As our rugby team discovered at Twickenham on Saturday, intent and delivery are very different things. They can be divided by a chasm very difficult, if not impossible, to cross. Modest Saturday morning predictions suggested all was well enough in the Irish camp and even if a victory was not anticipated then a good performance would be delivered. How wrong that wishful thinking was. England, by refusing to concede an inch, and by ruthlessly applying the great force they have accumulated, delivered a rout that must have a profound psychological impact on both sets of players. Whether our team, especially its older members, ever recover from this humiliation is an open question. If they were to do so before the World Cup begins in a month’s time it would be nothing short of miraculous. Yet, despite that bruising reality check, it offered lessons applicable on a far wider plane.
There are striking parallels between the challenges faced by coach Joe Schmidt when he took over the Irish team six years ago and the challenges faced by Garda Commissioner Drew Harris when he was appointed in January.
Each was an outsider entrusted with bringing about badly-needed change. Each faced slivers of resentment in the organisation they were to lead, maybe more so in the case of Harris. Each was appointed in the hope they might bring a rejuvenation, introduce a modern professionalism their predecessors, for whatever reasons, could not deliver. Schmidt faced a hierarchy that had confounded more than one manager hoping to deliver change. Harris faces entrenched opposition in the shape of garda representative associations and the usual coterie of cynical politicians only too happy to jump on any save-our-whatever bandwagon that might offer vote-gathering momentum. Both men, each rightly admired by their domestic and international peers, face a career-defining moment in the immediate future.
Schmidt and his players go to Japan under a cloud, with the optimism of a year ago replaced by something that begins to look like foreboding. Last week Harris announced the latest attempt to reform An Garda Síochána. His plans were met with nudge-nudge opposition from garda associations which suggests the “inertia and internal resistance” former minister for justice and attorney general Michael McDowell said blocked earlier reform programmes are alive and well.
Ireland may not win the Webb Ellis trophy but Harris cannot be allowed to fail. The Government must support him in a way that will overcome one of the powerful sectional interests limiting one branch of public service after another. By endorsing Harris’ proposals the Government has, albeit inadvertently and quietly, announced a day of reckoning. If the commissioner is not supported to the hilt, in public and in private, then any idea about reforming health, education, our agriculture sector or any of the other areas where citizens’ interests are often seen as almost an intrusion can be cast aside as forcefully as England’s forwards dismissed our pack. The Government must help Harris turn intent into real and lasting achievement.
Anything less would be an unforgiveable betrayal.