Latest: Replacement Garda Commissioner may come from abroad

Latest: The Justice Minister has suggested the search for a new Garda Commissioner may spread abroad.

Latest: Replacement Garda Commissioner may come from abroad

Update 4.25pm: The Justice Minister has suggested the search for a new Garda Commissioner may spread abroad.

Ex-Garda Commissioner Noirin O'Sullivan, who retired yesterday, said the job had become more about reporting to other people than carrying out the needed reforms.

The process to replace her has begun and is likely to take a number of months to complete.

Justice Minister Charlie Flanagan has said he will consider all options to replace the Commissioner, including an international recruitment process.

"I believe it is an opportunity, on the appointment of a new Commisioner, that perhaps we broaden the base, that we have a look at the labour market and that we ultimately lead to the appointment of an expert - and somebody who is best placed in order to complete the root and branch programme of modernisation and change," he said.

Update 1.58pm: Former garda whistleblower John Wilson has said he wants to see more officers step down after Nóirín O'Sullivan's resignation.

Speaking to Shannonside FM, Mr Wilson said he hopes the Commissioner's resignation will create a domino effect.

"I hope we now see a domino effect where lots of senior officers will depart the scene from all over the country," he said.

Update 11:35am: It may be months before a new Garda Commissioner is in place following the retirement of Nóirín O'Sullivan.

The ex-Garda Commissioner retired from the post last night after a year of intense pressure to step away.

The Justice Minister said he "wasn't surprised" despite only getting one hour's notice of her intention to retire.

Minister Charlie Flanagan revealed that he had suspected the former Commissioner's departure, weeks before it was announced on Sunday evening, and confirmed that it may be months before a replacement is in place.

Justice Minister Charlie Flanagan.
Justice Minister Charlie Flanagan.

"The possibility that commissioner O'Sullivan might retire was flagged to me over the last couple of weeks," he said.

"I expect over the next few days to be speaking with the Chair of the Policing Authority Josephine Feehily. We will discuss how best we will move on the process. It will take a number of weeks, possibly even months," he added.

"In the meantime, I am very pleased the Deputy Commissioner Donal O Cualáin has undertaken the task as interim Commissioner," Minister Flanagan said.

The Social Democrat party has called for a total clearout at the top of the force.

"Where you have a deep-rooted problem with the culture of an organisation, one single person being appointed at the top of that organisation, no matter how good they are, are not going to change the culture. That person will be swallowed up," said party co-leader Róisín Shortall.

The party, which believes all current Garda management should be made to re-apply for their jobs, wants a new Commissioner brought in from abroad who will bring their own team with them.

Update 8.33am Justice Minister Charlie Flanagan has said he was not surprised at the Garda Commissioner's decision to retire.

Speaking on RTÉ Radio 1, Minister Flanagan said there had been some discussions surrounding her departure as Commissioner and while on her summer break, Nóirín O'Sullivan was questioning if continuing as Commissioner would be the right thing to do.

Commenting on her resignation, Minister Flanagan said it has been a very difficult time for An Garda Síochána and there was a need for urgent reform and that his Department was considering all aspects of the force.

He also said he believed Ms O'Sullivan's actions were in the best interest of An Garda Siochána.

On her pension package, Minister Flanagan said the government has not signed any deal and the pension Ms O'Sullivan receives will reflect her years of service, her position in the force and "no more."

Sinn Féin's Mary Lou McDonald said she is "alarmed" at Minister Flanagan's comments and said "he seems to be missing the gravity of the situation."

Speaking on RTÉ Radio 1, she expressed concern over ongoing problems including the refusal of the CSO to publish crime related figures.

"The retirement of the Garda Commissioner opens up another opportunity to effect the radical over-haul of An Garda Síochána," she said.

"I'm alarmed at what I've heard, he (Minister for Justice Charlie Flanagan) seems to be missing the gravity of the situation, the problems remain. The CSO can't publish homicide data because they can't trust the information from gardaí, this is a crisis.

"In a democracy if you can not have public confidence in An Garda Síochána we are in a very dangerous place."

Sinn Féin's Mary Lou McDonald.
Sinn Féin's Mary Lou McDonald.

Speaking on the appointment of a new Commissioner, Mary Lou McDonald said it is Sinn Féin's belief that the new Commissioner needs to be "untouched," and "uncontaminated" by scandals and that the government needs to be open to appointing someone from outside of the jurisdiction.

"There is more to come and more to be said as regards of malpractice and mistakes and even worse. This story has unfolded slowly," she said.

"The selection and recruitment of a new Commissioner is key, and I'm very disappointed the Minister seems to be dancing around the issue."

"It is crystal clear that gardaí were being damaged and that the Commissioner had to go. We now have a job to do in the interest of society."

Update 8.11am: Justice Minister Charlie Flanagan is to meet the Policing Authority and its Chairperson Josephine Feehily to begin the process of appointing a new Garda Commissioner.

Nóirín O'Sullivan unexpectedly retired yesterday stating the vast majority of her time was spent not on policy or policing but on unending cycle of inquiries.

Earlier: Just who is going to replace the Garda chief and are the force’s organisational problem solved with Nóirín O’Sullivan’s shock departure, asks Cormac O’Keeffe.

Well, the Government and the opposition parties got what they wanted.

And, if social media and much of the mainstream media is anything to go by, large sections of the public wanted the commissioner’s head too.

But the shock departure of Nóirín O’Sullivan raises many questions – two obvious ones to start with.

WHO NOW?

The most senior deputy commissioner Dónall O’Cualáin has stepped in as acting commissioner.

But Justice Minister Charlie Flanagan said yesterday that he would discuss with Josephine Feehily, the chair of the Policing Authority, as to how they would fill the position.

Unlike previously, the authority now has a key role in the appointment.

Only up and running since the start of 2016, the authority has already been shaping the future leadership of the organisation in its appointment of assistant commissioners, chief superintendent and superintendents through an independent and professional competition.

The act setting up the authority also spells out the process for appointing a commissioner. Previously, it was the sole prerogative of the Government and the last time a four-person panel, including Kathleen O’Toole, the current head of the Policing Commission, nominated Nóirín O’Sullivan for the job.

At Glenties recently, Ms O’Toole, a US police chief, said she was surprised there wasn’t a “more robust candidate pool” and that there weren’t more international applicants.

Garda Commissioner Noirin O’Sullivan with her predecessor Martin Callinan.
Garda Commissioner Noirin O’Sullivan with her predecessor Martin Callinan.

This time, the authority is the main player in nominating the commissioner —though crucially the final decision still rests with the Government.

Essentially, the authority, after talking to the Government, asks the Public Appointments Service to conduct a competition.

It will be decided by the Government, in discussion with the authority, whether or not to open it to international applicants.

Given the Garda Síochána is both the policing service and the national security service, this has traditionally persuaded the Government to keep the position in house, in Ireland.

That has probably now changed in that there is a political will to bring a policing chief or expert from abroad.

The selection panel would most likely contain a senior Government representative, as well as the likes of Ms Feehily and an independent chair.

The process would involve detailed interviews and presentations and analysis. The authority will nominate a person, who the Government “shall accept”.

In exceptional circumstances the Government can reject the nomination and, if the authority agrees to that, will nominate another. The authority can make representations to the Government if it disagrees.

An issue that might come into play here is that the Commission on the Future

of Policing is examining whether or not security should be removed from the Garda and a new agency set up.

It is unlikely the commission will be able to research this issue and make recommendations before the new commissioner is appointed.

It has been argued that if security is removed, the government of the day would find it more acceptable to appoint a foreign police chief to the position of commissioner.

Given the poisoned chalice nature of the commissioner’s job, one would wonder who would be brave enough to apply, given the scale of pressure and criticism involved.

This would be particularly so for senior gardaí. The two deputy commissioners were appointed by the Government during Ms O’Sullivan’s tenure and they might be seen as too close to her and be tarnished with the existing regime.

The Government might be reluctant to go that route.

The authority could open the candidate pool down the ranks. There are many officers appointed to the ranks of assistant commissioner and chief superintendent (and others still on the panels) who have extensive experience and expertise in conducting major investigations, running divisions and combating organised crime gangs and dissidents.

Crucially, they have been recently appointed by the authority through open competition.

Two obviously domestic outsiders — Ms O’Toole and Ms Feehily — are players in the game. Unless they step down, it might be difficult for them to apply.

The likes of Mark Toland, a commissioner in GSOC, could be a candidate. He is a former Met police chief and deputy inspector of the Garda Inspectorate (and author of its two landmark reports on Garda reform). It’s not clear if his current role would rule him out too.

Outside that, would PSNI or British police be willing to apply for the job? Would they have the knowledge of Irish policing? Would they necessarily make a better commissioner?

PROBLEM SOLVED?

A second immediate question is does Ms O’Sullivan’s departure solve the problems in the organisation?

No, would be the reasonable answer.

Many of the most pressing controversies that have led Nóirín O’Sullivan to this position started before she was commissioner.

The Templemore finances is one — though her handling of the issue once she was informed caused her considerable damage in the Public Accounts Committee, all in public.

The breath test and penalty points scandals started before her, though they continued into her reign.

The allegations concerning the alleged smear campaign against Sgt Maurice McCabe centres more on her predecessor, though her level of awareness of the campaign is yet to be tested in the Disclosure Tribunal, probably next month. That tribunal could yet throw up other curveballs.

She inherited a lot of the previous controversies to do with penalty points, garda malpractice in Cavan/Monaghan, the bugging of Garda phone calls, and the alleged bugging of GSOC.

Issues to do with concerns over crime statistics, the chronic state of IT systems, the slow pace of civilianisation and a whole range of other issues were there before her and will continue.

The internal dysfunctionality of Garda HQ under her and her predecessor will not just disappear overnight – and may be exposed in the Disclosure Tribunal.

There are more reports to come, including from the internal garda auditor, the Comptroller and Auditor General, GSOC, and the Policing Authority.

This is all in the context of a Garda organisation that hemorrhaged staff and resources during the recession — consequences of which continue, and will take years yet to rectify.

The morale of gardaí is “shot” as one experienced source said last night.

Maurice McCabe
Maurice McCabe

The endless succession of controversies since the tail end of 2012 have taken a heavy toll on members — members came within, literally, minutes of mounting a strike last October.

Members often expressed differing views on Ms O’Sullivan — some liked her and thought she was a scapegoat, while others felt that she lived in management-land and excluded people not in her circle.

Some thought she should have gone long ago for the sake of the force. But many gardaí became afraid to talk, for fear of repercussions.

This touches on the fundamental issue of the traditional culture within the Garda: to protect its name above all else, to limit public scrutiny and to distrust those who critique it.

There are many other issues key to reform — such as proper training, comprehensive supervision, increased diversity and taking the promotion to the ranks of sergeant and inspector outside the organisation.

Ms O’Sullivan’s departure also doesn’t fix the structural problems in relation to politics and policing — if anything, it reinforces it.

There were leaks that one suspects came from within the Government — most recently the Europol job application and the breath test report — that aimed to damage her, which they did.

Admittedly, the Government was in a difficult position as to how to get rid of Ms O’Sullivan, given the shady way in which her predecessor was dispatched and the legal minefield of doing or saying anything that breached the process laid down in law for actually removing a commissioner. But maybe, her potential removal should have rested with the authority.

The circumstances of Ms O’Sullivan’s departure are very much unclear at the moment and may continue to be.

Her decision to retire shocked gardaí spoken to last night. Given her repeated statements that she had done nothing wrong and was going nowhere, her decision to depart is puzzling. She survived lengthy public grilling in the Public Accounts Committee. So why leave now?

Was some sort of agreement made with the Government — a Government desperate to see the back of her — that swayed it? Or was it an upcoming report or the Disclosure Tribunal? Did she simply have enough? Or was it for the good of the force?

And it’s the good of the force, and the people it serves, that must now be the focus.

Given that the Policing Commission won’t report in full for another 17 months, hopes must rest on the appointment of a new commissioner, working alongside the authority and other oversight agencies, and garda members, in rescuing the

organisation.

Let’s not go down the road of looking for quick fixes here. There are none.

The controversies that dog the force

- Conall Ó Fátharta

In the end, Garda Commissioner Nóirín O’Sullivan admitted that the “unending cycle” of investigations and inquiries surrounding the force she headed meant she could not continue in the role she has held since 2014.

Her tenure as the first female Garda Commissioner since the foundation of the State in 1922 has not been an easy one.

On the day of her appointment, she promised to lift morale in the force after a number of reports into malpractice and a series of controversies.

Her appointment was initially welcomed by the Garda whistleblower Sgt Maurice McCabe, who exposed the quashing of penalty points in 2008. He felt she had a “positive attitude” to reform.

However, it was not long before Ms O’Sullivan herself was dragged into the controversy surrounding the treatment of Garda whistle-blowers — including Sgt McCabe.

Just days after the publication of the O’Higgins report in May 2016 into how gardaí investigated complaints made by Mr McCabe, the Irish Examiner revealed that documents sent to the O’Higgins inquiry showed Ms O’Sullivan’s legal team had claimed Sgt McCabe was motivated by “malice” when he highlighted malpractice in the force.

The ensuing controversy led to Ms O’Sullivan facing calls for her resignation. There were to be many more such calls made for her head as her tenure wore on.

In October 2016, the treatment of another whistle-blower brought Ms O’Sullivan into the headlines once more.

In a protected disclosure, former Garda press officer Superintendent Dave Taylor claimed there was an organised campaign among Garda senior management to smear Sgt McCabe.

Supt Taylor admitted his own role in the alleged campaign but also implicated other members of senior management, including Ms O’Sullivan.

Mr Taylor said part of his duties was to furnish the media with scurrilous rumours and lies about Sgt McCabe. He also alleged he was party to texts that were circulated among senior management about the whistleblower which were designed to damage him.

Ms O’Sullivan has stated that she had absolutely no knowledge or involvement in any such campaign.

Then, this February, the Irish Examiner revealed that a file containing a false allegation of child sex abuse against Sgt McCabe was sent by Tusla to gardaí and widely circulated in 2013.

However, no effort was made to substantiate the claim. In 2014, Tusla admitted a mistake had been made and attributed the false accusation to a “clerical error”.

However, Sgt McCabe was not made aware of the allegation until 2016.

The scandal which ensued led to the establishment of the Disclosures Tribunal.

Ms O’Sullivan resisted a number of calls to step aside during the duration of the tribunal, as she is also expected to give evidence before it.

Further calls for her resignation were to come in July following the publication of a report by the Public Accounts Committee into financial irregularities at the Garda Training College in Templemore. The report said it was “unacceptable” MsO’Sullivan did not tell the C&AG of the financial issues at the Garda College until 10 months after she was made aware of them. Her assertion to the C&AG on July 31, 2015 that all relevant information had been disclosed was found by the PAC to be “not accurate and therefore not acceptable”.

Then, just last week, a damning report on the scale of fake breath test reports by gardaí found 1,458,221 false drink and drug-driving checks from 2009 to 2016, prompting yet more calls for Ms O’Sullivan to be removed from her post.

The report said that, based on an analysis of a random sample, between 106,177 and 318,530 breath tests were “inflated” — corresponding to between 7% and 22% of the overall number of false breath tests.

The report, conducted by Assistant Commissioner Michael O’Sullivan, established that 3,498,400 breath tests were recorded on Pulse between June 2009 and April 2017 — but that only 2,040,179 breath tests were recorded on the Drager devices used.

In the end, Ms O’Sullivan decided that enough was enough and yesterday afternoon announced her intention to step down as Commissioner and retire from the force. Despite the “unending cycle” of controversies that surrounded her tenure, she maintained the full confidence of the Government right to the end.

This story first appeared in the Irish Examiner.

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