Any defence of the Garda is a truly gutless exercise
Every aspect of the force needs to be looked at – from training to management – if any change is to happen at all
The Garda force can on occasion make our hair stand on end – the Kieran Boylan outrage and the Sophie Toscan du Plantier debacle come to mind. But, as we're finding out, the force has developed new ways to undermine its own reputation.
The resignation of Alan Shatter resulted from a failure on his part to protect the public from what appears to be an alarming level of incompetence – or worse – in areas of An Garda Siochana.
Shatter's resignation is a step in the right direction. But it's a minor development. Politicians come and go. It's true that Shatter failed to acknowledge, much less properly examine – let alone reform – the failings that have undermined the Garda Siochana. But the problem is much, much bigger than a self-regarding politician. Shatter's ministerial career, after all, was very brief.
For over six years – in only three of which Shatter was in charge – Sergeant Maurice McCabe sought to bring very serious incidences of garda failure to the attention of the authorities. To have to go to such lengths to get proper scrutiny of such serious matters is astounding. These weren't picky little complaints about procedural failings – some of the stuff coming out is sick. Women terrorised by thugs on a mini-bus, for instance.
The allegation is that the police investigated, then dropped the matter, and adjusted the record to write off the crimes as a "disturbance" on a bus.
Why? Perhaps they didn't understand the gravity of the offences. Perhaps they weren't sure how to proceed. Perhaps the whole thing was just beyond them.
The allegations detailed in the Guerin Report suggest that a child would know that grounds existed for charges of assault, sexual assault and false imprisonment – for starters.
From what we know of the case, one young woman was subjected to a deeply damaging experience, as was the driver of the mini-bus.
Others, female and male, were abused by the thugs. Was there no understanding among those in charge of the case of the danger of allowing such behaviour go unpunished? Or the potential for even worse consequences?
Apparently not. The handling of a series of crimes – and the failure to handle them properly – ended in the murder of a woman in Limerick. There is more. Lots more. Maurice McCabe collated a dossier of horrors.
Anyone with any competence, with any moral standard, would know that what happened was terribly wrong. Yet, again and again, nothing happened.
And senior gardai claimed to have investigated these matters and found nothing to worry about.
What is it in garda training, in garda management, that allowed gardai, from the lowest to the highest levels of the force, to accept all this as somehow okay?
What is it in the political oversight of the force that allowed this kind of thing to fester unchallenged for year after year after year?
Why do the garda representative bodies bristle with animosity when anyone suggests the force is less than perfect? Why did they not explode with anger when Maurice McCabe was disallowed use of the Pulse system? We had cast iron evidence that senior officers abused that system to wipe out penalty points – yet use by rank and file gardai was tightened up and Maurice McCabe's access was cancelled, while the senior officers who were at fault were not sanctioned.
Why would anyone who cares about the reputation of the force not stand with McCabe, rather than with those who denigrated him?
Why do we see such garda animosity towards GSOC – often it seems it's not what GSOC does that infuriates gardai, it's the fact that it exists.
Yes, there's blind loyalty to the group – us against the rest of the world. But apart from this – there has to be something missing, some gap in understanding of basic standards. How else could anyone be content with the kinds of policing revealed in the report?
Mr Guerin is somewhat poetic, yet very much to the point, in describing the Garda Siochana's internal mechanism for dealing with allegations: "complaints or matters of concern were put through a process of filtration or distillation so that, by the end of the process, any matter of concern had been removed as a form of impurity, and only what was good was found to remain".
The acting Garda Commissioner, Noirin O'Sullivan, has issued a statement saying dissent is not disloyalty. Fair enough. Mind you, it might have been better had she said something earlier to that effect. For instance, at the Oireachtas hearings, when she sat beside Commissioner Martin Callinan as he attacked McCabe and Wilson as "disgusting".
The new Minister for Justice, Frances FitzGerald, has said she will lead us into a new era. She too thinks whistle-blowers are decent, well-meaning people.
Pity she didn't feel that way when she stood loyally by Mr Shatter, as he belittled and misrepresented McCabe and Wilson.
It would not have been difficult to speak in support of the whistle-blowers. Leo Varadkar did so. Given all that we knew at that stage, it didn't take much courage to say this man McCabe seems credible, his case seems serious – he's right or he's wrong but he's not "disgusting". Why so many politicians did not defend the garda is – well, no, it isn't puzzling at all. It's perfectly in line with the gutless conduct we've come to expect.
Garda training needs looking at. And management. And measurement of basic standards, basic competence. Horrific things have happened, and the culture that allowed those things needs review. The senior officers who said all was well might prosper in another line of work. The use of the Pulse system to criminalise children – in particular Traveller children – is in itself criminal.
Is the new Minister aware of the extent to which the use of Pulse to harass young people on housing estates is damaging the force?
How many such young people are in the system because they come from certain areas, or because of what they wear? Or because they were stopped once – having committed no offence – by gardai who then didn't like their "attitude"? And such people continue, again and again, to be stopped and harassed.
The good guys won this round. But, even now, the forces of Ah-things-are-grand-so-they-are will be reforming, working on strategy, seeking to retake the ground they lost with the Guerin Report.
Ready and able to make our hair stand on end again.