THE sudden premature retirement of a second Garda Commissioner in the space of just over three years is a further unwanted blow for the morale of our police force and, with all the seemingly never-ending controversies that have been going on for even longer than that, the time has surely come to take stock of An Garda Síochána and perhaps even consider a radical re-organisation and rebranding exercise, as occurred when the Police Service of Northern Ireland replaced the much-maligned Royal Ulster Constabulary.
When this happened, the equivalent of the Commissioner – the Chief Constable – was recruited from outside the juristiction of Northern Ireland and its operation seems to have been organised well so far in a much more volatile part of our island. There is now a consensus that an outsider should be brought in as the new Garda Commissioner, because doing the same thing over and over again, recruiting from within the force, will only bring the same results. However, it may not be quite as simple as that.
The idea of an outsider was strongly touted in advance of the appointment of Noirín O’Sullivan as Commissioner in succession to Martin Callinan in November 2014, but she was chosen as the best qualified of the candidates who had applied, making one wonder if there was any significant outside interest in the position at all. If there wasn’t then, it would be difficult to imagine any greater amount of interest in the job now, given that the legacy issues of An Garda Síochána have become much worse since and there will be an even bigger task involved in trying to put things right, and perhaps very few of the best-qualified on the international front would consider the salary big enough for all that’s involved.
Some of the actions aimed at modernising An Garda Síochána had been put in place by Nóirín O’Sullivan during her ill-starred tenure as Commissioner, but all the good work she was doing in this regard was being constantly overshadowed by a litany of scandals that kept cropping up and she spent most of her time answering questions, speculation and accusations – some of them vexatious – which kept getting in the way of the work she was doing to streamline the force. Being held accountable for the actions of his/her members is a key part of a Garda Commissioner’s remit, but she seemed to be answerable to too many bodies at once and the feeling that she was trying to defend the indefensible at times did her no favours in the public eye.
Former and current Taoisigh, Enda Kenny and Leo Varadkar, respecively, continued to express confidence in her as Commissioner, but all of the opposition politicians had lost confidence and wanted her to go, which she did – and very suddenly – last weekend, giving her bosses six hours’ notice of her retirement with immediate effect and with full pension benefits. Would that the rest of us could get away with doing that – it certainly would not be tolerated in the private sector.
The Policing Authority agreed with Ms O’Sullivan’s stated hope in her retirement statement that the modernisation and reform programme in An Garda Síochána must continue and vowed to work with her successor in that regard. But, it must first see to it that this person is chosen wisely.