Friday 23 March 2018

The Force under fire: under-resourced and under the spotlight

The former senior officer who helped break up the Gilligan gang says that the Gardai are under unprecedented pressure

Experience: Willie Kealy with former Garda assistant commisioner Tony Hickey in Ashbourne, Co Meath Photo: Tony Gavin
Experience: Willie Kealy with former Garda assistant commisioner Tony Hickey in Ashbourne, Co Meath Photo: Tony Gavin
Willie Kealy

Willie Kealy

Tony Hickey is the former Assistant Garda Commissioner who led the team of 60 detectives investigating the murder of Veronica Guerin. They brought the Gilligan gang to justice for that heinous crime and, in the process, halted the activities of organised criminals in Ireland.

Today gangland crime is worse than ever and the Garda Siochana is subject to unprecedented criticism, not just for their apparent failure to deal with the murderous crime wave, but for a perceived failure of Commissioner Noirin O'Sullivan to implement several necessary reforms in the structure of the Force.

"It's a very torrid time for the gardai being kicked around from all angles, morning noon and night, and maybe some of the criticism is justified, but it's not easy to be there doing a very difficult job when all you hear is pervasive criticism," says Tony Hickey.

"There has been some very strong criticism from the Garda Authority and it think some of it is too strong. GSOC was set up to investigate the Garda, but if they don't nail someone to the cross there is criticism. It appears the Garda Commissioner is implementing the recommendations of the O'Higgins Commission. Mr O'Higgins sat and heard witnesses and made recommendations. If they are being implemented, then move on. Why pick holes in it?

"There will always be people within the Force and outside it who feel that some things are not being done correctly. For example, one of the complaints related to probationary guards being left on their own to investigate crimes. I find that hard to understand.

"When you are a probationer it is part of your function to ask for help from more experienced people, and even if you don't ask you should be under supervision, and be asked what you are doing. But I am aware that the ratio of what is ideally required for optimum supervision, has been well down for some time countrywide.

"Today the Garda could be down 3,000 to 4,000 members because it has never been established how many are needed to police this country, but I do know that with new rosters and time off and many experienced detectives retired, there are a lot of factors that make the job of policing difficult.

"But when people talk about crime being out of control, they tend to have very short memories. Twenty years ago there was a criminal called PJ Judge who was killing people in a reign of terror, and you had the murder of Jerry McCabe and Veronica Guerin. And there was one particular day, a Friday - we called it Black Friday - in which three people were killed including a totally innocent couple driving to a filling station.

"There were incidents in Munster in which gardai were shot at with Kalashnikovs.

"And just like now it was not easy to find witnesses. They were subject to terrible threats that not only would they be killed but all belonging to them would be killed, and the gardai have a duty of care towards them too.

"But right now there are men and women in the Garda Siochana beavering away, regardless of what is said or what is written. There are doing their job in difficult circumstances, but maybe not as difficult as some people imagine. Because that if their job, that is what they are paid to do and trained to do.

"They have been doing that since the foundation of the State, with varying degrees of success, sometimes spectacular success, sometimes spectacular failure.

"Every big institution goes thorough the kind of periods of trauma currently being experienced by the Garda. There are good and bad and indifferent in every organisation. The people coming into the Force are vetted, they try to recruit the best calibre of people and train them to a pretty high standard.

"There have always been politicians and commentators who talk about radical solutions. If talk would solve anything we would be living in El Dorado.

"This is no different - people trying to re-invent the wheel, saying there should be a new type of police force. They talk in jargon about best international practice. I had a lot of interaction with agencies abroad and I know that the Garda Siochana, with all their faults are as good as any and better than most.

"The frustration that is felt when there are not instant arrests and convictions after serious crime is understandable. And it is terrible for the people of the north inner city of Dublin that this is happening where they live. It's bad for the city. It's bad for the country.

"But there is a very active community policing project in operation there and the area is saturated with armed gardai, but they cannot be everywhere. And I am sure the gardai have intelligence and in time they will convert that into evidence, though nobody can say there will not be more killings in the meantime.

"Of course drugs is at the root of it all. And some people talk about the ghetto origins of criminals. That might be true of one of the groups in the current feud but not of the other - their background is more leafy suburbs. And if it wasn't drugs, it would be something else. There will always be crime."

Sunday Independent

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