Commission report on An Garda Síochána highlights need to remove politics from policing

The findings are likely to strip another layer of authority from the Garda as an institution

One reason for the establishment of a Commission of investigation into complaints of garda malpractice in Cavan-Monaghan was a desire to ensure continuing confidence in An Garda Síochána.

The report, by former High Court judge Kevin O’Higgins, has yet to be published but details of its findings have been widely reported. Through its 349 pages, the judge sheds light on events that have been the subject of public and political controversy as well as unpicking claim and counter-claim. Such scrutiny may inspire confidence in itself but, worryingly, the findings are more likely to strip another layer of authority from the Garda as an institution.

The report does not paint a monochrome picture. No one is all good or all bad. There are conflicts of evidence, fact and recollection. Whistle-blower Sergeant Maurice McCabe is described as a dedicated and committed member of the Garda who acted out of genuine and legitimate concerns and was truthful in his evidence.

The corporate ranks closed against him. But his complaints of corruption against senior officers, including former Commissioner Martin Callinan, were described as hurtful and were rejected by the judge. Other complaints were overstated or exaggerated. Some were unfounded and some were withdrawn by Sgt McCabe.


In examining specific complaints related to Bailieboro garda station, some relating to probationary gardaí, the judge found the investigations involved to be – variously – very poor, involving delay and error, and followed by flawed disciplinary procedures. In the most serious case – that of Jerry McGrath who went on to murder Sylvia Roche Kelly having previously come to the attention of the Garda in Cavan and Tipperary – the judge refers to a "lamentable failure to communicate effectively" within the Garda.

The judge found changes made to the electronic records on the Garda's Pulse system were "consistent with an attempt to excuse the failure to prosecute". He also concluded that former Minister for Justice Alan Shatter, his former department and Mr Callinan handled Sgt McCabe's complaints in an appropriate manner.

These are positive findings for Mr Shatter and Mr Callinan though the position of the latter had been greatly undermined too by revelations relating to the recording of phone calls in garda stations.

The public, however, can only be bewildered. A Minister for Justice has resigned, a Garda Commissioner has retired, a Garda confidential recipient has been relieved of his post and a secretary general at the Department of Justice has been moved sideways.

At the same time, the tally since 2009 of reports on foot of inquiries or studies of the Garda has reached 42. The Garda is in need of reform, modernisation, resourcing and leadership. But if these events demonstrate anything, it is the need to remove politics from policing.