A new mandate for real change - O’Higgins Report

AN Garda Síochána has a long and unhappy record with investigations into how the force discharges its duties. 

Virtually every assessment made during the three decades between the 1984 Kerry Babies’ report and the 2014 Garda Inspectorate report found startling failure and uncovered a culture that is insular and self-preserving. Virtually every report found managerial oversight and performance were often inadequate and that a cultural resistance to change persists.

Yesterday’s publication of the long-awaited O’Higgins report will do little to change that record. Rather it confirms that the force is too slow to change and remains susceptible to localised collapses in discipline and standards. Mr Justice Kevin O’Higgins confirms that, just as the 2008 Morris report found in relation to Garda failings in Donegal, there were serious flaws and weaknesses in criminal investigations in the Cavan-Monaghan division in 2007 and 2008.

The report, however, vindicates former justice minister Alan Shatter and former Garda commissioner Martin Callinan, who were both offered the opportunity to resign as the scandals that led up to the establishment of the O’Higgins inquiry transfixed the political system. O’Higgins concluded that Mr Shatter, Mr Callinan, and the Department of Justice handled complaints made by whistleblower Maurice McCabe — a “dedicated and committed” garda — in a professional and appropriate manner “at all times”. The report showed Mr Shatter dealt with matters “properly and truthfully”. It also found that allegations of corruption made against Mr Callinan were groundless.

The findings must give Taoiseach Enda Kenny and Fianna Fáil leader Micheál Martin — and the media that accepted the flawed official view — pause for thought as they both contributed to the maelstrom that reached a climax when Mr Shatter and Mr Callinan were afforded opportunities to resign. That both men felt they had to walk the plank after an impression, now discredited by O’Higgins, took such hold in the public consciousness adds another layer of challenge to the report. Mr Kenny and Mr Martin should take the earliest opportunity to amend the Dáil record on these matters.

There is a more pressing issue though. The publication of each report into Garda malpractice is followed, just as night follows day, by assurances that measures to prevent a recurrence will be immediately and forcefully be put in place. This pledge rings hollow at this stage. Justice Minister Frances Fitzgerald now has a mandate and the duty to introduce real change to a stretched but cosseted force. The problems have been identified time and time again. There can be no excuse for delaying decisive, positive intervention.

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