Friday 22 November 2019

FG has to consider Kenny's successor

Ivan Yates

Ivan Yates

Commissioner Callinan's resignation was the correct, principled and inevitable outcome to the report of the Garda Inspectorate. Whistleblowers' allegations in relation to penalty points were utterly vindicated.

You simply cannot sustain an administration of justice that is based on who you are, rather than what you did. More than 2,500 drivers have been put off the road for exceeding 12 penalty points since 2004. Yet others, including judges, police officers and 'luminaries' escaped a similar punishment because of their influential connections. You cannot run dual systems of treatment on the road, resulting in parallel injustice.

Last week, I chaired a medical technology conference about reform in the healthcare sector. The last speaker was Eddie Molloy, a veteran public service reformist from consultancy firm, Advanced Organisation. He spoke about writing a template report on Central Bank reorganisation, a decade ago.

They identified issues of complete separation from the commercial banks. Our biggest historic failure of regulation subsequently ensued – through wilful negligence.

A senior governing official, asked about a failure to implement any recommendations, said "they only applied to the staff". At the heart of months of garda controversy is a cultural failure at the top. Senior echelons of politics and policing have had far too cosy relationships. At Cabinet meetings, approval is given for the appointment of all posts, including and above superintendent. An expedient stroke mentality didn't start on Callinan's watch – but it must end now. The politics of this saga has been utterly woeful. From the outset of the GSOC bugging story, senior politicians have reacted wrongly and lamely.

Carpeting chairman Simon O'Brien, while ignoring threats to their office and independence, was shameful. Smearing and minimising John Wilson and Maurice McCabe's behaviour and motivation was improper. Failure to establish a proper commission of inquiry under the 2004 Act amounted to wilful neglect. Not one Cabinet minister or Fianna Fail frontbencher called on the Commissioner to consider his position at any stage.

There has been no leadership but there has been abject cowardice in confronting a blatant weakness of external oversight of garda management. The 2005 Garda Act has been proven insufficient in respect of GSOC's powers, by excluding the Commissioner from its remit.

Commissioner Callinan has been on shaky ground ever since his dismissive response to the Smithwick tribunal report.

He was allowed to blatantly refuse to contemplate findings that our police could have placed too high a premium on loyalty to colleagues. His references to "my force" reflected an internalised perspective that treated the public as outsiders. No government reprimand was forthcoming.

The Commissioner's performance in front of the Public Accounts Committee on January 23 was incredible. His disdain and contempt for two people out of 13,000 gardai, where there was not even a "whisper" elsewhere, was shocking. Little wonder there was any disquiet. Gardai were prohibited from going to GSOC.

If they pursued their only option of Oliver Connolly, the confidential recipient, they faced prospects of being quietly told they could end up working in a car wash or being screwed by the minister.

Justice Minister Alan Shatter is an exceptionally clever and talented individual: a formidable family lawyer who can act brilliantly as both a solicitor or barrister on the courtroom floor on behalf of clients; perhaps he's the best parliamentary draughtsman in the country, preparing more private members' bills, where even civil servants defer to his legal knowledge; his work rate and attention to detail have always been exemplary; he has a proven track record of success in politics and earned wealth.

And boy does he know it. But like a lot of brilliant people, he has serious flaws in lacking emotional intelligence, empathy and sensitivity.

This manifests itself in an absolute inability to admit being wrong – resulting in demeanours of arrogance to everyone on the receiving end of his assertions. He's poor at small talk, uncomfortable at schmoozing and incapable of political arse-licking. His air of infallibility loses friends. Enda Kenny consistently misjudged these issues from the outset. On each occasion, he has misdiagnosed the kernel of the problem.

He has probably been poorly advised by senior civil servants, whose main preoccupation and priority is to safeguard the 'system' and sycophantic acolytes. This culminated over recent days in plainly rebuking ministers over their public comments.

These aren't issues of political point scoring, inter-party rivalry or cabinet indiscipline. It's about the culture of abusing authority in Ireland.

It's making a clean break from a past of secrecy and fixing – constructing a modern state of transparent, accountable administrative fairness. Sadly, the Taoiseach appears to be a politician of yesteryear, with Transport Minister Leo Varadkar more in tune with public reality. Kenny's authority has been devalued by closing his mind to the validity of media criticisms.

What is next? A fresh start would be facilitated by the appointment of the next Garda Commissioner from outside the ranks of Garda Siochana, leading towards the formation of an independent police authority, instead of the Department of Justice overseeing the force. New legislation is also needed to empower GSOC to oversee the entire force, have access to the Pulse system, accommodate whistleblowers, while not employing former gardai. Most people would add the immediate resignation of Minister Shatter, given that he has been joined at the hip with Callinan. Knowing Kenny, this is a remote prospect.

The Labour Party under Eamon Gilmore don't do enforced demotions. As the controversy developed, my biggest disappointment was that not one Fine Gael backbencher or Labour minister had the courage to spell out how untenable it was for no one to take responsibility for maladministration of justice.

If Callinan hadn't acted, accountability would have been fudged. Fine Gael must start thinking about the inevitable – Kenny's successor. Various media reports over the weekend indicated Kenny's and Shatter's "incandescent anger" over recent events and Minister Varadkar.

Autocratic arrogance isn't a sustainable policy, let alone a vote winner on the doorsteps in local, European and by-elections.

Kenny may fleetingly consider the best way to save himself is to shaft Shatter (if Flannery can be jettisoned, anyone can).

Instead, expect both to brazen it out.

Irish Independent

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