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Courage is expected in tough times

By Niall O'Connor

Published 31/08/2015

Irish Labour leader Joan Burton
Irish Labour leader Joan Burton

The tumultuous events of recent days have shone a spotlight on the strengths and personas of some of the most significant figures in Irish public life.

We have seen displays of courage from individuals such as Chief Constable George Hamilton, who, despite a backlash from Sinn Fein, believed in telling the public the truth about the threat posed by the IRA.

In the Republic, we have also seen displays of leadership from the likes of Tanaiste Joan Burton and Fianna Fail’s Micheal Martin.

The two party leaders immediately switched into gear when it became apparent that everything delivered by the peace process was in danger of being lost.

Were it not for the political pressure applied by Irish Labour Party leader Burton, we may not have seen the course of action eventually taken by government minister Frances Fitzgerald.

Her decision to order Garda Commissioner Noirin O’Sullivan to conduct a review into the status of the IRA was the correct one.

It symbolises a government not willing to take any chances when it comes to the IRA. But Ms Fitzgerald’s decision also piled the pressure on another powerful woman in Irish justice circles. Ms O’Sullivan now finds herself dragged into a political storm.

The Garda headquarters went into overdrive last Wednesday evening as the commissioner and her small circle of advisers deliberated over how to defuse a bubbling crisis. She had been ordered to investigate a criminal group, which in February she refused to accept even posed a threat.

As the days went by, Irish government figures became uneasy at the commissioner’s clear refusal to clarify her position.

But taking into account all the controversies that have engulfed the Garda, the Irish public are entitled to expect courage and leadership from their commissioner.

They are entitled to know her position on the scale of the threat posed by a group responsible for tearing communities apart.

With the political crisis in  Northern Ireland now set to overtake events, Ms O’Sullivan’s later statement that the Garda never denied the continued existence of the IRA  goes some way to resolving a crisis of credibility.

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