Monday 11 December 2017

Enda's swansong gives embattled commissioner a chance to dig in

Garda Commissioner Noirin O'Sullivan Photo: Gareth Chaney Collins
Garda Commissioner Noirin O'Sullivan Photo: Gareth Chaney Collins
Kevin Doyle

Kevin Doyle

Just ride it out. That's the plan in Garda HQ and Government Buildings. It's the same strategy that got them through the whistleblowers' storm, the penalty points, the phone recordings, the GSOC bugging, the million fake breath tests and the fixed charge notices controversy.

The scandal surrounding financial and governance controls at Templemore Garda College is another symptom of a policing force whose dirty linen is being aired in public.

The question facing Garda Commissioner Nóirín O'Sullivan is whether she sought to stage-manage the whole mess. That was the view put forward by Fianna Fáil leader Micheál Martin yesterday as he gave the Taoiseach an insight into the 120-page dossier prepared by An Garda Síochána's head of human resources John Barrett.

"The essence of what has been suggested and said here in respect of the documentation from Mr Barrett is that there was an overall attempt to prevent this from getting into the public domain, or an attempt to massage or manage this internally.

"There is the suggestion that everybody in An Garda Síochána knew about Templemore, this elephant in the room, and all of the issues around it," Mr Martin said.

Enda Kenny, who seems to be relying heavily on the newspapers for updates on the furore, replied by saying he had read about Mr Barrett meeting some "quite serious push back in respect of the issues he was raising here and that he was counselled by people to be careful".

But ultimately Mr Kenny, along with Tánaiste Frances Fitzgerald, has concluded this is an issue for the Public Accountants Committee to tease out.

The closest the Taoiseach came to admitting the whole thing is a disaster was a throwaway: "All is not well here." He went on to concede that there is "some internal division in the senior management team in An Garda Síochána" but added it would "not be appropriate for me to comment".

And with that he gave the merry-go-round another spin.

For ordinary punters it must be incredibly difficult to understand how Ms O'Sullivan is still in her job, never mind why she wants to cling on.

"She really doesn't believe she has done anything wrong. It's as simple as that. To give up now would in the eyes of the public be an admission of wrongdoing," said one source.

Another argued that Ms O'Sullivan has every right to feel hard done by and should even come back fighting at her next PAC hearing.

"Mary Lou McDonald and Alan Kelly are beating their chests on the radio. Where's the fairness in that if they are on the PAC, which is supposed to be investigating this? They've already made their minds up."

There's no doubt pride is a huge motivating factor for Ms O'Sullivan, whereas with the politicians it's about self-preservation.

Mr Kenny knows that when he finally steps aside, the episode involving Martin Callinan's resignation as Garda chief will be a blotch on his record. In his final days, losing a second commissioner would be too much. It would totally overshadow his swansong.

For Ms Fitzgerald, the idea of losing a commissioner now would also have major implications for her future career prospects.

While she has yet to rule herself out of the Fine Gael leadership contest, it is becoming abundantly clear in Leinster House that it will be a two horse race between Leo Varadkar and Simon Coveney.

Had Ms Fitzgerald moved department after last year's election she may well be in a far better place to launch a bid for the top, but justice has dragged her down. Based on recent months the chances of her being able to run a nationwide three-week campaign without some crisis emerging appear slim.

Then there is Fianna Fáil. Mr Martin has no confidence in the Garda Commissioner. He thinks she should step down. And yet he refuses to force the issue. Aside from setting a dangerous precedent, Mr Martin is worried it could destabilise the Government and spark a general election he's not ready for. In many ways the fate of the political system is tied to that of the Garda Commissioner and that's why she'll be able to ride this one out too - for now at least.

Irish Independent

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