The current blurb on the vacancy for the Garda Commissioner runs something like this: Salary no problem; Policing experience not essential; Apply within.
Does anyone seriously think appointing a new commissioner will solve the problems facing the Department of Justice and An Garda Siochana? Do the conditions exist where a new commissioner would make the slightest difference to the reforming project?
"We would be failing in our duty to the Minister if we did not strongly urge that an examination be carried out by appropriately qualified people into the role, organisation and personnel policy of the force and, in particular, its relationship with the Department of Justice." This was a key finding of the Conroy Commission 50 years ago and it is still relevant.
It is obvious that two key qualities are necessary for the success of individual office holders and for the organisations they lead. These are capacity and integrity.
In the individual sense the new commissioner will have to be a person of capacity and integrity. The capacity to lead a virtual police organisation is not easily gained - so much for no policing experience necessary.
The Garda Siochana is a diverse organisation with nearly 600 stations and many other facilities countrywide. It has a combined staff of 15,000 personnel and a budget close to €2bn.
I believe it would be futile to invest the responsibility of reform in one new individual because of the challenges faced in the governance structures. Currently, the triumvirate of Minister for Justice, Departmental Secretary General and Garda Commissioner form the power axis.
This has remained virtually unchanged since the foundation of the State and, in that time, six commissioners have left office in troubled circumstances. Ministers Shatter and Fitzgerald resigned from office more recently. I labelled the current model as the post-McDowell model perhaps a little unfairly. It simply doesn't work because it is slow and ponderous and doesn't recognise red flags easily.
A series of semi-autonomous bodies have been constructed so as to deflect from the direct authority and responsibility currently vested in the Minister for Justice and department officials by virtue of the Garda Siochana Act 2005.
This act is not easy reading but it sets a confusing web, comprising the Policing Authority, the Garda Inspectorate, Garda Siochana Ombudsman Commission and the more recent Commission on the Future of Policing in Ireland. It's important to recognise that many fine people are involved in these initiatives.
It is clear the policing authority has limited responsibility in the area of policing oversight and no authority in the area of State security. It cannot appoint the commissioner, it cannot even run the selection process, which will be run by the Public Appointments Service. None of these bodies avail of domestic policing experience; foreign is good, local is obviously considered irrelevant.
In an alternate control model, the minister would exercise the role of chairman with the secretary general as deputy with the commissioner being the CEO.
This would recognise that An Garda Siochana has the unique responsibility of providing a police and security service to the State. There is a statutory relationship between the commissioner, the minister and the secretary general.
The Garda Act provides that the commissioner shall account fully to the government and the minister through the secretary general of the Department of Justice, Equality and Law Reform for any aspect of his or her functions. Therefore the legislative framework is already in place.
The risk averse nature of the current response to red flag issues is slow, tedious, unresponsive and ultimately ineffective. The initial reaction is to deny the problem, followed by a reflective period of denial. Then as the pressure builds, a retired judge is appointed to analyse and report. This buys more time and eventually results in a time-delayed finding which has little capability of dealing with root causes.
Alternatively, the executive triumvirate of minister, secretary general and commissioner should behave like a company board. This involves real time decision-making in light of the facts emerging.
If one applied this model to the issue of fake breath tests one can speculate that the time-linked response would be very different. This is but one example where a focused approach would have been appropriate and efficient.
Similarly, the penalty points saga would have had a much speedier resolution if those with authority and responsibility to act had done so in real time.
Clearly the Garda Siochana should be responsible in the first instance for accountability, strategic and annual planning - including monitoring, evaluating and reviewing administration policy, finance, budgetary determination, leadership development, resources and research. This responsibility should be exercised in a tight business model with speedy intervention and reaction.
The constant drip feed of criticism, no matter how well merited, is ultimately destructive to reform. A better model has to be found.
Certainly a new commissioner is required and it should be the best person for the job. Nevertheless, this person - no matter how well paid and motivated - will fail if asked to assume the helm of the current model. The past teaches us that lesson loud and clear. Most of all, there can be no reform of the Garda Siochana without reform of the Department of Justice.
John O'Brien is a police and security specialist and former national head of Interpol and Europol