O’Higgins report vindicates Labour’s position on policing
The previous Government was faced with a breakdown of public trust in the ability of our policing institutions to properly police themselves and their own members.
The Government inherited a system involving a ‘confidential recipient’, to whom Gardaí were supposed to submit concerns about malpractice, that was shown to be manifestly unfit for purpose.
It was also faced with an absolutely poisonous relationship between the Department of Justice and the Garda Síochána, on the one hand, and the Garda Ombudsman Commission, on the other.
And it was faced with persistent allegations of Garda malpractice and the claim that these allegations were not adequately investigated.
The Government took swift and decisive action, to restore public confidence in vital institutions of the State.
- We appointed a statutory inquiry into claims that an unauthorised taping and recording system was in place in Garda stations.
- We appointed a new Garda Commissioner following the first open, international competition in the history of the State.
- We re-committed ourselves to an extensive programme of reform, including legislation to protect whistleblowers and to extend freedom of information.
- And, most importantly, we committed to the reform of Garda oversight and accountability, including the establishment of an independent Garda authority.
The political fallout from the various reports should not distract from the overwhelmingly positive changes to our policing landscape that were made under the last Government – and which are still being worked through on foot of further recommendations for change made by the Garda Inspectorate and under Haddington Road.
So far as politics is concerned, neither I nor any of my Labour Party colleagues ever had any reason to question Alan Shatter’s ability or integrity in Government. We were satisfied when he, quite properly and fairly, apologised and withdrew the claim he had previously made in the Dáil that the whistleblowers had not co-operated with Garda investigations.
It is true that I and Labour colleagues were, along with at least some of our Fine Gael colleagues in Government, unhappy to see revealed what Judge O’Higgins refers to in his report as institutional ‘instinctive hostility towards whistleblowers’, which culminated in their being referred to in a Dáil committee by the Garda Commissioner as ‘disgusting’ – a description he was very slow to retract.
But we were not party to the events that led to the resignations of either Commissioner Callinan or Minister Shatter.
And the reality is that the O’Higgins Report is not a report into Alan Shatter or his dismissal by Enda Kenny. Judge O’Higgins was given terms of reference that asked him to investigate 12 distinct matters: just one of these related to the actions of Alan Shatter.
A further reality is that Sergeant McCabe had been banging his head against a brick wall until his claims were made public and until the O’Higgins Commission was tasked with examining them thoroughly.
I fully accept – and indeed I never thought or claimed otherwise – that there was no impropriety or malpractice on the part of either the Minister for Justice or the Garda Commissioner. It nonetheless remains the case that the McCabe allegations were not properly investigated on their beat.
And it is also the case that Sergeant McCabe has now been confirmed as a dedicated and committed Garda, that he brought to public attention cases where the public were not well served by the Garda and that the concerns he highlighted were legitimate.
In summary, the bulk of the conclusions and recommendations of the O’Higgins Report fully justify the belief that the Irish people were not getting the policing service they deserve – and that oversight of our policing was entirely inadequate.
The reforms we insisted on in Government addressed those defects and are a legacy that will endure for the public benefit.