Thursday 29 September 2016

It's little wonder that Garda confidence is at rock bottom bottom

Michael D'Arcy

Published 24/06/2016 | 02:30

Morale within the Garda is at rock bottom. Whistleblowers should not have to resort to the use of hidden recordings of meetings as a method of self-protection from adverse treatment by superiors within the workforce (stock photo)
Morale within the Garda is at rock bottom. Whistleblowers should not have to resort to the use of hidden recordings of meetings as a method of self-protection from adverse treatment by superiors within the workforce (stock photo)

My father says that life in Ireland has changed beyond recognition since he was a boy. On reflection, I think life in our country has changed hugely over the past 30 years - for the good, but perhaps not for the good of all.

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The absolute poverty which existed in the 1930s has thankfully gone. Although not perfect, our welfare system provides for immediate needs. While welfare payments or subsidies will never be considered adequate, our ability to care financially for the less well-off in society depends on economic stability and taxation.

It is not enough to expect social progress through financial supports alone. We need to see results from our public spending. Every government department needs to establish if, and why, equality of outcome is not being achieved.

Much has been written about the social issues contributing to the gangland murders in Dublin over the past six months. In my experience, rural disadvantage is more extreme and more silent.

It is part of my political life to advocate for those who are unfairly dealt with by the State. New politics has to go beyond the redistribution of power and the establishment of a business committee to oversee Dáil process.

In contrast to the Dáil committee scenario, where only individual departmental legislation is considered by the committee, the inter-departmental approach to the housing crisis is a welcome development.

Social integration must be at the centre of any housing policy. We need to future-proof housing decisions to prevent any quick-fix solutions from becoming the residential 'no-go' areas of the future. All TDs have encountered social injustice. Let's address the barriers that are causing poor outcomes from our public spending. Let's tackle poor educational attainment. Let's tackle adequate provision of early intervention services for disadvantaged children and their families. Let's tackle intergenerational unemployment, and what's not working well with Tusla and the criminal justice system. Let's tackle domestic violence, which remains a growing issue in 2016. Let's tackle access problems to mental health services. These are the issues I confront in my constituency, because disadvantage is in every constituency.

While political parties may not agree on fiscal issues, I think all TDs would welcome interdepartmental approaches to tackling the barriers of disadvantage. The Dáil is the citizens' forum. Cross-party inter-departmental committees focusing on the root causes of disadvantage could benefit our society more if new politics really means change. Let's stop the short-term political management of the latest problem facing society, and get cross-party political agreement to tackle disadvantage from all sides.

We also need to maturely review our public services, where the public have had below-standard experiences. Our health service is moving to the open disclosure model of dealing with adverse incidents.

The Ombudsman provides a service for citizens to pursue unsatisfactory outcomes from complaints made about public services. 'Whistleblower' legislation has been introduced to protect those working within substandard structures when they highlight systems failures.

All of these are for the public good and should result in increased confidence in our State services.

The portrayal of whistleblowers as nuisances who have malicious intent is a disservice to all of us. Alleged inappropriate treatment of whistleblowers by colleagues or by the management team within An Garda Síochána should be of concern to everyone, and until the GSOC report into these recent allegations is published, the standing of Garda Commissioner Noírín O'Sullivan is, in my opinion, severely undermined.

It is hardly surprising that public confidence in the governance structure within the Garda is at an all-time low, and I base this statement on the increased volume of phone calls and personal contacts I have had from the general public and from members of the force in the past few weeks relating to Commissioner O'Sullivan's management.

Morale within the Garda is at rock bottom. Whistleblowers should not have to resort to the use of hidden recordings of meetings as a method of self-protection from adverse treatment by superiors within the workforce. We need to safeguard those who have had the courage to speak out against poor practice.

I have previously used the term "underclass" to describe the disadvantaged in Ireland. Demographic cohorts or statistical tables do not use this term. I don't intend this to be used as a derogatory term. Everyone understands what it stands for - those who have been left behind and who believe society has no true interest in improving their circumstances.

It's time for real political change which will impact for the good of all.

I hope when my kids take a look at Irish society in 30 years' time, they will be proud of the efforts that we are making today.

Michael D'Arcy is a Fine Gael TD

Irish Independent

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