The Fennelly Report this week showed up how badly An Garda Síochána was being mismanaged. The Coalition has no appetite for justice reform, writes Clare Daly
THE Taoiseach, flanked by his gushing ministers from both Fine Gael and Labour, may believe they have succeeded in presenting the interim Fennelly Report as a vindication of Enda Kenny, but there are precious few buying it. It is another example of the Government’s disconnect from the reality inhabited by the rest of us.
Fennelly didn’t say that Enda sacked the commissioner — true — but that was never going to happen. What the report made very clear was that it was the unprecedented late-night visit of the secretary general of the Department of Justice to the former commissioner’s home, organised by the Taoiseach, which was the “immediate catalyst” of his resignation.
In other words he jumped, in the very clear knowledge that if he didn’t, he was going to be pushed. The report is unambiguous in this, and, in fairness, as the poem goes: “A rose by any other name, still smells as sweet…”
Fianna Fáil was quick out the traps promising to table a motion of no confidence in the Taoiseach. Sinn Féin went one better, including the attorney general along with the Taoiseach, in its no confidence motion, given the criticisms of her handling of the information which she had in her possession in relation to the unlawful recordings in Garda stations.
Fianna Fáil leader Micheál Martin
Of course titillating and all as this might be, it ignores the real issues exposed by Fennelly: That of the utter indiscipline and dysfunctionality at the tops of An Garda Síochána, that was the backdrop to the events on that fateful weekend.
Myself and Deputy Mick Wallace, with the help of Garda whistleblowers Maurice McCabe and John Wilson, shed a light on how badly the force was being mismanaged, and how the blue wall of silence was being reinforced by those at the top. Fianna Fáil, who appointed Martin Callinan in the first place, stood by its man, choosing to target their criticisms on former justice minister Alan Shatter.
Alan Shatter and Martin Callinan
The reality is they were two sides of the same coin, both symptomatic of the toxic system of governance, or rather lack of it, of our police force, whereby the commissioner of the day is solely responsible to the minister of the day.
The real fallout from Fennelly is not whether the former commissioner was sacked but rather the systemic problems inside An Garda Síochána which meant he had to go, and more importantly the fact that these problems continue under the new commissioner and new minister. We are back where we were over a year ago.
The late-night visit was not just over the illegal tape recordings in Garda stations. It was on top of the penalty points scandal, the commissioner’s appalling treatment of the whistle-blowers, his public spats with the Garda Ombudsman Commission, and the growing cases of injustice and incidents of Garda malpractice that were being reported around the country.
The pressure was mounting, but instead of dismissing the commissioner and minister using proper procedures as a first step in delivering the reform that was becoming increasingly apparent to all, the Government chose to engage in slight of hand, scapegoating the commissioner as a figleaf to avoid transparency and accountability rather than a genuine effort to deliver it.
The new minister and commissioner looked and sounded different than the old, but it was an illusion of change, a stunt to avoid the necessary overhaul and transformation of the gardaí into a modern police service, freed from political influence, openly and transparently serving the public, with its consent. All of the old problems prevail.
Current serving Garda whistleblowers, who have made serious complaints including allegations of involvement of gardaí in the drugs trade, have found themselves isolated and harassed under this new regime, while those that they complained about have been promoted.
Not only that, but indisputable evidence that went to the new commissioner and minister — that a two-man senior Garda team carrying out an internal investigation into some of these allegations was responsible for leaking that information to the accused — resulted in no sanction. Rather, one of those senior gardaí was appointed by the commissioner to conduct a disciplinary hearing into a different complaint against the colleague to whom they had breached the confidentiality of the process. You’d struggle to make this up.
Frances Fitzgerald, the justice minister, tries to make much of the fact that GSOC was given some extra powers to investigate the commissioner but the reality is that it remains as an organisation set up to fail without the necessary resources or powers to truly hold the gardaí to account.
Having taken on the role of the old Garda confidential recipient and assuming responsibility for dealing Garda whistleblowers, it has demonstrated its complete inability to deal promptly with these cases.
Meanwhile, rather than the necessary independent Garda authority that we were promised would be up and running in 2014, a watered-down version of even the Government’s original heads of bill was published prior to the recess. Rather than creating a genuinely independent authority, as a buffer between the minister and gardaí, the Government’s plans are for a toothless talking shop, subservient to the minister, unable to appoint the commissioner, and a far cry from the type of overhaul that took place even in Northern Ireland or Scotland. Not only that, but all of the members of the first authority are going to be politically appointed. That’s reform a la Fine Gael and Labour.
If lessons were learned and there was a genuine desire for reform, then these are the issues that would be pursued. Mick Wallace’s comprehensive Garda Authority Bill could be discussed in committee and moved to next stage as a first step in that process.
Of course they wouldn’t dream of doing that and the Taoiseach may survive the no confidence vote in the Dail but he faces a more severe test regarding whether the electorate has confidence in his Governance. His performance in this matter is going to make that vote harder to win.
Clare Daly is an independent TD for Dublin North
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