Eddie Molloy: Deep-rooted dark forces in Garda are intent on obstructing reform
When Maurice McCabe and John Wilson began to blow the whistle on the rampant scrubbing of penalty points and more serious failings in An Garda Síochána, a flood of people came forward with claims of misbehaviour ranging from bullying to failures to properly investigate murders. A few of these cases were aired in the media with complainants telling of their frustration in securing a fair response from the Garda.
Such was the volume of cases, estimated at the time at around 200, the Department of Justice set up a panel of five barristers to examine these complaints and identify those that seemed to merit further investigation. This process was initiated in early 2014 but since then there has been no public report on the work of the panel. How many cases merited further investigation? On what basis were complaints deemed to be vexatious or otherwise unworthy of further investigations? Was there any pattern to the complaints?
I am aware of the details of one of these 200 complaints. I listened for six hours to a civil servant who, at junior rank 15 years earlier, had the courage and integrity to refuse to collude in covering up what she saw as failures of the Department of Justice, An Garda Síochána and another agency to investigate matters of the most serious kind. Because of this brave woman's steadfast refusal to withdraw her allegations, her career was destroyed and her personal life greatly affected by the treatment meted out to her by senior officials in the department and by senior gardaí.
Although she has ample documentation to support both her original allegations and the story of her subsequent ill-treatment by these agencies of the State, it took a monumental effort to have her case reach the panel of barristers in the first place. Her hopes were raised by this achievement, but dashed a year later when she received a one-line letter to say that the barristers deemed her allegation not worthy of further investigation. This judgment was reached by the panel without speaking to this woman or seeing all her documentation.
I found the lady in question to be utterly credible, as did a third party who joined us for one of the two-hour meetings I had with her. It all makes me wonder what happened to the other 200 cases examined by the barristers. A comprehensive, detailed report on their work is long overdue from the department.
When I now see the extent of cover-up, collusion and corruption within the culture of An Garda Síochána, I realise that I was naïve to think that anything would ever come of this woman's attempt to receive justice for those who suffered in the events to which her allegations referred or for herself in regard to what can only be called cruel treatment. For all the gravity of the scandals she was flagging, they must have been seen as 'small potatoes' compared to what has now emerged and she was clearly seen as a person of no importance and expendable in the ultimately futile attempt to maintain the façade of regard for the rule of law in An Garda Síochána.
There are serious deficiencies in the culture that pervades the senior ranks of the Garda, or at least particular cliques at that level. Equally disturbing is the apparent circling of the wagons by rank-and- file gardaí and middle-ranking officers. Their silence regarding the treatment of Mr McCabe and other whistleblowers is deafening. And they want to be treated as a normal trade union!
Whatever it is that Garda recruits learn about the ethics and values of the force in Templemore, it seems like they very quickly adapt to the prevailing culture, which they learn through the hidden curriculum, once they are scattered to four corners of Ireland on graduation. The individual garda cannot be blamed for 'going along to get along' because such adjustment is necessary for survival, given the vicious treatment of whistleblowers now laid bare for all to see.
There are dark forces in An Garda Síochána which have worked to obstruct all efforts at genuine reform. They are deeply embedded and will not be easily rooted out as evidenced by the recurring, seemingly intractable nature of the scandals and ruthlessness in covering them up. So, one more time, what can be done about this running sore in one of the pillar institutions of the State?
Arguably, a greater scandal is that the answers have been known for decades but successive governments have lacked the political will to implement the necessary reforms, which are essentially three, as set out on several occasions by people like Vicky Conway, of the newly established Policing Authority, Conor Brady, chairman of the previous authority, and Professor Dermot Walsh, an expert on gardaí who is based at the University of Kent.
On a platform shared at the MacGill Summer School of 2015, both Dr Conway and Mr Brady urged Justice Minister Frances Fitzgerald to adopt best practice, as applied in recent times in the reform of the RUC, by having the Police Authority appoint the Garda commissioner and be the body to hold the commissioner to account.
This arrangement is the key to de-politicising the police force, but it has been resisted by successive governments who, having looked at best practice elsewhere, repeatedly give us 'an Irish solution to an Irish problem'. The result, not surprisingly, is the country is now convulsed by yet another scandal and the new authority, comprised of outstanding members, is powerless to intervene because of this pivotal structural flaw defended by Ms Fitzgerald.
The second fundamental reform needed is to separate the Garda role in national security from the role of ordinary policing. So long as the two roles are conflated, gardaí will continue to misuse the secrecy that is essential in regard to matters of genuine national security by applying it to cases which have nothing to do with a threat to the State. If and when this reform is brought in, decisions on whether secrecy is required on grounds of national security, the Government should go the whole way and leave that determination to say high court judges, rather than to the minister for justice or the Government, as is the practice today.
The third vital change is reform of the utterly dysfunctional culture of An Garda Síochána. Among other interventions, this will require the introduction of new blood at the most senior levels of the force. Simply hiring a new commissioner from outside will not suffice because a lone reformer will be seen off the premises in jig time by the dark forces who have much to lose in any such revolution. In this context we might discover that this is what happened to Nóirín O'Sullivan - that although genuinely intent on reform, she has been stymied by these same dark forces.
Eddie Molloy is a management consultant