Friday 28 October 2016

Gardai face culture shock amid scrutiny from Policing Authority

A national security failure and a gangland war showing no signs of abating put severe pressure on O'Sullivan

Published 29/05/2016 | 02:30

Security lapse: A protester is tackled by the Canadian Ambassador to Ireland, Kevin Vickers, at the State event marking the deaths of British Soldiers in the Easter Rising at Grangegorman cemetery Photo: Tony Gavin
Security lapse: A protester is tackled by the Canadian Ambassador to Ireland, Kevin Vickers, at the State event marking the deaths of British Soldiers in the Easter Rising at Grangegorman cemetery Photo: Tony Gavin
Under pressure: Garda Commissioner Noirin O'Sullivan Photo: Mark Condren

With the succession of public gangland executions in Dublin's north inner city continuing unabated and criticisms of her stewardship swirling around her head, Garda Commissioner Noirin O'Sullivan had at least some reason to celebrate last week.

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Her husband, Superintendent Jim Magowan, was promoted to chief superintendent, and with it a salary of €110,000, bringing the couple's combined public service income to over €300,000.

Last October the couple also had further reason to celebrate as their son became one of the top 100 of 24,000 applicants to join the Garda and was accepted into Templemore Garda College.

The mood is understood to be less happy in the newly formed Policing Authority 'watchdog' which, sources say, was advised of the Government's intention to allow Commissioner O'Sullivan to fill up to 70 vacancies at the top of the Garda, only a day in advance and without any of its input or oversight.

The legislation setting up the Authority specifically states that it has the responsibility for overseeing appointments from superintendent upwards, but the 'transfer' of this power has not yet been implemented.

The Authority responded last week with its withering denunciation of the "systemic performance and management failures" in the Force and what sources say may be the beginning of a fraught period as the Policing Authority effectively tries to show it actually has some authority.

As well as yet another broad daylight murder in central Dublin last Tuesday, the State's reputation was quite seriously tarnished due to a major security lapse that allowed a noisy protestor disrupt the service for the 200 British soldiers who died in 1916 at Grangegorman Cemetery in Dublin.

The British Ambassador, Dominick Chilcott, six serving British Army colonels and a colour party from the Royal Irish Regiment were present, the first time this has happened since independence. And yet lack of security for the event allowed the protestor to take up a seat in the VIP area before jumping up to stop proceedings, until he was tackled by the 59-year-old Canadian Ambassador Kevin Vickers.

Given the unprecedented presence of so many senior British targets for republican terrorists, the events at Grangegorman on Thursday were nothing less than a national security failure.

This follows on from the further major embarrassments such as the failure to have any gardai at the Regency Hotel for the boxing weigh-in at which David Byrne was murdered, sparking the series of six revenge slayings in north Dublin.

Last November's report by the independent Garda Inspectorate, set up after the 2005 Morris Report on Garda corruption and mismanagement in Donegal, was by all accounts the most damning indictment in the history of the force. Yet, it merited very little political or public debate.

One of its management recommendations was for the cutting of the numbers of assistant commissioners - which has been flatly rejected in the latest round of promotions to fill the vacancies in these 12 positions. The Inspectorate said there is only a need for five assistant commissioners in a police force the size of the Gardai.

The new Police Authority, as the Inspectorate has already found, will find that changing the management 'culture' of the Gardai a very difficult task.

One thing, in the aftermath of the O'Higgins report into Sgt Maurice McCabe's allegations, the authority intends to explore, at two public meetings with Commissioner O'Sullivan next month, the Garda's police on 'disclosure' of wrongdoing or corruption by members of the force.

The Gardai and Department of Justice are again opting for the so-called 'confidential recipient' arrangement which was exposed as a sham by Maurice McCabe.

Very few gardai actually knew there was a position of confidential recipient where they could supposedly air grievances without the threat of censure from senior officers. What the gardai almost certainly didn't know was that under the arrangement the job of the confidential recipient was merely to pass on complaints back to the department who would then pass them back to the Gardai for supposed investigation.

Despite official statements that the Gardai welcomes dissenting voices from its members, actions have spoken louder than words.

The arrest and suspension from duty of the former Garda press officer, Superintendent David Taylor, a year ago this month actually set the tone for anyone in the Gardai feeling inclined to speak out publicly about corruption or ineptitude - something they are fully entitled to do under the Public Disclosures (whistleblower) Act of 2014.

Supt Taylor has remained suspended on severely reduced salary while under investigation by a special unit headed by the Commissioner's husband, something which the Commissioner said last year she does not regard as constituting any conflict of interest.

The treatment of Supt Taylor, who was locked in a cell at Balbriggan Garda Station and treated like any common criminal, sent a shiver through the force. The legislation, introduced by then Minister for Justice Michael McDowell, under which Taylor was arrested, is Section 62 of the 2005 Garda Siochana Act. It provides for seven years imprisonment and a substantial fine for 'unlawful disclosure' of information. Supt Taylor, as head of the press office, was delegated the power to speak to the press, something for which he has been arrested, imprisonment and suspended indefinitely from duty. This could be construed as a conflict with the Commissioner's and others' welcoming 'dissenting' voices.

The Authority is now seeking elucidation from the Gardai about what changes it intends making in light of the O'Higgins and previous reports, most pertinently the Inspectorate's swingeing criticisms in last December's 'Changing Policing in Ireland', which contains almost all the necessary changes any policing authority might seek to introduce.

The Commissioner has repeatedly stated and did so again at her first public meeting with the Authority on April 25 that she and her management team are trying to contend with 784 recommendations from 41 separate reports over the past couple of decades.

The Authority specified that it wants to know what the Gardai are doing for victims of crime, something which was supposed to have been sorted out several years ago as a result of previous reports and recommendations. The Gardai has instituted 'victims' services offices' in all 26 Gardai divisions, but as journalist Paul Williams showed in his reporting on rural crime last year, this 'service' appears to consist mainly or even entirely of pro-forma letters being sent out to people who have suffered from crime.

It is 18 months since Noirin O'Sullivan was approved by Government as Commissioner, an important appointment as the first woman to hold the post. Previously she had responsibility at assistant and then deputy commissioner level for crime and security and operations. She oversaw security for the Queen's visit which was a major success for the force.

Now, as another first, she is the first Commissioner facing the continuing scrutiny of a permanent Policing Authority which has already been dealt a major snub by Government.

Sunday Independent

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