GARDA Commissioner Drew Harris, whose appointment to the role was announced earlier in the summer, and widely welcomed in spite of a failed legal challenge to it, is due to start work in his new office in Dublin on Monday, when he will face a baptism of fire. The former Deputy Chief Constable of the Police Service of Northern Ireland (PSNI) joins a force dogged by controversy – mostly of its own making – and a succession of reports that are not likely to be kind to An Garda Síochána will greet his first few months.
Among the first of these will be the report of the Commission on the Future of Policing in Ireland, which considered submissions from the public and representatives of organisations who have regular dealings the the gardaí. The Commission’s chairperson, Ms Kathleen O’Toole, promised: ‘We have no agenda but to get this right.’
However, in the meantime, another report has been submitted to Minister for Justice and Equality Charlie Flanagan, which is critical of An Garda Síochána’s efforts in trying to modernise the organisation. In its latest update to the Minister, the Policing Authority of Ireland maintains that, two years into the implementation of the force’s own Modernisation and Renewal Programme (MRP), it needs an urgent and fundamental review, citing the fact that the plan is not costed and that the necessary resources have not been earmarked to implement the reforms.
Emphasising the absolute urgency of such a review, the Policing Authority chairperson, Josephine Feehily, recommended that it should happen immediately and not wait for the report of the Commission on the Future of Policing in Ireland. Senior Garda management has been in some disarray in recent years with so many changes at the top, what with Martin Callinan retiring as Commissioner in 2014 and his successor Noirín O’Sullivan doing likewise last year, while two Ministers for Justice, Alan Shatter and Frances Fitzgerald, became collateral damage when they were forced to resign their positions.
And, to add to the lack of continuity, Acting Commissioner Donal Ó Cualáin – who had been in charge of implementing the reform programme which seems to have stalled – is due to retire when Commissioner Harris takes over. Seemingly, there is a contradictory scenario with the MRP where extra training is needed to implement many aspects of it and the lack of same is given as the excuse for this not happening. One could hardly make it up!
Also, in conjunction with its latest report, the Policing Authority was further critical of Garda management for not properly addressing falling detection rates, gaps in the investigation of cybercrime, fewer roadside checkpoints, inadequate driver-training for new recruits and the slow pace of recruiting civilians to do administrative jobs that gardaí who would be better employed out on the beat are currently doing.
The Authority feels that implementation of the MRP is not being taken seriously enough by senior management in An Garda Síochána, which must be reeling from all the controversies the force has been involved in and all the criticism it is receiving on so many fronts. However, there comes a time when the stubborn culture of resistance to change needs to be consigned to the past and it seems that time is long overdue.
When the new Commissioner takes over this month, his first priority needs to be the urgent stepping up of the process of modernisation and renewal of An Garda Síochána. Mr Harris has relevant experience in that field in that he was in the Royal Ulster Constabulary (RUC), which was effectively disbanded to re-emerge as the PSNI and which is a much more modern, streamlined type of force.
He needs to assert his authority early on and show that he means business when it comes to renewing and modernising the force, which will probably come in for further criticism in October when Mr Justice Peter Charleton’s next report from the Disclosures Tribunal, concerning whether former commissioners Martin Callinan and Nóirín O’Sullivan directed or were aware of a campaign to smear Garda whistleblower Sgt Maurice McCabe is published. We wish Commissioner Harris well in his new role and hope that the fact that he is coming into the job as an outsider will lead to a positive change of culture within the force and that it can win back some of the public respect that it has lost in recent years.