Friday 24 November 2017

Government now has opportunity to set about real reform of Gardaí

Editorial Comment

There can be little doubt that the public's faith in how the Gardaí are run has been severely damaged by the revelations of the past few years.

Phantom breath tests; wrongful motoring convictions; the taping of calls into and out of garda stations; the financial irregularities at the training college in Templemore and apparently misfiled homicide figures are among the various recent scandals that have dogged the force.

They are, of course, all alarming but they pale into insignificance when compared with the shocking revelations about the treatment, and alleged smearing, of Sergeant Maurice McCabe who blew the whistle on gardaí quashing penalty points.

The fallout from the penalty points scandal saw the resignation of former Garda Commissioner Martin Callinan and since the day she took over his successor Nóirín O'Sullivan has spent most of her time dealing with the repercussions arising out of these assorted controversies.

O'Sullivan - the first woman to lead the force - was a hugely experienced officer and she was, by her own account, determined to implement a "deep cultural and structural reform" of the Gardaí that would create a "world class" police force.

Unfortunately, her handling of the various garda scandals did not inspire the confidence of the public.

By the time she announced her retirement on Sunday her eventual departure from the Commissioner's office had, for some time, seemed inevitable.

Having served as a Deputy Commissioner under her immediate predecessor Martin Callinan, many felt Nóirín O'Sullivan was too closely linked with the old Garda establishment to be in a position to enact real and lasting reform.

Whether or not that was actually true we'll never know but, regardless, the Government now has a golden opportunity to restore the public's faith in how the Gardaí are managed.

Last week the Gardaí published the finding of their latest Public Attitude Survey and the results should have provided sobering reading for the Government and senior Gardaí.

Somewhat surprisingly, public faith in rank and file gardaí hasn't been dented by the scandals but the same cannot be said for the senior officers who run the force.

While almost 90 per cent said they had trust in the gardaí, just 37 per cent - slightly over a third - said the force was well managed and only 36 per cent said they thought the Garda Síochána provide a "world class" police service.

Clearly the reform process started by Nóirín O'Sullivan has a long way to go if public attitudes are to be changed.

The first and most obvious step that the State needs to take is to appoint the new leader of the Gardaí from outside the force and perhaps from abroad.

As mentioned earlier, perhaps Nóirín O'Sullivan's greatest weakness as Commissioner was the perception that she was to0 close to the old order. Senior Gardaí, including O'Sullivan, have acknowledged that the force needs to change. To do that an outsider is what's needed and it's what the public wants.

Wexford People

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