Garda Commissioner Noirin O'Sullivan has announced today that she is retiring from An Garda Siochana.
The announcement comes as a surprise despite mounting pressure on the Commissioner to resign amid the recent garda scandals, including falsified alcohol breath tests, wrongful motoring convictions, financial irregularities at the Garda Training College, and the ill treatment of garda whistleblowers.
In a statement released today, Ms O'Sullivan said she was stepping down because the "unending cycle" of investigations and inquiries has made it difficult to "implement the deep cultural and structural reform necessary to modernise" An Gardai Siochana.
Ms O'Sullivan said: "It has become clear, over the last year, that the core of my job is now about responding to an unending cycle of requests, questions, instructions and public hearings involving various agencies including the Public Accounts Committee, the Justice and Equality Committee, the Policing Authority, and various other inquiries, and dealing with inaccurate commentary surrounding all of these matters.
"They are all part of a new – and necessary – system of public accountability. But when a Commissioner is trying – as I’ve been trying – to implement the deep cultural and structural reform that is necessary to modernise and reform an organisation of 16,000 people and rectify the failures and mistakes of the past but the difficulty is that the vast majority of her time goes, not to implementing the necessary reforms and meeting the obvious policing and security challenges, but to dealing with this unending cycle.”
The Commissioner confirmed that she is not resigning in order to take up another job, despite saying that international colleagues had encouraged her to apply for the top job in Europol this summer. Ms O'Sullivan said that her focus is now on her family.
Ms O'Sullivan said that being "being a Guard is the best job in the world".
"You’re encountering people at the lowest points in their lives. You can make a difference. As long as you avoid cynicism, you can make a profound difference – for the better – in other people’s lives," she said.
Ms O'Sullivan, the first female commissioner in the history of the garda, said after 36 years of "privileged, enjoyable and proud service", saying she notified Taoiseach Leo Varadkar and Justice Minister Charlie Flanagan of her intention to resign on Sunday afternoon.
The Commissioner thanked them for their "continued support" but stressed that retiring is the "right thing to do" after deliberating for much of the summer break.
Speaking about Ms O'Sullivan's announcement, Mr Flanagan said: "Since the establishment of An Garda Siochana, the role of commissioner has been a hugely demanding one but I want to acknowledge that, during Commissioner O'Sullivan's tenure, she was faced with particularly significant difficulties, many of which had built up over several decades.
"Commissioner O'Sullivan showed enormous resilience, determination and integrity in addressing those challenges and, in particular, in instituting a radical reform programme to modernise our policing service with the aim of providing the people of Ireland with world-class policing."
Mr Flanagan said he will continue with the necessary reform programme.
"I have no doubt that the men and women of An Garda Siochana who serve Ireland in the front line of policing have the appetite to embrace and drive that change."
The sudden resignation will at one level ease some political pressure on Mr Flanagan, and Mr Varadkar.
But it also comes at a political price because Fine Gael, traditionally the party of law and order, has been mired in problems about policing for the past four years, and has been damaged by the loss a number of key personnel.
The O’Sullivan resignation means the loss of a second consecutive Garda Commissioner, following the enforced early retirement of Martin Callinan in March 2014.
The most senior official in the Justice Department, secretary general Brian Purcell, stood down weeks after Commissioner Callinan stood down. The Justice Minister and Fine Gael TD, Alan Shatter, was then forced to resign in May 2014.
All of the Government had invested a great deal of their political credibility in Nóirín O'Sullivan continuing as Garda Commissioner. This was despite the large volume of controversy which engulfed her, and loud calls across all opposition parties for her to be removed from office.
Mr Flanagan, has said steps will be taken to appoint a successor as quickly as is possible. But her departure now means he must face the brunt of fallout from the garda controversies.
Ms O’Sullivan’s snap resignation does not banish any of those critical policing problems.
A "smoking gun" is defined in the dictionary as "a piece of evidence that provides conclusive proof of a crime or theory". Her detractors' repeated failure to find such an item on Garda Commissioner Noirin O'Sullivan is becoming one of the longest-running farces in Irish politics.
Charlie Flanagan has been Minister for Justice for the past three months. He has spent that time reading into his brief and meeting with officials and agencies who underpin the country's justice system. During that time, he has kept his counsel on the mounting security and policing issues which have sparked concern in the minds of the public.