The Templemore affair is just the latest in a long line of controversies to have rocked the Gardaí in recent times. When do we say enough is enough?
The best explanation for the recent behaviour of senior gardai and a series of Ministers for Justice is that they are having a laugh. Did they, when the latest scandal erupted over “financial irregularities” at Templemore training college, gather together for a snigger about what bullshit they might fling at the people this time?
Perhaps top cop Noirin O’Sullivan suggested amid gurgles and chortles from the guardians of democracy, why don’t I just say that that meeting never happened, so nobody can push me about what I was told?
“Brilliant!” the response might have come in a chorus, all present reassuring one another that they’d made the right choice and no mistake when they’d handed that woman the top job.
Garda Human Resources director John Barrett told a Dáil committee that in July 2015 he and O’Sullivan had discussed the “irregularities” over a two-hour meeting in Templemore. He quoted his contemporary note of the time the meeting had started and finished, who had been present and what matters discussed. Top of the list were the claims then emerging about phony bank accounts drawn on Templemore accounts and flamboyant use of Garda credit cards for “gifts” and “entertainment”.
The question arose – what had O’Sullivan done with this information? Whom had she told? Minister Frances Fitzgerald – as was her duty in law? She’d told nobody, came the straight-faced response, because there had been no such meeting with Barrett, merely a “brief” word while she was enjoying a cup of tea. Barrett had presumably either misremembered, imagined or made up the entire episode.
O’Sullivan’s spinning of this yarn had followed swiftly on the fairytale farce of the traffic-policing affair. A million breath tests which had never happened had been entered in the Garda computer system – hugely enhancing the official record of Garda efforts to reduce road accidents. Separately, 14,700 drivers had wrongly been brought to court for driving offences. But O’Sullivan hadn’t heard a dicky-bird about any of that until the story was splashed across front pages.
“It’s as if Donegal had never happened,” commented the Irish Examiner’s Michael Clifford, referring to the amazing true story from the 1990s of Garda violence, perjury, intimidation of witnesses, the planting of guns and explosives, the framing for offences including drug dealing and murder of two pub-owners who had refused to grease Garda palms or had otherwise irritated the rozzers. A report by Justice Frederick Morris after four years of hearings concluded that malpractice and criminality were rife among the crime-fighters of the wild north west, that senior officers had been well aware of this for ages, and there was no reason to believe things were being done differently elsewhere.
Reporting for Hot Press, I spent an afternoon at his home with a guard on suspension for his involvement in these matters. This was the way of things since he’d arrived in the county a decade earlier, he told me. You won’t find a guard in Donegal who has paid for house renovations or car repairs in recent years. We laughed a lot – what else? – as we wolfed down soda bread slathered in butter,
What happened next? Eleven million euro of taxpayers’ dosh was paid out to 55 victims of the rampage. A couple of lower-rank members were persuaded to resign. But nothing seriously to disturb tranquillity at Garda HQ.
In his 2004 report, Morris warned about the dire consequences for policing of Donegal-style mishandling of informers. The following year saw the arrest of Kieran Boylan in possession of more than a million and a half euro in cocaine and heroin. He didn’t deny possession – he couldn’t. What he could do, which resulted three years later in the dropping of all charges, was provide chapter and verse of his work at the time as a Garda informant. The Ombudsman’s office launched an inquiry. This failed on all fronts. The reason, the Ombudsman explained, was that gardai at every level had flatly refused to cooperate.
Requests for documents which the force was legally obliged to hand over were systematically withheld. What’s more, said the Ombudsman, there would be little point issuing findings, since all the relevant facts were already known to the top brass.
We could go on and on and on. We haven’t mentioned Maurice McCabe or John Wilson. One conclusion which could be drawn is that any citizen who puts faith in the police is a fool.
It would be wrong and unfair to advance the old adage that all coppers are bastards. My friend with the soda bread and his partner were as pleasant a pair as you’d meet in a month.
But when the upper echelons routinely lie and dissemble and behave like bastards in their dealing with the plain people, and Ministers of Justice blather as they turn a blind eye, it is surely unrealistic to expect the rank and file to behave properly, or even lawfully.
Nor, in light of experience, can we expect better from the bankers, the Church, the health service, the media bosses, or the political establishment generally.
I have a classy t-shirt proclaiming, “One Solution – Revolution”. I haven’t put it on for ages. Seemed a bit strident. But can anybody now think of an argument against?
They really are, you know. Having a laugh. Literally at our expense. They think we lack the capacity to boot the lot of them out. Let’s see.
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