Whistleblowing essential to keeping force functioning
Judge O'Higgins's report encourages other gardai to speak out about 'wrongdoing' in the force
Published 15/05/2016 | 02:30
Maurice McCabe approached this newspaper first with his complaints about what he claimed was corruption and mismanagement in the Bailieboro District after we published an article about alleged misbehaviour and lack of supervision of young gardai.
Bailieboro was not named in the inside page article, for legal reasons, but the description of the events and activities of young gardai would have made it clear to those in the know that some of the events described in the article had taken place in the Cavan-Monaghan Division.
McCabe merely confirmed details of the report but then went on to make very serious allegations against senior gardai. These were investigated by the Sunday Independent over a period of some months and found to be baseless. Contact with McCabe ended after a series of calls and two meetings.
The report by Judge Tom O'Higgins last week supported this newspaper's position that McCabe's allegations against two highly respected senior officers were 'unfounded'.
About two years after this initial contact with the Sunday Independent, McCabe made further contacts with other journalists and became a media celebrity based largely on material relating to the quashing of road traffic offences.
These allegations led directly or indirectly to the ousting of a minister for justice, a garda commissioner, two legal inquiries entailing the spending of millions in public money and a very large amount of media coverage. Prior to the independent legal inquiries there was a prolonged internal inquiry.
All the matters under scrutiny at such expense to the taxpayer should and could have been dealt with at local level when they first arose.
The problem in Bailieboro, as in many rural districts at the time, primarily stemmed from systemic issues with An Garda's management structures. Bailieboro was one of a number of stations to which gardai on promotion from inspector to superintendent were sent to do their '18 months' in 'uniform duties' before returning to their careers in Dublin.
Bailieboro had seven different superintendents in almost as many years.
Another factor came into play in Bailieboro that has not been highlighted. The Fianna Fail-Progressive Democrat government of 2002 onwards had as an election promise the recruitment of 2,000 extra gardai. This was done under then Justice Minister Michael McDowell almost in one fell swoop in 2005-2006, leading to the collapse of the garda training system.
The impact of the mass recruitment caused sergeants and inspectors across the country to be moved from their local management positions into 'training' to try to cope with the unprecedented influx of recruits. This caused mayhem.
Groups of these new recruits began turning up in stations with almost no one to supervise them. In Bailieboro the situation was worsened by the dispute then taking place and involving Maurice McCabe, who was the sergeant in charge (SIC).
Prior to McCabe's approach, the Sunday Independent obtained a series of text messages between one young garda and a number of young women which contained graphic descriptions of sexual activity and which was in wide circulation among people in the area. At the same time, in the same division this newspaper learned of a young female garda conducting a public affair with a senior officer from outside the division. At one point a patrol car was ordered by the senior officer to pick him and the young female officer up from a pub to be taken to her apartment.
The indiscipline - not criminality or corruption -aside, large parts of garda management have become very ineffective. This has been highlighted graphically in reports from the Independent Garda Inspectorate and particularly in its two latest reports, Crime Investigation (November 2013) and Changing Policing in Ireland (December 2015).
These reports contain damning indictments of the gardai, of far greater magnitude than anything Maurice McCabe had alleged, but were largely ignored by politicians and much of the media.
The Inspectorate was almost aghast at some of the findings. One among many that jumped from the pages of the last report was that ordinary uniformed gardai - including some of those who entered the force under the McDowell mass intake - were being left in charge of investigations into serious crimes including rape.
Both reports point very directly to major failings in management. Its last report pointed to other forces in the UK where rape is only investigated by senior detectives. In the gardai's case, junior gardai are left with these investigations and often fail because there are relatively few senior detectives left in the force. A number of detectives took early retirement in the past decade due in many cases to frustration.
The single tragic episode at the centre of this latest affair was the murder of Sylvia Roche Kelly in April 2007 by Jerry McGrath, when McGrath was granted bail after a serious assault on a woman in the Cavan-Monaghan division. Gardai have attempted to blame 'the courts' for the supposed lenient view on bail. But, the Irish courts grant bail in even serious cases because gardai take so much time to process cases.
Further worsening the situation was the fact that a swathe of garda middle management was engaged almost full-time in academic study to enhance their promotion prospects. One retiring officer spoke to this newspaper about a division outside Dublin where almost every middle managing gardai "had their noses in laptops all day long studying for exams". The entire crime investigation in this division was lumped into the basket of a senior detective in his 50s who oversaw some remarkably successful cases and whose career ended without any further promotion despite what was regarded as great police work.
Despite continued media speculation last week that the O'Higgins report might have an impact on current Garda Commissioner Noirin O'Sullivan, government sources said there will be no repeat of the de facto sackings of Martin Callinan and Alan Shatter.
Importantly, however, Judge O'Higgins drew attention to the fact that gardai, like any other employees in the public or private sector, have the legal right to speak out to journalists or whoever they wish where they see corruption or inefficiency.
One of the major points raised in the introduction to his report by Judge O'Higgins was that garda whistleblowers are exempt from prosecution under the Protected Disclosures Act of 2014.
Mr Higgins wrote: "The purpose of the Protected Disclosures Act 2014 is to ensure that those making complaints about 'relevant wrongdoings' should be able to do so without fear of adverse repercussions. The gardai are afforded protection under that act. This is clearly in the interest of the general public, and indeed of the gardai themselves."
He also had this to say: "Many organisations and institutions have an instinctive hostility to whistleblowers. This may be explained by cultural or historical reasons. The hostility may be as a result of a particular understanding of what constitutes loyalty. Under that understanding, any criticism from within is regarded as suspect, disloyal, or even treacherous. This notion of loyalty can be all the more ingrained in organisations, such as An Garda Siochana, with a strong tradition of internal solidarity.
"However, there is a growing realisation that the activities of whistleblowers, so far from being disloyal, may be motivated by a genuine concern for, and dedication to, an organisation.
"In the case of An Garda Siochana, such an approach can enhance the quality of the service provided to the people of Ireland. The ability of an organisation to learn from past errors is essential for the improvement of its future performance."
The situation within the gardai has reached a historic low in terms of its ability to act as a police force. Senior officers, speaking strictly off the record, say this.
Rape investigations are taking four years or more with fewer than half even getting to court. The pain this causes victims is unquestionable.
Gang-related murderers have a less than one-in-10 chance of being caught and convicted.
The Garda Inspectorate report of 2014 found there is widespread manipulation of crime figures, which led to the Central Statistics Office suspending the publication of all data from the garda for six months. They also found gardai in some divisions are devoting more time to covering up crime than investigating it.
The crime stats, which the public has access to on the CSO site, are quite difficult to interpret but the real picture of crime is shown when recorded offences per 100,000 population are compared with stats on the Director of Public Prosecutions' site for convictions per 100,000 population. This suggests and in many divisions the actual conviction rate is around one per 40 offences.
These nonsensical statistics underlie the fact, as Judge O'Higgins points out, that of all the scandals and controversies, manufactured or real, the "interest of the general public" is the one thing that is not paramount in garda management thinking.