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The perception that a glass ceiling exists is one of the real challenges


Noirin O'Sullivan. Photo: Tom Burke

Noirin O'Sullivan. Photo: Tom Burke

Noirin O'Sullivan. Photo: Tom Burke

ACTING Garda Commissioner Noirin O'Sullivan is the first woman to assume the top post in An Garda Siochana.

With the government attempting to quell the latest crisis following the resignation of previous commissioner Martin Callinan, Ms O'Sullivan is tipped by many to succeed her former colleague.

The senior officer said women can face obstacles in their careers but urges them to never give up.

"Be resilient, don't stumble at the first fence or give up after the first fall. Be persistent in your determination to achieve your ambition," she advised.

"There certainly can be particular obstacles to professional advancement for women but they are reducing and they are surmountable.

"A challenge for all of us is that the perception that a glass ceiling exists can be one of the greatest obstacles for women," she added.

Ms O'Sullivan, who was appointed as the first female deputy Garda Commissioner in May 2011, joined the force in 1981 and served as a 'Mockie' in the country's first drug squad taking down notorious heroin dealer Tony Felloni.

In the interview, which was given prior to yesterday's resignation of Martin Callinan, Ms O'Sullivan said of her greatest achievement: "I am honoured to be the first woman to reach the rank of Deputy Commissioner in An Garda Siochana."

And her career ambition has been to create the best possible policing in the country.

"My career ambition has been to help An Garda Siochana to deliver effective policing and ensure safe communities by working together with those communities," said the acting commissioner.

When she first started out in the force, skirts were mandatory for female officers who were referred to as 'ban gardai'.

"I am also passionate about the need to ensure a diverse policing organisation which as well as meeting the needs of the community it serves, supports its members, both male and female, in balancing the demands of a challenging but immensely rewarding career with their own personal and family lives," said Ms O'Sullivan when asked about her further ambitions.

Ms O'Sullivan also advised women to pursue their dreams.

"Believe in yourself, be true to yourself and be confident in your own ability. Have the courage to pursue your dreams."

She also said "enjoy living and remember the art of living is always to make a good thing out of a bad thing".

In 2011, Ms O'Sullivan completed the national executive institute programme at the FBI Academy.

In spite of the reported sexism that existed in the Garda Siochana, the acting commissioner still climbed the ranks and she says that now women are more present than ever in Irish society.

She said "the numbers and calibre of women in leadership positions across the private and public sector in Ireland should encourage all women that they can and should strive to achieve success in their chosen career".

She did however express some regrets that have arisen as a result of her fulfilling career.

"I have much to be thankful for, but such is the pace of life in An Garda Siochana, I sometimes regret not having more time to thank and spend time with those people who have supported me in my work and in my family and those who have provided constant and invaluable friendship."

Ms O'Sullivan and her husband Jim McGowan have raised three sons together, one of whom, Ciaran, graduated as a reserve force office from Templemore Garda College last December.

The acting commissioner's husband, Jim McGowan is also a garda, working as a superintendent and recent reserve graduate Ciaran, works full time as a press photographer.

She said her own ambition for all of her children was that they pursued whatever they wanted to do.

Asked at the time of his graduation if she would worry for Ciaran, who has been assigned to Clontarf as a part-timer, she said, "in the same way I worry for all of the men and women in the force".

She added: "It is a great organisation and we have always been lucky to have the support of the community."