Garda commission chair says ‘no one person’ will reform the force

Kathleen O’Toole claims changing An Garda Síochána requires ‘cohesive’ management

Kathleen O'Toole, the chairman of the Commission on the Future of Policing in Ireland, has said she believes Garda reform will not be achieved by one person.

Ms O'Toole, who was Boston's first female police commissioner, told The Irish Times that reform within An Garda Síochána required a "sophisticated" and "cohesive" management team.

Ms O'Toole also said it was her hope that the Commission on the Future of Policing in Ireland could provide the "framework" and "direction" for the new Garda Commissioner and their management team.

“No one person is going to reform an organisation of this size. It requires a very sophisticated and cohesive management team, but we are working on creating that model that will serve the organisation well and the community over the long haul,” she said on Tuesday.

Ms O’Toole said it didn’t matter where the new commissioner comes from as long as they are the “best candidate”.

"I think, in the end, it is going to be the work of the Policing Authority to develop the job specifications. The Policing Authority will work with Government to what that job specification should look like going forward and all the details surrounding that.

“At this point it just needs to be the best candidate and person, whether that be someone from this island or elsewhere, but as I said before success will not result from one person.

“The only reason I have had success in different roles in my career was because I surrounded myself with great people and we worked cohesively as a management team and that will be required here too,” she told The Irish Times.

The Commission on the Future of Policing in Ireland was established to examine the structure of An Garda Síochána, as well as its culture and ethos, recruitment, training and management.

Ms O’Toole was speaking amid several controversies involving the force, including escalating tensions between Garda management and rank-and-file members over where the blame lies for the falsification of 1.5 million breath tests.

The Garda Representative Association, which represents lower-ranked gardaí, has claimed senior and middle Garda management are to blame for the scandal, a claim rejected by the Association of Garda Sergeants and Inspectors.

The force is also dealing with the fallout from the resignation of former commissioner Nóirín O’Sullivan and a recent finding by the Policing Authority that 50 reform initiatives which senior officers claimed had been completed had only been finalised in nine cases.

‘Ambitious agenda’

Ms O'Toole, who was also a member of the Independent Commission on Policing for Northern Ireland, also known as the Patten Commission, which was established in 1998 as part of the Belfast Agreement, said that she and her commission colleagues were currently working on an "ambitious agenda".

“Obviously we have a very ambitious agenda, we have to report out by next September. We have no intention of producing documents with hundreds of recommendations, we are looking at five or six categories that we think will help transform and modernise the organisation.

"We have divided up among us and we have an extremely impressive group of people which I'm honoured to be among . . . really, extraordinary experience and a diverse group. There are only a few of us who have spent our career in policing, myself and [former chief constable of Greater Manchester Police] Peter Fahy, and similar to the Patten experience in Northern Ireland, we were able to get a really diverse group with different views and in the end will produce a valuable report," she said.

Ms O'Toole said she would continue to value the "feedback" of former Garda ombudsman Conor Brady, who announced his resignation at the weekend from the Commission on the Future of Policing in Ireland.

Mr Brady, a former editor of The Irish Times, said the primary reason he stepped down was so he would be free to write and comment freely on the issue of Garda reform.

Mr Brady said he was also concerned at the lack of support, particularly financial support, the body had received from the Government, and criticised what he said was a lack of public support for the commission from Government politicians.

“I think it had to be very difficult for him even for a couple of months to sit on the sidelines. He has been a career journalist and he has an important voice. I really respect the decision he made,” Ms O’Toole told The Irish Times.

However, she said she disagreed with Mr Brady’s statement that there was a lack of political support for the commission.

“I would disagree with him [Mr Brady] on that front. If I didn’t believe there was political support, I wouldn’t be here right now. In fact, for me this is somewhat unfinished business. When I was in the [Garda] Inspectorate the last few years, when I first arrived there was a lot of enthusiasm for reform and then once the economic crisis hit it was a huge distraction . . . not pointing fingers but police reform wasn’t at the top of the agenda at that point.

“So now it’s time to revisit it and I think and am convinced there is support for it. I communicate very regularly with [Department of] Justice officials and maintain strong lines of communication with the guards. Of course, we are an independent group, so we are going to get feedback and input from as many independent voices as possible,” said Ms O’Toole.