Expert: Garda reform is now or never

An Garda Síochána is in crisis and must urgently change now or risk failing to ever reform, the head of the commission into the future of policing has warned.

Commission chair and former garda inspectorate chief Kathleen O’Toole issued the dire warning as pressure continued to mount on crisis-hit Garda Commissioner Nóirín O’Sullivan over the garda college financial scandal.

Speaking at the MacGill Summer School in the Glenties, Co Donegal, in the aftermath of Tuesday’s damning Dáil Public Accounts Committee report into the garda college, and as at least five more investigations continue into the controversy, Ms O’Toole insisted reform cannot be delayed.

And while Government last night continued to back Ms O’Sullivan despite ongoing calls by opposition TDs for her immediate resignation, Ms O’Toole said if wide-ranging change does not take place at all levels of the force immediately it may fail to overcome the current crises.

“I think now there is an even greater sense of urgency, and with every crisis comes an opportunity. If we don’t get it right now, we will never get it right,” she said.

“You can’t dictate change. You can’t just go in and say ‘we are dictating change, we are dictating reform, we are dictating cultural change’. We need to get buy-in to it and I think if you have the right leadership team and they are willing to take this on, they will drive it from the top.”

Asked about the appointment and her own role in the decision, Ms O’Toole said: “I recall thinking: ‘Gee, I’m surprised there’s not a more robust candidate pool.’ But at the time it wasn’t perceived that Ireland had bounced back yet.

“I sat on the selection process the last time and there weren’t a lot of international applicants. But I think now there’s a perception out there that the place has bounced back [financially].”

Ms O’Toole was speaking after Tuesday’s publication of the PAC’s damning 71-page report into the garda college which found Ms O’Sullivan “failed in her duties” and misled the State spending watchdog over the scale of the financial issues involved for 10 months.

It was also alleged she and others tried to “cover up” what happened, that whistle-blowers were not protected, and that garda management has a “culture of withholding information” and keeping issues from public view.

Numerous other investigations — including those by the EU’s anti-fraud agency, Sipo, the C&AG, Gsoc, and the garda internal audit unit — are continuing while the Central Bank wrote to the PAC yesterday to say it cannot clarify if it is investigating the St Raphael’s garda credit union under “money laundering” legislation.

While Labour’s Alan Kelly and Sinn Féin’s Mary Lou McDonald continued to insist Ms O’Sullivan must now resign, Government is still backing the garda commissioner.

Meanwhile, the Department of Justice yesterday declined to explain when exactly Ms O’Sullivan asked — and was authorised — to take a six-week break from now until September 4.

The move has been seen by some as an attempt by Ms O’Sullivan to side-step fresh calls for her resignation.

While the Department of Justice rejected the claim, it failed to explain when the time-off was sought amid suggestions it was only authorised in recent days, simply saying Ms O’Sullivan requested the leave “earlier this year”.

Meanwhile, the Policing Authority last night expressed concern at how training resources are allocated at the garda college and warned the backlog of training needs is posing a “real difficulty”.


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