Confidence is dwindling in An Garda Síochána after a series of controversies, admissions of “dishonesty” and public declarations of antipathy, which have been supported recently by conversations on the streets of Dublin with immigrants from Nigeria, Iran and Brazil.
Setting aside the array of scandals in the news earlier in the year, the latest consists of 14,700 wrongly convicted motor offences and the overstated reporting of one million breathalyser tests.
Garda Commissioner Noirín O’Sullivan has recognised fault in theses scandals and is working towards what she calls “real cultural reform” within Garda ranks.
Reform is clearly needed, highlighted by one Brazilian immigrant’s claim that the Garda “just have a bad reputation in Dublin. No one really trusts them.”
“Who knows what else they are misreporting; it’s a domino effect,” said another man, from Nigeria, while an Iranian immigrant declared “I don’t believe in gardaí any more” after he claims he was ignored at his local Garda station when he reported the theft of two bicycles in broad daylight — but was quickly billed for €500 after being “caught” for missing a tax payment.
Gardaí recently concluded the ‘Give Something Back’ campaign, a voluntary programme, aimed at cultural reform, to attract people from various nationalities, skill sets, ages and backgrounds to join the Garda Reserve, a stepping stone to full-time employment.
A potential benefit of this programme is gaining back the trust of Ireland’s diverse communities that has been lost over recent months and even years, by taking on members who more accurately reflect the country’s changing demographics. A more diverse Garda, the theory goes, could more easily identify with the problems immigrant residents face.
But that is a longer term project. Right now, public opinion is overwhelmingly in favour Comm O’Sullivan stepping down, although she has refused to do so even in the face of a no-confidence motion in the Dáil.
Nevertheless, she has the support of the Taoiseach as well as the Tánaiste and Justice Minister Frances Fitzgerald. This might be predictable given the glaringly obvious conflict of interest the commissioner shares with the highest levels of Government, and given her deeply rooted family connections in the Garda.
However, O’Sullivan’s track record simply cannot be ignored. She built her reputation on attempting to tackle the capital’s drug problem – a problem that has in no way been contained. She has not fostered enough co-operation between her and Leinster House to make any headway in terms of a workable drug strategy. At the same time, these recent scandals only demonstrate her inability to ensure a culture of honesty and integrity within the Garda.
O’Sullivan may well be invested in this country, and I am sure she truly wants to better the community we all share. But perhaps her talents might be better utilised in another role.
Meanwhile, on the streets of Dublin and other cities and towns and villages throughout Ireland, it is important to restore confidence in the Garda. These men and woman are out every day keeping a watchful eye on a community they love. While those behind the desks have indicated their lack of ability, the gardaí on the ground are ready to protect and serve. The latest institutional scandals should not take away from the fact that there are hundreds of men and women that would defend their community at a moment’s notice – from burglars targeting vulnerable households, to drug dealers selling to local children, to a man with a knife, or a gun.
A cultural shift within the upper ranks may be necessary. But don’t lose faith in the gardaí patrolling our streets to protect you and me.
Michael Sandstrom is an intern with Metro Éireann and a student at Boston University in the United States.