Sunday 25 February 2018

Nóirín largely retains air of steely pleasantry - despite excruciating sketchiness of some of her answers

Garda Commissioner Nóirín O’Sullivan arriving for the Public Accounts Committee meeting at Leinster House. Photo: Tom Burke
Garda Commissioner Nóirín O’Sullivan arriving for the Public Accounts Committee meeting at Leinster House. Photo: Tom Burke
Nicola Anderson

Nicola Anderson

Eight times, Garda Commissioner Nóirín O'Sullivan was asked whether she had confidence in every senior officer on her team.

Each time, she found a way to fudge it, circumnavigate it or simply wriggle creatively free from the leash.

She talked of skill sets. Of how everyone had a different perspective. Of how confident she was that she could get the very best out of them.

You'll always have tensions between teams and "our job is to pull it together", she insisted.

"So you have confidence in every single person?" asked Alan Kelly again.

"I have confidence in the collective ability of the team," said Nóirín.

"But not the individuals," sniffed the vice-chairperson of the Public Accounts Committee.

"I find that alarming," continued Deputy Kelly slowly, relishing the limelight.

It didn't seem to bother the Commissioner. On the ropes? Not quite.

It was Nóirín in the trenches, beleaguered, beset on all sides - but stubbornly sticking to her guns, no matter how bad it looked at times. And it looked bad at times. Not for nothing had she risen to the ranks of Commissioner.

If anyone was embarrassed by the excruciating sketchiness of some of her replies, it was only us in the cheap seats - it certainly wasn't Nóirín herself, who looked mostly pretty comfortable up there actually, at all times maintaining a tone of light, though steely, pleasantry.

Some odd decision by the committee had determined that only Nóirín herself would answer its questions, rather than the senior officials who sat on either side of her. This led to the exasperating situation whereby Nóirín, on being asked a question which required her to consult with her colleagues, did so in plain sight and then repeated their answers to the committee.

She evidently found it annoying. "I'm doing well as an interlocutor here," she chirped at one stage, through gritted teeth.

A spat with Mary Lou drew actual gasps from the paltry crowd who had turned out to observe.

After Gerry Adams' revelation of having previously joined the new Taoiseach in a pilates class, Mary Lou accused the Commissioner of doing "verbal pilates" with her PAC answers.

"I don't do pilates and I don't do knitting," snapped Nóirín.

"I'm not interested in your lifestyle," said Mary Lou in her most off-hand manner.

With some astonishment, we observed that the Commissioner actually looked wounded.

How much clout had the Commissioner, Mary Lou inquired at one stage. The Commissioner froze, indicating that she did not understand the question. The Sinn Féin deputy persisted. She said she was aware that as a woman, she may face some resistance internally.

"Do you carry the level of clout of a person who is in charge?" she challenged.

The Commissioner said there was an organisation of 16,000 people operating right across the 26 counties with an executive each with responsibilities.

And there were far more pressing matters to unravel - such as the possibility of actual fraud relating to a previously undiscovered Garda bank account connected to the college in Templemore.

But it was being called a hostile witness by Sinn Féin's David Cullinane that saw the Commissioner truly shaken.

He repeatedly pressed her on whether she had known of "irregularities" at the college at the time that she wrote a letter she sent to the Comptroller and Auditor General in July 2015, raising concerns.

"If you were a witness in a witness box, you could be described as a hostile witness," he said.

"I have never been described as a hostile witness in my entire career," said the Commissioner heatedly. "I am here to assist this committee... I take issue with being described as a hostile witness.

"I would like it recorded that I take issue with being described as a hostile witness."

It was, by any measure, a bizarre appearance before the public representatives, with apparently more questions still remaining than answers.

Irish Independent

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