Watchdog’s head says it is ‘unfortunate’ the Garda Commissioner will not be at the event

The head of the Policing Authority has said it is “unfortunate” that Garda Commissioner Nóirín O’Sullivan will miss next week’s meeting of the authority because she is taking extended summer holidays.

“It is unfortunate that the commissioner is not available for our July meeting. But she did advise us. We have no function in relation to her leave. Our remit extends to the entire organisation,” said Josephine Feehily.

Speaking on Wednesday at the MacGill Summer School in Glenties, Co DonegalMs Feehily said the authority would meet the acting commissioner and his team at the July meeting, which will review the findings of the Public Accounts Committee (PAC) report on financial procedures at Templemore.

“We have an interesting agenda . . . and we will keep going and do our business,” she told The Irish Times, adding: “Our oversight will continue.”

Ms O’Sullivan will be back on duty in time for the Policing Authority’s September meeting, which will consider the Garda review of the investigation into the Jobstown water-charges protest and homicide figures.

Labour leader Brendan Howlin was critical of the commissioner’s decision to take the extended break, saying “the optics are bad” given that the Garda was facing “enormous scrutiny”.

“For that reason alone, to announce you are taking a five-week break when a lot of things are ongoing . . . is strange, and probably not best advised,” he said.

The commissioner is to begin her 5½ weeks of leave on Friday. Garda HQ has said the commissioner’s holiday arrangements are a private matter between her and Minister for Justice Charlie Flanagan.

Senior sources said a Garda Commissioner taking an extended break at this time of year was not without precedent, since the Dáil is in recess and the courts are not sitting .

‘Awful timing’

However, there are some who believe that the commissioner’s departure immediately after the publication of the PAC’s report “looked awful”.

While Deputy Commissioner John Twomey has deputised for Ms O’Sullivan before at meetings of the Policing Authority, Deputy Commissioner Dónall Ó Cualáin is the one who will be officially assigned all the powers of her office while she is away.

Meanwhile, members of the PAC have criticised the length of the commissioner’s holidays, particularly since she has yet to respond to the criticisms in the committee’s report of conduct at Templemore and her response to it.

“The autopilot nature which this Government are happy to embrace and accept from Garda management defies understanding,” said Fianna Fáil TD Marc MacSharry.

“All are entitled to a vacation, but would Pádraig Pearse have headed off a few days before Easter Week, or Michael O’Leary before Ryanair’s AGM – I don’t think so.”

The PAC report found that Ms O’Sullivan’s failure to notify the then minister for justice and the Comptroller and Auditor General when she first became aware in 2015 of the financial irregularities at the college was unacceptable.

A spokesman for the commissioner failed to comment on her plans for the time off.

Meanwhile, Sinn Féin and the Social Democrats have again called for Ms O’Sullivan’s resignation, while Fianna Fáil’s spokesman on justice, Jim O’Callaghan, said the party’s position had not changed.

Mr O’Callaghan stressed that Fianna Fáil has not been able to express confidence in the commissioner since March and believes she should consider her position.

Meanwhile, the chairperson of the Commission on the Future of Policing, Kathleen O’Toole, said the conclusions of the PAC’s Templemore inquiry were troubling, but the future role of the commissioner was not a matter for her to decide on.

Speaking in Glenties, Ms O’Toole added: “Everyone wants to draw me into the discussion about the commissioner, but it’s clear that our work is not to conduct a performance evaluation.”