Friday 15 December 2017

Force hungry for change, says acting garda chief

Acting Garda Commissioner Noirin O'Sullivan addressing the large audience at the MacGill Summer School in Glenties.
Acting Garda Commissioner Noirin O'Sullivan addressing the large audience at the MacGill Summer School in Glenties.

Lise Hand and Tom Brady

ACTING Garda Commissioner Noirin O'Sullivan believes the force "has learned the hard way" that it must change.

Speaking at the MacGill Summer School in Donegal yesterday, she said that the lesson had been "hard for us and for those who wanted to alert us to problems. We now know that if you concentrate too much on the messenger, you may miss the message."

The interim commissioner, who was appointed in March following the resignation of Martin Callinan amid controversies over the handling of whistleblowers, told the audience at the summer school that the Garda Siochana wasn't broken in the wake of a series of controversies.

"Damaged, yes. Hurting, yes. In need of change, yes. Hungry for change, absolutely," she said.

Her comments come as the Garda Representative Association General Secretary PJ Stone urged the Government to await the outcome of a raft of inquiries to establish what was 'broken' in the justice sector before setting out to fix it.

They fear that new knee-jerk legislation will be pushed through before real problems have been isolated.

Mr Stone said it would be prudent to await all reports, including the full review of the force under the Haddington Road Agreement, before attempting reconstruction. "We need to establish what is broken before we can fix or replace everything with new designs and imported parts," he said.

Mr Stone said the Government had outlined new legislation to increase the powers of the Garda Ombudsman Commission (GSOC) without proper public debate.

Last May the Guerin Report into whistleblowers criticised the gardai, the Garda Ombudsman and the Department of Justice for failing to heed the word of Sergeant Maurice McCabe after he first raised concerns in September 2012.

"I will not tolerate bullying, harassment or intimidation of any type of any of our members," said Ms O'Sullivan.

She addressed the issue of the setting up of an independent garda authority, and said that while she welcomed "stronger oversight" from the proposed independent authority and that it will provide "an additional layer of trust", she added that "it's important to take time to get it right".

She said that reform involved building on the positive aspects of garda culture while recognising the negative elements, "our insularity, our deafness to external criticism, and our instinctive rejection of internal dissent".

Defending the almost 1,300 members of the force, she said: "We are the true definition of a decentralised organisation, with employees interacting with citizens from every corner and country throughout the land".

Ms O'Sullivan also addressed the controversy surrounding the closure of garda stations around the country. She said the purpose of the shutting down of hundreds of stations was to put police "back into the community where they need to work".

She described the established network of stations as being "very archaic, certainly in terms of the stations that were closed there was a lot of evidence to show that there was very little usage and that the people in them were better employed in the community and working with the community".

Ms O'Sullivan described the resumption of recruitment with the first new group of recruits starting in Templemore in September as "very welcome news".

She added that the current number of gardai was "challenging". The overall strength of the force has dropped to around 12,950, below what former Garda Commissioner Martin Callinan had warned the Government was a "bottom line" figure of 13,000.

Irish Independent

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