Day-to-day duties of Garda officers continue despite turmoil at the top

Cormac O’Keeffe says the Garda commissioner is still standing after a very eventful week

Day-to-day duties of Garda officers continue despite turmoil at the top

THIS week saw a violent assault on gardaí. The one we all know about is the attack on the reputation of garda members, the organisation and the commissioner.

However, there was another assault that got only passing notice this week.

It was on two female gardaí, doing a normal Saturday night shift. On the face of it, the incident seemed like a joke: a man arguing over the payment of a bag of chips in a Co Mayo takeaway.

Police were called and Garda Áine Troy and Garda Tracy Corcoran responded.

However, when they arrived, the man, James Ryan, launched a savage assault. Gda Troy received neck and shoulder injuries, which caused her pain, especially when pregnant.

The injuries were interfering with her day-to-day life, in managing her children and restricted her ability to perform certain tasks.

“This incident was frightening and upsetting,” she told the court.

Her colleague, Gda Corcoran, who has 16 years experience, said she would “never forget that night”.

She said Ryan had slammed her against a door, caught her and threw her around the place.

Gda Corcoran received a painful shoulder injury and she could see “no immediate relief in the near future”. She could no longer engage in activities she once enjoyed.

Ryan got an 18-month suspended sentence.

This case came amid the tumult engulfing the force and the damage being done to the reputation of gardaí at all ranks — frontline, supervisors and management.

The country was still reeling from revelations from last Thursday week that almost half of the two million breath tests recorded b y gardaí never happened.

They were essentially made up — either because gardaí could not remember how many tests they did and put in the wrong number or because they knowingly falsified the numbers. The scale was “staggering” and it happened “right across the country”, gardaí said.

It was one of two bombshells that exploded at a press conference that Thursday. The second scandal was the wrongful conviction of 14,700 drivers for road offences, without first being given a chance to pay a fine or despite paying one.

The question ‘why?’ in relation to the phantom tests has been the burning question since, but senior gardaí struggled to convince in their answers.

This sparked a ‘no-confidence’ stance by Fianna Fáil in the commissioner.

She partially stepped into the fray last Saturday with a statement which did not elucidate matters much.

Things did not look good for her. After a meeting with the Tánaiste, she led a press conference last Monday, after which it looked like she might have just about done enough to save her skin.

However, it didn’t look that way in the Dáil, with motions of no confidence in her being proposed by Sinn Féin and the Labour Party and the apparent bulk of representatives against her.

The Government announced a “root and branch” review of the organisation, an independent investigation of the two recent scandals and an expert examination of Garda statistics.

A succession of nails into her coffin you might think.

Fianna Fáil continued to express no confidence, but crucially would not support the Sinn Féin motion.

Then came a second stinging statement in less than a week from the Policing Authority, which highlighted an old chestnut for all Garda watchdogs: the failure of the gardaí to supply information it had requested.

The authority is understandably furious at the failure of Garda HQ to inform it of the breath-test scandal — put down to an administrative oversight.

The commissioner was requested by the Oireachtas Justice Committee to appear before it — her last chance to cling onto power.

Then came the publication of a damning internal audit into the Garda College in Templemore – which found that untrained officers had opened unauthorised bank accounts, retained improperly obtained income and used money for unsanctioned expenditure.

Cue further political heat on the commissioner and a future appearance at the Public Accounts Committee.

At Thursday’s four-hour Justice Committee meeting, members lined up to hammer the commissioner and pressed her to go. In protracted and tense exchanges, Fine Gael deputy Colm Brophy and party senator Martin Conway hit her hard.

However, amid all the heat and pressure and frustrated attempts to elicit answers, no one landed a body blow.

Nóirín O’Sullivan was her trademark self — unruffled, polished and inscrutable.

These are traits that sometimes give the impression of someone who appears detached. This frustrated deputies, who took umbrage at her view that she would stay on regardless of any Dáil motion. She was determined to continue her reforms, she told them.

She stated, three times, that there was a legal way to remove her — one only the Government could wield.

In the absence of that, she was going nowhere. If, unlike the last time, the Government pursues the statutory route of dismissing her, it will need to show clear reasons, backed up with evidence. Otherwise, we could face a fresh scandal with a High Court case, perhaps for unfair, of even, constructive dismissal with all the attendant extra costs.

After all, she is yet to go before the Disclosure Tribunal, set up to test specific allegations directly against her – that she was part of/knew of a campaign to smear Sergeant Maurice McCabe.

Whatever about the authority of the Dáil, it cannot be used to force a commissioner out. However, the crisis does highlight a need to look at the system of removing a commissioner and perhaps placing the power in the hands of the Policing Authority.

While the policing crisis unfolds, the likes of Gda Corcoran and Gda Troy still have to do their shift tonight, not knowing if they will get home in one piece.

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