Wednesday 21 February 2018

Explainer: The 'unending cycle' of inquiries that led to Noirin O'Sullivan's retirement

Garda Commissioner Nóirín O’Sullivan. Photo: Arthur Carron
Garda Commissioner Nóirín O’Sullivan. Photo: Arthur Carron

Garda Commissioner Noirin O'Sullivan is to retire after an "unending cycle" of questions over her role.

Ms O'Sullivan said she had been trying to rectify the failures and mistakes of the past.

The commissioner faced opposition calls to step aside amid queries over how she dealt with officers inflating the number of breathalyser tests carried out and police whistle-blowers.

She 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, 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 has served 36 years in the force but there have been calls for her to step aside following a string of garda scandals in recent months.

A damning report on the scale of fake breath test reports by gardai found 1,458,221 bogus drink and drug-driving checks from 2009 to 2016, prompting calls for the commissioner to be sacked.

It is not the first time Garda records have been found to be worthless.

The Central Statistics Office previously raised concerns about crime data and said almost a fifth of all crime reported is still not recorded on the Garda's systems.

In June this year, Garda IT specialists admitted scores more people have been killed in Ireland than official Garda figures have claimed over the past decade and a half.

The breath test scandal, on the back of a catalogue of controversies to have dogged the force, not least the treatment of whistle-blowers, prompted the Government to promise a "Patten"-style commission to review management, training, recruitment, culture and oversight of the Garda.

Chaired by former Garda Inspectorate chief Kathleen O'Toole, it has begun its work.

A second report examined revelations that 146,000 people were taken to court and 14,700 people were wrongly convicted of motoring offences because of issues with the fixed-charge notice system of fines and penalty points used by gardai.

A culture of withholding information to avoid external scrutiny of very significant issues at Templemore training college in Co Tipperary was criticised by Irish parliamentarians on the Public Accounts Committee (PAC).

Financial irregularities had prompted public concern.

The commissioner came under fire after she said informing relevant authorities was delayed in 2015 and 2016 pending the gathering of information.

A public inquiry is probing claims Garda top brass orchestrated a smear campaign, including false sex abuse allegations, against a high-profile whistleblower who exposed wrongdoing in the force.

Ms O'Sullivan was tasked with overseeing the modernisation of the force after the retirement of previous commissioner Martin Callinan in 2014 over the whistleblowers' controversy.

Two officers had raised concerns about flaws in the penalty points system.

Mr Callinan said the claims were "disgusting" but an independent report called for wholesale change.

Press Association

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