Former Garda ombudsman calls for radical reform of force

Conor Brady says appointing a new Garda Commissioner will make little difference

Former Garda ombudsman Conor Brady has said the appointment of a new Garda Commissioner will make little difference to the problems in the force, calling instead for "radical" reform.

Mr Brady, who last week resigned from the Commission on the Future of Policing in Ireland in protest at the lack of political interest in or support for its work, said it would not matter if the new commissioner comes from inside or outside the force, as no matter who is appointed "it will go back to the same", despite the usual promises about root-and-branch reform.

Mr Brady, a former editor of The Irish Times, said part of the reason he stood down from the commission was that he felt he could do more to highlight the issues facing the Garda as a commentator.

“I’ve served on sufficient State bodies to know when there is a real purpose and when it is just politically expedient,” he told RTÉ’s Today with Sean O’Rourke show on Thursday.

He said he wanted to be able to write and comment freely on the issue of reform of the force.

There is a lack of urgency within the political establishment about the need to reform the force, he said. “I wouldn’t verge towards optimism.”

Mr Brady added that he believed some other members of the commission felt the same way as he did, but he felt it was better to “step outside” and make his comments.

He said that any reform of An Garda Síochána was going to have to be radical or "it's going to be nothing".

“I have a sense that the political will and vision isn’t there.”

He said that the current Minister for Justice, Charlie Flanagan, did not refer to the commission in a lengthy interview in The Sunday Independent and that the first reference to it by Taoiseach Leo Varadkar was in Monday's Irish Times.

“It’s pretty clear that the problems facing An Garda Síochána go beyond any one commissioner. They haven’t gone away with Nóirín O’Sullivan.”

He said that the breath test shambles highlighted “a very strange ethos and culture running right through the force”.

As hundreds and thousands of gardaí had elevated the figures at the behest of their superiors, he asked whether they would have done the same with evidence in court, if asked to do so.

“A significant number of gardaí are not happy, they are not suited to what they’re doing.”

Mr Brady said that every step taken by governments to date, in terms of Garda tribunals, was “too little, too late”.

If there is to be long-lasting reform then it will involve legislative and constitutional change, he added.

He said that issues such as the separation of security and policing will need to be addressed, as will the concepts of differing levels of entry and training.

Shatter claims

On the same programme, former minister for justice Alan Shatter said he believed he had been treated unfairly by his party colleagues in Fine Gael and rejected criticism of his handling of Garda matters.

Mr Shatter maintained that he always handled Garda issues in a manner he believed was correct and appropriate and gave people a fair opportunity to address difficulties that arose.

He said that he found the manner in which Fine Gael dealt with him “both bizarre and disappointing.

“I went through a period in 2014 when I was accused of lying about various issues; I was accused of incompetence on various issues relating to the gardaí.

“We’ve had three different judicial inquiries - I’ve been vindicated in all of them. It’s been confirmed I always told the truth and the O’Higgins commission determined that in dealing with Sgt Maurice McCabe’s complaints, I dealt with them promptly, reasonably and appropriately.

"What I personally find puzzling is, that issue having been put to bed on the basis that people wanted to know the truth, and a Court of Appeal having determined that when Mr [Sean] Guerin produced a report he failed to give me a fair hearing, I find it very puzzling that the current Government and the Taoiseach's department continues to fund a court case which is designed to take this matter to the Supreme Court and achieve nothing other than seek a decision that it was reasonable that Alan Shatter be condemned without a hearing."

Mr Shatter also contradicted comments by former attorney general Michael McDowell in The Sunday Business Post, in which he said the establishment of a Policing Authority was bitterly opposed at Cabinet level by Mr Shatter when he was Minister for Justice.

“That’s not true, what happened was it became increasingly apparent that we had difficulties with regard to the gardaí when issues arose around the time of [former Garda commissioner] Martin Callinan’s premature retirement. There was a cabinet meeting at which there was discussion around the creation of a policing authority.

"It is correct that a year or so earlier I didn't believe a police authority was necessary because I was concerned that we would simply create a quango that wouldn't be at all answerable to the Dáil. It would simply be a body that would provide some protection for the Minister of the day to Oireachtas accountability. That was the reservation I had.

“The outcome of the inquiries that I required be conducted into the ticket charge issue and the level of dysfunction that became clear existed between the administrative side of the gardaí and the extent to which those issues were being politicised by some members of the Dáil, it was right that they ask questions.

“I was concerned that appalling damage was being done to the Garda Síochána and to the morale of members of the force, that those who had behaved correctly and had done no wrong were being undermined. I was converted to the view that there was a need for a Policing Authority.

“One doesn’t normally reveal what took place in Cabinet, so it is interesting that McDowell has a particular view.”