Who exactly would want to take the top job in the Gardaí?

Going abroad to solve Ireland’s policing problems is easier said than done, writes Cormac O’Keeffe.

Already names are being dropped, tipped, or grabbed out of thin air for the top Garda post.

One prominent bookmaker has even drawn up a list of mainly internal candidates and started taking bets. There is a strong sense coming from the Government — and crystal clear messages from opposition parties — that we must go for an outsider.

Rob Wainwright, Judith Gillespie, Mark Toland, Pat Byrne, Pat Leahy.

There’s talk in political circles of shattering the €180,000 salary Nóirín O’Sullivan earned and offering up to €300,000.

A senior minister told the Irish Examiner that the head of the police force in New Zealand was paid the equivalent of €400,000 and asked: “Who the heck would want to come here?”

Policing Authority chair Josephine Feehily said last April that the “package” for the next commissioner would have to be improved to attract world-class candidates from overseas.

“This will go abroad, the politicians want that,” said one senior Garda source. “If it goes internal the problem is that every time an issue comes up they will be down before the PAC or the justice committee and because they are internal it will be the same as with Nóirín.”

He said the only way they will go inside the organisation is if they can “sell someone who is not tarnished and who impresses”.

Former Northern Ireland Police Ombudsman Nuala O’Loan said on RTÉ that “given the extent of problems”, an outsider might do a better job — but she stressed that the appointment “must be based on merit”.

Nuala O'Loan.

The role, she said, requires someone with extensive experience, experience in instituting change, the determination to change, and the capacity to bring the service with them. She said the “culture of impunity”, reflected by the breath-test scandal, has to be tackled. She said the morale of gardaí has to be improved, but that force members have to be made understand “that the law applies to them and integrity is non-negotiable”.

All of this would be a big ask for an outsider, unless they were able to understand and connect with members and both fight their corner and be firm with them.

A salary of €300,000 would sit uneasily with gardaí and the staff associations if the outsider just comes in with a big stick.

Denis Bradley, former vice-chairman of the Northern Ireland Policing Board, also cautioned of a headlong rush to get an outsider. He told RTÉ he has seen outside people do both “incredible work and bad work”.

One senior Garda source said “even foreign police chiefs have baggage” and that “no one comes with a clean slate”.

Last time around, former PSNI chief constable Hugh Orde was approached by a recruiter to apply for the commissioner’s job. He turned it down, saying he did not feel he had the local knowledge. He said that at the time there was speculation an American officer might take over the London Met, a move with which he did not agree.

“I was opposed to it because I didn’t think that recruiting someone from the outside the jurisdiction was a very good idea.”

Kathleen O'Toole.

And a substantial amount of local knowledge is involved in Irish policing.

An outsider would not be au fait with the practices of probationary gardaí in Cavan/Monaghan that were the subject of Sgt Maurice McCabe’s allegations; an outsider would not know about the treatment of said whistleblowers; not the complex structural relationships between the Department of Justice and the gardaí; nor the array of oversight structures, Oireachtas committees, and inspection bodies.

(On a side issue, the last time around there was both an open competition and active searches through recruitment experts. The process this time is not clear as the relevant legislation is silent on that aspect. The Policing Authority does not have a policy on the issue. The matter will be the subject of discussions between the authority and the Department of Justice and the Public Appointments Service in the coming weeks).

There is also the old chestnut that the commissioner is not only the head of the police service but the security service. This has traditionally negated the prospect of giving it to an outsider, though the last time the Government agreed to an open international competition.

There is speculation that security could be removed and a new agency set up; this issue is being examined by the Policing Commission.

Hopefully, the commission will not feel pressurised to rush this complicated issue in order to make an interim report before the commissioner is appointed.

There is also the issue of what possible international candidates are out there?

Last time around, Kathleen O’Toole (now chair of the Policing Commission), who was on the selection panel, said she was surprised there wasn’t a “more robust pool” of candidates and said there wasn’t a lot of international candidates.

There was a lot of talk that Judith Gillespie, former PSNI chief constable (now a member of the Policing Authority) applied, but this was not confirmed. Apart from that, it appears they were all internal applicants.

“The problem is there are very few obvious external candidates, particularly any that are Irish or with known Irish connections,” said a Garda source with an insight into such matters.

“I don’t know of many Irish people in senior positions in British or foreign police forces. There may be some in the US with Irish citizenship, possibly.”

He expects it will be difficult to attract the best people: “If someone is on top of their game, the type we want, why would they come to Ireland for €180,000. You would have to pay more.”

Dónall Ó Cualáin and Nóirín O’Sullivan

He said the person didn’t necessarily need a detailed knowledge of Irish policing. He did caution against accepting an external person who can “talk a good game” and “is all processes and theory”, saying they “need extensive experience of policing and investigations”.

He added: “There’s a lot of media pressure to solve this immediately — it will take years and years. It’s a whole structure, not just one person. That person will have to bring everyone together.”

While the likes of Josephine Feehily and Kathleen O’Toole could be candidates, they are very much players in the game already.

It is not known if acting commissioner Dónall Ó Cualáin or deputy commissioner of policing and security John Twomey will apply. Even if the wind is blowing in the opposite direction they may feel they should apply.

Here’s an initial list, not a shortlist, indicative of the type of candidates who could be approached or who might apply.

Rob Wainwright

The director of Europol steps down from the job in the spring, which would be good timing.

A Welshman, he has massive management, analytical and operational experience from his time at the EU Police Agency (which has grown in powers and prominence in his time) and in his time as a chief in the British National Criminal Intelligence Service and the Serious and Organised Crime Agency. He boasts significant international contacts as a result.

The 50-year-old is familiar with major Irish organised crime groups, such as the Kinahan cartel and the Rathkeale Rovers and is well-known to senior gardaí and is an occasional visitor here as a speaker and as a follower of the Welsh rugby team.

Judith Gillespie

Judith Gillespie

The former deputy chief constable of the PSNI was rumoured as an applicant the last time, but this was not confirmed.

The 53-year-old is now a member of the Policing Authority and is familiar with the issues facing the organisation.

She also worked in the PSNI during the Patten Commission reforms.

The Irish News yesterday reported that she was “tipped as the most likely successor” of Nóirín O’Sullivan.

The newspaper also suggested that Will Kerr, director of the British National Crime Agency’s child exploitation and online protection command, was a possible replacement.

It also mentioned Police Scotland assistant chief constable Mark Williams and London Met assistant commissioner Pat Gallan.

Mark Toland

One of the three commissioners leading the Garda Síochána Ombudsman Commission, Toland is one of the chief draftsmen of the blueprints to reform the Garda.

The former Met police chief was the main author of the two landmark publications by the Garda Inspectorate.

As deputy inspector with the body, he produced the Crime Investigation report of 2014 and the Changing Policing in Ireland report of 2015. He is very familiar with the reforms that are being implemented and those that are not.

He worked for 30 years in the Met and reached the rank of chief superintendent. He was appointed to GSOC last December. It is not clear if that might affect his candidacy, if he is interested.

Pat Byrne

Now working in law enforcement abroad, the Dubliner is arguably the leading contender of former gardaí for the job.

He has extensive experience, including as an undercover drugs officer and in fraud (where he set up the computer crime unit) and the murder squad.

The 57-year-old rose to being detective superintendent in the National Drugs Unit and in Crime and Security and was a detective chief superintendent in charge of the Criminal Assets Bureau.

He joined Europol in 2008, as head of the 08 Section, combating organised crime in South-East Europe. In 2012, he became Europol’s senior representative in the US, heading strategic and operational co-operation between the EU and US on terrorism, cybercrime, organised crime and drug trafficking.

Pat Leahy

The Assistant Commissioner for Dublin was one of three chief superintendents (along with Michael O’Sullivan and Barry O’Brien) promoted to the position this year by the Policing Authority.

They were the first people appointed to that rank through an independent process. In terms of internal candidates with a decent prospect, these three should reach that bar.

O’Sullivan and Barry have extensive operational and specialist experience, but Leahy is seen by some insiders as the lead internal candidate.

The Corkman impressed the Policing Authority in his work on developing a code of ethics. As chief superintendent of Dublin North Central, he implemented community policing and case management models. He boasts extensive academic qualifications.

This story first appeared in the Irish Examiner.


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