Opinion: Garda malaise 'does not begin or end with one person'

By Michael Clifford, Special Correspondent

In a different context, the garda commissioner might claim she is being harrassed by the law. Over the last few months, and for many more to come, the commissioner has been and will be dragged in to answer questions by agents of the state. It’s as if they’re out to get Ms O’Sullivan.

She might even feel a kinship with the kind of individual who is regularly dragged in by the guards just because he’s one of the usual suspects.

She was at the Public Accounts Committee today, where the interrogators acted as bad cop. Last month she was at the Policing Authority where she was subjected to good cop. In the coming months, she will be at the Charlton Tribunal where it might be a good cop, bad cop routine.

Garda commissioner Nóirín O'Sullivan as she arrives at Leinster House for the Public Accounts Committee. Picture: Leah Farrell/RollingNews.ie

Today, there was more stuff with a foul smell emanating from the commissioner’s office, but no rap to pin on her for which she might lose her job.

Templemore was once more in the spotlight. It is now clear that the Garda Training College was a first class repository for creative accounting. Money was diverted into up to 50 different accounts for various purposes, none of them representing an appropriate use of funds. Now it has emerged that in at least one account involving EU cash for training, there is a suspicion that fraud may have been involved.

Ms O’Sullivan got word on this development on Monday. She referred the matter to GSOC. This, as various members of the PAC pointed out yesterday, ensured she could not be interrogated by the PAC cops on the matter, because it was now subject of a criminal investigation.

The boys and girls of the committee were not impressed with this alleged sleight of hand. She was having none of it. She told Mark MacSharry that even if she hadn’t offloaded it she would have been precluded from discussing it at the committee.

Referring possible fraud to GSOC is a World Cup version of kicking the can down the road. “It’s on the never, never,” McSharry said. “God knows who will be on the PAC when that information comes out.”

And he’s correct. If current form is anything to go by, Ms O’Sullivan will be long past retirement age when a result emanates from the under-resourced over-stretched garda ombudsman body.

There was another issue that the Leinster House sleuths chased down a few leads on. Ms O’Sullivan was made aware that there were serious financial issues at the college on July 27 2015. Yet, three days later she dispatched a standard letter to the Comptroller and Auditor General to sign off on the end of the latter’s annual audit of the force.

“I have disclosed to you all the instances of loss, fraud or irregularity are known to have occurred or have been reported in the year of account and the period from the end of that year to the date of this letter, whether due to the action or non-action of a person within An Garda Siochana or to an outside agency.”

How could she claim to have done this if a few days previously she had been informed of serious irregularities? The commissioner responded to Sinn Féin’s David Cullinane, who introduced the matter, with the slippery skill of a consummate politician.

“What I was aware of (at the time she wrote the letter) was that a number of very complicated issues had been identified. If I knew then what I know now, have had all that work completed, of course I would have.”

The other issue explored is the apparent chaos in senior management, evident by conflicting accounts before the committee over the last few months, hostile correspondence, and an evident problem between some of the uniformed and civilian members.

Alan Kelly repeatedly asked the commissioner whether she had confidence in “each and every one” of her team. She repeatedly walked around the question, looking it up and down, and declined to engage. It was a telling moment, and went to the heart of what ails the force in its current guise.

The commissioner’s appearance today represented just another of the multiple cuts that have scarred her credibility. Still, despite their best efforts, the sleuths haven’t come up with anything which could be used as legitimate reason for dismissing her.

And she might claim that efforts to have her dismissed are merely the latest chapter in the mismanagement of the gardaí by the body politic.

Ms O’Sullivan has plenty of questions to answer, particularly about her stewardship of a force that continues to instinctively cover up, whether it be in reacting to whistleblowers, breath tests or a myriad of financial irregularities. But the body politic are, as usual concerned with their own priorities.

The Government wants to retain her because of the hassle of getting rid of her. And the opposition, for the most part, want to grandstand, chasing a head because the public mood suggests there may be a chunk of political capital up for grabs.

The commissioner is far more likely to be part of the problem than the solution, but the malaise does not begin or end with one person.

At the end of the day, she was released from the custody of the PAC without charge. A file will be sent to the Oireachtas, but if form is anything to go by, she will be sticking around for a while yet, despite the best efforts of Leinster House’s answer to the Emergency Response Unit.


Most Read in Ireland