious Garda reforms - was being obscured.

"We need to focus on Garda reforms and allow Commissioner O'Sullivan get on with advancing these. If it turns out she cannot do that, then maybe we will rethink things," Mr O'Callaghan said.

Irish Independent

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