Politics won’t loosen grip on policing

EDITORIAL: No sooner had Garda Commissioner Nóirín O’Sullivan retired before a well-prepared political elite began to roll out their platitudes and calls for accelerated reform; the implication being that she was an obstacle rather than a facilitator. Furthermore, those on the Opposition benches saw the opportunity to call for a clear-out and bring a new management from abroad. To reduce the future of An Garda Síochána to a simple populous soundbite is disingenuous at best, ignorant at worst. Nóirín O’Sullivan was selected as Garda Commissioner following an extensive international competition; and was offered the role ahead of other senior and accomplished candidates.


On a personal level, many of our members will wish her well in her future career; for her achievements are considerable, not least that she broke through the glass ceiling to become the 20th Commissioner and the first female to hold every rank in the job. She has been a pathfinder. Others who served with her may find a raft of professional attributes that have inspired others and progressed policing in this country. There is no doubt that her years as Commissioner have been beset with woes, from an inauspicious start as her predecessor was unceremoniously removed from office – only later to be found by the Fennelly Commission to have been treated unfairly. O’Sullivan was expected to achieve quick results.


The Garda Representative Association does not have the full information as to what occurs in the closed confines of Garda Management; yet we are often exasperated by the lack of clear communication emanating from our employers on such issues as resources and staffing levels. Privately, management will often express their own analysis of the political parameters they have to operate within – and not always kindly. But the realpolitik is that they have to operate under the control of the political elite; no matter that there is now a Policing Authority, alongside the Garda Inspectorate and Garda Ombudsman all maintaining their own branch or brand of oversight. Until the Commission on the Future of Policing in Ireland reports to government next September we are left in abeyance.


The Association has maintained a clear position that should a Garda Commissioner be appointed from abroad it will send a signal to the men and women across the organisation that no one from within its ranks was adjudged to be capable of the task. That will be regrettable. However, we have also maintained that the promotion system has been tainted by political interference with social and familial nepotism running rife since the formation of the Force – and that the solution is a true meritocracy with the appointment of senior ranks conducted in independence of government. That is what makes the commentary from the political elite particularly galling.

 

Reform and modernisation of any police service is complex, but is Ireland overcomplicating its future with so many separate bodies and mechanisms; yet hardly knowing where progress is being made or not. In too many instances Garda management is distracted from policing by politics – and no one joins the Guards to become a career politician, so ultimately as responsibility grows as a member rises up the management chain, policing results are not sufficient alone.


Those in politics and the media, in a culture that has become adversarial and crushing, are stockpiling the pressure placed on the next Commissioner. The breadth of reforms are coming from multiple sources and the expectation is that An Garda Síochána itself is expected to collate and manage their implementation. Would it not be more appropriate to merge these oversight and management agencies to collate and structure the kinds of changes for Garda management to implement in a supportive and cooperative spirit – rather than a culture of competing and changing demands in a combative arena?

“The Garda Commissioner and management must be allowed to do their job; with oversight, accountability and transparency. Policing is not a commercial business whose clients sit in Leinster House; it must be an independent entity separated from political expediency with the consent of all citizens.”


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

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