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What Garda Commissioner must do to restore confidence in force


New approach: Garda Commissioner Noirin O'Sullivan

New approach: Garda Commissioner Noirin O'Sullivan

Collins Dublin, Gareth Chaney

New approach: Garda Commissioner Noirin O'Sullivan

Although her appearance before the Dail Justice Committee was overlaid by questioning on whether or not she believes the Provisional IRA still exists - a subject she sidestepped - the Garda Commissioner Noirin O'Sullivan is trying hard to turn around what some senior gardai say has been years of pointless and discredited policing 'initiatives' in recent decades.

Senior sources, serving and retired, refer to many of the so-called policing strategies as 'gimmick policing' that has diverted gardai attention away from the fundamentals of policing.

Commissioner O'Sullivan's Policing Plan for 2015, while peppered with some of the management buzz-words, has been welcomed by experienced officers due to its emphasis on 'prevention'. In doing so she is reverting to the very fundamentals outlined by the father of modern policing, Sir Robert Peel.

"To prevent crime and disorder" was the first of the Nine Principles set out in 1829 by Robert Peel, from whose name derived the terms 'Bobbies' and 'Peelers'.

Peel, who drew up his policing plans while Chief Secretary of Ireland in the founding of the Royal Irish Constabulary in 1814, the first modern police force, said the mark of success in police efficiency "is in the absence of crime and disorder and not the visible evidence of police action in dealing with them".

The same principles were adopted and used successfully for the first six decades of the Garda Siochana. But since the 1980s the force has declined in effectiveness and, according to many, has "lost its way" in terms of preventing crime and disorder.

One senior source last week characterised the attitude of many figures in Garda management as "minding their arses" rather than working to provide a proper policing service.

Another said an 'entire generation' of Garda management has spent most of its time lost in studying for unusable academic qualifications rather than working towards what Peel termed 'the willing co-operation of the public in the task of securing observance of laws'.

The first line in Commissioner O'Sullivan's first policing plan, drawn up by a committee led by Assistant Commissioner John Twomey last year, states her desire to implement "a national model of crime prevention".

This is the opening line in what she has termed her 'fix, build, operate' strategy.

As an opening, and many say dramatic, move to reorganise policing, the Commissioner last month instituted the biggest reshuffle of senior gardai in the history of the force with 90 simultaneous transfers and promotions.

She is, sources say, beginning her plan to restore proper policing with something approaching a clean slate.

It will be a difficult task. Experienced gardai say the force has lost direction and commitment.

One senior Garda source this weekend said that it is now commonplace for overwhelmed, disillusioned or plain lazy gardai to no longer respond to calls from the public.

Another officer admitted that the "unthinkable" occurrence of simply not responding to calls from the public is now happening on a regular basis.

It has also become the "norm", according to some Garda sources I spoke to, for gardai not to investigate some crime at all.

This represents the most fundamental and dangerous breaking of the State's contract with the public under which people pay taxes and, in return, expect to live in safety.

And this is, according to one officer, feeding into the national sense of disillusionment that is, in turn, fueling the opposition to the traditional political parties and the increasing trend to supporting alternative parties, most significantly Sinn Fein.

Witness and even jury intimidation is said to be a very regular occurrence.

The detection rate for gangland murders has reached the lowest levels in Garda history. Of the nine gang-related murders in Dublin last year, none has been solved.

Sources say that murder investigations have diminished to the point that in some instances no suspects have even been arrested or questioned.

The bleakest example of Garda disillusionment is the failure to bring any charges in the murder of Detective Garda Adrian Donohoe in Dundalk in January 2013.

Whole swathes of working-class Dublin, from which the Commissioner comes, are said to be in complete fear of organised criminals.

The Provisional IRA still holds complete sway over the Border area between north Louth and north Monaghan to the extent that no member of the public is prepared to speak out publicly about the threat posed by the mass dumping of carcinogenic and foetal abnormality-causing toxic waste from the fuel laundering trade.

Just last Tuesday another 39,000 litres of the toxic waste was left beside the MI motorway near Forkhill in south Armagh.

Local sources were able last week to pinpoint the illegal plant producing the 'washed' diesel and its toxic waste near Forkhill, but no concerted police action is taking place on either side of the Border to stop the Provo operations.

This flies in the face of the repeated claims by senior police and politicians on either side of the Border of "excellent" co-operation between the PSNI and Garda in cross-Border policing.

The wave of serious crime and particularly the burglary and invasions of homes that has swept unchecked across rural Ireland is the area of deepest public concern that led to the groundswell against the Government in the last local government elections

After outlining her policing plan to the Dail's Justice and Defence Committee last Wednesday the feeling among some gardai was that there may be an opportunity opening for a new more hopeful approach - albeit one that was stated more eloquently by an Anglo-Irish British Home Secretary 186 years ago.

Others, however, were sceptical and said the sense of disillusionment, lack of proper management and fear of 'speaking out' in the force has reached the stage where it has lost sight of Peel's canon on the 'absence of crime and disorder'.

Sunday Independent