Tuesday 21 November 2017

'My mother insisted I get a good, pensionable job' - Noirin O'Sullivan admits she didn't always want to be a guard

The Garda Commissioner has been speaking out ahead of the launch of a new garda code of ethics

Garda Commissioner Nóirín O’Sullivan. Photo: Steve Humphreys
Garda Commissioner Nóirín O’Sullivan. Photo: Steve Humphreys
Amy Molloy

Amy Molloy

It is almost three years since Noirin O'Sullivan was appointed as the first female Garda Commissioner in the history of An Garda Siochana, but she has admitted it wasn't always the career she had in mind.

In an extensive interview on Today with Sean O'Rourke on RTÉ Radio 1, the garda chief confessed that she originally wanted to work with animals.

"I initially thought I wanted to be a vet but my mother insisted that I get a good, pensionable job," she said.

"One day a friend of mine saw an advert in the paper for An Garda Siochana and asked me to go with her to Coolock garda station. I wasn’t too interested myself but the sergeant insisted I go in to be measured and asked me why I wouldn't think of applying."

After being persuaded by the sergeant's advice, Ms O'Sullivan applied and received a letter in the post, which her mother read before she did.

"My mother, like all good Irish mammies, intercepted it and asked why are you thinking of joining the guards, and I said it was because I think it is something I would like to do and it's something different.

"She knew there was six months training in Templemore and she didn’t know if I would last the six months because of what she thought the regime would be like."

Before pursuing her career in law enforcement, she worked in a vegetable shop in Ballymun.

At the young age of 20, she was then deployed to Store Street garda station after completing her training in Templemore.

While it was an amazing experience, she admitted it was also tough at times.

"As a young guard going there, it was an amazing experience. I was a woman and I was a young woman. I wasn’t really sure what I expected when I got there. What I really wanted to do was be in the middle of the action.

"There was an incident that happened which could have been interpreted as insubordination in so far as I refused to do something. I didn't refuse but I couldn't understand why I was asked to do this.

"I was asked if I could make sandwiches, and I said no."

After raising the issue with the superintendent, she highlighted how she wanted to get involved in more operational policing.

Ms O'Sullivan then became involved in undercover work to try and tackle the inner city's rampant heroin problem.

"At that time there was a big problem with heroin and it was beginning to take a grip. You could actually see it beginning to affect communities. You could also see the communities striving against it, trying to keep their families together.

"Our job was to be in the communities and picking up the information and intelligence that we could.

"We brought prosecutions to court but being out there on the street was important to get a sense of what was happening at the time."

Gangland

Now, over twenty years later, the Garda Commissioner is working to try and battle against gangland crime in the capital.

When asked if the gardaí are in any way close to defeating criminal gangs, she responded "Yes, we are".

"Last year, we made a deliberate decision to show solidarity against crime gangs, particularly with the police in Spain, because a lot of our criminals here in Ireland have moved abroad.

"One of the things we did was to amalgamate the drugs and organised crime bureaus to give us more effectiveness to make sure that we do target these people, that we put them out of business, that we follow their money and that we limit their ability to do what they’re doing."

Whistleblowing

Ms O'Sullivan was speaking ahead of the launch of a new code of ethics for An Garda Siochana.

The document sets out a number of standards which gardaí should stick by when carrying out their jobs.

These include a duty to uphold the law, commitments to honesty and integrity, and a greater focus on transparency in the organisation.

There is also a focus on reporting wrongdoings, following a number of whistleblower scandals within the force.

A number of protected disclosures by whistleblowers concerning alleged corruption in An Garda Siochana are the subject of a report by former High Court judge Iarfhlaith O'Neill.

The Commissioner has been the subject of accusations that she intended to jeopardise the testimony of Garda whistleblower Maurice McCabe by conducting a ‘smear’ campaign against him.

When asked by Sean O'Rourke if she would be vindicated by the report, she responded that she was "satisfied that the process will establish the truth".

"I am constrained in what I can say. The whole concept of speaking up is relatively new to everyone. We’ve learned a lot of lessons."

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