Belfast Telegraph

Taoiseach says Garda chief's retirement 'in the best interest' of force

Ireland's Garda Commissioner has retired in the best interests of the force, Taoiseach Leo Varadkar said.

Noirin O'Sullivan said she was leaving the top police post after an "unending cycle" of scrutiny amid efforts to rectify the failures and mistakes of the past.

The commissioner faced opposition calls to step aside following queries over how she dealt with officers massively inflating the number of breathalyser tests carried out and police whistle-blowers.

The Taoiseach said: "Her decision to retire is made in the best interests of An Garda Siochana and ensuring that it can focus on the extensive programme of reform that is now under way."

The commissioner has served 36 years in the force.

She said: "It has become clear, over the last year, that the core of my job is now about responding to an unending cycle of requests, questions, instructions and public hearings involving various agencies including the Public Accounts Committee, the Justice and Equality Committee, the Policing Authority, and various other inquiries, and dealing with inaccurate commentary surrounding all of these matters.

"They are all part of a new, and necessary, system of public accountability.

"But when a commissioner is trying, as I've been trying, to implement the deep cultural and structural reform that is necessary to modernise and reform an organisation of 16,000 people and rectify the failures and mistakes of the past, the difficulty is that the vast majority of her time goes, not to implementing the necessary reforms and meeting the obvious policing and security challenges, but to dealing with this unending cycle."

A critical report on the scale of fake breath test reports by gardai found 1,458,221 bogus drink and drug-driving checks from 2009 to 2016, prompting calls for the commissioner to be sacked.

Official statisticians previously raised concerns about crime data and said almost a fifth of all crime reported is still not recorded on the Garda's systems.

In June this year, Garda IT specialists admitted scores more people have been killed in Ireland than official figures have claimed over the past decade and a half.

The breath test scandal prompted the Government to introduce a commission similar to that reforming policing in Northern Ireland to review management, training, recruitment, culture and oversight of the Garda.

Justice minister Charlie Flanagan said he would press ahead with the necessary reform programme.

"I have no doubt that the men and women of An Garda Siochana who serve Ireland in the front line of policing have the appetite to embrace and drive that change."

He said Ms O'Sullivan showed enormous resilience, determination and integrity in addressing those challenges.

Financial irregularities at the Garda training college have also prompted public concern, the commissioner coming under fire after she said informing relevant authorities was delayed in 2015 and 2016 pending the gathering of information.

Separately, a public inquiry has probed claims Garda top brass orchestrated a smear campaign, including false sex abuse allegations, against a high-profile whistleblower who exposed wrongdoing in the force.

The opposition parties in Ireland have been calling for the commissioner's scalp for years.

Fianna Fail justice spokesman Jim O'Callaghan said the retirement at last showed accountability.

"We must learn from the mistakes of the past and rebuild confidence within the force itself and in the wider public arena," he said.

Sinn Fein's deputy leader Mary Lou McDonald said the new commissioner should come from outside Ireland.

"While Commissioner O'Sullivan is now gone the problems in An Garda Siochana remain, therefore it is important that Noirin O'Sullivan is replaced by somebody who is not already tainted by the current scandals," she said.

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