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Noirín O'Sullivan at the MacGill Summer School this evening Screengrab/Donegal County Council

Commissioner: The guards are damaged and hurting - but we aren't broken

Acting garda commissioner Noirín O’Sullivan has been speaking at the MacGill Summer school in Glenties this evening.

Updated 5.55pm 

ACTING GARDA COMMISSIONER Noirín O’Sullivan has said the force is damaged, hurt and in need of change, but isn’t broken.

Speaking at the MacGill Summer School in Glenties this evening, O’Sullivan outlined her views on reforming An Garda Síochána and said the force has “learned the hard way” about how it must change.

O’Sullivan was appointed on an interim basis in March following the resignation of Martin Callinan amid controversies over the handling of whistleblowers and the interception of calls in and out of garda stations for decades.

Alluding to the controversy around garda whistleblowers, whose actions were described as ‘disgusting’ by her predecessor, she said: “We now know that if you concentrate too much on the messengers, you may miss the message.”

She said that “dissent cannot be seen as disloyalty” and stressed that it is important that whistleblowers be listened to.

O’Sullivan welcomed plans to establish an independent policing authority saying it will provide “an additional layer of trust” but she cautioned it is important to take the time to get it right.

‘When we’re good… ‘

She insisted that the guards are “very good at a lot of things that make all our lives better” saying: “When we’re good, we’re very, very good.”

Of the force generally, O’Sullivan noted that justice minister Frances Fitzgerald has never described the gardaí as broken.

“It’s damaged, yes. It’s hurting, yes. It’s in need of change, yes. It’s hungry for change, absolutely,” she said.

The interim commissioner said that senior management have “been spending a lot of time” listening to staff and “critical friends” in the Garda Ombudsman, the Garda Inspectorate, and the public in recent weeks. 

‘Echo chamber’

O’Sullivan said that one of the criticisms of the force has been that it has “become an echo chamber”.

“Because we’d always done something a certain way, the assumption was that it should always be done that way. Wrong. Wrong, even in terms of our own history,” she said.

O’Sullivan has said that since she was appointed she has been prepared to discuss the future of the force with anyone who wants to inform her thinking.

Of her engagement with stakeholders so far she said it has been “painful, illuinating, exciting and exhilarating”.

O’Sullivan said that in her experience of An Garda Síochána development and change had come gradually but right now it is happening “explosively”.

The commissioner said that the decision made over the coming weeks and months “will have repercussions for society for decades”.

She concluded that the ultimate goal is to build a police service “which is quite simply the best of its kind in the world”.

Garda numbers

Later in a question and answer session, O’Sullivan said that the force’s current numbers are “challenging” but she defended the closure of over a hundred rural garda stations in recent years.

She said that the network of stations had been “archaic” and that the closures allowed for more guards to get out into the community.

She said that Garda Ombudsman is a “very important institution” and she is committed to improving working relations with the organisation that has clashed with An Garda Síochána on numerous occasions in recent years.

  • Follow @oconnellhugh for updates from the MacGill Summer School in Glenties

Read: Martin who? Callinan isn’t mentioned in opening of annual garda report

More from MacGill: ‘We are on the cusp of a government without Fianna Fáil or Fine Gael’

More: ‘If I was Minister for Finance I would meet Donald Trump – but not on his terms’

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