Nóirín O’Sullivan should have been a fire-fighter instead of Garda commissioner, according to some members of the force.
“We were just saying the other day, she should have been a fireman because all she does is try to put out fires,” one Dublin garda joked.
For many rank-and-file Gardaí, this is how the former commissioner will be remembered, a fire-fighter who went from blaze to blaze, never really extinguishing any of them, and in some cases throwing on extra fuel.
“She made some basic errors. Like the stuff about her not telling the committees about certain things until they find out on their own. That’s the type of thing that gets everyone’s back up. It makes a bad situation worse,” said a Kildare-based garda.
Among Gardaí, there is recognition that most of the scandals O’Sullivan faced were not of her own making but there is also a feeling that she failed to project an image of someone capable of fixing them.
“She didn’t have much of a chance I suppose. She was thrown into everything from day one so she didn’t have a chance to put her name on anything,” said one member from Kildare.
“Am I happy she’s gone? I suppose I am to be honest. A clean slate would be good. But this time actually a clean slate,” a sergeant from Drogheda said.
He believes O’Sullivan was presented as “our saviour” because she was a woman, “but you can still be one of the boyos if you’re a woman”.
For most of the lower- ranked gardaí consulted, O’Sullivan’s gender was never an issue. However, some opined that, in the face of an almost exclusively male senior management, it might have made it more difficult for her to get things done.
A young female garda based in south Dublin said she was happy when O’Sullivan became the first female commissioner “but actually what I liked the most was that she didn’t get any special treatment because she was a woman”.
O’Sullivan’s tough reputation earned her the respect of many in the force, even among those who doubted her other abilities.
The Iron Lady was how one Dublin sergeant described her, in reference to her combative appearances before various Dáil committees concerning the penalty points scandal and the financial irregularities at Templemore college.
“She wasn’t scared of them and didn’t run for the door at the first sign of trouble. I respected her a bit more because of that. I think a lot of people did,” the sergeant said.
But for many Gardaí, O’Sullivan was a product of the same system that created so many of the force’s internal problems.
So surely the Policing Authority should go outside the force when appointing O’Sullivan’s replacement? There was not much support of this among the Gardaí who spoke to The Irish Times .
“It’s a very complex job and you’re looking after a very particular system that’s unique. If you drafted in someone from America or even Northern Ireland they wouldn’t hit the ground running,” said the Kildare sergeant.
Others worry that a commissioner from outside the Garda wouldn’t have the cachet to get anything done.
“Once you get to HQ it’s very political,” said a recently retired member who had worked in the Phoenix Park headquarters. “There’s a certain way of doing things. You wouldn’t be able to just pick it up . . . some fella from England might find himself a bit lost.”
One Dublin detective was adamant that any commissioner should have done their time in the lower ranks.
“The commissioner of the guards should be a guard. It’s not a football club. You can’t just buy Neymar to come in . . . they should know the organisation.”
He speculated that an outside appointment wouldn’t go down well with other senior Gardaí. They might see it as a sign that their years of service won’t count for much when it comes to promotions if management can simply go outside the force to fill positions.
All those who shared their thoughts on O’Sullivan had one thing in common: they believe things on the ground will change little no matter who takes over.
“We’re just trying to do the job. It’s just a job. All that stuff that goes on in the Dáil or the [Disclosures] tribunal, nobody really bothers about that. We’re only mules,” said another Dublin garda.