Wednesday 21 March 2018

Commissioner well-armed to deflect flak

Garda Commissioner Norin O'Sullivan speaks at the meeting of the Policing Authority. Photo: Tony Gavin
Garda Commissioner Norin O'Sullivan speaks at the meeting of the Policing Authority. Photo: Tony Gavin

Paul Williams

Observers may have expected fireworks at yesterday's public meeting between the Policing Authority and Garda management, but what they got was a bit of a damp squib.

The expectations that sparks would fly had arisen when Josephine Feehily, the chairperson of the authority, surprised everyone - especially the Garda management themselves- when she fired a shot across their bows in a strongly worded statement last month.

Following a private, four-hour meeting with the Commissioner, Nóirín O'Sullivan, she said the authority was dismayed at the familiarity of performance failures and expressed deep unease at the "organisation and management culture" in An Garda Síochána.

But yesterday, the Commissioner came well armed herself, firing off a fusillade of charming and fluffy rhetoric to fend off any stern criticism from the Policing Authority.

Ms O'Sullivan and her inner circle of senior officers swamped their inquisitors with a range of promised and aspirational reforms. It left one wondering if her management team actually get around to investigating crime these days.

The meeting, the first of two to be held in public this month, specifically examined issues raised in the O'Higgins report with regard to victims of crime, the Garda-protected disclosure policy and the culture of the force.

Ms O'Sullivan and her acolytes staged a very polished performance which seemed to have been well-rehearsed.

The Policing Authority is very much in its nascent stage but it was still obvious from the courteous exchanges that the members are determined to dissect genuine fact from mere managerial waffle.

In particular, they repeated their concerns that the continuing issues hanging over the force undermine the good work of the men and women of An Garda Síochána.

And the authority members made it very clear that they want timelines for the implementation of the various reforms.

Traditionally, Garda management is notorious for moving glacially and kicking the can down the road but the one thing we took from yesterday's friendly meeting was that this will be the first reform of the new-look Garda force.

The Commissioner was in particularly friendly mood, referring to "critical friends" and "constructive friends" and described how she was going to move the force from a "risk-averse" culture to a "risk-tolerant" one.

There was plenty of talk from gardaí about transparency and listening and the Commissioner regularly sought refuge behind her new mantra that "dissent is not disloyalty".

Missing from the verbal intercourse was any further mention of what Ms O'Sullivan said about whistleblower Maurice McCabe in public and her instructions to her legal team going into the O'Higgins commission of investigation.

Perhaps it is the case that the authority and the Commissioner have agreed it's time to move on - and forget that minor contradiction.

Irish Independent

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