There would be calls for the head of the Garda commissioner regardless of whether it was Nóirín O’Sullivan or someone else, the chair of the new policing commission has said.
Kathleen O’Toole said this was because Ms O’Sullivan and her management team “inherited a poisoned chalice” when they took over.
Ms O’Toole, a US police chief and former head of the Garda Inspectorate, made the comments to the media after the first meeting of the Commission on the Future of Policing in Ireland.
When questioned about the constant calls for the head of the commissioner in recent months, Ms O’Toole said: “I don’t think it would make a difference if it was Nóirín O’Sullivan or someone else.
“I think this management team inherited a poisoned chalice and I think we need to get beyond the finger-pointing and the name calling.”
She added: “We’re certainly not going to engage in that. We are looking to the future.”
The chair of the commission acknowledged there was a “crisis in confidence” in An Garda Síochána.
However, she said she hoped the 12-person commission would facilitate a fresh start: “It’s been a very very difficult time and I think that and I hope we can shift the commentary to a constructive dialogue about the future of policing in this country.
“Certainly there are others focusing on performance issues and historical inquiries. Our role is to strike this new beginning and press the reset button and engage in a good constructive dialogue.”
Ms O’Toole, flanked by seven of the 12 members, said there was a crisis in confidence in police forces elsewhere, including in the US.
She said she believed the “average” person in Ireland supported their local guards and that they were concerned about “systems and management issues”.
She added: “On a human level people want to support the police here. They are overwhelmingly supportive of the police.”
She said gardaí “must be very demoralised” and said the commission wanted to show them “some light at the end of the tunnel” and create a policing model that both “they can buy into and that will also restore public confidence”.
The commission is tasked with extensive terms of reference, covering everything from: Recruitment and training; the structures and management of the organisation; separating security from policing; culture and ethos; oversight structures; the laws around policing, and an examination of policing models from abroad.
She said it might sound like a “Herculean” task, but said it need not be so.
Ms O’Toole said there was now a sense of urgency: “I’m convinced the Government is prepared to accept and implement changes. If I didn’t believe that I wouldn’t be here.”
She said the commission would be holding community meetings and taking submissions.
She said they would be assisted by an estimated 10 support staff — similar to what the Patten Commission had.
She pointed out that her commission also had four additional members compared to Patten.
Asked how many hours a week members would be able to give, she declined to say but did state that members had “made a commitment to do whatever it takes to get this done”.
On the issue of taking security and/or intelligence away from policing, she said there were “very mixed views” on that in Ireland.
She said they had “no pre-conceived notions” on it and would make “sensible recommendations”.
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