Leading Policing Authority figures ruled out of Commissioner race

Josephine Feehily and former senior PSNI officer Judith Gillespie will not be applying

Josephine Feehily (left), chairwoman of the Policing Authority and former Garda commissioner Nóirín O’Sullivan. Photograph: Eric Luke

Josephine Feehily (left), chairwoman of the Policing Authority and former Garda commissioner Nóirín O’Sullivan. Photograph: Eric Luke

 

Head of the Policing Authority Josephine Feehily has ruled herself out of the competition to become the next Garda commissioner.

And an experienced member of her team and also a former senior PSNI officer Judith Gillespie has also ruled herself out.

The Irish Times understands the issue arose at a private meeting of the authority on Monday morning. All of those present formally registered the fact they would not be applying for the post of commissioner.

Among those not present and so who have not ruled themselves out were authority members Maureen Lynott and Moling Ryan. However, their absence was not regarded as significant in the context of the vacancy.

Ms Feehily would have been regarded as a very strong candidate had she applied. She is a former chair of the Revenue Commissioners, which has police powers and prosecutes criminal cases.

And because of her position as head of the Policing Authority for the past two years she is very familiar with the Garda organisation and reforms required.

For her part, Ms Gillespie served for 32 years in the PSNI, rising to the rank of Deputy Chief Constable by the time she retired in 2014. Still only in her mid 50s, she has vast experience of policing crime and countering terrorism.

Major reform

Crucially, she experienced the transition of the RUC to the PSNI in a major reform programme that some have suggested was now needed for the Garda.

The competition to find a new commissioner will be run by the Policing Authority, which will nominate its recommendation to Government for acceptance or rejection.

In that context it appears the issue of whether personnel inside the authority planned to apply for the post was raised by Ms Feehily at Monday’s meeting.

The Policing Authority has declined to comment on the matter.

Ms Gillespie and Ms Feehily ruling themselves out of the race to become the next commissioner happened just a week after acting Garda Commissioner Dónall Ó Cualáin had done so.

The vacancy at the top of the Garda arose the weekend before last when Nóirín O’Sullivan resigned from the position. She had been under pressure for almost her entire time in the post due to a series of Garda controversies.

The Government is now under pressure to appoint a candidate from outside the Garda, either a civilian or a foreign senior police officer, to lead change in the force

Of late the inflating by Garda members of breath testing data and significant problems with financial governance at the Garda College, Templemore, had become hugely problematic for Ms O’Sullivan.

Predecessor

Her predecessor Martin Callinan also resigned under pressure and when not expected to. His handling of allegations about the Garda made by whistleblowers was widely criticised.

Mr Callinan stepped down in March, 2014, at which point Ms O’Sullivan became acting commissioner. And after an open international competition and parallel international headhunt she emerged the successful candidate.

She was appointed to the post proper in November, 2014, but the controversies that had dogged Mr Callinan’s term worsened under Ms O’Sullivan.

In recent days, Taoiseach Leo Varadkar has said he was disappointed at what he saw as a continued reluctance among many in the Garda to accept the need for reform and commit to it.

The Government is now under pressure to appoint a candidate from outside the Garda, either a civilian or a foreign senior police officer, to lead change in the force.

Both Ms Feehily and Ms Gillespie had been linked to the race for the job in media reports. Ms Feehily has made a big impact with her robust tackling of senior Garda officers when the authority has been in public session.

And while she has never suggested she was interested in the job, it was inevitable her name would be linked to it.