AGSI Conference: Talk of adequate resources ‘fake news’

Mid-ranking gardaí have issued stinging criticism of Commissioner Nóirín O’Sullivan, accusing her of breaching due process in ascribing “incompetence or deception” towards gardaí for the breath test scandal.

Garda Commissioner Noirin O'Sullivan at the AGSI conference in the INEC, Killarney, Co Kerry, yesterday.

Association of Garda Sergeants & Inspectors leader Antoinette Cunningham also accused the Commissioner and her predecessors of engaging in “fake news” for telling successive governments that they had adequate resources to run the organisation.

Ms Cunningham told the Commissioner at the AGSI annual conference that members needed “strong leadership” and wanted “inspiration and motivation” from their chief.

She told Ms O’Sullivan sergeants and inspectors were operating with a “smell of negativity in the air”.

She took the Commissioner to task over her recent appearance at an Oireachtas committee in relation to the breath test and wrongful traffic convictions.

“We must, Commissioner, as the voice of sergeants and inspectors, challenge you on some of the remarks you made at a recent meeting of the Oireachtas Justice Committee,” said Ms Cunningham.

“Your comments that the two recent controversies highlight ‘at best incompetence and at worse deception’ were unfair to the majority of decent, honourable, and hard-working sergeants and inspectors, who have served, and will continue to serve.

“You did not show the due process that all members are entitled to, and your comments left a sense of everyone being damaged in an unfair way, when some or many may have had no involvement in this crisis at all.

“Generalisations are dangerous in the absence of evidence and fair procedures should be applied to sergeants and inspectors just as much as for senior Garda management.”

Ms Cunningham said there was “no doubt” the recent events involving the conviction of more than 14,500 people in our communities was “wrong”.

She said: “While it will not take away from the anxiety, expense and deep sense of injustice it will have caused, and for that we must all be sorry, we need to ensure it doesn’t happen again, and AGSI will co-operate with the examinations into these matters.”

She said there had been “scandal after scandal” and that members were being “pilloried”, while some politicians were playing “political ping-pong” in Leinster House.

Ms Cunningham told Ms O’Sullivan that if she believed incompetence was an issue she should have added there had been “complete lack of training” of members over the last 10 years, which had created “a high risk to operational policing practice on the frontline”.

She said many stations in Milford, Castlecomer, Balieborough, Cork, and Dublin were without sergeants to supervise gardaí.

“For years we have listened to various garda commissioners telling government that they had adequate resources to run this organisation. An example of ‘fake news’ at its best,” said Ms Cunningham, adding that the organisation was one where “no one is allowed to make an honest mistake”.

She criticised “management speak” within Garda HQ and questioned if the Commissioner was committed to genuine reform.

Morale hit as public react negatively

Garda morale has been hit hard by “scandal after scandal” and many are experiencing negativity from the general public, mid-ranking gardaí have said.

Delegates stand to attention as Garda Commissioner Noirin O’Sullivan arrives at the AGSI conference.

Speaking at the annual conference, members of the Association of Garda Sergeants and Inspectors (AGSI) said people were “bewildered” by what they were reading in newspapers and that the authorities need to “sort out the issues”.

Sergeant Paul Wallace, a crime prevention community relations officer in Donegal, said it was “disappointing” the impact the controversies were having on gardaí and the public.

“People are wondering what’s going on,” he said. “It certainly dents your confidence doing the day job when all these allegations are swirling around in a vortex above your head as such,” said Sgt Wallace. “It’s hard to have confidence in what you are doing.

“I think the public are as bewildered as we are, the people on the ground, to a point. They want to see some resolution coming to this. There’s been one scandal after another.”

Sergeant Nicola Brady, at Blanchardstown Station in west Dublin, said: “Our job, and not just mine, every members’ job is being made a lot more difficult recently with all the negativity that’s on the ground, but ultimately there is a job to be done and is being done and will continue to be done regardless.”

The community policing sergeant said: “Some people are very supportive. Somebody commented during the week that they noticed there were a few more reports, but that they didn’t hold us — the uniformed guards — responsible for it and there are other people that will shout about ye. She added:We’re there to serve the public and do a job.

For us to do our job correctly, I do think the public need to believe in us, to support us.”

Sergeant Rory Brennan, based in Westport, Co Mayo, said the publiceople’s relationship with the gardaí had been damaged.

“There’s no doubt with all the issues that are going on over the last couple of weeks; the ordinary citizens of this country, there is no doubt they have issues with the gardaí,” said Sgt Brennan.

“That is a problem for the people I represent on the ground. They feel it, they feel under pressure and feel let down. They wonder; what next for the gardaí?

“The mood is on the floor because every day they open their paper and there is a scandal about the gardaí.”

Sgt Brennan said that members of the public had asked him “how 1m breath tests became 2m”.

However, he said that nobody in the Garda could answer that question until an internal investigation and the Policing Authority review were completed.

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