Gardaí have a way to go before they regain public confidence

Retired garda Trevor Laffan talks about the recent criticism levelled at the force
Gardaí have a way to go before they regain public confidence
Garda Commissioner Noirin O'Sullivan who says An Garda Siochana is going through a process of change. Picture: Gareth Chaney Collins

THERE has been a fair amount of criticism aimed at management in An Garda Siochana recently by the media, and not without some justification.

There have been allegations of nepotism, politically influenced promotions, manipulation of crime figures, incompetence and more.

It’s one thing for the media to highlight these issues. It is a different matter entirely for someone inside the organisation to speak out, and we need to look no further than Maurice McCabe to see the evidence of that.

I can only speculate as to how difficult life has been for that man over the last number of years. The pressure that he has been under has been immense, and it’s not over yet.

I have had only a tiny taste of what can happen to someone who breaks ranks but even that little sample has been unsavoury and it tells its own tale of how deeply the code of silence is embedded in the Force.

I retired in 2015 having spent over 35 years in An Garda Siochana. My service was considered to have been exemplary and I have discharge papers that state that.

Not long after retiring, I wrote an article about the demise of community policing and the closure of rural garda stations. I also criticised senior management for letting down the rank and file members of the Force. It was published online and received 55,000 hits.

Some of my former colleagues advised me that certain senior garda officers had suggested that I could find myself in the High Court. Others had, apparently, suggested that I should be treated as a persona non grata because I had let the side down. It was nothing to cause me any loss of sleep, but it was a reminder of what can happen if you violate the vow of silence or break the code of Omerta.

This is a great pity because while there are issues to be resolved within An Garda Siochana, it is basically a solid organisation with a core group of dedicated, professional men and women who just want to do their job to the best of their ability.

It has a long and proud tradition of dedicated service to the community and that can only be improved upon when management face up to their inadequacies and change the way the system operates.

But that’s easier said than done. An Garda Siochana also has a long tradition of circling the wagons at the first sign of outside interference. As soon as trouble is detected on the horizon the default setting kicks in. Close ranks and stick together. It’s them against us and that mentality will be difficult to overturn.

Commissioner Noirin O’Sullivan has maintained that An Garda Siochana is going through a process of change and whistleblowing is very much encouraged in this new era of openness.

She has said: “As Commissioner of Garda Síochána, I have consistently encouraged workers within An Garda Síochána to disclose wrongdoing. Any worker who makes such a disclosure will be fully supported. Each and every worker has the right and responsibility to raise their concerns, if necessary, in confidence, and be confident that those concerns will be listened to and addressed.

“An Garda Síochána is committed to promoting integrity, accountability, and good management and in that respect I encourage the reporting of wrongdoing.”

That sounds well but the problem is that very few believe her.

She has stated that fewer than ten people have come forward to make protected disclosures and that doesn’t surprise me in the least. I suspect that there are very few who have any confidence in statements that emanate from the Phoenix Park, and I’ll tell you why.

A few years ago, An Garda Siochana held a National Consultation Day on Diversity in Dublin Castle. Diversity was the buzz word in the organisation at the time and this event was designed to engage with the community and to listen to their concerns in relation to diversity and to inform them about garda policy on the subject. It was attended by the public and by representatives of various organisations involved in that area.

I was involved in an EU Police Diversity Project at the time and there was a meeting of the project group held in Ireland that week so it could coincide with the consultation day. There were about 25 to 30 police officers from all over Europe involved.

The Commissioner at the time opened proceedings and made a passionate speech about the importance of diversity to An Garda Siochana and the importance of engaging with one another. He assured everyone present that diversity was the way forward and An Garda Siochana would not be found wanting.

Later that evening, the project group went to Farmleigh House for a meal. As we entered the room I went to one table and sat with a group of police officers from different jurisdictions and one of my colleagues went to another table and did the same.

Soon after, the Commissioner arrived and he sat at a table in a corner of the room and was joined by an assistant commissioner, a chief superintendent, a superintendent, an inspector, a sergeant and a garda.

The full rank structure of An Garda Siochana was represented at one table, on an occasion when we were supposed to be demonstrating our new found love of diversity.

I sat next to a man who was the secretary of the Black Police Officers Federation in the UK. He leaned over to me and he pointed to that table and he said: “See that, nothing changes until that changes.”

He was right of course and it was embarrassing. It was also a perfect example of how management in An Garda Siochana doesn’t always practice what it preaches.

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