Thursday 23 November 2017

'Profoundly worrying that gardai could be used for politically motivated rogue actions' - Brendan Howlin

Labour leader Brendan Howlin Picture: Frank McGrath
Labour leader Brendan Howlin Picture: Frank McGrath

Alan O'Keeffe

Labour leader Brendan Howlin said it was "profoundly worrying" that the gardai could be used for "rogue actions" that were politically motivated.

He expressed his worries following revelations in the Sunday Independent about the phone-tapping by garda intelligence of a political party worker.

"I'm obviously worried myself and I think it adds to the whole broad list of issues that shows that, if it's true as I'm reading the papers like everybody else,  shows an element of rogue actions being taken and if they were politically motivated," he said.

He said that "if people could utilise An Garda Siochana for political ends, it is profoundly worrying".

"The first thing we need to know is what is the truth behind these particular stories that are emerging today and is there more to come.

"We need to have clarity in relation to that.  Even in terms of who can investigate these matters now.

"There are so many different (inquiries)....from tribunals of inquiry to commissions of inquiry to GSOC inquiry and (Public) Accounts Committee inquiries into the myriad of concerns that people have in relation to policing, it's very hard to see how we are going to have the absolute truth on all these matters that the public demand," he said.

The Labour leader expressed his concerns on the garda phone tapping story prior to addressing the Labour Party's annual James Connolly commemoration at Arbour Hill in Dublin.

Mr Howlin, speaking about the growing concern about the number of serious shortcomings in the operations and management of the gardai and its leadership by the Commissioner,  called into question the position of commissioner herself.

He said: "I think most people are numbed now by the series of shocking revelations, one after another, some now going back years.

"The attitude of Government seems to be to parse each one into its little box, send it to an inquiry or commission or the pubic accounts committee or GSOS, somewhere, anywhere, to get it off the agenda, regardless, because making a decision on the reforms that are necessary, root and branch, would be too catastrophic for the maintenance of this Government," he said.

"But there comes a time when doing what is right is much more important than any political consequence and it is quite clear to me that a new leadership is required in An Garda Siochana.

"I fully support the review that is to be undertaken about training and the structure of the guards into the future.

"We need to bring confidence now. Public confidence has been seriously eroded by all that is going on. Unfortunately, it is likely to continue to go on," he said.

Asked about what grounds should be used to remove the Garda Commissioner, he said:

"You could take it that any one  of the myriad of particular issues but I can't imagine any commissioner of police, anywhere that I know of, when the announcement of one million breath tests that were fraudulent, that didn't take place, would be announced or that 14,700 citizens were wrongly brought and convicted in the courts, that the person in charge wouldn't take responsibility for that.

"Whatever culpability is involved, responsibility is something different and normally the head of a State agency, where those manifestly improper things happened, would take responsibility," said the Labour leader.

"So, on that level alone, there is no doubt that public confidence is shattered right now. I think that will continue. It is not fair for the thousands of men and women who wear the uniform, who put themselves in harm's way every day on behalf of the people of Ireland, they deserve now a new leadership. One that is committed to the reform agenda that has been laid out by the last two inspector's reports.

"We need to see fundamental change happen immediately," he said.

When asked about the Government's moves to maintain a pay differential between lower paid new public servants and older better paid public servants, Mr Howlin said maintaining a two-tier pay system would be "a disaster."

"During the (economic) crisis, public servants were asked to make very significant sacrifices and new joiners made more sacrifices than most.

"It was always on the understanding that it would end once the emergency ended.

"All the legislative provisions say that, once the emergency is over, the legislation itself collapses.

"So the Government has to enter into the negotiations on the basis of full restoration and equality of treatment in the public service. That was the deal that was done.

"It was asking people to step up to the plate in the crisis. Now, in better times, seeing that the deal is honoured," he said.

Asked about Brexit creating another emergency for the Irish State and the large numbers of applicants for the lower tiered public service jobs, he said "everyone is entitled to decent terms and conditions.

"On the future of work in this country, we want to ensure people can be guaranteed a job and a standard of living and the public service should be the exemplar, not the laggard.

"They (public service) should be setting the standards for decency.

"It is instructive that in the Public Pay Commission it showed that, at the lowest level, it is the public sector that are actually better than the private sector. That's the way it should be.

"If we want people to come and work in the public sector, and the health service for example where there is difficult attracting nurses into the hospital system here because there are more attractive benefits elsewhere.

"We have to provide a decent standard. But it has to be obviously on the basis of affordability.

"I negotiated two pay rounds in the worst of times. Now we can face into better times with the same degree of confidence but on the understanding we don't set public against private (sectors)," he said.

Online Editors

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