Give Me a Crash Course In: The next Garda commissioner

The recruitment process has changed since Nóirín O’Sullivan was appointed in 2014

Former Garda commissioner Nóirín O’Sullivan: when O’Sullivan got the job, it took six months for her to be appointed. Photograph: Alan Betson

Former Garda commissioner Nóirín O’Sullivan: when O’Sullivan got the job, it took six months for her to be appointed. Photograph: Alan Betson

 

When are we getting a new Garda commissioner?

That question is a lot harder to answer today than it was this time last week.

Nóirín O’Sullivan stepped down a couple of weeks ago and a replacement needs to be found. But since she was appointed in November 2014, the procedure around recruiting a commissioner has changed. Now the Policing Authority has a big say in the matter and wants a big presence on the interview panel. It formulates the actual recruitment process, and the Public Appointments Service then runs that process.

Then a recommendation is made to Government about who should get the job and it can accept or reject the candidate.

So what’s the problem all of a sudden?

When O’Sullivan got the job, it took six months for her to be appointed. Martin Callinan stepped down in March 2014, and O’Sullivan became acting commissioner. But she was not appointed to the job officially for six months. O’Sullivan had to apply for the post, which for the first time was open to candidates outside the Garda and outside the country.

Because the Policing Authority has to start from scratch this time in devising a job specification and a new recruitment process, it says the process will take at least nine months.

So we’ll have a new commissioner in nine months?

Probably not, and this is where it gets tricky. Back in May, the Government set up the Commission on the Future of Policing in Ireland. It is examining how the Garda should be changed following recent controversies and is due to report next September.

This week the commission said it had written to Minister for Justice Charlie Flanagan, advising against appointing a new commissioner until after it had completed its work.

The commission says it was impossible to draw up a job specification now, and suggests no credible candidates for commissioner would apply, because they cannot know what the job will look like in 12 to 18 months.

What does that mean in real terms?

The group set up to reshape the Garda advises that nothing should be done about a new Commissioner for 12 months.

The Policing Authority advises that from the moment the process starts, it will take nine months.

So if the Government accepts it needs to wait for 12 months before even beginning the process of hiring a commissioner, it will be 21 months before we have a new Garda commissioner.

In the meantime Acting Garda Commissioner Dónall Ó Cualáin will stay in charge.

Is there any chance this could go on for longer?

Yes. The 21-month deadline does not include any time the Government would need to consider and then act on the changes being recommended by the Commission on the Future of Policing in Ireland.

If that took, say, six months or more then it could be early 2020 before we have a new Commissioner.

And if the Garda reforms are to be radical, it will very likely take that long to introduce those changes. So an extra delay is very likely.

The question now is whether the Government follows the advice to stall the process of hiring a new commissioner for 12 months. It is currently considering that option.