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Governments did not always back Garda commissioners

Thursday, 20th March, 2014 2:14pm
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Governments did not always back Garda commissioners


NOT many Garda commissioners have been sacked – two, in fact, since the foundation of the State. One was General Eoin O’Duffy, the other Edmund Garvey.

In 1933, within two weeks of the formation of a Fianna Fáil government, De Valera abruptly fired O’Duffy, then Commissioner of the Civic Guard, and put in his place Colonel Eamon Broy, the Chief of the Detective division. The dismissal delighted Republicans who loathed O’Duffy, but outraged their opponents, WT Cosgrave’s Cumann na nGaedheal.

De Valera refused to provide a clear reason for his action, but there is no doubt he was influenced by O’Duffy’s insistence that Cumann na nGaedheal stage a military coup rather than hand over power to the incoming Fianna Fáil administration. Cosgrave wisely rejected the proposal.

O’Duffy went on to form the fascist Blueshirt movement, which merged with Cosgrave’s Cumann na nGaedheal. The result of that exotic union was the spawning of the party that today we love and cherish, Fine Gael.

In 1978, the Fianna Fáil government of Jack Lynch dumped Edmund Garvey, also with no explanation other than that the government had lost confidence in him. Garvey’s term of office was marked by the notorious activities of the Heavy Gang. He won legal proceedings against the government on the grounds of unfair dismissal. In 1983, his successor, Patrick McLoughlin, resigned in the wake of the wiretap scandals.

Calls emanating

What’s interesting about the sackings of Garda Commissioners is the rarity of the event. It’s also significant that calls for the resignation of the present incumbent, Martin Callinan, are emanating only from the opposition and from some sections of the media. In contrast with previous commissioner controversies, this time the government is backing its police chief to the hilt.

For example, Taoiseach Enda Kenny, speaking for his entire government (including Labour, lest we forget) robustly defended Commissioner Callinan. He did so despite Dáil accusations that the commissioner had ‘rubbished’ the early whistle-blowing claims of Sgt McCabe and ex-Garda John Wilson.

What’s more, Kenny declared he had ‘complete confidence’ in the commissioner and saw nothing wrong with the word ‘disgusting’ to describe the actions of the whistleblowers. He was of the opinion the commissioner had satisfactorily clarified his use of the word, and that it had no personal connotations. The opposition didn’t agree.

Fascinating too was the ‘take’ of Minister Simon Coveney, Master of the Dark Political Arts, on the recent garda-government wrangles. In an effort at steadying the vote in his scandal-shocked constituency, he cheerfully advocated the immediate ‘strengthening’ of the Garda Síochána Ombudsman’s Office (GSOC) without any trace of irony.

Heads to roll?

And no, he was not suggesting that the Garda Ombudsman should install thicker walls! He was advocating a garda-friendly makeover of the GSOC on the optimistic grounds that such a process would encourage whistleblowers to ‘speak out.’ As well, it would enable the GSOC to examine complaints against the Garda Commissioner and allow the Ombudsman to have direct access to the Garda Pulse computer system.

(Please excuse our incredulity, dear reader, because not even Gunga Din could swallow that guff!)

Instead the parties are focussing on an apology, a course of action that Kenny, Shatter and Callinan have stoutly resisted

What is particularly intriguing is that neither Sinn Féin nor Fianna Fáil is making vigorous demands for Callinan’s resignation. Instead the parties are focussing on an apology, a course of action that Kenny, Shatter and Callinan have stoutly resisted.

Although Fianna Fáil justice spokesman Niall Collins described Justice Minister Shatter’s position as ‘untenable,’ he believes the position of Commissioner Callinan is a matter for the Government. Dara Calleary demanded apologies all round while Sinn Fein in general took the approach that the Commissioner should apologise. If he failed to do so, they said he should be asked to resign or be sacked.

The loudest clamour for the heads of Callinan and Shatter to roll came from the independents, notably led by Mick Wallace TD. He put the case simply: the commissioner and the Justice Minister must go because they were ‘unfit for office.’

Shane Ross advised the commissioner to ‘fall on his sword because of his deep politicisation in this controversy.’

Reputation at risk

Senator Norris argued that it was never his practice to call for heads because that was far too easy a political manoeuvre, but he was convinced that Alan Shatter and Martin Callinan should resign ‘for the moral welfare and decency of political standards in this country.’

Strangely, the most forceful requests for resignation are coming from what once was perceived as the most reactionary of newspapers, the Irish Examiner. At the very beginning of the whistle blowing rumpus, it acknowledged (as did The Southern Star) that the response of the government was endangering An Garda Síochána’s reputation as a disciplined force.

De Paper and The Southern Star asked this important question: if one element of the gardaí was ‘shambolic,’ what was the rest of the force like? The Crosbie organ pushed out the boat and suggested that were it not for the fact that ‘political cuteness was being prioritised above acts of good authority,’ the commissioner and his political master would have gone already.

Even Fergal Quinn, the supermarket man and senator, was prepared to call a spade a spade. He stated that the position of the commissioner was ‘untenable’ after whistleblowers had revealed serious anomalies in the administration of justice, and that the abnormalities had continued ‘perhaps over a long period of years.’

Probably hoping that Kenny & Co eventually will shut down the controversy, most government politicos are exceptionally prudent in their comments, even though Labour privately cannot understand why the Blueshirts failed so dismally at hiding their dirty linen. Labour rightly fears it is in for a merciless drubbing at the polls.

As the man said, it’s as if they can hear the subtle clink of someone picking up the first brick!

Rugby joke

A Frenchman had two of the best tickets for last Saturday’s match at the Stade de France. As he sits down, an Irish supporter comes along and asks if anyone is sitting in the seat next to him. ‘No…’ the Frenchman says in perfect English, ‘the seat is empty.’

‘This is incredible!’ cries the Irishman. ‘Who in their right mind would have a seat like this for the biggest event in the championship and not use it?’

‘Well actually, the seat belongs to me’, explains the Frenchman. ‘My wife was supposed to come with me, but she passed away. This is the first Ireland-France match we haven’t been to together, since we got married.’

‘Oh, I’m sorry to hear that. That’s terrible. I suppose you couldn’t find someone else, a friend, or relative, or even a neighbour to take the seat?’

The Frenchman shakes his head and answers. ‘No. They’re all at the funeral!’