Justice minister requires steely resolve on reform
IN her maiden appearance as Minister for Justice, former children's minister Frances Fitzgerald said the crisis of confidence among the public in relation to An Garda Siochana has to be dealt with. Of all the matters vying for her immediate attention, the restoration of public confidence in, as well as a radical overhaul of policing, is Ms Fitzgerald's single biggest challenge.
An Garda Siochana, as an institution, has historically enjoyed huge levels of support. And we have many reasons to be proud of a police force, still largely unarmed, that has served us well.
The reality, however, is that the new dawn in policing promised in the wake of the Morris Tribunal of Inquiry into complaints concerning some gardai in Donegal was strangled at birth.
The Garda Siochana Ombudsman Commission, now mired in a suspected bugging controversy – its fears were rubbished by former Justice Minister Alan Shatter – did not win the necessary support of alleged victims, garda management or Government.
This impasse between the force, its oversight body and the State was an abject failure to manage key relationships. It will fall to Ms Fitzgerald to restore those relationships and, in the appointment of a new Garda Authority and commissioner to lead the garda, to ensure that the latest new dawn in Irish policing is not another false one. Policing strikes at the heart of our justice system and a lack of public support for law and order is a danger in any democracy. There are many other challenges facing Ms Fitzgerald. These include long overdue reform of our legal sector and constant vigilance of the operation of our new personal insolvency regime.
Mr Shatter spent over two years devising the legislation, yet it took less than two months for the banks – with their all powerful veto – to stifle its operation. Ms Fitzgerald will require the assistance of the Cabinet to ensure the personal insolvency regime does not fall victim to intransigence of banks bailed out by taxpayers. By its very nature, Justice is a crisis brief. Ms Fitzgerald will require both a soothing balm and a steely resolve.