Garda ‘taken aback’ at political questions in job interview

Assistant commissioner alleges unfair competition held for deputy comissioner job

An Assistant Garda commissioner has claimed he was asked by Garda Commissioner Nóirín O’Sullivan during interviews for the position of deputy commissioner about his views on “left wing political extremism in Ireland” and on left wing politicians.

Assistant Commissioner John Fintan Fanning, who has initiated High Court action alleging an "unfair" competition was held for the post of deputy commissioner, said he was "taken aback" and "uncomfortable" at being asked such questions.

He also claims Ms O’Sullivan should have declared a potential conflict of interest prior to the interviews and recused herself from them.

Recent media reports suggested three candidates intended to be recommended to the Government for appointment were the same three assistant commissioners who Ms O’Sullivan had, last July, personally selected to be acting deputy commissioners, he claims.


Paul McGarry SC, for Mr Fanning, on Thursday secured permission from Mr Justice Paul Gilligan to serve short notice of his proceedings over the competition. The case is against the Public Appointments Service, Ireland and the Attorney General and the matter was returned to Tuesday.

In his proceedings, Asst Comm Fanning wants an injunction restraining the PAS taking any further steps, pending the outcome of his case, in appointing any persons as deputy commissioner.

He also wants declarations the procedures adopted for recruitment to that post infringed his constitutional rights, including to fair procedures and natural justice.

He claims during his March 10th interview for the position he had, in response to a question from another member of the interview panel, discussed the threat from the terrorist group Islamic State and also discussed domestic terrorism.

In response to Ms O’Sullivan’s question, he said he talked about IS in Belgium and terrorist incidents in Paris where lives had been lost.

When the Commissioner asked for a further example, he said he discussed the risks posed by dissident republican activists including the IRA “in its forms” and explained he was responsible for policing at Portlaoise Prison.

Despite that, the Commissioner continued and asked him what about “left wing political extremism in Ireland” and what were his views in relation to left wing politicians.

He said he was “uncomfortable” being asked such a question as he was conscious he has a statutory obligation not to affiliate or associate with any political group.

He said he found himself in a position where his superior officer and Commissioner was asking a direct question he had to deal with and believed it was wrong to ask a question at interview in relation to his political views.

He attempted to deal with the question as best he could and he discussed the anti-austerity and water protests and the recent incident involving Tánaiste Joan Burton in Tallaght, he said.

“While I was conscious of how my answer might be interpreted, I insisted that, as we live in a democracy, it was the duty of the gardaí to enforce all the laws that the Oireachtas created,” he said.

The interview then concluded and he considered the line of questioning “very unfair” and presented to the interview board a picture that included reference to his possible political views.

He did not believe other candidates were asked a similar type of question, he added.

He was informed the following day he had not been successful at the interview, he said. He sought feedback and was told he did not demonstrate “the breadth of strategic thinking to progress to the next stage”. A review was later carried out at his request but no input was sought from him before he was given the results of that.

He was later told the process of selection for a role to be filled by Government appointment was excluded from the code of practice of the Commission for Public Service Appointments.

He said it became apparent the entire process was “flawed” and there appeared to be confusion within the highest level within the PAS over how the competition was to be conducted.

In an affidavit, Mr Fanning said he joined the Garda in 1980, was promoted Assistant Commissioner in 2008 and since September 2014 was stationed in Mullingar as regional commissioner responsible for policing in the eastern region.

Of seven assistant commissioners within the Garda, he is the second senior assistant commissioner and has several academic qualifications, including three Masters degrees. He had unsuccessfully applied earlier this year for the position of Garda Commissioner.

Mary Carolan

Mary Carolan

Mary Carolan is the Legal Affairs Correspondent of the Irish Times