Woman leads the charge as successor

The question of who will succeed Martin Callinan as Garda commissioner almost invariably prompts the answer that there’s only one man — or in this case, woman — for the job.

Woman leads the charge as successor

Deputy commissioner Noirín O’Sullivan, who has taken over the role in an acting capacity, has been second in charge of the force since May of last year when the only other deputy commissioner, Nacie Rice, retired, leaving a position that has yet to be filled.

Her appointment as deputy commissioner meant she had already gone further than any other female member of the force. Previously, there was just one woman assistant commissioner, Catherine Clancy, who opted for early retirement in 2008.

Aged 53, O’Sullivan was born while the very first female recruits admitted to the Gardaí were still in training. She joined the force in 1981 and apart from spells in Tipperary and Galway, has served in her native Dublin.

She came to the attention of superiors as a founder member of the first dedicated Garda unit working plainclothes on the streets of Dublin to combat drug dealing in the 1980s.

She was one of just three women in the group which worked the city’s flat complexes, back alleys, and street corners where major dealers ran sophisticated networks. Some significant arrests earned O’Sullivan a spate of promotions.

In 2000, she was made detective superintendent and assigned to the Garda National Drugs Unit. Three years later, she was promoted to chief superintendent at the Garda Technical Unit.

She was promoted to the rank of assistant commissioner in 2007, given responsibility firstly for the western region, then for human resource management, and, after two years, for crime and security. In 2011, she was made the first female deputy commissioner, put in charge of operations.

Her achievements have not gone unnoticed outside the jurisdiction and she has recently been mentioned as a possible successor for the PSNI’s soon-to-retire chief constable Matt Baggott.

Those achievements are hard to overstate as, 15 years ago, women made up less than 10% of the force. Today, male gardaí still outnumber females by about three to one. The ratio is worse in the higher ranks — all nine assistant commissioners are men, as are the force’s six most senior civilian managers.

O’Sullivan may have views about how to change this situation — she has studied consistently throughout her career, gaining a raft of management qualifications in Ireland and the US. She is a graduate of the FBI National Executive Institute and has a first class master’s of business studies from the Michael Smurfit School of Business.

Asked for some words of wisdom to mark International Women’s Day earlier this month, she acknowledged there were obstacles to advancement for women within the force but said they were reducing and were surmountable.

Her advice to other women striving for career progression? “Be resilient, don’t stumble at the first fence or give up at the first fall. Enjoy living.”

If confirmed as commissioner, O’Sullivan would have seven years to give to the job before reaching retirement age, which could provide some beneficial continuity.

The last three commissioners have only served three or three-and-a-half years each, and since the 1950s, only two commissioners have made it beyond four-and-a-half years.

O’Sullivan is married to Detective Superintendent Jim McGowan, who is attached to Ballymun, and the couple have three grown-up sons, including press photographer Ciaran McGowan, who is a member of the Garda Reserve.

If the Government wants to look beyond the obvious in replacing Martin Callinan, and if officials aren’t so bold as to look to another jurisdiction, the pool of talent in which they have to fish lies in the ranks of assistant commissioner.

There, John O’Mahoney would have been considered most likely to succeed, but his involvement in the whistleblower affair, as the officer tasked with carrying out the internal Garda inquiry into the allegations, has probably ruined his chances.

O’Mahoney, a Cork native and assistant commissioner in charge of crime and security, found there was merit to the whistleblowers’ allegations but he has been criticised for failing to interview them as part of his inquiry and for placing disproportionate weight on the few claims that have not been substantiated.

For ability to carry workload alone, John Twomey, who is in charge of both the Dublin Metropolitan Area and traffic, cannot be completely ruled out of contention for the commissioner’s post. But as the youngest of the assistant commissioners, he may be expected to wait a while longer for promotion.

Jack Nolan, in charge of both the south-east region and organisation development and strategic management, could be in with a chance, as could Derek Byrne, who has the wide-ranging job of responsibility for National Support Services. He is at least likely to have his varied and comprehensive CV looked over.

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