Insubordination not widespread, says Garda chief

Sat, Sep 2, 2006, 01:00

Garda Commissioner Noel Conroy said yesterday he was "hurt" by the findings of the latest reports from the Morris tribunal. He said the force had been damaged in the eyes of the public, but he did not believe insubordination was widespread within the Garda. Conor Lally reports.

In his first response to the tribunal's latest reports, Mr Conroy said if the same circumstances that unfolded in the Donegal division in the 1990s presented themselves, there would not be the same outcomes.

"This organisation has changed so much in the last number of years that you would not know it really," he said.

He welcomed the new Garda disciplinary code. It would be implemented in full. However, he said Garda discipline was working well at present.

The creation of the Garda Inspectorate and Garda Ombudsman Commission would also prove valuable.

"I think it's good that somebody from outside will look at our performance and pass judgment in relation to how we do our job," he said.

While 15 members had been dismissed and 42 had resigned in lieu of dismissal in the past five years, he was still limited in the action he could take against members the tribunal had implicated in serious wrongdoing. Many had stalled disciplinary proceedings by seeking judicial reviews. "I think it has caused the public to look at us as an organisation that sometimes cannot manage some of our people," Mr Conroy said.

Some members seeking judicial reviews had been financially supported in this by the Garda staff associations. This was a "cause of concern" for him. "But I want to be fair to those [ organisations]. We all can be duped."

Mr Conroy said he had sought legal advice on the status of Det Sgt John White but was precluded from commenting on the case.

The Irish Times has learned that Garda Headquarters will write to Det Sgt White next week to ask him to account for the criminal wrongdoing the tribunal has implicated him in. This includes the planting of a shotgun at a Travellers site and involvement in the planting of a hoax device.

If Det Sgt White does not offer a satisfactory explanation he may be dismissed.

When asked if he agreed with Mr Justice Frederick Morris that subordination and indiscipline were widespread within the force, Mr Conroy said:

"I'm not saying it's widespread. But I'm also not saying we haven't a disciplinary problem in different parts of the country. Why wouldn't you, when you think of the numbers in the organisation. You are talking about 12,500 sworn officers."

As well as the Ombudsman and Inspectorate, many strands of accountability and transparency had been recently introduced. There was now a Garda internal audit unit and a Garda professional standards unit.

A new regime for handling civilian Garda informers, from which many of the problems in Donegal stemmed, was in place. New diploma and degree courses on policing and management had also been introduced.

Senior Garda managers, including himself, now regularly travelled to the regions for meetings where officers were asked to account for their actions.

Mr Conroy said events that took place in Donegal should never have happened. He said families that had been victimised should never have faced what they did. "I feel sorry for them," he said.

He was "very disappointed" by the behaviour of some Garda witnesses before the tribunal. He conceded that some members believed a culture of secrecy within the force was so strong it prevented them from reporting colleagues who had breached discipline.

"I would be very disappointed if that was the case throughout the country. When I look at the report it does cause me hurt."

However, it was important that the Morris tribunal established and exposed the truth. This process would strengthen the Garda in the long term.

Already 4,000 people had applied to join the Garda Reserve since recruitment began two weeks ago. He believed the Garda would continue to attract strong candidates. The public could also be confident that any complaints they made against members would be properly investigated.