Nóirín O’Sullivan may yet stumble: Garda commissioner lucky so far

GARDA Commissioner Nóirín O’Sullivan has thus far managed to hold on to her job, despite a litany of failings within the force. 

She has survived the whistleblower scandal, which is currently being considered by the Charleton Tribunal. She has all but seen off the alcohol-test figures and traffic-fines controversy, but it is the little things that get you, or, as Albert Reynolds once put it: “You cross the big hurdles, and when you get to the small ones, you get tripped up.”

His words are worth recalling for three reasons, all concerning the Garda Training College.

Firstly, the Oireachtas Public Accounts Committee report is highly critical over the time it took Ms O’Sullivan to inform the minister for justice and the comptroller and auditor general about financial irregularities at Templemore.

Secondly, and perhaps more worryingly for her, is the decision by the EU’s anti-fraud agency to open a formal investigation into the college. This is likely to include interviews with Ms O’Sullivan, and other key gardaí, and searches of Garda facilities.

That investigation will focus on how large amounts of EU grants, provided by the European Union Agency for Law Enforcement Training (CEPOL), were, instead, transferred to a private account based in the AIB branch in Cabra, Dublin, and controlled by a now-retired senior garda.

To complete a hat-trick of concerns for the commissioner, the Central Bank is to use money-laundering legislation to conduct a formal investigation into the AIB account in Cabra, as well as St Raphael’s Garda Credit Union.

Taoiseach Leo Varadkar continues to give Ms O’Sullivan his full support, but that may begin to waver, if either the EU or the Central Bank investigation points to failings by her. The PAC report already does, with its members concluding that the delay of more than a year in telling the then justice minister, Frances Fitzgerald, was unacceptable.

An interesting reflection in that report speaks about two cultures within the gardaí — one that it says is protecting the past, the other looking to the future.

Ms O’Sullivan insists she is making great changes to both the culture and the operation of An Garda Síochána. Last month, she told a public session of the Policing Authority that the top priority in the force’s modernisation programme was cultural renewal.

Yet, as Bob Collins, for the authority, noted, one year on from the government decision on civilianisation and there is no recruitment in some posts already agreed.

That may simply be a matter of changes not happening fast enough, but Ms O’Sullivan’s response to the PA is worrying. The commissioner said she is most satisfied with the change in public perception of An Garda Síochána. She said that in April 2014, it had fallen to an all-time low of 46% satisfaction, and today it is at an all-time high.

This raises the question of whether the “cultural change” within the force is little more than a PR exercise. Ms O’Sullivan has a decision to make: she can either protect the past or look to the future. She cannot do both.


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