There is no doubt about it Irish controversies have a distinctly Irish flavour to them. Where else would you find it necessary for a slew of cabinet ministers to suggest to the officer in charge of the countries organisation charged with preserving the civil peace An Garda Síochána to act with civility.
Of course Commissioner Callinan should apologise for his ‘disgusting’ remark and of course the performance of minister Shatter was deplorable.
To cut out the crap and obfuscation the plain facts of the matter are that the Minister for Justice and the Garda Commissioner have been engaged in verbal warfare with two sets of responsible people who were acting legally and according to their consciences.
Somebody bugged GSOC and we can take it for granted that he, she or it was not for example acting on behalf of the Ballyfermot Boys’ Brass Band. Neither did the two whistle blowers put a foot wrong. But both GSOC and the whistle blowers were blagarded because they had the temerity to do what they were supposed to do, – act responsibly.
The police should serve the people, not the other way around.
My father, who was the first Deputy Commissioner of the Gardaí, died when I was twelve so I cannot claim to have known him very well but I have an abiding memory of him telling me one day that one of the greatest achievements of this State was the setting up of an unarmed acceptable police force in the middle of a civil war.
I believe he was right and that there are many things about the Gardaí about which both the force and the public can be proud but the recent bout of bullying outrage at the notion that accountability is a word that applies to all of us, even those in uniform, is literally Shattering.
All organisations, be it the Church, political parties, an army or civil service, need to be overhauled from time to time and in recent decades, probably from ‘blue flu’ days onward there have been signs that the Garda could benefit from some outside searchlights being shone on the workings of the force.
To give but one example involving myself, I think that the garda inspectorate’s suggestion that there may be laxity in the serving of summonses may be only too well founded.
In veighing one day against the fact that I had been, as I considered, unjustly served with a parking ticket, I was ‘reassured’ by a garda acquaintance of mine that I needn’t worry, he’d see to it that the summons was torn up. A summons mark you not a parking ticket.
He showed me a satchel of summonses and said ‘that’s my job. I’ll probably be throwing out a rake of these.’ He told me that he didn’t believe in wasting his time getting, ‘a pain in the face’ trudging up through flats only to be fobbed off by ‘some auld one who’ll tell me that she doesn’t know where yer man is or when he’ll be back or if he’ll be back’.
I shunned his infamous offer of course but I’ve often wondered how come that man superiors didn’t check on what summonses found their marks and what not.
I won’t go back over cases which have been in the news in recent times where had bench warrants been served or greater garda diligence been deployed, people might not have been at liberty to take life, or to lose it. But one strange talking point that I came across in Donegal puts even the events described in the Morris Tribunal in the shade. The rumours began after one Jimmy Curran disappeared from the Dungloe district in July of 2003 and were fanned into fresh life in January of 2005 when Sean Duffy was found dead in his home in the same general area.
He had died from stab wounds, a bolt from a cross bow and there was an axe wound in the back of his head. No one was ever charged with his murder but it was rumoured that he had been talking about a pending court case against him, making threats that if he went down others would follow.
Jimmy Curran’s body was never discovered and the rumours allege that he may have been struck by a garda car, and his corpse disposed of with the help of Duffy who was said to have engaged in a variety of activities ranging from horse dealing, undertaking to garda informant.
All of these rumours could be totally unfounded but I found them to be strongly believed in the Donegal area and obviously it would both quieten gossip and allay public anxiety if the Republic did possess an independent police authority which could investigate the affair and issue its findings publically.
The PSNI benefitted and continues to benefit from the reform process initiated by Chris Patten. The current spate of calls for a police authority along the lines of that which functions in Northern Ireland is however only a partial answer. If that were grafted on to the present police landscape all we would get would be a further spate of GSOC type rows. A public airing of the problems of the Gardaí performed in courageous and responsible fashion, like Chris Patten’s inquiry would clear the air for both police and public and provide a climate in which a police authority could not merely be set up but operate efficiently.