Garda is ‘not a broken organisation’, O’Sullivan says

Acting Commissioner says the force is committed to ‘explosive’ change

Acting Garda Commissioner Noirin O’Sullivan with MacGill Summer School director Joe Mulholland in Glenties. Photograph: North West Newspix

Acting Garda Commissioner Noirin O’Sullivan with MacGill Summer School director Joe Mulholland in Glenties. Photograph: North West Newspix

Tue, Jul 22, 2014, 20:36

The Garda is not a broken organisation, but it has been damaged and is hurting, the acting Commissioner said today.

Noirin O’Sullivan told the MacGill summer school in Co Donegal she was impatient for reform and strongly supports Government plans for independent oversight of the force.

“Recent controversies have focused the public mind on instances where we have not lived up to our own standards,” she said.

“In some cases we’ve badly failed those standards. But when we’re good, we’re very, very good.”

Committing the force to “explosive” change she insisted gardaí at every level were impatient for reform and change.

“As an organisation we’ve been pretty good at development and change,” she said .

“Sometimes that development and change comes gradually and sometimes as right now, it happens explosively. When it happens explosively then the task is to be out in front of reform, to drive change from within, not just accept it under duress.”

In a key part of her address she committed the Garda to the Government’s reform plans including independent oversight.

She said the Garda must commit itself to “taking control of our future, while welcoming stronger oversight from the proposed Independent Authority, as well as GSOC and the Garda Inspectorate”.

“Equally important it means remaining accountable to the communities we serve,” she said.

“We are proud of what we do and where we have come from. We are ready to step up to becoming a human rights-centred world class police service.”

The results of a survey of gardaí across the State and a meeting involving six officers with Ms Fitzgerald at Farmleigh were “painful, illuminating, exciting and exhilarating,” she said.

Garda reforms introduced in 2005 “ brought clarity to the management and oversight of policing,” she said.

“But it is legislation that’s approaching its 10th anniversary. Ireland has changed utterly in those 10 years.”

The bottom line, she said, is “the Act needs revising and a key element of that revision is the estab lishment of an Independent Policing Authority. ”

On the question of intelligence handling, she added: “On national security the Commissioner will report to the Minister [for Justice], the Oireachtas and the Government.”

Ms O’Sullivan, who is only the second head or acting head of the Garda to address the MacGill summer school, said management within the force “must drive Government policy into understood standards and lived behaviours within the police service”.

This reform must be incorporated into what she called the “culture” of An Garda Síochána.

“Culture is how any organisation does its business,” she said.

“For as long as I serve in this role, I’ll drive ahead on all of those objectives. We cannot afford to stand still.”

Public confidence in the police would be grown one public contact at a time, one incident at a time, she said.

“Our mission is to stand between the citizen and chaos, guarding the peace that is essential to civilised living.”

She insisted police officers and senior ranks are learning from policing failures.

“We have the positive impetus provided by negative events,” she said.

“None of us would want recent controversies to have happened, but the fact that they happened means that we have been forced to stand back from what the Minister [Frances Fitzgerald] called the ‘accretion of habits’ and re-examine ourselves and our organisation in a brutally honest way.”

Taking questions from the floor, Ms O’Sullivan countered fears of under-staffing by saying Garda recruitment would recommence in the autumn.

Asked about the whistle-blowers she insisted: “Dissent should not be seen as disloyalty.”

She stressed the importance of Garda oversight and said the relationship between the Garda and GSOC “is improving, it’s going in the right direction”.