Time for Garda Commissioner to use new broom

Nóirín O’Sullivan’s elevation sidesteps potential problem of ‘outsider‘ coming in

The appointment of a Garda Commissioner is usually an unremarkable affair. One middle-aged man slips out of a navy blue uniform into another of the same cut and hew, though slightly more braided.

However, yesterday’s elevation of Nóirín O’Sullivan is remarkable on many fronts.

She is the first woman to lead the Garda in its 92-year history.

She is also the first of the force to come out best following an open competition, and one that included a proactive trawl by international head- hunters to boot. But despite being at the forefront of her generation from her earliest days in a uniform and blazing a trail for women in the force, never has an officer taken the reins with so much to prove.


In some quarters her appointment was greeted with delight and relief. It sidestepped the potential embarrassment of an “outsider” being brought in; an adult to sort out children who had got themselves in a bind, as it were.

Her victory also means nobody from

abroad has access to the intelligence the Garda gathers to safeguard State security, the sneaky stuff usually the preserve of dedicated spying agencies in other jurisdictions.

Others will see her appointment as the continuation of an old regime whose problems have been well documented as recent scandals on penalty points and the investigation of crime have unfolded.

Most recently, an unflattering reflection emerged when the Garda Inspectorate held up a mirror to the Garda’s crime- investigation capabilities.

If ever there was a time to go outside and bring somebody in with new ideas this was it, Independent TD Mick Wallace suggested yesterday.

O'Sullivan was sitting beside her predecessor Martin Callinan at the Public Accounts Committee in January when he branded as "disgusting" the actions of whistleblowers trying to expose the widespread cancellation of motorists' penalty points.

She did not speak during that session and so never became associated with the remarks, or indeed with any of the whistleblowing-related controversies. And when Callinan moved to launch an internal inquiry into the penalty points claims so toxic to the Garda brand, responsibility fell to Assistant Commissioner John O’Mahoney.

The report that arose from it became known as “the O’Mahoney report”. It was an unwelcome development for the man seen as the second runner with O’Sullivan in the two-horse race to take over from Callinan.

Even when it emerged that the reforms O’Sullivan had introduced to tighten up how points could be cancelled were being ignored by some officers, she was largely unscathed.

The results of that audit have yet to be published.

Reached out to McCabe

It was when those allegations emerged that O’Sullivan made her big play to convince everyone she was different to those who had gone before. Rather than deny the allegations coming from whistleblower Sgt Maurice McCabe that the new system was still being abused, O’Sullivan metaphorically put her arm around him and held him close.

She told the force’s professional standards unit to investigate. And at her request, McCabe agreed to join the investigation. He aided it for weeks and sources close to him said he was very pleased with how she had handled it.

O’Sullivan obviously had the benefit of seeing how the affair had blown up in Callinan’s face. Still, bringing McCabe into the team established to investigate his claims was the opposite of his actions being branded disgusting just months earlier.

Even her detractors would concede she is an extremely bright woman who presents very well, and articulate and confident with it.

And having convinced the Public Services Appointments agency she was both new broom and experienced old hand right for the top job, she must now reinvent the culture that nurtured her.

Many in the force will want her to be more forceful about the pressure they are undoubtedly under because of lack of resources. But it is in everybody’s interests that the force becomes more victim-centred and that the investigation of crime is sharpened in all the places to which the inspectorate pointed.

O’Sullivan has said hers is a force that will listen to and embrace criticism and become more open and transparent.

The long hello is over.

It’s time to step up now.

Conor Lally

Conor Lally

Conor Lally is Security and Crime Editor of The Irish Times