Ambitious deputy taking charge during worst crisis in history of the force
Noirin O'Sullivan has been thrown into the deep end as she finds herself caretaker commissioner of An Garda Siochana.
It's no doubt the last way this extremely capable and ambitious woman would have wanted to make it to the top job – in a temporary capacity.
As deputy commissioner in charge of operations, she has been the highest-ranking woman in the history of the once male-dominated garda force she joined more than 30 years ago.
Yesterday, the Taoiseach announced another departure from existing protocols by inviting applicants for the position of commissioner. Since the foundation of the State the role has always been appointed at Cabinet level, based on the recommendation of the Justice Minister.
Though the circumstances for any new chief will be difficult, officers from other police forces and possibly even from other walks of life are likely to express an interest in and be considered for the top policing job here.
But talented senior Gardai will of course be considered for the post. There are currently a number of vacancies at the upper levels of the force which will have to be filled in due course.
Apart from Ms O'Sullivan, Assistant Commissioner Fintan Fanning is also seen as in the running for the top job.
Seen as a safe pair of hands, he has legal training and is also known for his deft handling of HR issues, key attributes at that level. He cut his teeth in the force's robust Crime Task Force in Dublin, rising through the ranks into administrative roles.
The acting commissioner, Ms O'Sullivan, has been made caretaker in probably the worst crisis in the history of the force.
While the Government tries to clean up the mess – especially in the light of the new phone-taping controversy – it's unlikely to be in a rush to fill the top posts.
Ms O'Sullivan – in charge of operations since 2011 – has also been deputy commissioner of strategy and change management since that post was left vacant last May.
In the current crisis, and in the absence of promotions, it means that she now has personal responsibility for the top three posts in the gardai. That situation may prove particularly challenging for the day-to-day functioning of a national police force reeling from a series of setbacks and crises.
Ms O'Sullivan has an impressive record as a hard-working and extremely competent police officer.
The Dubliner cut her teeth as a member of the famous 'Mockies' (mock junkies) – an ad-hoc team of young, enthusiastic gardai who worked undercover on the streets of Dublin in the early 1980s.
The successful squad was a spontaneous response to the heroin plague that had swamped the streets of the capital. It was seen as the gardai embracing the modern era of policing but, despite busting most of the big dealers, it was disbanded.
Ms O'Sullivan spent several years in the National Drug Unit where she was the operations commander. She later worked as chief superintendent in charge of the Garda Technical Bureau. She was appointed assistant commissioner in 2009 and following the appointment of Martin Callinan as commissioner, she was promoted to the rank of deputy commissioner.
Colleagues say she is a "very determined" woman who made her mark in a male-dominated world.