Do-nothing Dáil has achieved little as Garda crisis continues

There has been a lot of talk about definitively settling the Garda commissioner crisis but the Dáil is repeatedly failing to act, writes Political Correspondent Fiachra Ó Cionnaith

WHOEVER said politicians are all talk and no action may have had a point.

Since the Dáil returned from its summer recess last September, under-fire Garda Commissioner Nóirín O’Sullivan and the crisis in her force has been raised hundreds of times in the Dáil and Seanad.

The issue has also dominated 24 of the 70-plus set-piece leaders’ questions debates, being mentioned on 43 occasions at the three times a week discussions during that time.

What is happening in the force is now the subject of five ongoing commissions of investigation, including one tribunal, a Dáil no-confidence motion last month and 17 separate government reports into the gardaí.

On a near weekly basis, it is dominating the cross-party justice and public accounts committee meetings.

And after much vented angry and sincere words, the long-awaited outcome has been... well, nothing really, with the status quo remaining firmly intact.

Despite repeatedly raising issues ranging from alleged smear campaigns against whistleblowers, Garda pay, threatened strikes, fake figures, historic reviews and calls for Ms O’Sullivan to quit, true to form the do-nothing Dáil has failed to definitively address the matter to date.

For a variety of understandable politically-motivated reasons — the latest instalment of which is apparent this week — while all talk has been about the potential removal of the commissioner and potentially Justice Minister Frances Fitzgerald as well, little if any action has followed.

And as a result, an issue that needs to be addressed is failing to have any conclusion, while other equally pressing matters for the public are receiving no attention at all.

A trawl of records by the Irish Examiner has found that since the Dáil returned from its summer break last September the issue of Ms O’Sullivan and a series of controversies facing the force has been front and centre to no fewer than 24 of the 70-plus leaders’ questions debates.

During these debates issues directly relating to Ms O’Sullivan have been highlighted 43 times, with alleged smear campaigns against whistleblowers (15), calls for her to resign (7), Garda pay and strike threats (9), fake figures (4) and Government-launched Garda reviews (8) the subject of the discussions.

In a bid to gain political traction, Sinn Féin — whose leader Gerry Adams, deputy leader Mary Lou McDonald and justice spokesperson Jonathan O’Brien have raised the issue 13 times during the period — have been the most talkative on the issue.

But Fianna Fáil, which has raised the issue 11 times at leaders during the same months, is not far behind, with Labour, the Independents4Change, Solidarity-PBP and the Social Democrats also raising concerns.

On Tuesday, April 4, Sinn Féin deputy leader Mary Lou McDonald underlined the crisis behind the linked issues by telling the Dáil “the future of policing and justice by the State is at a cross-roads” when seeking Ms O’Sullivan’s resignation.

But then again, so did Independents4Change TD Mick Wallace when on Wednesday, March 29, he said “there is mayhem, the force is in bits, it is falling down around our ears” when raising the plight of whistleblowers.

And, come to think of it, the remarks bore a striking resemblance to Labour leader Brendan Howlin’s Wednesday February 8 revelations about the smear campaign against whistleblower Maurice McCabe, and Fianna Fáil leader Micheál Martin’s concerns over the same matter five days later.

Only, despite the repeated attention, it seems we are no closer now than we were nine months ago to finding a resolution to events, due to the fact parties while keen to talk up the removal of the commissioner either believe — or want the public to believe — that they cannot make the change at this stage.

The same problem persists outside of leaders’ questions, with failed February no confidence motions in Ms O’Sullivan by Sinn Féin, Labour and Solidarity-PBP indicating that while the Dáil is vocal on the issue, its minority government make-up means it is paralysed when it comes to taking action.

In the cross-party justice and public accounts committees, the same issues dominate proceedings, including half a dozen meetings with Ms O’Sullivan since the Dáil returned last September seeking — but to date being unable to find — answers on what is happening at the force, with limited success to date.

Similarly, the multiple Garda crises in recent years have resulted in no fewer than 17 separate reports into the situation since April 2013, including:

  • a penalty points review (April 2013) a report into the Maurice McCabe allegations (May 2013);
  • a C&AG report into the penalty points saga (September 2013);
  • a Garda Inspectorate review (February 2014);
  • the John Cooke inquiry into the alleged unlawful surveillance of Gsoc (February 2014);
  • the Fennelly commission (April 2014);
  • the Guerin report (May 2014);
  • the O’Higgins commission (established December 2014);
  • four Garda inspectorate and CSO reports (2015-2016);
  • the Murray review (January 2016);
  • the O’Neill whistleblower inquiry (established 2017);
  • and the root and branch review of the force (formally established this month).

In all, five — including a Government tribunal and an historic root and branch review — are still in progress, while the Policing Authority is continuing its own examination of the system.

The focus on the Garda scandals is of course understandable, and necessary given the scale of issues taking place. But until definitive action is taken on Ms O’Sullivan, the discussions taking place in the Dáil and elsewhere will have the uncomfortable feeling of going around in circles and ultimately achieving little.

Lots of noise and little progress. A bit like the do-nothing Dáil itself.

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