It is natural to disbelieve damning allegations made against an institution you are, more or less from the cradle, encouraged to trust and support.
That cultural shaping is generally positive but, in recent decades, the danger of blindly accepting the credibility of establishment institutions has had disastrous consequences for society.
The exposure of criminal behaviour in the Catholic Church, and that Church’s “moral reservation” lies to try to protect paedophiles, destroyed that institution’s credibility and pushed it from the centre of Irish life. Whether it can regain the moral authority it once enjoyed is an open question.
When allegations of recklessness and sharp practice were made against banks and senior business figures, they were dismissed as wild, subversive fantasies. Time has shown that these allegations were indeed inaccurate because they utterly underestimated the scale of the malpractice. They focussed on what was little more than the tip of the iceberg.
History shows banks ran a coach and four through ethical principles to establish the “wild west” of European finance.
Sadly, it is no longer possible to pretend that we have not reached that dangerous point with An Garda Síochána. The organisation’s credibility is shot, its leadership suspect, and its ability to discharge its duty questionable. Revelation after revelation, over many years, has uncovered behaviour and attitudes that are totally unacceptable in a police force in a functioning democracy.
The sordid — and disgusting — attempts by the force’s most senior members to discredit Sergeant Maurice McCabe characterise an out-of-control officer class that seems to imagine itself beyond the control of a democratically elected parliament.
The latest reports about former Commissioner Martin Callinan’s bid to convince Oireachtas PAC chairman John McGuinness not take evidence from McCabe darken the scandal considerably. They make the kind of political intervention needed to end this blue brotherhood omerta urgent. That such allegations — allegations that did not lead to any charges against McCabe — were made at all shows how very determined Garda hierarchy was to silence critics and the criticism challenging a cosy, insular world.
The reluctance of Government, despite damning report after damning report over many decades, to assert the kind of authority needed to remake the force and honour the commitment of the decent majority is no longer tenable. There’s been far too much diversionary guff and empty management-speak. It’s time for real, game-changing action.
Tragically, these charges stand despite the commitment of so many gardaí to the highest standards of public service.
Tragically, these charges stand despite the unsustainable, shameful fact that Garda recruits are paid a pittance but are expected to face the most violent elements in society.
Tragically, these charges stand despite the fact that the force is so under-resourced that it struggles to be as effective as we all would wish.
Thursday’s unprecedented statement from the Policing Authority was scathing and unambiguous. It described a dysfunctional institution, failing due to inept management and poor training. There was nothing new in that statement; these failings have been highlighted many, many times. That they persist points to the kernel of the crisis — a political system unable or reluctant to assert the authority needed to provoke real, fundamental change. This Government must find the inner steel to do this because neither An Garda Síochána nor this society can afford a police force hollowed out by misbehaviour, mismanagement, cynicism, or lack of resources. We are already far too close to that tipping point.
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