Monday 23 October 2017

Fianna Fáil's attack on commissioner looks good - but party won't force her out

Fianna Fáil leader Micheál Martin Picture: Arthur Carron
Fianna Fáil leader Micheál Martin Picture: Arthur Carron
John Downing

John Downing

The Government looks pretty lame in responding to this latest Garda leadership farrago. It is pretty lamentable stuff any way you look at it and must dismay the average garda trying to do a decent job as much as the average citizen.

Sinn Féin has discovered a belated interest in other aspects of An Garda Síochána's operations than it traditionally has had. In efforts to stake out its role as the key opposition party, it is moving to oust Garda Commissioner Nóirín O'Sullivan.

It is a pretty rich seam for any opposition party to mine - so Sinn Féin is correct tactically. Errors by gardaí have led to more than 14,000 drivers being incorrectly penalised for various motoring offences. Taxpayers will very probably have to stump up compensation which may not end with just repaying court fines and resultant insurance company loadings. There may be cases of jobs and livelihoods missed out on or lost, where drivers were wrongly disqualified from driving.

These examples of incompetence are compounded by revelations that gardaí routinely exaggerated the number of roadside breath tests carried out between 2012 and 2015. The sheer scale of this exaggeration, just short of one million reported checks never carried out, hits the force's image for credibility and integrity.

The Fine Gael members of this minority hybrid Coalition are standing steadfastly beside "their woman". The Independent Alliance ministers and the other two Independent ministers are reserving judgment ahead of an important Cabinet meeting today.

But Fianna Fáil felt confident to push forward on the issue over the weekend. The party, which underpins the continued existence of this Coalition, was pretty scathing in its comments.

Fianna Fáil leader Micheál Martin pumped up the volume on Ms O'Sullivan, apparently delivering on its view privately put about Leinster House in recent weeks, that further controversy involving the Garda leader would lead to them pulling its already conditional support for the Commissioner.

The heat generated by both Fianna Fáil and Sinn Féin built pressure on the Government and Garda top brass. Ms O'Sullivan was obliged to come out yesterday and explain her own and her senior colleagues' rather perilous position.

At kindest evaluation, the Commissioner's explanations were thin and limited.

But her determination to batter through all difficulties appeared unchanged and that will not be lost on Taoiseach Enda Kenny and Justice Minister Frances Fitzgerald.

Was there an implicit challenge for Government from the Commissioner? A certain implication it may not weather the abrupt departure of a second Garda Commissioner?

No surprise that Fianna Fáil justice spokesman Jim O'Callaghan, said the Commissioner's response was inadequate as he called on the Justice Minister to answer more questions.

But when a Sinn Féin confidence motion in the Commissioner hits the Dáil agenda next week, signs are that Fianna Fáil will not support it.

Realpolitik says it does not want the Government to fall now and over this issue.

But another reading could be that party members are speaking out of both sides of their mouths.

Irish Independent

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