Article written by GSRMA member Michael Carty (Roscommon Branch)

WHEN Nóirín O’Sullivan announced her retirement as Garda commissioner after 36 years’ distinguished service to the citizens of this State, a cohort of politicians, commentators and self-styled experts on policing welcomed her departure proclaiming that all our policing problems are over. These are the same people who enjoy a peaceful and relatively crime-free environment to reside and bring up a family mainly because of the dedication of Ms O’Sullivan and her Garda colleagues.

Of course, Ms O’Sullivan did not get it right all the time, but when appointed Garda commissioner she was given a formidable task.

The manner of the departure of her predecessor Martin Callinan had a profound effect on morale – and together with restricted resources, lack of training and non-replacement of management staff it led to a less-than-ideal situation for a new leader. During this period she was without the two deputy commissioners, a number of assistant commissioners and depleted middle management.

Therefore she made some significant blunders. She demonstrated poor leadership with continual assurances that the force was adequately resourced in terms of equipment and manpower when every member from student garda to chief superintendent was well aware the opposite was the reality, particularly in rural Ireland. It resulted in her being perceived by the rank and file as pandering to her political masters rather than an independent leader.

There was further controversy with the arrest of Superintendent David Taylor in connection with the alleged leaking of material to the media. The Charleton tribunal is due to inquire into the matter in the autumn.

Mr Taylor was a respected member of the force who spent the greater part of his service on operational duties.

Meanwhile, the cringing nonsense about refusing to get sandwiches for the sergeant did not enhance her standing with the frontline.

But in the policing domain she had considerable success. She spearheaded a policing strategy that significantly reduced rural crime, which appeared out of control. She also had an impact on combating organised gun crime and the establishment of highly trained armed units around the country was a welcome innovation.

So the focus is now on the search for a new Garda commissioner. The general consensus is that he or she must be a high-flying outsider. Moreover, some are espousing the view that policing experience is not a requirement. The main criteria is being highly qualified with managerial academic qualifications.

But the two existing deputy commissioners and a number of the assistant commissioners have management qualifications from Harvard, UK institutions, the Smurfit Business School and other colleges in Ireland – and they have extensive policing experience. Of note, one of those highly qualified deputy commissioners has stated he will not be putting his name forward for the job – this speaks volumes.

Talk of recruiting a captain of industry from a commercial organisation is, in my view, nonsense. Both roles and responsibilities are profoundly different.

The CEO of a commercial organisation is accountable to a board of directors while a Garda commissioner is accountable to at least 14 bodies. A CEO produces a product to be traded in the marketplace to generate a profit, while a police organisation exists to deliver a service to the public.

In the context that all the police chiefs in other jurisdictions are paid significantly more than a Garda commissioner, it will be extremely difficult to attract such candidates – although the Justice Minister has said money will not be a problem. In fact, the police chief in New Zealand, a country with a similar population to ours, is paid double that of a Garda commissioner. But I cannot see any of those taking the post without a boarding party of senior personnel.

A complete reform of An Garda Síochána similar to the Patten Report on the PSNI seems to be the ultimate objective. It should be understood that this is a long-term process and the Patten reforms are still ongoing after 16 years.

The new incumbent will not be long in the job until their performance comes under intense scrutiny by the “experts”. The sharpened knives are ready, so my advice to the new commissioner is beware, and mind your back. They will be seeking a third scalp. Michael Carty is a retired chief superintendent in An Garda Síochána. A former head of the ERU, he was personal assistant to commissioner Pat Byrne and served overseas as a police adviser in the UN

Nóirín O’Sullivan did not get it right all the time, but when appointed she was given a formidable task