The absence of credible policing

Commissioner Nóirín O’Sullivan can offer no explanation for gross errors arising in every single Garda division

 

An administrative shambles has existed for years within the Garda Síochána and shows no sign of abating. Reports are compiled; a minister for justice expresses concern; a garda commissioner accepts the findings and an imbedded culture of complacency and impunity continues.

The time has come for the kind of root-and-branch reforms – involving personnel and structures – that marked the creation of the Police Service of Northern Ireland.

What of the finding that half of the two million breathalyser tests recorded by rank and file gardaí on the PULSE system never took place? You couldn’t make it up

A waste of tens of millions of taxpayers’ money and injustice done to 15,000 motorists who were wrongly convicted in the courts should provide the impetus for change. But holding senior gardaí accountable for such maladministration seems unlikely.

And what of the finding that half of the two million breathalyser tests recorded by rank and file gardaí on the PULSE system never took place? You couldn’t make it up.

Commissioner Nóirín O’Sullivan can offer no explanation for gross errors arising in every single Garda division. Minister for Justice Frances Fitzgerald described the latest disclosures as “appalling and staggering” and spoke of the need for improved supervision and accountability. So well she might.

Garda Commissioner Nóirín O’Sullivan. File photograph: Eric Luke/The Irish Times
Garda Commissioner Nóirín O’Sullivan. File photograph: Eric Luke/The Irish Times

It was a depressingly familiar story. Rather than accept responsibility for what had taken place under her authority, however, she smoothly “passed the parcel” to the newly established Policing Authority. In the coming weeks, she said, they would question how and why this had happened.

It was known by gardaí for three years that thousands of motorists had been wrongly convicted of a wide variety of offences, with consequential financial loss. For whatever reasons, however, they were not told of this miscarriage of justice.

Decades ago, the Morris tribunal found record keeping in Donegal to be so poor that up to 65 per cent of sexual crimes against children were not recorded

That administrative decision piled insult on injury and it demands public accountability. If this abuse of power was a once-off occurrence it might be shrugged off, but it has come to represent a consistent failure of accountability within the Garda Síochána.

Accurate record keeping has never been a priority. Without such information, however, forward planning and the proper allocation of manpower becomes impossible. Decades ago, the Morris tribunal found record keeping in Donegal to be so poor that up to 65 per cent of sexual crimes against children were not recorded. Seven years ago, the Garda Inspectorate made similar findings in cases of clerical sexual abuse.

Further investigations into penalty point abuses led the Inspectorate to conclude that claims made by Sergeant Maurice McCabe were justified and that “no consistent quality management existed, at any level, which would have detected and rectified problems”.

A subsequent assessment of the entire organisation led the Garda Inspectorate to conclude it was top heavy, inefficient, defensive, bureaucratic and resistant to change. But measures it proposed to address those weaknesses were not implemented.

Without an injection of new blood, expertise and ethical standards from outside the force and the introduction of internal accountability at all levels, nothing of substance is likely to change.

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