An Garda Síochána: One problem after another

 

If the Government thought the departure of Nóirín O’Sullivan as Garda Commissioner had knocked a can down the road, the reality is proving otherwise. The timing of the appointment of her successor has become the latest problem in the Garda-related in-tray with the Commission on the Future of Policing and the Policing Authority at odds over the issue.There is some merit in the positions of both and no simple way to bridge the gap between them.

The policing commission, chaired by Seattle police chief Kathleen O’Toole, was appointed in May to examine the future of An Garda Síochána and is expected to report by next September. In a letter to Minister for Justice Charlie Flanagan last week, O’Toole said the commission believed it would be a serious mistake to proceed with the selection of O’Sullivan’s successor before it had completed its work. She argued that its recommendations would significantly affect the future roles and responsibilities of the Commissioner and the management structure of the Garda. The selection process, she argued, should begin only when future policing arrangements, including partnerships with other government agencies, and the role of the Commissioner within these arrangements, became clear.

It is not realistic to expect credible candidates to come forward in the absence of clarity about what the job will entail

However, responsibility for devising the process under which the new commissioner will be recruited now rests with the Policing Authority. And although its chairwoman Josephine Feehily said the commission’s views needed to be considered, she showed no enthusiasm for a year’s delay before that process would even begin. “The idea of a lacuna troubles me,” she added, suggesting that O’Toole’s timescale could see an appointment delayed until the summer of 2019. Nor is there a political appetite for a long interregnum.

The Commission is examining a range of Garda reform proposals including whether gardaí should retain responsibility for policing and security. Photograph: Cyril Byrne
The policing commission, chaired by Seattle police chief Kathleen O’Toole, was appointed in May to examine the future of An Garda Síochána and is expected to report by next September.  File photograph: Cyril Byrne

There may be room for compromise in Feehily’s forecast that it will take the authority several months to draw up the job specification for the new commissioner. In principle, however, it is hard to disagree with O’Toole. If the Government is serious about adopting the fundamental change which the commission is expected to recommend – and that commitment cannot be taken for granted – the appointment of a commissioner, who can lead the organisation through unprecedented transformation, will be essential. As O’Toole pointed out, it is not realistic to expect credible candidates to come forward in the absence of clarity about what the job will entail.

Former deputy Garda commissioner Dónall Ó Cualáin has succeeded O’Sullivan in an acting capacity, giving him heavy responsibility without the authority that comes with a permanent appointment. This imperfect arrangement could yet last much longer than anticipated. And in the meantime, from flagrant pork barrel politics over the location of Garda stations to “pass the parcel” over false breath tests, problems are festering.