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Saturday 25 November 2017

O'Sullivan would be costly to sack and difficult to replace, Cabinet warned

Commissioner Nóirín O’Sullivan. Photo: Gerry Mooney
Commissioner Nóirín O’Sullivan. Photo: Gerry Mooney
Attorney General Maire Whelan Picture: Arthur Carron

Kevin Doyle, Niall O'Connor and Paul Williams

An intervention from the Attorney General surrounding the cost of sacking Nóirín O'Sullivan helped sway ministers to keep backing the embattled Garda Commissioner, the Irish Independent has learned.

With the Cabinet split over the Garda boss's future, Máire Whelan warned that the Commissioner would be entitled to a "significant" pay-off.

Ms O'Sullivan, who is on an annual salary of €180,613, is just over two years into a seven-year term.

It is understood Ms Whelan warned the Cabinet that if even one minister broke rank to say they had lost confidence in the Commissioner, it could amount to constructive dismissal. She pointed out the Government was essentially Ms O'Sullivan's employer, and therefore ministers had to be careful with their language.

Ministers were also warned by the country's most senior civil servant it would be difficult to find a replacement if she was stood down. Martin Fraser, who sat on the interview panel that selected Ms O'Sullivan in 2014, told ministers she was "far ahead" of the other candidates.

But Ms O'Sullivan will again be forced to fight for her survival at the Oireachtas Justice Committee today. The Commissioner will tell TDs and senators: "The fact is that we now know some gardaí recorded numbers that were false. At worst, this was deception. At best, this was incompetence."

She will also warn that the recording of one million breath tests that never took place could be the tip of the iceberg.

"My real fear is that this falsification is not confined to traffic data," she will say.

The dramatic admission will fuel further questions, a day after the Central Statistics Office released figures for 2016 crime levels.

During her opening statement to the committee today, the Garda boss will acknowledge the phantom breath tests raise "serious issues about how we managed the service, how certain gardaí operated on the ground and their supervision".

"Given the scale of these issues, they can't simply be blamed on one individual or one area. It is a collective failure. From top down to bottom up," she will say.

While Ms O'Sullivan's statement does not give a specific reason for why the records are so drastically removed from reality, it offers a broad explanation. "We all take responsibility for this, and all take responsibility for establishing how this happened and ensuring it cannot happen again."

She says the situation was "individually and organisationally shameful, and will be seen to be shameful by the public and the thousands of gardaí around the country who operate every day to the highest ethical standards".

It is understood that garda superintendents are to attend a mandatory meeting in Westmanstown today.

Ms O'Sullivan's performance before the committee will be closely watched by Fine Gael ministers who are publicly backing her to remain in-situ, but privately concerned about the damage being done to public confidence in the force.

A source described the interventions from the two non-political people who sit at Cabinet on Tuesday as "crucial to the thought process".

Ms O'Sullivan was the first Commissioner appointed after an open competition, including applicants from outside An Garda Síochána.

The Cabinet was told she was the best option "by a substantial distance" in 2014.

"If nobody wanted it then, who'd want it now?" asked a minister.

Sources noted there has also been a "brain drain" at the top of the force in recent years, with 15 senior retirements expected this year alone, including three assistant commissioners.

Another source noted the size of the salary on offer is "problematic" when it comes to attracting talent from overseas.

Irish Independent

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