Sunday 25 September 2016

Week of northern drama puts the spotlight on our powerful leaders

Published 28/08/2015 | 02:30

Garda Commissioner Nóirín O’Sullivan has been under fire over her assessment of the IRA
Garda Commissioner Nóirín O’Sullivan has been under fire over her assessment of the IRA

The tumultuous events of recent days have shone a spotlight on the strengths and personas of some of the most significant figures in Irish public life.

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We have seen displays of courage from individuals such as Chief Constable George Hamilton, who, despite a backlash from Sinn Féin, believed in telling the public the truth about the threat posed by the IRA.

Not only do the Provos still exist, he revealed, but the one-time terror organisation has structures in place and is suspected of being involved in the brutal murder of Kevin McGuigan.

We have also seen displays of leadership from the likes of Tánaiste Joan Burton and Fianna Fáil's Míchéal Martin.

The two party leaders immediately switched into gear when it became apparent that everything delivered by the Peace Process was in danger of being lost.

Were it not for the political pressure applied by the Labour Party leader, we may not have seen the course of action eventually taken by Frances Fitzgerald.

The Fine Gael politician's decision to order Garda Commissioner Nóirín O'Sullivan to conduct an urgent review into the status of the IRA, albeit taken a number of days too late, was certainly the correct one.

It symbolises a Government not willing to take any chances when it comes to a shadowy organisation capable of destruction.

But Fitzgerald's decision also piled the pressure on another powerful woman in justice circles. O'Sullivan now finds herself dragged into a political storm.

The Garda headquarters went into overdrive on Wednesday evening as the commissioner and her small circle of advisers deliberated over how to diffuse a bubbling crisis.

She had been ordered to investigate a criminal group, which in February she refused to accept even posed a threat.

As the days went by and the crisis continued to rage, Government figures became uneasy at the commissioner's clear refusal to clarify her position.

One must accept the argument that the Garda Commissioner should refrain from engaging in political commentary.

This was one of the commissioner's greatest fears this week - and prompted her decision to adopt a stony silence.

But taking into account all the controversies that have engulfed the force, the public are entitled to expect courage and leadership from their commissoner.

They are entitled to know her position on the scale of the threat posed by a group responsible for tearing communities apart.

With the political crisis in the North now set to overtake events, O'Sullivan's statement late on Wednesday night goes some way to resolving a crisis of credibility.

Irish Independent

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