Garda Commissioner Nóirín O’Sullivan is fighting for her survival, again, writes Cormac O’Keefe.
This time, Jim O’Callaghan is her challenger and he has thrown down the gauntlet.
The commissioner shouldn’t be surprised, given the scale of the revelations on Thursday, the lack of explanations provided by her officers, and her absence from the events.
The fact that Fianna Fáil’s justice spokesman has now withheld expressing confidence in the commissioner is a body blow.
She has received many heavy hits, not least the protected disclosure allegations of the former Garda press officer David Taylor, claiming she knew of an alleged campaign to blacken the reputation of Sergeant Maurice McCabe.
Amidst rumblings as to her position, she came out fighting, completely rejecting the claims.
She laid down a clear marker that she was not going anywhere of her own volition and that others would have to remove her.
The commissioner was almost KO’d last February with the intervention of the Policing Authority chair Josephine Feehily on the Sean O’Rourke radio show when she declared she had “a degree of confidence” in the commissioner.
The authority has repeatedly expressed serious concern at the ability of the commissioner to both run the organisation and deal with the Charleton inquiry and has sought reassurances she can do so.
Last month came revelations in the Irish Examiner that lawyers for Sgt McCabe had written to the Tánaiste Frances Fitzgerald calling for the commissioner to be removed pending the outcome of the Disclosure Tribunal.
It subsequently emerged, again in the Irish Examiner, that Supt Taylor had received a letter saying the authorities were reviewing disciplinary proceedings against him on a separate matter.
But the Taoiseach and Tánaiste have insisted throughout this period that the commissioner not only strongly rejected the smear allegations but she was entitled to fair procedures and the right to defend her name at the Charleton inquiry.
Then on Thursday, the day after the London terror attack and the day of the funeral of Martin McGuinness, came revelations staggering in scale and impact.
At a press conference, senior traffic officers revealed almost half of the two million breath tests recorded by gardaí over a five-year period did not actually happen.
Separately, some 14,700 drivers had been wrongly convicted of road traffic offences with the resultant fines and penalty points, as well as higher insurance premiums and possible job repercussions.
The State will have to shoulder major financial expense and legal costs in rectifying the matter.
Assistant Commissioner Michael Finn, head of Roads Policing, led the briefing and, despite his efforts, failed to impress as to why almost one million breath tests that never happened were recorded.
He was repeatedly asked ‘were they made up by gardaí?’ but could not answer the question.
Despite the scale of the scandal, the absence of the commissioner was noteworthy.
Then, yesterday morning, the measured Deputy O’Callaghan entered the fray.
The Dublin Bay South TD said he was “extremely concerned” the revelations were disclosed on a ‘very busy news day’.
He said it was “not acceptable” the gardaí did not explain how the errors occurred and who was responsible.
Pressed on his confidence in the commissioner, he said yesterday: “I don’t have confidence in how gardaí are handling this problem and somebody would want to take control of it.”
He delivered an ultimatum: “I will not have confidence in An Garda Síochána and the commissioner unless we get a complete and adequate explanation into these two crucially important issues and we don’t need lengthy investigations.
“I need an explanation and the public needs an explanation as to how these errors arose.”
The ball is in the commissioner’s court.
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