Friday 19 July 2019

Tribunal proof that the more things change the more they stay the same

Editorial Comment

The findings of the Charleton Tribunal are damning but for those who remember the Morris Tribunal the report makes for depressingly, familiar reading.

Ten years ago - in October 2008 - Justice Frederick Morris released his final report on a tribunal enquiry into allegations of corrupt and dishonest policing in Donegal in the 1990s and early 2000s.

His findings were scathing.

Mr Justice Morris found that An Garda Síochána - as an organisation - had poor discipline; little oversight; low morale and a culture of silence aimed at protecting their own.

The Morris report rocked the gardaí to the core and, in its wake, the force and the Government of the day pledged that action would be taken to reform An Garda Síochána from the ground up.

Amid his excoriating rulings on former Garda Commissioner Martin Callinan; former Garda Press Officer Dave Taylor and the "astounding inefficiency" of child protection agency Tusla, Justice Charleton delivered a savage indictment of efforts to reform the Gardaí in the wake of the Morris Tribunal.

Justice Charleton said he remains "deeply concerned" at the gradual erosion of Garda discipline, as identified by the Morris Tribunal over a decade ago, adding that as Justice Morris commented 12 or more years ago, it was "far too difficult" to dispense with gardaí who are unsuited to police work

"This inescapably demonstrates what Mr Justice Frederick Morris said in the reports of the Morris Tribunal: the system of garda discipline is not fit for purpose," Justice Charleton writes.

Amidst all the shocking findings in the report, this remark should stand out.

In the 10 years since the Morris Tribunal, it is clear that nothing of substance has been done to reform a force that two separate tribunals have found to be dysfunctional.

What will happen now? Moreover, will anything be different this time around?

The appointment of a new Garda Commissioner - from outside the jurisdiction and with no ties to the old guard - is welcome but the reform of the force will require a complete cultural shift in the organisation.

The reputation of the Gardaí has been badly damaged by the McCabe affair and there must be accountability for what was done to him.

This time around - unlike the aftermath of the Morris enquiry - the tribunal's findings must be acted on and the serious issues identified in the force must be dealt with.

In his report, Justice Charleton also slams the culture of spin that now permeates Ireland's public sector and which he called "a hideous development in Irish public life".

He is absolutely correct and it would be tragically ironic if the Gardaí and the Government are allowed to shirk their responsibility to act on the tribunal report by hiding behind a wall of spin.

Sadly, based on past experience, one fears that is exactly what will happen.

New Ross Standard