Once again the deep dysfunctionality within the gardaí has been laid bare, this time by two brave civilian members of the force, writes Political Editor Daniel McConnell.
There they sat, two women by themselves.
Appearing before an Oireachtas committee can be a daunting experience.
Not flanked by officials or advisers, two civilian staff members within the Garda Síochána calmly and professionally addressed members of the Oireachtas justice committee yesterday and laid bare the horrific and deep dysfunctionality within our police force.
What they said was explosive.
They were belittled, they said, treated “very poorly” by sworn members of senior management.
They continued to “come under pressure” after they raised concerns over how the deaths of people had been classified.
The background to all this is the refusal of the State’s statistical body, the CSO, to accept Garda figures relating to homicides because of concerns over the truthfulness and accuracy of those figures.
The civilian staff had tried repeatedly to raise the alarm but were repeatedly “shouted down” by senior officers.
“The stance [from Garda management] was still to insist there was nothing wrong,” Lois West, deputy head of the Garda Síochána Analysis Service, told committee members.
“The stress and pressure which we had been subjected to on a continuous basis from our first raising of these
issues has not been satisfactorily acknowledged or adequately addressed.
It is my view that we were subjected to severe pressure to withdraw our concerns, to ignore our professional standards, and to agree with the views of the sworn members of the review team.
Our integrity, both personal and professional, was undermined and attacked,” Ms West said.
Her colleague, analyst Laura Galligan concurred.
“Professionally, I felt neither Ms West nor I were given the respect we deserved. Indeed, at times I felt we
were belittled and treated very poorly,” she said.
Over the space of three and a half hours yesterday, Ms West and Ms Galligan — both civilian personnel within the force — blew the whistle on the “cover-up” attempts by sworn members relating to false homicide figures.
“The workplace has not been a pleasant place for either of us for the past 15 months,” Ms West said when asked about the impact of the repeated hostilities on her and Ms Galligan.
Asked why did they persist, Ms West replied: “I said we need to smack the organisation around the face with this. This is potentially very explosive.”
Ms Galligan, at Ms West’s behest, began a review of deaths because of concerns over the classification of deaths on the Garda’s internal Pulse computer system.
She examined a sample period 2013 to 2015. She reviewed 524 deaths and found issues with 43 cases. This figure was later lowered to 41 cases of misclassified deaths.
She said: “There were many areas of concern in misclassification, under-reporting, over-reporting, delay in
recording, and data quality issues.”
Broadly speaking, there were four areas of concern:
“However, as it transpired, there was an apparent reluctance to countenance many of the issues we tried to raise,” Ms West said.
Ms Galligan added: “These meetings did have very robust discussions, and we voiced our concerns at what we deemed to be a very serious issue regarding the recording and classification of deaths within An Garda Síochána.
Professionally I felt neither Ms West nor I were given the respect we deserved. Indeed, at times I felt we were belittled and treated very poorly.
During these nine meetings, at no stage was the methodology I had utilised, questioned by senior management nor was it referred to as weak.”
In May of last year, Ms West was handed a 59-page review document produced by other senior officers.
In this report, Ms Galligan’s previous work which had uncovered the 41 cases was slated.
“Her methodology was deemed to be inherently weak, confined and restricted and there were repeated attempts to undermine the confidence in the findings of the initial review,” Ms West said.
“This was of huge concern to me. The integrity of myself and my colleague was under attack.”
But then over the next three days, Ms West and Ms Galligan came under huge pressure to sign off on the report which they had just been handed.
“Over the course of the 8th, 9th and 10th May, 2017, I feel that very significant pressures were brought to bear on Ms Galligan and I, to persuade us to sign off the new report.
I felt very pressurised in heated meetings which occurred on the 9th and 10th May, 2017. I also received a series of phonecalls on the afternoon of 9th May during which significant pressures were brought to bear.
Professionally, I could not sign off on the new report and made it clear to all concerned that I would not bow to pressure,” Ms West said.
And when they heard in the media, and after senior officers appeared before the Policing Authority, claims that a review of homicides within the Garda had been completed they were “extremely surprised”.
They repeatedly sought to escalate their concerns and problems to the very top but meetings convened throughout last year “resolved nothing”.
Between May and mid-September 2017, Ms West and Ms Galligan continued to come under pressure to come to an agreement in relation to the 41 cases.
“However, even following adjudication by a member of senior Garda management, agreement could not be reached because the stance was still to insist there was nothing wrong,” Ms West said.
But then a sea change.
“In mid-September, 2017, Ms Galligan and I were informed that we had indeed been correct all along and that there were cases which had been misclassified. This gave us an immense sense of relief and confirmed that we had been correct in standing our ground,” she added.
Things have improved somewhat in recent weeks following media reports and since the justice committee invited them in to give evidence before them.
But some things have not improved.
“In particular, the stress and pressure which we had been subjected to on a continuous basis from our
first raising of these issues has not been satisfactorily acknowledged, or adequately addressed.
It is my view that we were subjected to severe pressure to withdraw our concerns, to ignore our professional standards and to agree with the views of the sworn members of the review team,” Ms West said.
What unfolded yesterday at the committee was perhaps the clearest evidence of the clash of cultures between sworn members of the force and the new breed of civilians who have been put in to help modernise and reform the force.
Two women at the fore of this battle, stuck to their guns under huge pressure to do the right thing.
It is a shame the same cannot be said for some at senior management level who have besmirched the very force they pledge allegiance to.