Garda bodies must commit to reforms - Scandals destroying credibility

THERE is hardly an organisation in the country under closer scrutiny than An Garda Síochána. 

The culture of dishonesty and slapdash unearthed, though long suspected, means that will not change anytime soon. Gardaí will always have someone looking over their shoulder and, hopefully, intervening if necessary. The expectations of a modern democracy are at last being demanded — in theory at least — of an agency that has made resistance to change a defining characteristic.

The number of investigations into the force underway may be reassuring in terms of transparency — if they are unhindered — but they show that something has gone badly wrong. Since Enda Kenny was elected Taoiseach just over six years ago six inquiries have been established. The most recent evolved into a tribunal of inquiry, which has begun its work under Mr Justice Peter Charleton. Serious issues were raised at that tribunal yesterday by lawyers representing garda whistleblowers. They expressed “deep concern” that the same legal team is scheduled to represent Commissioner Nóirín O’Sullivan and former commissioner Martin Callinan.

At the very moment those arguments were being made Ms O’Sullivan and a number of her colleagues were being grilled by the Oireachtas Justice Committee on the fake drink-driving test figures and unjustified convictions. Ms O’Sullivan, in what seems at best an equivocation, conceded that “it may well be the case that members deliberately put figures into the system that were not correct figures”. Her insistence that she had yet to fully get to the bottom of what happened, several years after she became aware of the scam, undermines the apology she offered to the committee.

A day earlier an audit of the Garda College in Templemore reported on poor book-keeping and undocumented spending. The auditors expressed concerns over financial management and said they can provide “no reassurance” of the adequacy of management and systems controlling college finances.

Is it any wonder that earlier this week the Government announced yet another “root-and-branch” review? It would be surprising if this uncovered anything new but it would be unacceptable — and disastrous for all concerned — if its recommendations are ignored. Gardaí would not be human if they were not fed up with constant criticism but they have an opportunity to move the debate on. The garda representative organisations are silent, as if they were disinterested bystanders. It might be appropriate if they made a statement, saying they will fully support measures to reform the force.

It would be reassuring to see the Garda Representative Association and the Association of Garda Sergeants and Inspectors bring the conviction they brought to last year’s pay row to these issues. It would be reassuring too if the Association of Garda Superintendents took up the challenge offered by the Garda Síochána Ombudsman last April when it said officers must take greater responsibility for dealing with disciplinary problems, rather than pass them to the Gsoc. The relationship between the force and this society is stretched almost to breaking point, no-one can afford that. This relationship is an essential partnership and it must be rebuilt quickly.

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