There’s no ‘crisis’ in the Garda, just a carnival side-show

The underlying failures of Irish democracy keep popping up through different holes

‘Minister for Justice Frances Fitzgerald referred to what is happening in the Garda as a crisis. It is not – alas.’ Photograph: Laura Hutton/Photocall Ireland

‘Minister for Justice Frances Fitzgerald referred to what is happening in the Garda as a crisis. It is not – alas.’ Photograph: Laura Hutton/Photocall Ireland

Tue, May 13, 2014, 12:01

If Humpty Dumpty was an Irish rhyme, it would go: Humpty Dumpty sat on the wall/ Humpty Dumpty had a great fall./ The State had a big inquiry/ And managed to put Humpty together again.

But before we get too excited, we must remember that, for the Irish establishment, no system is so badly broken that it can’t be glued together with a long and lucrative inquiry and some phoney “reform”. And then hoisted back upon the high wall of authority. In a functioning democracy, the Guerin report would be taken as a signal that the State and its official culture are in need of radical transformation. In the State we actually inhabit, the best official minds will already be thinking very hard about how to “move on” with the least disturbance to the status quo.

I keep hearing in my head ex-commissioner Martin Callinan, then in his pomp, before an Oireachtas committee last November: “We have had one or two problems in the past. I am a firm believer in parking it, moving on and learning from the lessons of the past.”

Cover-up culture
What was telling was not so much what he said as the machine-like way he said it, as if he had learned it by heart. As well he might have done: in the world of those who run the country this formula is better known than the words of the national anthem.

To make another Irish variation on a well-known theme – how many tribunals of inquiry does it take to change a police force? We’ve already had in the last decade alone two searing indictments of the Garda culture of covering up abuses. The Morris tribunal’s first report on bogus explosives finds in Donegal, published in 2004, notes, among many other things, that Garda culture “generally militates against open and transparent co-operation with investigations, both internal and independent”, and manifests itself in a “policy of ‘don’t hang your own’ ”. This last phrase came from the evidence of Garda Martin Leonard: “It is the nature of the Gardaí, we don’t name the names – we don’t want to get anybody into trouble in the Garda Síochána internal matters . . .We try our best to make sure – we are not going to be hanging our people.” What happened? Lots of “reform”, of course, to hoosh Humpty back up on the wall: park it, move on, learn the lessons from the past. And then, almost a decade later, last December, the Smithwick tribunal found exactly the same culture, serenely unchanged: “I regret to say . . . that there prevails in An Garda Síochána today a prioritisation of the protection of the good name of the force over the protection of those who seek to tell the truth. Loyalty is prized above honesty.”

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