Ruling out 'insiders' in favour of a CEO-style Garda chief could be a big mistake
Hopefully the coming year will see the appointment of a new Garda commissioner to lead and manage the force into the next decade and beyond. The speculation by self-appointed and mostly unqualified police analysts will be intense, all espousing their views as to whether the new incumbent should be a so-called 'outsider', 'insider', 'civilian' or someone from another jurisdiction.
Like everyone else, members of Garda management were shocked and dumbfounded by the depth and severity of the criticism the force received in the wake of a series of crises. The repeated calls for accountability added to the problem. This has resulted in the authorities perceiving themselves - rightly or wrongly, and it is mostly wrong - as operating in a hostile environment. The natural tendency for an organisation that sees itself in such a situation is firstly to strike out with varying degrees of rationality, and then to adapt a bunker mentality. This is precisely what occurred. However, there is one solid reason for abandoning this mentality. It is a waste of effort.
On the basis of the current situation in An Garda Síochána in terms of performance, perhaps Acting Commissioner Dónall Ó Cualáin should reconsider his retirement plans and contest the top job. With the number of so-called gangland criminals being taken out of circulation, the significant inroads in combating rural crime, the decrease in road deaths and recent huge drugs seizures, it is questionable if another leader will do any better.
But the critics are not interested in performance and the calls for an outsider will not abate, and will only intensify. The preferred choice seems to be a captain of industry to take over the management of the Garda. The textbook theory runs that the principles of management are similar and are transferable in that a person with a proven track record managing an enterprise can manage any organisation, whether it be commercial or in services, private or public. But the reality is quite different, in that the commercial world is entirely concerned with producing a product to be traded on the marketplace at a profit, while the role of a police force is to provide an efficient service to the citizens.
A business enterprise does not require public confidence or approval to achieve its objective, but it is widely recognised the bedrock of an effective and efficient police force is securing the trust, confidence, respect and support of the public. By management not insisting on high standards in the delivery of the service, which the public expects, confidence and trust will be lost, and difficult to regain.
Put simply, managing a police service entails more than managing the profit-and-loss account - it means making things happen and managing the action and the people on the frontline.
There are many challenges facing the new commissioner and his or her team, but in my view the most critical is restoring public confidence in the force.
Restoring public confidence and trust can only be achieved by having the personnel to provide a proper policing service to the public. This can only be accomplished by having sufficient men and women adequately trained to meet these demands. Whether you talk with members of the public, gardaí themselves or indeed Garda management, the challenge is similar - an acute shortage of frontline staff. In rural Ireland it is particularly acute - listen to the concerns of people from rural Ireland articulated on the 'Tommy Marren Show' on Midwest Radio and it is clear that the citizens, particularly the elderly, are frightened.
The CEO of a commercial organisation can decide and put in place the resources, both human and technical, required to achieve the objectives of the enterprise, while Garda resourcing is dependent on political expediency and decisions made far from the frontline, with no reference to a scientific analysis. A look at comparable jurisdictions can be revealing. In Ireland, we have 347 gardaí per 100,000 of population. Spain has 510, Portugal 470 and Italy 420 per 100,000. It should be noted we have far less civilians supporting our gardaí than any of these police forces.
So it is vital those entrusted with the daunting task of selecting the new commissioner get it right this time. They must be careful not to squander the force's greatest asset, which is the wealth of experience, existing knowledge and ideas embedded in the organisation.