Reform of the Gardai, and Department of Justice, cannot come soon enough

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By Eamon Delaney    

So the dust has settled. We used to say in Ireland that nobody resigns during a political crisis and it’s still almost true. Even in this case, it took until the final hours before Frances Fitzgerald did the honourable thing and fell on her sword to save us all from a winter election in the biting cold at a time of great national challenge.

Those final hours changed everything. With Leo hanging tough, and Frances staying put and Fianna Fail still insisting on her resignation, it looked like he might have won – and taken his punt on a cold snap election. Even after the revelations of the new emails on Monday evening, which were much the same as before, it still looked like the Government might have called FF’s bluff.

But with Fitzgerald’s resignation late on Tuesday morning, the Government suddenly looked damaged and mistaken and the kudos went to Michael Martin and FF for hanging tough. Until then, it looked like Martin had come off worst by insisting on ‘a head before the tribunal report’ and that the prospect of an election would be laid bitterly at FF’s door. Now Leo looks a bit arrogant and flawed.

However, the truth is that there are no winners here, and certainly not the overall system of Governance which is the most important thing in all of this, and has come of worst. The best you can say is that insistence by the Taoiseach and Michael Martin in looking back into the Department of Justice files resulted in new damning revelations and then consequences, in terms of Fitzgerald’s resignation.

But for the system of governance, it is too little, too late. Transparency came dropping slow. Nobody saw nothing, officials couldn’t remember and, at the dark heart of it all, was a campaign to blacken the name of a whistleblower cop. This was not a bit of whispering to a journo in a city pub. But an actual developed legal strategy which the Department had full knowledge of. Worse still, the Department did not offer the documents about this to the Tribunal set up to look into it all.

This is damning. But not surprising. The Department is not chaotic as unfairly described but it is clearly dysfunctional in some parts and especially the part dealing with the Gardai. Effectively the Department, did what the Gardai always wanted and went along with the force’s closed culture. And Ministers tolerated that.

Those politicians who grandstand on the Garda Commissioner and the Garda top brass should be asked why they are so quiet on the Gardai trade unions, like the GRA and AGSI, who took us to the verge of a strike over some very generous pay and pensions. Alan Kelly TD is especially guilty of this, constantly telling us that garda rank and file have no questions to answer and it’s all the fault of management. But who does Alan Kelly did the 2 million breath tests?. Its the culture within and it won’t change with a new Commissioner.

The reality is that the Gardai and the Department of Justice have run rings around us. To avoid a complete Patten-style overhaul, the Gardai conceded to a range of ‘oversight’ bodies like the Garda inspectorate, Garda Ombudsman and the Garda authority. But rank and file resistance to reform remains. And the sense of entitlement. This is why they got their way on a pay and pension rise just after with sob stories about sleeping in their cars. With fibs like this, no wonder stories could be made up about fake breath tests – or Garda Maurice McCabe

As for the Cabinet, and Department, what can we say. It beggars belief that people could forget such sensational details, and not forward them. The policy was one of saying as much as need to be said to get by. Full disclosure was abandoned and a policy of brazening it out, and in the end even the Taoiseach himself was kept in the dark, as he appeared to keep the Dail in the dark.

Bt there are no winners here, and the very fact that we look for winners shows how little we have come since the crash of 2008-2010. Yes, we expect the opposition to hold the Government to account but it seems to be the same old Punch and Judy show in the Dail with adversarial, tribal politicians just catching out the other side. Fianna Fail trolls may crow that they got a head, but the public doesn’t care.

They just want the issues sorted, like people being able to buy a home, or afford childcare or see some relief in having to pay almost half their income in tax if they earn over 36k. These are the real issues. And then there is the growing row with the UK over Brexit and the economic consequences of the same.

That’s why Michael Martin is not crowing. He knows that he wont be seeing much of a bounce in the opinion polls. He knows too, because he has been around long enough, that the Department of Justice and the Gardai need serious reform. But ultimately, this is a controversy that consumes the political culture more than the general public, which is why we are so relieved that there wont be that winter election.

Irish Independent 1st December 2017

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