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Noirin O'Sullivan show is set to pick up right where it left off

The Garda chief won't wilt under pressure, say those who know her, writes Kevin Doyle

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Retiring Garda Commissioner Nóirín O'Sullivan. Photo: Gerry Mooney

Retiring Garda Commissioner Nóirín O'Sullivan. Photo: Gerry Mooney

Retiring Garda Commissioner Nóirín O'Sullivan. Photo: Gerry Mooney

Welcome back. You might have tuned out for a few weeks from the problems of our little country but don't worry, because you haven't missed much.

The homeless, health and Brexit crises are still getting worse. And Noirin O'Sullivan is still the embattled Garda Commissioner backed by the Government and bemoaned by an Opposition afraid to take her down.

So if like Noirin O'Sullivan, you've taken the past five weeks out, it's fine because Irish politics is much like an Aussie soap. You'll be able to pick up right where you left off.

While TV stations are criticised for filling their summer schedules with reruns, the political scene does it all the time now. Admittedly there are one-off specials such as the Fine Gael leadership contest or upcoming Budget Day. But essentially this government, whether led by Enda Kenny or Leo Varadkar, is engulfed by continuing controversies that it can't seem to get its head around.

Plans are in place for tackling the problems in health and housing but so far they are proving devastatingly ineffective. The script for the Christmas horror story is already written.

Brexit is a long-term blockbuster. One of those Netflix series that you found gripping at the start but went nowhere. And yet you keep watching out of habit because you know they must have planned a big finale. When that comes, everyone in the office will be talking about it.

Which means that in terms of a real 'what happens next' plot, Noirin O'Sullivan (inset) is probably the most interesting character as 'official Ireland' returns from its hiatus.

Over the summer months, there were rumours the Garda Commissioner might not be returning. She wasn't being axed, but instead had set her eyes on a bigger prize: a top job with Europol.

That didn't come to pass and in the coming days she'll be back at her desk preparing to be the star witness at the Charleton Tribunal into the alleged smearing of whistleblower Maurice McCabe. She'll also try to come up with a rational explanation for the million fake breath tests.

And just ahead of her return comes news that the Garda Ombudsman has taken the unprecedented step of seconding a high-level team of gardai, including senior detectives, forensic accountants and members of the fraud squad, to investigate the Templemore Garda Training College 'slush fund'. It means members of Garda management will be investigated by their own colleagues. What a twist.

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And the odds are that O'Sullivan will continue to put a brave face on it all, stoically facing down her critics.

Those who know the Garda chief say she won't wilt in the face of the pressure - and her form to date suggests that's true. According to sources, O'Sullivan genuinely believes she is a victim of whispers, conspiracy theories and her predecessors' mistakes. Yet despite all the controversy, nobody has been able to pin her down, especially the various Dail committees that make a virtue out of testing her resolve.

"She will walk into the tribunal as Garda Commissioner. That's very important for her," said one source. "If she stood down, people would interpret that as some sort of admission of guilt."

And for all the furore, it's hard to argue with that point of view. There's no doubt she's a liability for Fine Gael but Leo Varadkar knows that in the fickle game of politics, a head on a plate is often not enough to feed the baying masses.

Before the summer break, the Taoiseach told the Sunday Independent his Government would continue "to support the job she is doing, which is a very difficult job".

I asked Leo Varadkar what it would take for the Government to end the saga, but the reply could well have come from the Commissioner's mouth: "I don't think any person should lose their position or have their position undermined based on allegations."

So the Noirin O'Sullivan show will continue for months. In the end, will she be a heroine or a villain? Stay tuned to find out.


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