A vastly different culture in An Garda Síochána was heralded with the new commissioner but has yet to materialise, writes Mick Clifford
Now that the dust is settling on the story around the departure of the former garda commissioner, the question arises — what exactly has changed?
The publication of the Fennelly report into the circumstances surrounding the “retirement” of Martin Callinan has provided political cover for Taoiseach Enda Kenny.
Martin Callinan and Enda Kenny
The former Supreme Court judge found that Mr Kenny did not sack Mr Callinan in March last year, an action that would have been illegal. Other findings are questionable, but what has also emerged is that Mr Callinan’s position was precarious anyway, owing to a myriad of scandals in the force at the time. Irrespective of how exactly he went, it might well be asked whether his departure signalled a new beginning in the force.
The scandals at the time included allegations about abuse of the penalty points system, the handling of criminal cases, suspicion that the offices of GSOC were being bugged and the treatment of whistleblowers. To a large extent these were cultural issues within the force and Mr Callinan was identified as being central to both the problems and the culture.
His departure saw his deputy Nóirín O’Sullivan elevated to the top job, on an interim basis first and then last November as the bright, new shining commissioner. Ms O’Sullivan was regarded as the best person to make the changes required to wash away the negative aspects of garda culture which had, over previous decades, periodically mushroomed into full-blown controversy.
Ms O’Sullivan’s appointment was welcomed. She was the first woman in the job. She had also spent her whole career in the force, rising through the ranks to the point where she was sitting next to Mr Callinan at the Oireachtas inquiry in January 2014 when he made the “disgusting” remark about garda whistleblowers.
She started well. A listening tour was organised to divine from the rank and file around the country how they saw things. She made a number of new appointments, ruffling feathers among some of the top brass, but any new broom wants their own people in place.
On a political level, her “comfort letter” to Sinn Féin TD Pádraig MacLochlainn last February, in which she stated that the IRA was not operational in the Republic, has come back to haunt her, but that can be put down to inexperience. It’s certainly not a hanging offence.
There are, however, other issues that suggest little may have changed since the departure of Martin Callinan. Last Sunday, RTÉ journalist John Burke broke a story about two garda whistleblowers who are very concerned at their treatment within the force.
Both whistleblowers are making allegations against a senior officer. Another senior officer was appointed to investigate the allegations made by whistleblower A last year.
Following a meeting between the whistleblower, his solicitor and the investigating officer, it emerged that some information made its way back to the accused senior garda. This inferred a connection between the accused man and the investigator.
Whistleblower A withdrew from the process after his concerns were conveyed to Garda HQ. How could he have confidence in a process in which the man he accused of wrongdoing was connected to the man who was investigating the matter?
Now it has emerged that the same senior garda has been appointed to investigate Whistleblower B’s allegations into the same accused officer.
Despite being informed of major concerns about the integrity of the other investigation, garda management has appointed the same man again to investigate the accused garda. All of which suggests that management regards whistleblower allegations with the same contempt as pertained previously.
The current scenario echoes somewhat with the treatment of Sergeant Maurice McCabe and former garda John Wilson back in the old days, before Nóirín O’Sullivan ushered in alleged change.
Both men were repeatedly stymied in their attempts to highlight wrongdoing, and an internal investigation into some of the allegations was subsequently exposed as a bit of a sham.
At the time of her appointment, Ms O’Sullivan emphasised that she wanted to hear about wrongdoing.
Maybe she does, but somebody making decisions at senior level doesn’t possess the same concern that the commissioner articulates about such issues.
Another matter that dogged the last days of Mr Callinan’s tenure was abuse of the penalty points system. More change was promised. Yet nearly six months after Callinan left, Sergeant McCabe produced evidence that little had changed in the system, even after O’Sullivan brought in new measures in June last year. Following another investigation, more changes were pledged, and it will be interesting to see if this brings about real change.
Ms O’Sullivan has brought about change in one area. A senior garda attached to the Garda Press Office is under criminal investigation over the leaking of information to a reporter. The senior garda was arrested earlier this year and is currently suspended from duty. Ms O’Sullivan appointed her own husband, Detective Superintendent Jim McGowan, to oversee the investigation.
A number of senior officers have questioned why a criminal investigation rather than a disciplinary process was invoked, particularly considering that the suspect was authorised to talk to the media.
Maybe Ms O’Sullivan is displaying a heightened regard for citizens who find themselves victims of garda malpractice. Maybe not.
What will be interesting to observe is whether the investigation into the leak over pending charges for 20 or so water protestors will be pursued with the same zeal. The news of the pending charges against individuals involved in the Jobstown protest against Tánaiste Joan Burton last November was broadcast on RTÉ on August 12. Three weeks later no charges have been brought , and none of the protesters informed.
Irrespective of the validity of pressing charges, the citizens involved have had their rights violated in an appalling manner. An Garda Síochána has launched an investigation into the leak, but it remains to be seen how vigorously that probe is pursued.
Ms O’Sullivan inherited a tough job. Any attempt at objective analysis of her progress is not easy as there are many within the force — and a few in media — who have already unsheathed their knives.
Despite all that, there doesn’t seem to be much of a case to suggest that she has made any serious inroads in reforming the negative cultural elements within the force.
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