Groupthink dangerous for society, says ceann comhairle

The ceann comhairle says he is “frightened” by groupthink, which is “extremely dangerous” for society, in the wake of what he termed as “robust” criticism of the Garda commissioner

Seán Ó Fearghaíl has conceded that Nóirín O’Sullivan still has a lot of work to do to regain the confidence of the public.

In an interview with the Irish Examiner, he said Ms O’Sullivan was treated robustly by the Public Accounts Committee (PAC) in its investigation into bogus Garda breath tests.

“She has been treated robustly, but I would think that anyone who assumes public office would have to accept that with that public office comes the likelihood of being challenged, confronted, and consistently asked to justify your performance, and I have no great problem with that,” said Mr Ó Fearghaíl.

Ms O’Sullivan faced rigorous questioning from the committee last month, with its members accusing her of “filibustering” and damaging confidence in the gardaí.

Ms O’Sullivan has taken extended holiday leave until the end of this month but faces challenges ahead with the Charleton tribunal, further inquiries by PAC into Garda audits, an internal report on penalty-point errors, and an appearance before the Policing Authority.

People need to be treated fairly not just by politicians but by the public, said Mr Ó Fearghaíl, speaking about previous concerns he has raised about ‘groupthink’ in society

“That is a point that is not solely attributable to the public attitude to the Garda commissioner. I think we have to be, in our approach to issues of public policy and public controversy, we have to be scrupulously fair, balanced and honest.

“Therefore, I am frightened by situations, whatever the situation might be, in which an idea is put abroad that something is intrinsically good or intrinsically bad and everybody buys into that in an uncritical and unquestioning way.

“That to me is groupthink and that to me is extremely dangerous and extremely damaging for democracy.”

In March, Mr Ó Fearghaíl described Ms O’Sullivan as “brave” after she faced hours of questioning at an Oireachtas committee on the recording by gardaí of 1m fake breath tests.

She has since faced calls for her resignation over the bogus tests scandal after a PAC report.

Mr Ó Fearghaíl said he believes the role of commissioner has not been diminished.

“This and previous commissioners are well able to defend their performance,” he said

Nonetheless, he said Ms O’Sullivan, who he openly admits is a friend and whose husband he went to school with, still had the task of restoring confidence in the force.

“Have the public issues about the gardaí? Quite clearly they have.”

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