Nóirín O’Sullivan’s battle as commissioner in her own words

Cloud of political controversy rarely left the Garda’s office during her three years

Noirin O’Sullivan took over as acting Garda commissioner in March 2014. Photograph: Eric Luke/The Irish Times

Nóirín O'Sullivan took over as acting Garda commissioner in March 2014 following the resignation of Martin Callinan, who stepped down in the midst of a political controversy over the quashing of penalty points by Gardaí and the treatment of Garda whistleblowers such as Sgt Maurice McCabe who highlighted the practice.

Ms O’Sullivan’s three year term as commissioner was dogged with the continued controversy over the treatment of whistleblowers such as Sgt McCabe, as well as new political scandals that emerged.

Here is a selection of quotes highlighting O’Sullivan’s attempts to reform the police force, while fire-fighting the developing scandals in the gardaí, and the political and media scrutiny that followed them.

April 4th 2014: Addressing a Garda reserve graduation ceremony in Templemore, Garda training college, Co Tipperary she said:

“Any organisation as large and complex as An Garda Síochána needs to be open, not closed, to outside help - even if that comes in the form of a complaint or a criticism.


“We’ll be working hard on changing that mindset so that we don’t view dissent as disloyalty, but rather as an opportunity to improve what we are already really good at doing.”

July 22nd 2014: O’Sullivan addressed MacGill Summer School, Co Donegal while acting as interim commissioner:

“Recent controversies have focused the public mind on instances where we have not lived up to our standards. In some cases we’ve badly failed those standards. But when we’re good, we’re very, very good”.

November 25th 2014: Following her permanent appointment as Garda commissioner she released a statement setting out her hopes for the role.

She said she looked forward to “working with the community, the Policing Authority, the Department of Justice and other stakeholders, to transform An Garda Síochána into a 21st century police service.”

May 25th 2016: O’Sullivan came under political pressure following the publication of the O’Higgins report into the handling of Garda whistleblower Sgt McCabe’s allegations.

The report, which upheld some of McCabe’s claims and found others had been overstated said he had provided a valuable public service in bringing issues forward.

“The O’Higgins commission report presents inescapable lessons for An Garda Síochána, based on a number of critical areas including our dealings with whistleblowers.

“We must radically and permanently change that pattern and we will apply the insights and learnings from our recent experiences in developing a Garda whistleblowers charter” she said.

April 25th 2017: O’Sullivan said rank and file Garda members must accept responsibility for breath test figure failures, when speaking to the Garda Representative Association (GRA) members at their annual conference at Salthill, Co Galway.

“We either have a case where members of An Garda Síochána aren’t able to count or haven’t counted accurately the number of cars that are going through checkpoints and were stopped, or we have something on the other end of the scale where somebody is just making up figures.”

May 4th 2017: Answering questions from the Public Accounts Committee (PAC) on financial issues in Templemore Garda training college.

“My recollection is that it was very brief”.

This was the response from O’Sullivan when quizzed on the length of a meeting with senior civilian officer John Barrett that discussed financial issues at the Garda college in July 2015.

But when Mary Lou McDonald TD put the same question to Mr Barrett, who was sitting beside the Garda commissioner, he said “the meeting lasted two hours … it is included in the minutes.”

July 13th 2017: The commissioner defended the gardaí’s reaction to revelations of financial issues at Templemore College in 2015 several times at the PAC.

“I reject any accusation that we were acting in any way sinisterly. It was quite the opposite. This issue, from the time it was identified, has been dealt with completely openly, completely transparently and completely in the public view.”

June 20th 2017: Under heavy questioning from Dáil deputies at the PAC over the Templemore controversy O’Sullivan frequently stated the problems were legacy issues dating several years back.

“As members are aware, these issues have their origin in the funding model set-up for the Garda College several decades ago. These are very complex and complicated financial and legal arrangements that in some cases require us to take expert advice to resolve them and ensure they cannot happen again.”

September 6th 2017: The commissioner made a statement following the publication of Garda reports into the fake breath test figures and the fixed-charge notice scandal.

“These failures are completely unacceptable and all of us in An Garda Síochána must now take responsibility for ensuring this cannot happen again.

“Changes have already been introduced and we are committed to ensuring the required cultural, behavioural and systems changes are made.”

September 10th 2017: Nóirín O’Sullivan released a statement on Sunday evening announcing she was retiring from her role as Garda commissioner.

“I devoted much of my summer break to considering if continuing would be the right thing to do. It has become clear, over the last year, that the core of my job is now about responding to an unending cycle of requests, questions, instructions and public hearings.”

“But when a commissioner is trying – as I’ve been trying – to implement the deep cultural and structural reform that is necessary to modernise and reform an organisation of 16,000 people and rectify the failures and mistakes of the past, the difficulty is that the vast majority of her time goes, not to implementing the necessary reforms and meeting the obvious policing and security challenges, but to dealing with this unending cycle.”

Jack Power

Jack Power

Jack Power is acting Europe Correspondent of The Irish Times