"Incredibly dangerous" for politicians to sack commissioner

The Dáil is debating a Sinn Féin motion of no confidence in Commissioner Nóirín O'Sullivan

The Government has been warned that it would be "incredibly dangerous" for politicians to sack the Garda Commissioner.

Sinn Fein has tabled a motion of no confidence in Nóirín O'Sullivan this evening after the recent scandals affecting the force.

The motion calls on the government to “utilise the powers it has in legislation” to force Ms O’Sullivan to step aside.

On Newstalk Drive this afternoon however, the former vice chair of the Northern Ireland Policing Board, Denis Bradley said policing matters should be independent from politics.

“One of the difficulties in the gardaí is that they are now not clear as to whom they are responsible,” he said. “Are they responsible to the Department of Justice or are they responsible to the Policing Authority?”

Mr Bradley said it should be made “very clear in legislation” that the Policing Authority has full responsibility for the hiring and accountability of the Garda Commissioner adding, “I don’t think that the Department of Justice should have that type of authority.”

He said the Policing Authority should decide whether O’Sullivan is the right person to reform the force or if she should be sacked.

“It will be incredibly dangerous if the Dáil, or in fact [...] the Government, sacked the present Commissioner because what you then have is an incredible interference of politics into a policing situation,” he said.

“Therefore the governance of a new policing reforms situation becomes nigh impossible,” he said.

Personalising the issues

In her speech to the Dáil this evening, the Tánaiste Frances Fitzgerald said the recent garda revelations are as “unacceptable as they are disturbing.”

She said trust in the force had undoubtedly been damaged by the scandals.

“The great respect which we have for the work which members of An Garda Síochána do, sometimes at great personal cost, cannot blind us to the need for profound and lasting change,” she said.

However, she said the Sinn Féin motion had resorted to the blame game, “rather than articulating a vision for the future of policing in Ireland.”

“Personalising the issues and demonising individuals gets us nowhere,” she said.

Policing Authority

She said the Policing Authority has had the power to remove the commissioner and deputy commissioners since January 2016.

Since January 2017 the Authority has also had the power to hire and fire Assistant Commissioner, Chief Superintendent and Superintendent.

Ms Fitzgerald said there is no role for the Dáil in the process, and added that she does not believe there should be.

She said debating a motion of no confidence in the commissioner when she is not a member of the house and as such is unable to defend herself, “would not even meet the low standards of a kangaroo court.”

Root and branch review

The Tánaiste said it would be “foolish” to deviate from the path of reform that is already underway at An Garda Síochána adding that the terms of reference for the latest Commission on the future of Irish policing were agreed yesterday.

“An Garda Síochána, overseen by the Authority, must get on with implementing the reform programme,” she said.

She said the terms of reference allow for a thorough review of all levels of policing and will examine the role of government regarding oversight and accountability.

The review will also consider whether “a unitary police service dealing with policing, security and immigration is appropriate for the 21st century.”

“An Garda Síochána face many problems,” she said. “But the solution does not lie in this politically motivated motion from Sinn Fein.”

“A well functioning police service, trusted by the people, is a cornerstone of any democracy worthy of the name.”

Motion of no confidence

The Sinn Féin motion accuses the commissioner of having a “pass the buck” attitude that has made policing almost toxic in the eyes of the public.

"This is part of the process in terms of restoring public confidence - there is a huge amount of work which needs to be undertaken by Government, and by An Garda Síochána, in restoring that public confidence,” said the party’s spokesperson on justice, Jonathan O'Brien.

"And we believe that removing the Garda Commissioner is part of that process".

Written answers

The motion comes after the commissioner provided answers to some 28 questions from the Oireachtas Justice and Equality Committee.

Commissioner O'Sullivan was given until Tuesday to provide the answers following her appearance before the committee earlier this month.

She was called in to the Committee after it emerged that gardaí has falsified their breath testing figures with almost one million tests recorded that never occurred.

Separately it emerged that thousands of court summonses were issued for offences that should have been dealt with by way of fixed penalty notice.

In her response the commissioner said the miscalculations had prompted checks into how Gardaí manage their data.

She said there was no "co-ordinated effort or drive" to inflate breath testing figures and insisted the figures were not used “as a performance indicator” or to claim overtime.

She also revealed that the force is now reviewing domestic violence statistics and said a working group has been set up to examine homicide figures.