Sunday 23 October 2016

Jargon-filled Garda renewal plan fails to address the force's malaise

The renewal plan is a battery-powered scooter when we need something more high-powered

Published 12/06/2016 | 02:30

Garda Commissioner Noirin O'Sullivan Photo: Damien Eagers
Garda Commissioner Noirin O'Sullivan Photo: Damien Eagers

Thursday's launch of the Garda five-year Modernisation and Renewal Programme had an air of 'too little, too late' about it.

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Commissioner Noirin O'Sullivan is busily putting in place her chosen team to steward the force through the next five years of "modernisation" and "renewal" as outlined in her blueprint document. More than two dozen senior appointments and reassignments are expected over the next month before control over senior promotions passes to the new Policing Authority under former Revenue boss Josephine Feehily.

So many senior positions are being filled that sources in Garda HQ say that almost all other work has come to a standstill.

The modernisation document launch also comes just days before Commissioner O'Sullivan is due to appear before the Policing Authority in the aftermath of its sharp criticism of garda management after the publication of Judge O'Higgins's report on the so-called 'whistleblower' affair in Co Cavan.

The timing of the launch of the modernisation programme is to an extent a rebuttal-in-advance of some of the points likely to be raised at the Authority's public examination of Commissioner O'Sullivan in Kings Inns in Dublin tomorrow afternoon.

The modernisation document is actually the Garda's response to last December's dissection of multiple levels of mismanagement by the independent Inspectorate. That 400-page report contained details of a truly shocking level of ineptitude. Among many failures, the Inspectorate found that it is routine and apparently acceptable for management to assign junior gardai with no proper training to investigate and prosecute serious offences including rape. The Inspectorate's many comparisons with other police forces revealed quite shocking organisational deficiencies.

An earlier Inspectorate report found disturbing evidence of crime figure manipulation. This led the Central Statistics Office (CSO) to take the unprecedented step of suspending publication of suspect crime data supplied to it by the arm of the State charged with upholding law, order and probity.

A review by the CSO found that some senior gardai were basically cooking the books to make it look as though there was less crime in their areas. In statistician talk the CSO found that 23pc of crimes 'invalidated' on the Garda's Pulse system were 'invalidated incorrectly'.

Hiding bad performance data is at odds with last Thursday's manifesto, which states that gardai should "live up to the values of the organisation - honesty, accountability, respect and professionalism".

There has always been a system of double books and crime figure manipulation but if there is to be a path forward for the force, then an honest and open system of crime recording and publication would be a good start.

At least the modernisation programme addresses some of the more obvious deficiencies, including the fact that An Garda Siochana doesn't have a cyber crime unit and depends on a computerised crime recording system, Pulse, that is 30 years old.

Over the next five years they also hope to catch up with other police forces who know how to use computers in major crime investigations. Much of the €200m allocated by the Government will be soaked up by the installation of new computers.

The modernisation document does not address in detail how to deal with the malaise that sees almost no one ever being fired for gross stupidity or indolence, and where petty despotism prevails.

The fact is that the Garda already possesses the potential to be a top-notch force. Its public order skills, particularly in Dublin, as evidenced by the smooth handling of the big and potentially problematic 1916 commemorations, are exceptional. And Commissioner O'Sullivan recognised this in her introduction to the programme.

The 100-page modernisation document is heavily padded with meaningless management jargon, sociology babble - and nice pictures, including one of two gardai on the preferred transport of the American mall cop, the segway. Unfortunately, that image almost sums up the problem at the heart of the force. It needs a high-powered all-terrain vehicle to take it over the rough ground ahead - but instead has chosen a two-wheel battery-powered scooter.

Sunday Independent

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