Monday 24 October 2016

Garda management fails to accept need for change

Published 21/05/2016 | 02:30

Garda Commissioner Nóirín O’Sullivan is under pressure over the issue of instructions to her legal team for the O’Higgins Commission. Photo: Mark Condren
Garda Commissioner Nóirín O’Sullivan is under pressure over the issue of instructions to her legal team for the O’Higgins Commission. Photo: Mark Condren

This has not been a good week for our guardians of the peace or their leader. But so far the matter has generated far more heat than light when it comes to the debate about garda morale, Nóirín O'Sullivan and the handling of whistleblowers.

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For context, we need to go back to last December, after publication of the most scathing analysis ever of An Garda Síochána.

The independent Garda Inspectorate's head, ex-US police chief Bob Olson, observed that the force's management culture is "designed... to resist change".

He had previously made the point that new management from outside police forces would probably be needed to bring about proper change.

Last month, during the first public meeting between Garda management and the new Policing Authority, the words 'strategic', 'implementation' and 'document' were repeatedly used by the Garda side.

No matter what scenario anyone can envisage about policing, from catching Christy Kinahan to giving out parking tickets, the force almost certainly has a 'strategic implementation document' on it. The unfortunate thing, however, is that not much implementing is actually being done.

And, it emerged in the last Inspectorate report, what has been implemented needs, in some cases, to be undone.

One of the biggest 'reforms' to be introduced in An Garda Síochána over the past 20 years has been the new shift work system.

The 'Westmanstown Roster', as it is called, after the Garda sports club in west Dublin where it was drawn up, was the subject of five years of work.

Prior to the Westmanstown roster, an average busy station had four units working the old three-shift system, three working and one off. This had to go because it slightly breached EU guidelines on working time.

To facilitate the complex new system - the coloured roster calendar looks a bit like a flattened out Rubix cube - management introduced a five-unit system. This has actually reduced garda working time.

The scope and seriousness of the problems highlighted in last December's Garda Inspectorate report, 'Changing Policing in Ireland', should have been sufficient to precipitate a substantial clear-out of senior gardaí but nothing was done.

While management has been tardy, to say the least, in introducing meaningful reforms, it also has a poor record in standing up to changes which it knows should never have been adopted.

Under intense political pressure, the force completely accepted the Morris Tribunal report's recommendation that the traditional detective force be done away with and replaced by untrained gardaí operating the CHIS (covert human intelligence sources) system.

Forlorn detectives who have watched the rise and rise of organised crime in Ireland have said that if Christy Kinahan had been asked to devise a criminal investigation system with the least chance of putting him behind bars, he couldn't have picked a better system than CHIS, which does not exist in any other police force.

The Morris Tribunal was another big media and political circus that basically arose from minor corruption and ineptitude, something from which all organisations suffer.

The O'Higgins inquiry, too, largely revolved around indiscipline by junior gardaí and allegations of corruption by Sgt Maurice McCabe against senior officers that were found by Judge O'Higgins to be "unfounded".

Over the last week, it seems as if Sergeant McCabe's testimony was on the verge of adding Commissioner O'Sullivan and Tánaiste Fitzgerald's scalps to those of Martin Callinan and Alan Shatter.

While 'issues' for Nóirín O'Sullivan and Frances Fitzgerald are not going away, as they say in incomplete media analysis, the one thing that McCabe has achieved by indirect means is the exposure of the very serious deficiencies in garda middle and upper management.

The management 'crisis' of last week was caused by prevarication and hiding behind legalities over whether or not counsel for An Garda Síochána was asked to show malice or lack of integrity on the part of Sgt McCabe.

The O'Higgins Commission report actually points to what could be construed as malice on the Sergeant's behalf in Section 10.86, in which the judge deals with allegations made by McCabe against the then Superintendent Mick Clancy.

McCabe clearly had a gripe against this officer, who seems otherwise universally highly thought of in the force.

Judge O'Higgins found that McCabe had told an "untruth" in his allegation against the then superintendent and now chief superintendent that a complaint had been made against him by 'Mr and Mrs R' to the Garda Síochána Ombudsman Commission. Judge O'Higgins said McCabe had furnished "false information" in a report but felt that this might have been understandable, due to his concern for the couple in question.

Sources within the force say that following the McCabe saga, another garda, who is known to him, is about to come forward with more accusations of corruption and mismanagement in another division.

There is little in the Garda or Government's handling of the Bailieboro affair to suggest a better outcome a second time around.

Irish Independent

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