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Ireland's new Acting Garda Commissioner brought in to 'keep things steady'

Noírín O’Sullivan resigned as Garda Commissioner yesterday.

Acting Garda Commissioner, Donall O Cualain, with the former Garda Commissioner Noírín O'Sullivan.
Acting Garda Commissioner, Donall O Cualain, with the former Garda Commissioner Noírín O'Sullivan.
Image: Mark Stedman/Photocall Ireland

NOÍRÍN O’SULLIVAN ANNOUNCED yesterday that she is to retire as the Garda Commissioner.

Taking her place until a replacement is found is Deputy Commissioner Dónall Ó Cualáin, who was made Acting Commissioner with full powers from today.

His appointment was made by the Justice Minister Charlie Flanagan under the provisions of section 32 of the Garda Síochána Act 2005.

He’s seen as someone who will “keep things steady” until a replacement for O’Sullivan is found, said well-placed sources.

In the coming weeks, the minister will consult with the chair of the Policing Authority
about a process to identify and appoint a permanent Garda Commissioner – and opposition parties are already calling for the competition to be transparent and open to those working internationally.

So, who is the new Acting Commissioner? 

Deputy Commissioner Ó Cualáin has served as a garda in Donnybrook, in the Garda Technical Bureau and in the Garda College. He was promoted to the rank of Sergeant while attached to Rannóg na Gaeilge at the Garda College, and later served in the Aran Islands and the continuous professional development school in Galway.

In 1994, he was promoted to the rank of Inspector and served in Ballyshannon before transferring to the organisation development unit, garda headquarters. In 1996 he was assigned to the Western Regional Office, Galway.

Then in 1999 he was promoted to the rank of Superintendent and was allocated to Glenties District. He served there until 2001 and was allocated to Ennistymon District, before returning to Galway in 2003.

He was promoted to the rank of Chief Superintendent in 2005 and served briefly in the divisions of Mayo and Sligo before returning to take charge of the Galway division. In February 2012 he was promoted to the rank of Assistant Commissioner and took charge of the Southern Region with responsibility for the Divisions of Cork City, Cork West, Cork North, Kerry and Limerick.

He was appointed Deputy Commissioner on 20 October 2015.

His qualifications include:

  • Advanced Diploma in Executive Leadership – Michael Smurfit Graduate Business School, UCD (2009)
  • Innovations in Governance – JFK School of Government – Harvard University (2008)
  • Executive Masters in Business Administration – NUI Galway (2008)
  • International Exchange Programme – Community Policing – Boston College (2007)
  • Grid Leadership Course (2004)
  • BA in Public Administration – Institute of Public Administration

The Irish Times reports that Ó Cualáin speaks fluent Irish.

Prior to being appointed, it’s understood Ó Cualáin had been central to the Garda crackdown on drug-related crime in Galway city.

His level of service is understood to be one of the main reasons he got the Deputy Commissioner job. Both he and Assistant Commissioner John Twomey are on the same level in terms of rank and were both promoted at the same time, but O Cualáin has been in the job longer.

There was a delay in Ó Cualáin’s promotion to deputy commissioner, with successful candidates not being sanctioned because of a High Court challenge which was launched by another candidate.

The challenge was dismissed by the court, with Ó Cualáin and his colleague John Twomey being appointed as Assistant Commissioners in 2012.

04 FILE IMAGE Donall O Cualain_90522850 Source: Leah Farrell

More recently, Ó Cualáin appeared before the Public Accounts Committee in June of this year to discuss the irregularities at the garda college in Templemore.

He spoke frankly about the tension between executive director of finance and services Michael Culhane and the head of HR John Barrett.

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“As was shown in here in the last meeting, there is a clash, there was a clash, between those two people. There is a lack of trust between those two people,” he said.

Ó Cualáin was one of the figures who was asked to clarify a version of events in relation to the duration of a meeting held with O’Sullivan.

At the first meeting of the PAC, Barrett clashed with O’Sullivan, when he openly contradicted her evidence about a meeting they had about issues relating to the garda college.

O’Sullivan described the meeting of 27 July 2015 as “brief”, while Barrett said it lasted two hours. O Cualáin told the committee it was “definitely longer than five minutes”.

“I’m glad we didn’t clear that one up anyway lads, because it’s seriously bloody well incredible that there is such a range of views coming from the same meeting,” Labour’s Alan Kelly said at the time.

The search begins

How long O Cualáin will spend in the role as Acting Garda Commissioner is not known. The Policing Authority said today it has “immediately commenced consideration and research” on the process to identify and appoint the next commissioner.

“While section 9 of the Garda Síocháná Act 2005 sets out the statutory requirements, this will be the first time that the new legislative process is utilised,” it said.

The authority will work with the Public Appointments Service and the Department of Justice and Equality over the coming weeks “to agree the precise requirements for the role and to formally initiate the selection competition”.

The authority’s chairperson spoke to the Minister for Justice and Equality about the selection process this morning. They agreed “that it is crucial that a deliberate and considered process takes place to ensure the right candidate is selected”.

Read Garda Commissioner Nóirín O’Sullivan has announced she is retiring>

Read: Paul Hollywood ‘absolutely devastated’ after a photograph emerges of him in Nazi uniform>

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