Miriam Lord: Enda’s talk of Garda reform fails to take root

Taoiseach’s insistence on his confidence in Nóirín O’Sullivan greeted with Dáil derision

Garda Commissioner Nóirín O’Sullivan,  Taoiseach Enda Kenny and Minister for Justice  Frances Fitzgerald: another  root and branch review of the Garda. Photograph: Colin Keegan/Collins

Garda Commissioner Nóirín O’Sullivan, Taoiseach Enda Kenny and Minister for Justice Frances Fitzgerald: another root and branch review of the Garda. Photograph: Colin Keegan/Collins

 

If the Garda top brass were tree surgeons they’d have been sacked long ago.

With the Taoiseach and his Minister for Justice a laughing stock for continuing to employ them despite mounting evidence that they aren’t up to the job.

Root-and-branch reform doesn’t mean tinkering gingerly with just one root and just one branch. That way, everything just grows back again, and usually stronger. Have they never seen the size of a tree? Or what spreads out stealthily beneath it?

Undaunted, and in his very first response to the most recent outbreak of late-onset contrition among the top brass of An Garda Síochána, the Taoiseach produced his rusty nail scissors and announced a “root and branch” review of the organisation.

Like he never had that idea before.

You couldn’t blame people for laughing.

And you couldn’t blame them for being thoroughly underwhelmed.

Enda’s people are big into the old R&B.

Martyn Turner cartoon

“The Government believes the level of public concern is now so profound that it is time to conduct a thorough, comprehensive and independent root-and-branch review of An Garda Síochána” he informed the Dáil yesterday, oblivious to the sudden invasion of groundhogs doing a Conga across the chamber floor.

For it was another one of those deja-vu days.

Thorough. Comprehensive. Independent.

Because all the reviews which went before were not, presumably.

Sure what’s not to like? There is always something to be said for another root-and-branch review.

Systemic rot

Mick Wallace and Clare Daly, who have been shouting from the rooftops for more years than most of us care to remember about the need to thoroughly cleanse the Garda organisation of systemic rot, chuckled merrily at the reintroduction of another R&B session.

“Wha? One more?” asked Mick, smiling broadly.

But no. This time it’s serious, the Taoiseach indicated.

More serious than the last time, and the one before that, and so on.

Enda took a deep breath.

“I want to say to you that I am very unhappy, very unhappy, about this situation.”

That set Mick and Claire off again.

With the latest news of staggering Garda incompetence in one instance and brazen sharp practices in another, the Dáil began another week of discussing how to fix the force.

The Taoiseach, by his own admission, is rightly annoyed.

These revelations are so bad that he isn’t going to ask the police to carry out an investigation. It’ll have to be done by some external, independent body. Clearly, the Taoiseach doesn’t trust the Garda management to do a reliable job.

What has come to light has given serious cause for concern, not only to public representatives, but to ordinary people, he stressed. People need to have trust in their Garda Síochána and they are in danger of losing that. Serving members need to feel they can have “pride in the uniform”. It is vitally important to find out what happened in this latest situation where people were wrongly convicted of traffic offences and where the figure for the number of people breathalysed for drink-driving was exaggerated by one million.

Not good, says the Taoiseach. Not good at all.

Kept in dark

Particularly when it transpired that the Garda Authority was kept in the dark about this latest calamity. What is his view on this? Don’t ask Enda. He said his government wasn’t told anything either.

But still.

He has full confidence in the Garda Commissioner. (Even if she can’t be let conduct the investigation.)

The Taoiseach was all at sea yesterday trying to defend his top law officer while trying to convey his deep discontent at this latest discharge from the Garda management waste-pipe.

To be on the safe side, he decided to indulge in a little future-proofing as he argued that the information emerging was a result of the great work of reform being conducted by the commissioner and her lieutenants. (Although his heart didn’t sound in it.)

“It is also true to say that the Garda Commissioner herself pointed out that other issues may well arise in the future when a radical and surgical reformation of ongoing issues is undertaken.”

Another harrumph from Wallace.

“You’re not wrong there, Taoiseach.”

At one point, Enda resorted to the defence of employers who are finally forced to admit that the person they engaged to do a big job – against the advice of people who predicted it was a wrong move – wasn’t the right choice.

Great interviews

When the vacant position of Garda commissioner arose (nothing to do with Enda, the incumbent decided to resign of his own accord and not because the Taoiseach sent the secretary of the Department of Justice to his home late at night to put the frighteners on him), Nóirín O’Sullivan was hired because “she did an outstanding series of interviews”.

For a second, everyone thought he was talking about the commissioner’s interview the evening before on the Six One News with Bryan Dobson.

But he was talking about her job interviews. Which sounded a bit immaterial in the light of what she has or hasn’t done since she got the job.

Mick Wallace wasn’t having it. “Minister, this is a joke” declared the soccer-loving TD. “When the manager loses 10 games in a row and the chairman comes out and gives him a vote of confidence, you know he’s finished.”

Later in the day, the Minister for Justice was hauled in for a grilling on when she found out about the wrongful convictions and the breathalyser scandals.

Frances Fitzgerald had been expecting an exchange of statements followed by some questions. Instead, Fianna Fáil’s resident Senior Counsel and justice spokesman, Jim O’Callaghan, decided to give her the full Four Courts treatment.

When did the Minister first know about the wrongful convictions? Fitzgerald talked around the issue but O’Callaghan stuck to his knitting and finally forced an admission that she knew nine months ago that a number of people (nothing like the final figure) had been wrongly hauled into court and, in some cases, convicted.

Record ‘falsification’

As for the made-up breathalyser statistics, the Solidarity TD Mick Barry called it “the falsification of Garda records on an industrial scale”.

And yet the Taoiseach is still talking about root-and-branch reviews.

Mary Lou McDonald said he knows O’Sullivan will have to go. So why the delay? Was it because he doesn’t have a top civil servant to send to her door and break the news? Is it because “you don’t have the bottle to do what you need to do?”

No. Enda has full confidence in Nóirín.

When Frances was getting the treatment her boss got earlier, she too tried to support the Garda Commissioner.

Mick Wallace wasn’t having it. “Minister, this is a joke” declared the soccer-loving TD. “When the manager loses 10 games in a row and the chairman comes out and gives him a vote of confidence, you know he’s finished.”

Time to apply a systemic solution. It’s the only way to eradicate all the roots. And all the branches.

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