Frances to blame for Justice turning into 'New Angola'

Tánaiste and Justice Minister Frances Fitzgerald Picture: Justin Farrelly

Niall O'Connor

Tánaiste Frances Fitzgerald yesterday conveyed exactly why she is not in the running to become the next taoiseach.

Faced with questions over illegal phone tapping by gardaí, Ms Fitzgerald resorted to the most over-used political tactic in modern day Irish politics: lay the blame on Fianna Fáil.

Instead of stepping up to the plate and taking responsibility for her brief, the Justice Minister took the lazy route, telling reporters that the bypassing of protocols by officers happened before Fine Gael took up office.

There was no indication of any action from the Tánaiste.

Her response lacked any mention on what she intends to do about the innocent people caught up in this phone tapping scandal.

Nor was there a single reference to the respected former officer who was allegedly bullied, intimidated and moved aside after trying to make the force more accountable.

Ms Fitzgerald did, however, reveal how she and Garda Commissioner Nóirín O'Sullivan intend to "shine a light" on what she described as "endemic issues" within the force.

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It begs the question: what has the Tánaiste been doing for the past three years, since being appointed to the Department of Justice?

Perhaps it's no surprise, as revealed in the pages of this newspaper today, Leo Varadkar intends to take a more hands-on approach to the area of justice if he is successful in his quest to become taoiseach.

Mr Varadkar probably knows too that justice has - in the words of Geraldine Kennedy at the weekend - become "The New Angola".

One million fake breath tests, phantom roadside checkpoints, a Templemore slush fund, a spate of whistleblower controversies and now abuses of phone-tapping powers by gardaí.

Society has reached a very dangerous place whereby the public has become desensitised to Garda scandals. Controversies engulfing the force have become normalised among the people it is meant to serve.

We are no longer able to build up the same sense of outrage as in previous times when An Garda Síochána is embroiled in trouble.

That needs to change.

Three years after her appointment, Ms Fitzgerald hasn't shown that she has the ability to implement the reform An Garda Síochána so desperately needs.

Yes, she is a decent and hard-working politician who cares deeply about the people she serves.

But she lacks leadership, at a time when it is unclear who is really in charge of our justice system.

She has spent her time as minister dragging her heels, making excuses and fighting fires.

Her expressions of confidence in her Garda Commissioner may have become a frequent thing, but they aren't believable.

Ms Fitzgerald now faces the real prospect of being moved out of justice when a new taoiseach is appointed, regardless of who is Enda Kenny's successor.

Her future in justice could be in jeopardy much sooner if Fianna Fáil decides to initiate a motion of no confidence.

However, the party's leader Micheál Martin and justice spokesperson Jim O'Callaghan have shown themselves to be much more effective at 'talking the talk' rather than displaying leadership.

The latest mutterings by Mr O'Callaghan that he has "reducing confidence" in Ms Fitzgerald - as opposed to "declining confidence" last week - wins him a grade A for waffle.

Fianna Fáil wants it every way. The time has come to call its bluff.