Thursday 21 November 2019

Acting Garda chief quits race just minutes into first meeting at helm

Dónall Ó Cualáin announced early on in the meeting to discuss Nóirín O’Sullivan’s departure that he would not be putting his name forward to be the next permanent Garda commissioner
Dónall Ó Cualáin announced early on in the meeting to discuss Nóirín O’Sullivan’s departure that he would not be putting his name forward to be the next permanent Garda commissioner

Niall O'Connor

Interim Garda Commissioner Dónall Ó Cualáin announced he would not put his name forward for the permanent position just minutes after taking charge of the management meeting held to discuss the fallout from Nóirín O'Sullivan's shock resignation.

Sources told the Irish Independent Mr Ó Cualáin informed his senior management colleagues he had taken the decision not to seek promotion.

He insisted he would remain in situ until a replacement was found for Ms O'Sullivan, who announced her retirement on Sunday, just halfway through her seven-year tenure.

As part of her retirement package, Ms O'Sullivan will receive a tax-free lump sum of almost €300,000 and an annual pension worth more than €90,000.

Despite the disquiet politically over the size of the package, Finance Minister Paschal Donohoe this week said the arrangement was "entirely consistent" with existing Government policy.

In Garda headquarters, senior gardaí and civilian management met to discuss the fallout from Ms O'Sullivan's departure.

One source said Mr Ó Cualáin made the announcement that he would not apply for the post early on in the meeting.

Following queries from the Irish Independent, the acting Commissioner confirmed his decision.

"I am honoured to have been appointed acting Commissioner. My focus as acting Commissioner is to ensure that An Garda Síochána continues to protect and support communities, while progressing the significant changes to the organisation under the Modernisation and Renewal Programme," he said.

Mr Ó Cualáin spent several years serving as a sergeant on the Aran Islands.

Since leaving, he is seen as someone who has risen through the force quietly.

Colleagues point out that, unlike Ms O'Sullivan, many of his roles have been focussed on strategy and planning - rather than front-line policing.

Following his promotion to the post of chief superintendent in 2005, he served for a short period in the divisions of Mayo and Sligo before taking charge of the Galway division.

In July 2012, Mr Ó Cualáin got his first major break when he was appointed assistant commissioner with responsibility for the southern and then the western regions.

Just five months after Martin Callinan's resignation, his replacement Ms O'Sullivan appointed Mr Ó Cualáin as deputy commissioner with responsibility for governance and strategy.

Sources say he developed a close relationship with Ms O'Sullivan and was part of her inner circle. He regularly sat alongside Ms O'Sullivan as she faced grillings from TDs at various Oireachtas committees.

He was also given the task of examining the practice of 999 calls being recorded in Garda stations - which was the subject of the Fennelly Commission.

Mr Ó Cualáin once again returned to his roots in 2015 when he was appointed head of the western division.

Given his predominantly office-focussed environment, sources say there will now be a big focus on his battle against crime.

"He has concentrated on the office environment and in academic qualifications and outside of the Garda headquarters he would not be as familiar with the crime scene in Dublin, organised crime or the terror situation. In terms of background he is the first uniformed branch garda to fill the role since Larry Wren," an officer said.

"This probably will mean the detectives or investigators will be looking for him to show his mettle in the battle on crime. That is something that will be closely watched by the specialist units who carry a lot of sway in the modern police service," the source observed.

Irish Independent

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