No fireworks as authority prefers ‘soft power’

Josephine Feehily marked our cards from the outset.

“This is a conversation — not an investigation, not an interrogation,” she told us.

Those expecting fireworks or plain old tough questioning at the Policing Authority’s inaugural public meeting with Garda Commissioner Nóirín O’Sullivan and her team were to be disappointed.

But those few people had not read the form card.

Ms Feehily, the head of the authority, had been composing the mood music ever since the oversight body formally started at the beginning of the year.

The authority would be using “soft power” to conduct its work, she had previously said.

Ms O’Sullivan had backup just in case, flanked by five of the force’s most senior officers and a civilian manager.

Ms Feehily, along with the eight other members of the authority’s board and its chief executive, sat opposite. Ms Feehily, a former boss of the Revenue Commissioner and a person who has already impressed many, said it was a “historic day”.

The questioning by authority members was courteous — and all the gardaí, including the commissioner, seemed relaxed in answering.

They were not interrupted when the answers to specific questions were not forthcoming or were very general in nature.

This included informed questioning by barrister Moling Ryan, former chief executive of the Legal Aid Board, who asked of the impact on reduced Garda Traffic Corps numbers on enforcement and the projected strength of the unit.

Ms O’Sullivan gave a general answer, failed to give figures for the unit, and was not pushed on it by Mr Ryan, perhaps for time reasons.

While the questioning was largely ‘soft’, there were hints to the commissioner that it may not all be plain sailing, and that the odd gust could blow in.

This included some questioning from Bob Collins, former RTÉ boss, on garda station closures, and a series of probing questions from Judith Gillespie, former deputy chief constable of the PSNI.

She asked questions in relation to the fear of crime for local communities and the impact of anti-social behaviour.

At one stage, the civilian head of Garda Analysis Service, Gurchand Singh, was giving figures on public satisfaction ratings of the force, standing at 70%.

He said the lowest level was among the 18-24 age group, at 64%, but added it was “still quite high”.

Ms Gillespie quickly jumped in to point out that meant a third were not satisfied. It was just a glimpse of steel in an otherwise safe two-hour meeting.

These are very early days and both sides are finding their feet. Back in January, Ms Feehily said the authority was in its infancy.

Baby steps then. For now, at least.

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