Gardaí and PAC clash - Sad example of failures in public life

As Justice Minister Frances Fitzgerald yesterday confronted the strengthening possibility that she might become the second justice minister to lose a cabinet seat over one of the scandals that have so altered the perception of An Garda Síochána, another episode in our culture war played out in a Leinster House committee room when senior gardaí were guests of the Public Accounts Committee.

The session was a profoundly disheartening lesson in how this republic has been made dangerously dysfunctional by one sectional interest after another.

That the sitting came just days after RTÉ exposed how some hospital consultants sidestep public care obligations shows how routinely sectional interests usurp the common good.

One of the items on the PAC agenda was the reopening of Stepaside Garda Station in Dublin. Assistant Commissioner Pat Leahy, who is responsible for policing Dublin, told the PAC that reopening the station was not a priority but that “it was the only one that met the criteria that had been set out... If I was being given extra, additional, manpower today, Stepaside would not be my first allocation”.

Sinn Féin’s David Cullinane did no more than state the obvious when he said the Government had set the criteria to ensure Stepaside was reopened.

More accurately, the criteria were designed to ensure that Stepaside TD and minister Shane Ross was placated.

This tawdry saga is a perfect example of gombeenism in public life. The gardaí are to be congratulated for calling a stroke a stroke. On this strand of the hostilities — they were nothing less — the Garda team recorded a 1-0 away win but earlier skirmishing meant that they were a goal down, making the hearing one of those 1-1 draws that reflects our low expectations of performance in public life.

Earlier there had been fiery exchanges between Acting Garda Commissioner Dónall Ó Cualáin and the PAC over an unprecedented garda unit, made up of two retired gardaí, set up to “liaise” with the Charleton Tribunal.

Sparks flew when Labour’s Alan Kelly expressed “deep concern” that his questions were not being answered.

Fianna Fáil’s Marc MacSharry made the same complaint and expressed concern that the meeting was “taking refuge” in the fact Charleton was underway.

The exchanges became so fraught that Mr Ó Cualáin told Mr Kelly — a democratically-elected representative duty bound to ensure the highest standards in public life — “I’m not going to answer that question.”

Mr Ó Cualáin also interrupted a contribution from the Garda head of human resources, John Barrett, but Mr MacSharry told Mr Ó Cualáin to stop interrupting Mr Barrett, who indicated he had raised some concerns with how the liaison unit was established. He did not have opportunity to expand on his concerns.

This sorry meeting is another indication of how very far we have to go before the idea of accountability is accepted by our police. But it also shows that those charged with policing the police have a long way to go before they can, with any integrity, throw the first stone.


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