The Irish Times view on Garda reform: Look outside
The Government should appoint an external candidate to lead the force
To succeed, the Garda reform agenda will require exceptional leadership. But the Government, the Department of Justice and the Garda Síochána itself may now be shying away from the prospect of appointing an external candidate to run the police service. Photograph: Cyril Byrne
To succeed, the reform agenda for An Garda Síochána will require exceptional leadership. But the Government, the Department of Justice and the force itself may now be shying away from the prospect of appointing an external candidate to run the police service.
For historical reasons, the Garda Síochána’s primary function was to guard the State against subversives rather than to serve the community. This unusual overlap in functions between civil policing and State security encouraged political interference and has reportedly been advanced by the Department of Justice as a reason why a foreign national might not be suitable as Commissioner.
External expertise, the civilianisation of senior positions and early retirement for obstructive officers are all needed
Detailed reform recommendations from the Garda Inspectorate were allowed to gather dust while the Government appointed a special commission on the future of policing last year and asked it to consider splitting the security and civil functions. With the recruitment process for a new commissioner well advanced, it is now expected an appointment will be made before the commission reports in September.
Even before Nóirín O’Sullivan resigned under pressure last year, discipline and general behaviour within the force had become causes for concern. Faced with potential strike action over pay and conditions, the Government backed down. Financial irregularities at the Garda Training College in Templemore emerged. And grossly inflated breathalyser figures were recorded across all Garda divisions. When the newly-appointed Policing Authority suggested disciplinary action should be taken against senior officers who had ignored requests to investigate the latter issue, it was fobbed off.
The appointment of a new commissioner in itself may not resolve problems of discipline, training and inertia that have continued for decades. But the choice will reflect political will – or the lack of it – to start the process. External expertise, the civilianisation of senior positions and early retirement for obstructive officers are all needed.