Is the whistleblowing saga powered by hot air?

whistle_websizeTo rank and file gardaí, the latest whistleblowing saga appears very much like these things always appear to those who work the frontline – diversionary hot air writes John O’Keeffe.

Picture this scene if you will. Tom has been in the Force for 15 years.*  He graduated from Templemore at a time when the Celtic Tiger had begun to lick its paws. Things were starting to move in the economy at long last and there was a very real sense of a new Ireland emerging from the shadows of self referring navel gazing and into a global world of opportunity. Tom’s ambitions may have been more modest but no less real for that. All Tom wanted was a career path that would develop by reason of his hard work and dedication. Tom decided that he would do his best to achieve his goals within the Force and make the best life he could for himself, his new wife and young family.

The first couple of years were good for Tom and all seemed well. He got a post just outside Dublin in a busy station with a good sergeant and a friendly team around him. After seven years, he surprised himself by doing the sergeants exams and then even more, by passing them. He knew such posts were difficult to come by but Tom was in no particular hurry – the economy was booming and getting funding for the new house extension for example had been no problem. His bank manager even told him in the pub one evening that he could get him a mortgage so he could buy that nice property in Bulgaria he had been taking about.

Then about seven years ago it all started to look very shaky. It turned out the apartment that he had bought in Bulgaria had in fact not even been built and the local builders had disappeared. His wife was then let go from the local engineering company due to a steep drop in orders. Soon the government went on a rampage of slash and burn to keep the EU paymasters at bay. Garda salaries were cut, overtime decimated, old rosters thrown out the window with no regard or input required from Tom or his colleagues. Templemore all but closed and with recruitment ended, Tom was told to get his head down like everyone else and feel the pain while at the same time understanding how lucky he was. His financial situation was now putting his marriage in jeopardy and his life began collapsing around him.

Today Tom and his wife are separated and they make the best of what post-boom Ireland allows them. Their home has been sold and both parties are now renting. Lately he has been severely bullied at work by a person of superior rank but only lip service is been paid to his complaint and a garda friend told him yesterday that the system was such that it would never go anywhere in any event, and that a black mark was now against his name for complaining in the first place. He now takes sleeping tablets at night and knows that he is drinking too much. The future could not look much bleaker. Tom really doesn’t feel so lucky anymore.

On top of all this personal and professional upheaval Tom now has to deal with both a criminal and chattering media classes who have become experts on a range of matters from counter-surveillance to bugging and best policing practices. More bizarrely, these same people appear to imagine that Tom is somehow at the heart of the dispute between the holy trinity of Garda Management, the Department of Justice and GSOC. Perhaps someone could explain to Tom why this is so? Frontline gardaí are fully aware that the relationship between these entities is a critical one and the latest scandal over the treatment of whistleblowers, the alleged behaviours of confidential recipients, politicians and GSOC have implications of both a criminal and societal nature for everyone – not just gardaí.

The problem for Tom is that he just doesn’t know quite what he has done wrong. Why did that drunk who tried to glass him last night then start to joke about the van been bugged and how much trouble he was now in because “Shatter has found you all out?” Why did that columnist in that respected national broadsheet infer that there was something going to the heart of policing in Ireland that these latest scandals would, “blow the lid on”? Tom knows literally hundreds of gardaí and also knows that the vast majority of them are men and women of exemplary character trying to do a difficult job in what are extraordinary policing circumstances.

The irony of all of this is that in these smoke and mirrors, the truth is that the holy trinity has never given a damn about rank and file such as Tom. GSOC – bugged or not – is a crumbling monument to a hysterical, ill-informed liberal agenda. When they’re not busy implying that a garda may still be guilty even though a judge has found that he has no case to answer to in open court, they are beating up rank and file gardaí at every given opportunity so that – as they see it – the corrupt few will perish.

If not too busy colluding with government on a range of operational matters that diminish a garda’s working life, garda management colludes elsewhere by continuing to trample on the basic human right to transparently and effectively allow rank and file pursue a legitimate complaint against another member. The Minister that heads up the Department of Justice thinks so little of the gardaí that not only is he prepared to slash pay, brush aside long established conditions, he then thinks it would be useful to close down hundreds of garda stations in pursuit of “modern policing”. To add galloping irony to gratuitous insult, the Minister then accuses the rank and file’s representatives of “talking down the force”.

And you thought a flute was simply a melodic wind instrument.

All the above of course is lost in the public’s rush to be both scandalised and titillated by bugs, phone tapping and a very naughty confidential recipient. Rank and file are then thrown into the pile of suspicion and innuendo because it suits the agenda of certain others to so do. The truth of the matter is that Tom and his colleagues still go to work everyday. They still do the best job they can in appalling circumstances to ensure that entry point justice is administered as smoothly and professionally as possible. He and others do all they can to ensure the public remains as safe as can reasonably be the case with the limitations now put on their everyday work.

While ‘whistleblowing’ becomes the word of the season for the chattering classes, Tom and his ex wife do the best they can and he gets to see his kids every weekend. Unfortunately, he has started drinking again and three weeks ago and was found by his ex wife in his flat crying inconsolably. He has now been admitted to a psychiatric facility and is progressing well

The real question is, who now whistleblows for Tom?

John O’Keeffe is Director, School of Criminology, City Colleges and Adjunct Teaching Fellow, School of Psychology, Trinity College, Dublin. 

* The name used in this article is fictitious

For full and in-depth coverage, see the current printed edition of Garda Review.

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